"The challenge that now faces Warner Bros. is to keep the awareness of Bugs and Co. up while box-office receipts continue to slide. Coincidentally, the answer to this problem presented itself two years ago, when the film had yet to be pitched. When Larry Doyle, the film’s executive producer and only credited writer, first learned of the studio’s interest in refreshing the Looney Tunes brand, he pitched an idea that involved resurrecting theatrical shorts, the cartoon’s original medium.
The question, however, becomes: Will the shorts fall short of the dizzy, topical brilliance that the times and the cartoons demand, the kind once achieved by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery et al.?
According to Mr. Doyle, the answer is likely yes.
"They tinkered with [the shorts] a lot after I left, and didn’t make anything that I would characterize as a good change," Mr. Doyle said. "They made a bunch of changes [like] taking out some adult humor, taking out or changing jokes that they thought people wouldn’t get—too smart or too weird. I think they just got really conservative."
The changes can be attributed to the fact that the writers had to find a balance between being faithful to Looney Tunes’ classic mannerisms, while remaining faithful to their untethered spirit in taking on contemporary culture. But the new features were made to be marketed to kids supposedly indoctrinated to Bugs by Saturday-morning cartoons, yet they are still making the same old references that they were when they were being written for Eisenhower-era moviegoers. The goal, therefore, was to update the cartoon for a new generation of kids.
For as Back In Action, and even Space Jam, seemed to forget, Looney Tunes were intrinsic political and artistic satires. The writers on the film had to find a balance between being faithful to the spirit of the old Looney Tunes cartoons, by copying some of the old classic dialogue and mannerisms, while remaining faithful to their supremely irreverent take on contemporary culture. And Bugs Bunny, with his Brooklyn attitude and cool, represented the same idiosyncratic New York grit that peaked during World War II, but has come to define the city in the wake of Sept. 11.
This understanding is perhaps what prompted Mr. Baker to come up with ideas for shorts like "Afghanistan Sam," with Yosemite Sam as an Osama bin Laden–like terrorist and Bugs Bunny "kicking his ass," or another short entitled "Wile E. Coyote Suicide Bomber." These ideas were never fully realized. But they are, it seems, more in the spirit of the old Bugs Bunny, who once told Hermann Goering to "Watch yer blood pressure, chubby!" in the cartoon "Herr Meets Hare."
This kind of political banter—the staple of the Looney Tunes of yore—does not bode well for securing a place in today’s marketplace. For all the falling anvils and Steve Martin’s gyrations trying to look like Rick Moranis, nothing of the old savvy anarchy appears in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and the box office sniffed it out, proving that the moviegoing audience—which for decades responded to Bugs’ hipness and Daffy’s insanity—knew the difference and showed it with their wallets. "