Let us not dwell on the question of whether the Baltimore Museum of Art ought to bring in an exhibit of animated cartoons for 12 weeks, because the answer -- no! -- is simply too obvious. Let us instead consider "That's all Folks!: Bugs Bunny and Friends Present the Art of Animation" (through Aug. 25) strictly on its own terms.
Much has been written about the creativity and ingenuity of the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1930s to the 1960s, the subject of this sprawling show. Steve Schneider, author of the catalog and brochure which accompany it, credits Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and the other creators of Warner cartoons with giving their works a brashness, irreverence, topicality and sheer speed -- and their characters a multidimensionality -- missing in other products. These are the "finest, funniest, and most inventive animated shorts ever made," burbles the show's introductory text.
Maybe, but wandering through these spaces and looking at the dozen or so cartoons playing on TV sets, one soon begins to question the vaunted creativity of these shorts. For it quickly becomes obvious that the four pairs of characters to which the show is largely devoted all fit into one rather simple, monotonously repeated formula. Whether it's Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, Tweety and Sylvester or Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, what it comes down to is a battle between the getter and the gettee. Character A (Elmer, Porky, Sylvester, Wile E.) is for one reason or another out to get character B (Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Road Runner), but B actually outsmarts and gets the best of A.