Friday, 3 April 2009

Movie Review - Looney Tunes: Back In Action

[Please bear in mind that this review was written after seeing the movie at the cinema - the opening paragraph won't make much sense if you don't!]

First off we were treated to a new (presumably – I’ve never seen it anyway, and it certainly wasn’t a Classic Loony Tunes cartoon) called “The Wizard of Ow”. While this bore all the normal hallmarks of the modern efforts to replicate the genius of Tex Avery and Fred Quimby and the very few who could hold a candle to either of them (i.e. the same sort of things happened to the characters – in this case Wiley Coyote and Road Runner - it just wasn’t funny), there were some moments that made me laugh – especially Wiley in a rapidly descending orbit calling up the ACME “Flying Broomstick Helpline” on his mobile – to be informed that his call was being held in a queue and that his call was very important to the ACME Corporation, just before the phone burnt up on atmospheric entry – so overall it was a better than normal modern effort. Not brilliant by any means, but not as bad as most.

However this really didn’t give much indication as to how good the actual film was going to be. I quite like Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Blast from the Past) as an actor and his co-star, Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg) is someone I often find amusing – though sometimes irradiating. With a supporting cast including the talents of Timothy Dalton (who more-or-less reprises his role as James Bond), Steve Martin (in probably his funniest performance since Roxanne), and the incredibly talented, never to be a big star Joan Cusak (Grosse Point Blank backing them up, things looked hopeful. Oh, and of course there’s Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Yosemite Same, Marvin the Martian, Pepe le Peu, and all your other favourite cartoon characters…

The film starts with Daffy Duck holding rather unsuccessful contract talks with the Warner Brothers (twins, by the look of it) and the rest of the board – including high-flying executive Kate Houghton (Elfman), who gets him fired. Soon after this she is instrumental in getting D.J.Drake (Fraser) fired as well. When Duffy goes off with Drake on a mission to save his father (Dalton) and the board repent and want their “favourite duck” back, Houghton’s job is on the line too – unless she can find him and bring him back. Bugs joins her as they all head to Las Vegas, where a sexy dancer (Heather Locklear) might just hold the key Drake needs… As the storyline unfolds they find themselves embroiled in a much bigger plot involving very evil baddy Mr Chairman (Martin). And… well, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

While at first it looks like it might fall into the trap of over-indulging itself in star names (well it is set at the WB studios to begin with, after all), the plot moves along swiftly among the many laughs and is handled skilfully by Director Joe Dante, never seeming to be too slow, and even having a few unexpected plot twists while somehow managing to fit in pretty much all of the famous gags from the cartoons without them ever seeming contrived. The laughs come thick and fast, but like the excellent Finding Nemo, there’s one level of humour for the kids and another for the adults. There’s some funny digs at corporate advertising in films, at plot clich├ęs, and the number of films and cartoons that get taken off along the way must number somewhere in the region of a hundred.

The special effects really are special. The interaction between animation and live action is completely seamless, to the point where you can almost forget that you’re looking at cartoon characters – a real testament both to the skill of the animators and the actors. What special effects there are in “real” mode are also very good, and the only part that looks obviously computer-animated the whole way through is one car chase – but it still looks great anyway!

The characters are somehow more than 2-dimensional but not quite 3-dimensional. The producers have taken the sensible option of an updated look that’s still instantly recognisable and compatible with the way the original cartoon characters looked. Thank goodness they didn’t opt for full 3D versions of the characters… I can only imagine how terrible that would have been. (It could have been worse than Spy Kids 3...) It’s a pity that the legendary Voice Actor isn’t still around (1908-1989 – not a bad innings, but still a shame!) as the voices for some of the minor characters – especially Marvin the Martian – are not all that good. But Bugs and Daffy sound absolutely authentic, and obviously they do by far the majority of the talking.

Kids will love this movie but adults will love it too – partly for the nostalgia, and partly for the jokes and references that kids will fail to notice or understand. (Although that said, there’s really nothing in this movie that has exclusively been designed with adults in mind – with perhaps the exception of Elfman’s outfits…). I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, even considering I’d read many positive reviews of it beforehand.

See Also:

CaptainD's Top Ten Films of 2003
CaptainD's Top Ten Animated Films

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