LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Mighty sporting of the little black duck (and friends)


At last, those tired spy-movie spoofs are right where they belong — right in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I wouldn’t have thought that the sensibilities of a seven-minute cartoon could be stretched to feature length as well as in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Not even Space Jam (1996) went for broke as much.

If you tried to diagram the plot for this movie, it would probably look something like several Looney Tunes strung together. It starts out with a harried movie executive (Jenna Elfman) firing and then trying to re-hire Daffy Duck. Then it turns into the story of a security guard (Brendan Fraser) who finds out that his father (two-time James Bonder Timothy Dalton) is, guess what, a secret agent. Then there’s the whole subplot about the Acme Corporation’s evil leader (Steve Martin) trying to turn the world’s human population into monkeys. And the mind still reels at Bugs Bunny and Daffy finding out that the Roswell UFO incident wasn’t a fake.

There’s probably only one man in Hollywood who could meld these shards of plot into a cartoon/live-action movie, and happily, the Warner Brothers hired him. His name is Joe Dante, who made his name in the ’80s directing cartoon-like feature films (GremlinsInnerspace). Dante has probably been licking his chops at the thought of doing a Bugs/Daffy feature ever since he had them do a cameo in Gremlins 2, and he has done himself proud. Even though the original Looney Tunes directors have long since gone to comedy heaven, Dante’s lead “actors” don’t seem to have aged a bit. It’s like finding a newly uncovered Marx Brothers movie.

As for the flesh-and-blood performers, Fraser, Elfman and the rest of the movie’s live actors, they’re admirably good sports, cheerily getting walloped around by hand-drawings. The only sour note is struck by Steve Martin, who overdoes trying to be even more cartoony than the cartoon characters.

In a year filled with typical Hollywood blockbusters, who could have guessed that Finding Nemo and this gem would be the year’s highlights? Some days, a movie viewer feels like Porky in Wackyland.

YOU OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES (1940) – Daffy Duck tries to end Porky Pig’s movie career


The following is my entry in the Backstage Blogathon, being hosted Jan. 15-18, 2016 by the lovely bloggers Fritzi at Movies Silently and Janet at Sister Celluloid. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies that purport to go “behind the scenes” in the performing arts!


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Those who follow such things (and we know you’re out there) tend to think of “early” Daffy Duck as merely wacky, supplanted in later years by the self-centered, egocentric, and neurotic version of Daffy Duck. But only three years after Daffy’s film debut, we can see the genesis of Daffy’s self-serving side in the cartoon You Ought to Be in Pictures.

The cartoon establishes its setting as the office of Looney Tunes cartoon producer Leon Schlesinger. An animator is sitting at his desk, completing a drawing of Porky, when someone yells, “Lunch!”, and the entire cartoon staff (including now-legendary directors Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett) rush out the door along with Porky’s animator.

As it happens, Daffy is occupying a photo frame that is hung just above the desk where Porky “sits.” Out of nowhere, Daffy gives Porky a sales pitch about an acting-job opening as Bette Davis’ leading man that pays $3,000 a week (and whenever Daffy mentions the job again, the salary triples in size). Daffy tells Porky that he’s a cinch for the job and that he should get out of his contract with Leon Schlesinger. Porky eventually caves to Daffy’s request, but he knows it’s not right.

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A very entertaining scene occurs between Porky and the real-life Schlesinger, who cheerily acquiesces to Porky’s wishes and tears up his contact. As Porky hesitantly leaves the office, Schlesinger looks at the camera, winks, and tells us, “He’ll be back.”

Porky heads for the feature-film division of the Warner Bros. studio but encounters nothing but trouble, first squaring off against a security guard (played by Looney Tunes story man Michael Maltese) and then fouling up the filming of an elaborate ballet number (animator Gerry Chiniquy plays the film’s director). Soon enough, Porky realizes he’s in over his head and rushes through traffic (!! — how big is this studio, anyway?) to try to get his old job back.

Porky returns to Schlesinger’s office just in time to hear Daffy tell Schlesinger that the studio is better off without Porky and that he, Daffy, is the far superior actor. Porky politely enters the office, quietly pulls Daffy aside, and then gives him a major off-screen beating. When Porky humbles himself before Schlesinger, Schlesinger tells him he didn’t really tear up Porky’s contact and laughingly tells him to get back to work.

The final scene shows the two cartoon “stars” in their original positions — Porky on the animator’s table, and Daffy in a frame but now covered with bandages. Daffy’s beating at the hands of Porky hasn’t discouraged him, though — Daffy tries again to talk Porky out of his cartoon job, until Porky lobs a tomato at him.

You Ought to Be in Pictures is an obvious precursor to both the animation/live-action movie mixes that eventually culminated in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the backstage bloodlust between Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve. And while this cartoon isn’t nearly as elaborate as either of those feature films, it gets the job done admirably. The “crosses” between the human and cartoon worlds are handled seamlessly, and the cartoon really does give you the feeling that Daffy was truly a prima donna, overstepping his supporting-actor boundaries long before he got paired with Bugs Bunny.