The original, slapstick-heavy Looney Tunes series of cartoons ran from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, generating over a thousand short films, each one about six or seven minutes in length. It was not until 1979, however, until Warner Bros. actually released a feature-length motion picture based on the series. That film, Chuck Jones’ The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, relied heavily on clips from the classic cartoons and was enough of a financial success to inspire four more piecemeal Looney features between 1981 and 1988. And that’s all before Space Jam was a thing. Doug Walker, star of the long-running webseries Nostalgia Critic, revisits the entire franchise in a video handily titled “All The Looney Tunes Movies.” Here, he limits himself to feature-length productions that were released theatrically and contained at least some new material. There’s still plenty to talk about, though, including the fact that the clip-based movies got weirder and more gimmicky as the series progressed.
After a movie devoted to the work of Chuck Jones and a sequel, The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, spotlighting the cartoons of Friz Freleng, the remaining movies took the form of feature-length parodies. There were spoofs of A Thousand And One Nights (1982’s Bugs Bunny’s 1001 Rabbit Tales), the TV show Fantasy Island (1983’s Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island), and even Ghostbusters (1988’s Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters). By then, however, the compilation-style movie was obsolete since the real Looney Tunes episodes were readily available on video. Still, in all, these films remain neat curios, even if Mel Blanc was sounding a little hoarse by Quackbusters.
The next Looney Tunes-based movie, the blockbuster Space Jam, would not arrive until 1996. No clip show this time. This Roger Rabbit-style mashup film was conceived directly for the big screen. Walker admits he’s not a fan of the Michael Jordan vehicle but does praise the deft combination of animation and live action. Space Jam may not be a great movie, he asserts, but it is an interesting artifact from a time when a feature movie based on a Nike ad campaign seemed like a good idea.
As of this writing, the most recent feature film in the franchise is 2003’s financially unsuccessful Looney Tunes: Back In Action, directed by Joe Dante. Walker doesn’t consider this film a triumph either but admires the effort that went into it. “By God, they tried,” he says. Though Dante has an obvious and admirable affection for the material, the critic says, Back In Action falls flat whenever it focuses too much on its zany human characters. It may be difficult to sustain the energy of a six-minute short for 93 minutes. So far, with the possible exception of those first two compilation films, there has never been a wholly satisfying Looney Tunes feature. That doesn’t mean Hollywood won’t try again, though.