Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)

9 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If you’ve seen Joe Dante’s films, you’d know that there are at least three cartoon elements within each of them. His directorial credits include “Gremlins” (mixing humor with horror), “Explorers” (in which aliens turned out to be cartoonish), “Small Soldiers” (what can I say?), and the third segment of the Twilight Zone movie (in which a kid lives in his own cartoon world). Now, with “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” he has made the movie that he has been waiting for—a movie that mixes live-action actors with animated Looney Tunes. The result is a silly, entertaining romp.

The last movie that mixed the Looney Tunes with live-action characters was “Space Jam,” which really highlighted Michael Jordan more than the Looney Tunes. This time, Bugs and Daffy are given a lot to do and they’re really the highlights of this fun movie. But the human actors they star alongside with are no slouches either. They have fun with their roles. Brendan Fraser is DJ Drake, a stuntman who is looking for work. (I love this line he delivers: “I’m a stuntman! Did you ever see those ‘Mummy’ movies? I’m in them more than Brendan Fraser is!”) Jenna Elfman is Warner Bros. executive Kate Houghton, “Vice-President, Comedy.”

DJ and Kate, along with Bugs and Daffy, are roped into a mission. The plot of the movie: the evil Chairman of the Acme Corporation (a hardly-recognizable Steve Martin) has a plan to steal a rare, magic diamond called the Blue Monkey, which will allow him to turn everyone in the world into monkeys. DJ’s actor father (ex-007 Timothy Dalton), who turns out to be a secret agent, is kidnapped by the Chairman and so, it’s up to DJ, Kate, and their cartoon partners to save him and the world.

The movie is just plain fun. It has fun with making the Looney Tunes (Bugs, Daffy, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, etc.) exist in the same world as Hollywood executives. Of course the Looney Tunes would most likely have their own trailers. The film opens with a board meeting, with the Warner brothers (two overweight men with glasses) and Bugs and Daffy discussing the new movie (yes, it’s another “Wabbit season” movie). Daffy is distraught and wants more credit. Other cartoon characters are in the mix too. I like the bit where the cartoon Shaggy and Scooby Doo rip into Shaggy’s live-action counterpart Matthew Lillard while having lunch. And of course, the Chairman has his own animated henchmen, such as Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, and the Tasmanian Devil.

I said that Bugs and Daffy are the highlights of the movie and they bring terrific comic timing, as you’d expect them to have. Bugs is the relaxed, wisecracking straight-man (or “straight-bunny”) and Daffy is the manic loser-duck who just wants to be heard as a hero instead of a second banana. They’re the Looney Tunes I know and love.

This film has a lot of inspired moments—one, for example, involves a chase scene between the two ‘toon heroes and Elmer Fudd that references art (including Munich’s “The Scream”). And who could forget the scene in which the characters come across “Area 52?” (For those who haven’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t dare spoil it for you.)

Director Joe Dante has given us a silly romp involving spies, the Looney Tunes, and a silly villain (played by an enjoyably over-the-top Steve Martin), with a blend of animation and live-action done to complete success with 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” No, this isn’t as wonderful as that one, but it’s still a good deal of fun.

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