Looney Tunes Cartoons capably evokes the old ’30s and ’40s shorts, but with one key caveat: the old ones were better.
The idea behind Looney Tunes Cartoons is obvious and not at all bad – what if, some entrepreneurial exec at HBO Max must have said, we take the classic Warner Bros. characters and put them in a series of shorts that evoke their classic 30s and 40s roots? You know, the Tex Avery slapstick physical comedy business, with big heavy objects getting dropped on characters’ heads and big lumps swelling up and out like little mountains. The kids will love it, adults will love it all over again, and the subscriber count of HBO’s streaming platform will continue to rise, perhaps forever.
Well, here’s a problem with this idea: The older shorts were better. These new ones – each episode has two divided by an interstitial – are fine, and enjoyably retro, and the return of the old designs is a delight, but there’s just something missing. The individual creative sensibilities at play behind the scenes come through nicely, so the episodes at least aren’t interchangeable, but that idea of something cleverer at play is slightly lost.
Don’t get me wrong – the visual appeal of those old color cartoons might well be enough to sustain an audience in much the same way that Cuphead turned heads with its grainy, rhythmic homage to the same thing, and the enduring appeal of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig just can’t be understated. However, this new version saps these iconic figures of some of their later depth and interesting quirks and in-universe history; in paring back the visuals, Looney Tunes Cartoons has also stripped away some of the magic.
It’s still funny, inasmuch as an endless procession of sight gags can be. But the overwhelming sense is that it could be much more than mildly amusing.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.