I have to admit having approached this movie with as much trepidation as anticipation. After all, Mel Blanc is gone, Chuck Jones is gone, and the hallowed Looney Tunes franchise now resides in the hands of younger players.
Think about all the things that could have gone wrong. The voices might not be quite the same. The animation might be done on the cheap, like a lot of modern "cartoons". The writers might opt for the kind of witless "humor" that seems to be in vogue today.
Happily, all my fears were unfounded. "Looney Tunes - Back in Action" is EXACTLY as good as I hoped it would be.
Not only are the animation and voices superb (the latter being indistinguishable from the originals), but "Looney Tunes" turns out to be a veritable showcase of variations on all those goofy gags you remember from the old cartoons. Characters walking into paintings, horribly defective ACME products, the running "rabbit season/duck season" feud...they're all here, with every bit of comic timing and inventiveness that you remember, and then some.
Fans of the old cartoons will have a field day catching glimpses of all sorts of minor players in the background. (Watch for Sam and Ralph, the sheepdog and wolf who pummel each other -- but only between 9 and 5 -- in the background of the cafeteria scene.) The writer, Larry Doyle, miraculously manages to cram dozens of minor Looney Tunes characters into the story, yet without making it seem awkward or contrived.
Of course, for the human characters, one needs actors almost as cartoony as the venerable WB rabbit and duck, and Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman and Steve Martin work beautifully in their roles. Fraser of course already has "George of the Jungle" and "Dudley Do-Right" under his belt; Jenna Elfman always WAS something of a cartoon; and after so many movies that underutilize his comic talents, what a joy it is to see Steve Martin turned loose to perform the "wild and crazy" kind of comedy we haven't seen since the beginning of his career!
There are also gag appearances by Timothy Dalton as a James Bond-ish spy (hmmm...) and Heather Locklear as one of his covert cohorts. Both actors show a nice flair for comedy. (Casting directors, please note.) There are also a few surprise cameos which I wouldn't dare to spoil.
The plot (for those who apparently weren't paying attention) involves the head of the evil ACME corporation (Martin) and his attempt to find a magical diamond which can change humans into monkeys. Recently-fired Fraser and Daffy are hot on the trail of Fraser's father, a spy who was captured while attempting to stop Martin's diabolical plot. Elfman and Bugs follow. The trail leads the foursome to clues in Las Vegas and Paris, before reaching its climax in outer space. It's pretty much your standard James Bond plot, except that it's scads wittier. (For those who expected something meatier, please check the IMDb for the following references: KUBRICK, STANLEY...WELLES, ORSON...and BERGMAN, INGMAR.)
Half the fun comes from seeing the various "operatives" that ACME throws up against our heroes: Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, et. al. And if that wasn't enough, there's a secret lab wherein Robby the Robot, Kevin McCarthy ("They're coming! Beware!"), and an assortment of recognizable 1950s bug-eyed monsters reside.
There's even a nice subtext involving Daffy's frustration at always playing straight man to Bugs, and the whole love/hate relationship between the two characters. Clearly, writer Doyle knows this material inside and out.
There are inherent dangers in taking characters that were, after all, short subjects, and expanding them into a 90-minute movie. Doyle overcomes these nicely, thank you, by moving Bugs, Daffy, Fraser and Elfman from one set-piece to another. He also eschews the all-too-common tendency nowadays to make an action movie fastfastfast, without any change of pace so we can catch our breaths. But no matter whether the characters are involved in an action sequence or just standing around talking, the gags come thick and fast.
Everything is rounded out with some nice special effects, and a zippy music score by the ever-reliable Jerry Goldsmith, who manages to beautifully integrate several classic Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott cues. (Yeah, you remember Scott. His music was that piece they played whenever they showed some sort of giant conveyor belt or monstrous contraption.)
As for those who didn't find this movie funny, all I can do is quote Bugs: "...If you don't find a rabbit wearing lipstick amusing, then we ain't got nothing' to say to each other."
Or in the words of Daffy: "Youuuuuuuuuu're despicable!"