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Features
by Leonard Maltin
September 27, 2010 4:00 AM
7 Comments
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As I discussed earlier this summer, cartoons are making a small but encouraging comeback in theaters this year. If you should happen to see Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, you’ll be treated to the second of Warner Bros.’ new Road Runner cartoons, Fur of Flying. (The first, titled Coyote Falls, played with Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and the third, called Rabid Rider, will appear at the head of Yogi Bear in December.) These new widescreen films bring two classic Warner Bros. cartoon stars back to life, and while they transform the graphic characters and backgrounds into sculpted CGI form they remain absolutely true to the spirit of Chuck Jones’ vintage shorts.

That is no accident. Everyone at the revitalized Warner Bros. animation department (Executive producer Sam Register, supervising producers Allison Abbate, Spike Brandt, and Tony Cervone, and especially writer Tom Sheppard and director Matthew O’Callaghan) took their mission seriously. They wanted to “do right” by these great cartoon characters, and realized they—

—were in for a drubbing if they messed up. Thanks to staff producer Katherine Concepion, I was privileged to attend a special studio screening arranged for Chuck Jones’ daughter Linda and her son Craig. There, Register reported that senior Warners management was enthusiastic about the prospect of reviving their sidelined stars, and are so happy with the results that they have commissioned more new shorts with other members of the Looney Tunes cast. (There is also a new, non-CGI Looney Tunes series scheduled to launch on Cartoon Network next year.)

Director Matthew O’Callaghan with Chuck Jones’ approving daughter, Linda Jones Clough.

O’Callaghan, who has several decades of animation experience behind him, starting at Disney in the 1980s, and two feature films under his belt as director (Curious George and Open Season 2) approached the new Road Runner cartoons with a keen sense of what made them tick, and what challenges he faced. First, he was told the new films couldn’t run more than three minutes—about the same as a preview trailer—or theater owners would rebel. That meant readjusting the formula that Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese worked out so well: no time to freeze-frame and identify the characters in bogus Latin, only one chance to see the Coyote’s new scheme fizzle at first, etc. To inspire and guide his animators, O’Callaghan made frame enlargements of key drawings in old Road Runner cartoons.

His next hurdle was dealing with 3-D, and to my delight, he decided to use every trick in the book—like forced perspective—to exaggerate gags for dimensional effect. When Wile E. Coyote stretches his arms in a desperate attempt to reach something, and we see the action from his point-of-view, his limbs are artificially lengthened to boost the impact of the shot.

Most important, these new three-minute shorts are quite funny—and I’m sure they play as well “flat” as they do in 3-D. Young viewers who haven’t seen the old Road Runner shorts may have to acclimate to their modus operandi, but I’m sure it won’t take them long to catch on. (No matter what happens to the poor Coyote—and darn near everything does—he always survives to fight another day.)

The cartoons not only look good—they sound good, too. Warner Bros. encouraged the animation team to score them just like the old days, so that’s a sixty-piece orchestra playing Christopher Lennertz’s music on the soundtrack, including the “Merrily We Roll Along” theme.

I wish there were some easy way to see all three Road Runner cartoons without having to sit through those family-friendly features…but for now, that’s your only option. Still, if you love cartoons, and appreciate ingenious use of 3-D, I’d say they’re worth the price of admission.

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7 Comments

  • Grant | October 30, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    The length of 'Rabbid Rider' is 7 min.

  • Greg | October 8, 2010 11:28 AMReply

    I want everyone to please chill out. This guy's awesome and the cartoons are great. If you want to see dramatic, lame, and sad animations--go watch a pixar movie. If you want to see a real animated short (Like they used to be, only modified for the modern society)--by Darnet, go see this.

  • mike schlesinger | September 29, 2010 4:53 AMReply

    That's nonsense. An extra four minutes times even six shows a day is a total of 24 minutes--hardly enough time to squeeze in an extra feature. And theatres are not required to show X number of trailers--the ArcLight Cinmas here in L.A. show a maximum of three. As for union projectionists (if there still are any) wanting a break now and then--all I can say is you try it sometime, pal.

  • jl | September 28, 2010 12:27 PMReply

    @Ralph, do you think theater owners WANT to show trailers? Distribs force trailers onto theater owners or they won't give them the next "big" hit. That's what Miramax did in the 90s to small theater owners. Just think of how many trailers WB is making theater owners do so they have the "privilege" of playing Harry Potter. Theater owners would rather put another showing in if they could squeeze it ... but they have distribs adding 30 min of trailers for each film as well as damn union projectionists who want a 20 minute break to smoke a cig for every film they spool up.

  • Ralph | September 28, 2010 12:11 PMReply

    Theatre owners would rebel if the cartoons were just FOUR minutes longer? Give me a break. I felt gypped when the closing titles came on so soon (and they were pretty long themselves). Make 'em as lengthy as they used to be, and more people will be talking about them, which means more people will come to the theatre, which should PLEASE the theatre owners.

  • Rob | September 28, 2010 12:04 PMReply

    That's quite a mixed message you're sending to Warner Brothers. You start off by ( justifiably ) celebrating the return of the theatrical cartoon and then finish by complaining that you have to actually visit a theatre to see them !

    I was disappointed to see this comment from the industry's most high-profile expert on short subjects and their place in movie history.

    You're still aces with me, by the way, but I thought your message was odd.

  • Dan | September 28, 2010 10:49 AMReply

    I don't think Leonard's message was that it was a shame that you had to go to the theater to see these shorts, more a comment on the incredibly unfortunate selection of films they are attached to.

    Or, that may just be my opinion...I would love to see these cartoons, but not in front of a live action Yogi Bear or a Cats and Dogs sequel (did ANYONE remember there was a first one? Who wanted a second one? Even all four of the kids who actually enjoyed the original are too old for another now, anyway).

    I know I am not alone among animation fans who would like to see these shorts in the theater, but won't pay for the movies they're playing with.

    I wish that WB would put these in front of their major "tentpole" releases and give them as wide an audience as possible. After all, the originals appeared in front of films for adults, right? Wouldn't it have rounded out the evening in a fun way to have a goofy Looney Tune in front of, say, WB's Inception?

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