Watching "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" was akin to returning to my childhood, reminding me of why years ago I used to love the Saturday morning Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird, Wyle E. Coyote, and the Road Runner. Even without the fond nostalgia flashback I experienced, "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" is a delightfully imaginative family film that, like the recent "Elf
" and "Finding Nemo
," excels at being just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. It helps to have director Joe Dante at the helm, recapturing the same sort of zany glee that 1984's "Gremlins" had following his underwhelming 1998 effort, "Small Soldiers."
At Warner Brothers studio in Los Angeles, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are a long-time acting duo who continue to rake in big box-office. With test results showing that Bugs is the bigger star, and with Daffy sick of playing second fiddle to the rabbit, Daffy is abruptly fired by studio exec Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Recognizing her mistake after it is too late, Kate and Bugs Bunny set out to convince Daffy that he is needed at the studio. Their pursuit for him turns out to be more than they bargained for, as Daffy and recently fired stuntman DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) have fled to rescue DJ's kidnapped actor father (Timothy Dalton) from the clutches of the Acme Corporation, headed by the maniacal Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin).
Taking a page from 1989's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" mixes the beloved WB cartoon characters with live-action surroundings and actors. While not all of the human interaction with the cartoons is totally seamless, it is still a notably believable technical achievement. Director Joe Dante and screenwriter Larry Doyle (2003's "Duplex
") delight in incorporating every possible WB cartoon character you can think of into the action, all the while deliciously spoofing and recalling a number of classic films, from the shower scene in "Psycho
," to a distinct musical cue from "Gremlins," to a cameo appearance by Kevin McCarthy, picking up where he left off at the end of 1956's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Add in a walk-on by Matthew Lillard, arguing with Scooby Doo and his cartoon counterpart of Shaggy about the way he portrayed the character in 2002's "Scooby Doo
," and a wondrously original sequence where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are chased through the paintings of Edward Munch and Salvador Dali at the Louvre in Paris, and you have a movie bursting with energy and sheer creativity.
While the story is probably a little too convoluted for its own good, it hardly matters, as the pacing never lags, taking its four leads (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Brendan Fraser, and Jenna Elfman) from L.A. to Las Vegas to Paris to outer space to Area 52 (it turns out Area 51 was only a cover-up for the real alien laboratories) on their quest to rescue DJ's father. Brendan Fraser (2001's "The Mummy Returns
") and Jenna Elfman (2000's "Keeping the Faith
") make for an amiable pair to team up with Bugs and Daffy, while Joan Cusack (2003's "School of Rock
") turns in yet another memorably funny performance as Mother, the well-meaning head of Area 52. As the devilish leader of the Acme Corporation, Steve Martin (2003's "Bringing Down the House
") goes so intentionally over-the-top that he becomes something of a cartoon come to life himself.
It's all very wacky, inconsequential, high-spirited and ridiculous, mind you, but that is the perfect combination for a movie called "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." There's real showmanship at work here, and what could have just been a throwaway effort to cash in on the notoriety of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and the rest of the cartoon gang has been transformed by director Joe Dante into something a great deal more dynamic and inventively witty than could have possibly been expected.