Shh… be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting cwappy cawtoons.
Yes, that guy in the yellow and red is the new Elmer Fudd, renamed “Electro Fudd” and redesigned for the new millennium. Such is the case with Loonatics Unleashed, in which the classic Warner Brothers characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck have been re-imagined as futuristic superheroes like Ace Bunny and Danger Duck. I’m guessing most viewers will react to this series with a hearty “What the heck?” Enough viewers must have liked it, though, for it to reach a second season, in which even more iconic characters get the “dark, high-tech, and violent” treatment.
In the distant future, in the city of Acmetropolis, whenever there is extreme danger, the Loonatics soar down from their tower headquarters to save the day. The samurai sword-wielding Ace Bunny can fire energy blasts from his eyes, Lexi Bunny has sonic powers, Danger Duck can teleport, Tech E. Coyote is an inventing genius with magnetic abilities, Rev Roadrunner can move at amazing speeds, and Slam Tazmanian has unbelievable physical strength.
In this 13-episode season, the Loonatics have their hands (paws?) busy with old friends betraying them, killer dolphins, vacation resorts turning deadly, and an interstellar war involving a cat and bird.
Once again, the question here is, “What were they thinking?” The classics are classics for a reason. I don’t see the need to update them by dressing them all in black, arming them with weapons, and structuring their adventures so as to cram as many explosions in a half hour as possible. This approach continues, though, with even more well-known characters. Sylvester the Cat becomes Sylth Vester, an alien bounty hunter who hides his horribly scarred face behind a metal mask. Yosemite Sam has been recast as Ophiuchus Sam, who wears an outfit covered with spikes while traveling through wormholes hunting treasures. And, yeah, just take another look at the new Fudd above.
As easy as it is to compare these characters to the ones we all know and love, I would instead like to offer a different comparison. There was once another cartoon that took classic characters and turned them into futuristic butt-kickers. The 80s animated series Defenders of the Earth took four heroes created back in the 1930s — Flash Gordon, the Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar — and teamed them up for some outrageous crimefighting sci-fi action. Like the Loonatics, the Defenders had a high-tech hideout, amazing powers, and adventures that included globetrotting and space travel.
What’s the difference, then? First off, Defenders of the Earth had a larger cast, with a total of eight heroes, two animal sidekicks, one main villain, and a handful of recurring villains. Even with so many characters running around, the writers never lost sight of character development. Any given episode might be packed with action, but there was always some sort of personal dilemma at the heart of the plot. Most episodes of Loonatics might start and end with a character beat, usually some scheme of Danger Duck’s, but these moments only bookend the plot, and are not part of it. Once the villains arrive and everyone jumps into action, then it’s all fighting and laser beams and anime-style posing. Is the action fast and bombastic and nicely animated? Yes, but without any investment in the characters, it’s just fighting for the sake of fighting, and it bores the audience. Where is the heart of the story? Where is the emotion? Why should viewers care about these characters and follow them into action? And don’t give me this “It’s just a children’s show” nonsense. The questions I’m asking should be relevant to any story, regardless of its style, simplicity, or target audience.
But unlike Defenders of the Earth, Loonatics has a comedy element throughout. Perhaps listening to fan outrage, the creators have clearly made an effort to up the comedy this season. Unfortunately, this humor tends to be obvious at best, and stale at worst. For example, one scene has Danger Duck getting orange goop all over him self as he says, “How embarrassing.” That’s it. “How embarrassing” is the punch line. Is there really a writers’ room somewhere on the Warner lot where a group of insanely well-paid writers all agreed that “How embarrassing” was the absolute funniest line they could come up with? I bet can think of some better lines right here and now. Maybe Danger Duck could say, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the shower.” Or Ace could walk up and say, “Orange you embarrassed?” Or, even better, Ace could walk up and say, “Who ordered the duck l’orange?” I could keep this up all day.
The one thing about this two-disc set that viewers won’t complain about is the nice picture quality, with a lot of intense, vivid colors on display. The 2.0 stereo track is a good one, making the most of the many pointless explosions. The only extras are a bunch of trailers that play when you first put in Disc One.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, there’s a movie that doesn’t interest me at first, until I learn about the creative process that went into it. With that background, I find I appreciate the film much more. It’s time for this show’s creators to step back from behind the curtain and defend their decisions. Perhaps if we the viewers better understood what their goals were for this series, we could see it in a new light.
What’s that phrase about “sound and fury signifying nothing” again? That pretty much sums up Loonatics Unleashed.