'Looney Tunes' churns out chuckles at the Charles

November 06, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Whenever it gets to be drizzly November about my soul, I know I must go to see "Looney Tunes" again.

Your Moby Dick can be a white whale; mine is a black duck, named Daffy. And for an expression of the sheer power of nature, I'll choose Daffy's delicious glee as he sets about to deconstruct the known world in some explosion of anarchy churned out by the geniuses at the Warner Bros. animation department in the late '40s or early '50s.

The "Looney Tunes" cartoons were native folk art raised to sublime proportions. Now a selection of 12 of the best, under the rubric "Looney Tunes Hall of Fame," has been gathered for a run at the Charles over the weekend. Whatta laff-riot! What sheer ecstasy!

It's curious to see the collected works because patterns emerge that might not be apparent if the pieces were encountered one by one. One interesting discovery: Within the cartoon world, the same rules of stardom apply. Bugs, for example, is clearly the force majestic in Warner's kingdom, a true star, unflappable, commanding and charismatic. But like a true star, he tends to be somewhat conservative, and the 'toons that he dominates are quite conservative.

Daffy, on the other hand, represents the true cutting edge. His spirit of anarchy is literally form-busting, and several of the pieces have an astonishingly modernist tilt, as, under the guidance of the great director Chuck Jones, he's used to question the cosmology of the very genre he occupies. The most dazzling of these is "Duck Amuck," in which he actually fights an astonishing battle with his own animator.

Others never quite make the leap to stardom. The Warner team tried to inflate Foghorn Leghorn into a major career, but he just didn't have the pizazz and his star vehicle, "Leghorn Swoggled" is somewhat insipid. And Porky Pig? Get him out of here! Serve him up for Easter dinner! (And I've always wondered at the weird conceit of having all the animals naked except for Porky, who wears a little coat that doesn't cover up his Ken-doll anatomical incorrectness. Get some pants on this pig!)

There are minor irritations; I would have preferred less P. Pig and more W. Coyote, my favorite existential striver, eternally doomed to a sick vector to oblivion while his dweeby conqueror makes smug beep-beep sounds. I'd give anything to see just one cartoon where Wile E. catches that bird and eats him up, toes and all!

Still, it's an extraordinary collection, and while you're busting a gut at the shenanigans on screen, it might occur to you -- as it occurred to me -- that there's an answer to Bugs' legendary question: What's up? A lot, doc.

'Looney Tunes Hall of Fame'

Starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

Directed by Chuck Jones and others.

Released by Warner Bros.

Unrated.

****

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