Sunday, March 13, 2005

Warning: Not Suitable For Anyone

If you want to see the unbleeped version of that "Buzz Bunny" Flash cartoon that's floating around, it's here. Warning: there's approximately 92,031 profane words. But that's what makes it so EXTREME!

As for the new "Loonatics" project -- I think too much commentary on the project has focused on the morality of tinkering with the classic characters, or the insult to the memory of Termite Terrace. In all honesty, this will do considerably less harm to the classic characters than, say, those cartoons pairing Daffy with Speedy Gonzales. At least "Loonatics" doesn't pretend to be using the actual, real-McCoy characters themselves, so the integrity of the original characters is not harmed; we don't have to suffer through a badly-animated Bugs like in the linking segments from those tiresome TV specials in the '70s and early '80s, and we don't have to suffer through Daffy acting like Snidely Whiplash. Stuff like that did a lot more damage to these characters than "Loonatics" ever will.

No, the problem with "Loonatics" is that it's just a very bad idea. As I wrote on a message board, the difference between this and "Tiny Toons" (which, whatever you think of it, was a good idea from WB's point of view, since it was a hit) is that "Loonatics" has almost nothing in common with the franchise it's based on. Why would anybody who likes Looney Tunes -- gag-filled comedy cartoons -- find the same qualities in a futuristic action-adventure series? At least "Duck Dodgers" tried to appeal to people who like Daffy and Porky. But "Loonatics" and WB's previous disaster "Baby Looney Tunes" seem to assume that people will respond to the character names, or the Looney Tunes brand, without trying to give people any of the things they like in Looney Tunes. It's not only bad art, it's bad marketing.

One of WB's strengths when they got into the TV animation game back in 1990 was that they were good at branding -- at figuring out what people liked about their most valuable properties, and trying to come up with something that would have some of the same general qualities. In the early '90s, they knew that their most popular franchises included Looney Tunes and Batman, so they came up with Tiny Toons -- a gag-filled funny cartoon show meant to appeal to people who liked Looney Tunes, kids and parents alike -- and Batman: The Animated Series, a dark superhero series that combined what kids liked about Batman with what adults liked about him.

When it came to Looney Tunes, WB's big mistake -- the thing that essentially killed Looney Tunes as a franchise -- was its decision to pull all the cartoons off all networks except the Cartoon Network, which it had recently acquired. What this meant, first of all, was that the cartoons were only available on cable, rather than on "regular" TV where kids might catch some cartoons on Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons, the way they had for decades. And second, it meant that if Cartoon Network decided to drop the Looney Tunes cartoons, as they eventually did (and WB couldn't force them to play the cartoons; one branch of a mega-corporation often doesn't have to pay any attention to another), the cartoons would essentially be gone from TV or at least banished to the area of cable which The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert has referred to as "Channel Eleventy-Twelve."

So if kids today aren't familiar with Looney Tunes, it's because the owners of the cartoons didn't or couldn't realize the basic formula for the health of the franchise: the more places the cartoons are on, the more kids will get introduced to them. What WB is doing now, and has been doing for the last few years, is to try and rebuild the franchise by making it appeal to today's kids. The problem is that today's kids are, as a group, a lost cause, because they didn't get to see these cartoons very much in their formative years.

These characters are not like Disney characters; they don't look all that cute and they don't have that much inherent appeal as merchandising figures. Mickey Mouse, because of his cuteness, can appeal to kids who have never seen a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but Bugs Bunny's appeal is mostly based on the excellence of his cartoons; kids who have never seen Bugs Bunny cartoons on a regular basis are not going to like Bugs Bunny. So I'd say WB's best bet for rebuilding the franchise release a package of cartoons into syndication, try to get more TV stations to run the old cartoons, and hope that the kids get addicted that way. But then, what do I know -- I thought Looney Tunes: Back in Action was pretty entertaining.

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