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Published: Friday, 8/23/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

CULTURE SHOCK

Still ‘Looney’ after all these years

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE COLUMNIST

Decades before Duck Dynasty there was Duck Dodgers.

And long before Walter White broke bad as a chemistry teacher/meth cooker in Albuquerque, a certain wisecracking rabbit was making wrong turns of his own in the New Mexico city.

Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are just two of Warner Bros.’ biggest animated stars.

And while the studio’s beloved menagerie of cartoon characters — including Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester and Tweety, and Road Runner and Coyote — were born in the pre and post-World War II years as animated films shown prior to the feature movie, they remained culturally relevant through decades of TV reruns.

Ask almost any Gen-Xer who grew up in the 1970s about Looney Tunes and they’re likely to remember The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, a staple of Saturday morning TV and, for a brief stint in 1976, a CBS primetime series.

There have been several Bugs and company movies, video games, and new cartoons, including The Looney Tunes Show airing on Cartoon Network, as well. But none of these additions compares to the original ground-breaking animated films.

Much of my cultural history of the 1940s and 1950s came through Looney Tunes, including my introduction to a young Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby as well as Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs character in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Long before The Simpsons skewered popular culture, directors Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett, voice wizard Mel Blanc, and a staff of talented writers were doing much the same to their own era.

It was through Elmer Fudd and Bugs, too, that I was introduced to opera: The Barber of Seville (The Rabbit of Seville) and Wagner’s Rings (What’s Opera, Doc?), which was the first animated short inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

Just as important, the cartoons taught me that much of what was on Saturday mornings was spectacularly bland and even downright awful: from the animation to the writing to the voice work.

On a recent vacation, I also learned something else important about Looney Tunes: They’re timeless in their appeal.

Needing something to entertain my 6-year-old daughter as I packed for our return trip to Toledo, my dad put on the Blu-ray Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol. One.

My daughter stared at the TV, then laughed, and never moved from the couch. She was hooked on Looney Tunes — just as I was at her age.

Unlike the cartoons she watches on cable TV, there isn’t much schoolage learning in Looney Tunes, which offers lessons such as: gravity has a two-second delay when walking off a cliff, ACME’s products are unreliable and not to be trusted, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is an armed animal, and rabbits are the smartest creatures on Earth ...and Mars.

Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al might not complement her homework — that’s why I have School House Rock on DVD — but for pure cartoon fun, they cannot be beat.

Sadly, the original Looney Tunes films no longer have the presence on TV they once did. But perhaps their Blu-ray and DVD sets will find a new and younger captive audience, as they did my daughter.

Porky Pig would say, “That’s all, folks!”

I hope not.



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