What's Up, Doc?

Okay, I'm going to come right out and say it: This writeup is completely unresearched. Not even on Google. Because, let's face it, if I have to do scholarly research just to talk about Looney Tunes, I have basically failed as a human being.

Looney Tunes began as a series of animated shorts created by Warner Brothers in the 1930s, and after the advent of television became a Saturday morning cartoon staple for the rest of the 20th century. And beyond? Yes, even beeeyoooooond...

Each cartoon is generally a vaudeville comedy, in the style of Abbott & Costello, Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges, but with the slapstick pratfalls magnified to the sort of goofy proportions that only animation allows; so that where Mo might bean a fellow stooge with a flower pot, Bugs would squash Daffy with a 1000lb anvil--


                     S
                      S
                     S
                    S
                       S
                        S
                       S
                        s
                          s
                          s
                           s
                          s
                               s
                               h
                              h
                              h
                           CRASH!!

-- Why? Because he can. Because it's funny. (In the next scene, Daffy would of course dust himself off, good as new. Cartoons are immortal.)

As the name suggests, the music is also a critical factor. (In fact, Looney Tunes was originally devised as a way to recycle and promote the studio's huge library of movie music.) That plummeting anvil just would not be the same without the obligatory slide whistle and cymbal SMASH. Animators would start with the musical score first, and build the plot and script around it. The soundtrack was typically uptempo big band jazz and ragtime, but there were plenty of exceptions. In one famous example, Elmer Fudd chases Bugs through a mock-Wagnerian opera.

Looney Tunes had a parallel series called Merry Melodies. Merry Melodies allowed the studio to experiment with different music and characters, while Looney Tunes was all about a recurring cast of cartoon "stars". (Another of the core conceits of the whole show was that they broke the fourth wall all the dang time, treating the toons like actors in a movie, right down to occassional back-talk to the animators and coffee breaks in canvas chairs off-stage.)

This cast of characters would become one of the two great cartoon pantheons of American animation, alongside the Disney pantheon of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. (Hannah-Barbara's iconic characters, or maybe the Peanuts gang, might be considered a very distant third.)

This pantheon includes:

Bugs Bunny: a "wascally" gray rabbit with the sly voice and cool-headed demeanor of a carrot-crunching Groucho Marx. Bugs is a rambling hobo that lives by his wits and goes where he pleases, outsmarting anyone that tries to get in his way.

Elmer Fudd: a bumbling hunter with a floppy brown cap and double-barrel shotgun. Bug Bunny's archenemy. Talks with a speech impediment such that all his Rs sound like Ws. (The classic Bugs-Elmer exchange is "Eh, what's up, Doc?" "Shhh! Be vewwy vewwy quiet. We'ah hunting wabbits!")

Daffy Duck: Bugs' nemesis, a loud-mouthed and short-fused black feathery duck. Daffy is a caricature of an egotistical, wound-too-tight Hollywood actor, the straight man to Bugs' laidback schtik. His main goal in life is to upstage Bugs and steal the limelight for himself, though his schemes always backfire and blow up in his face (often literally).

Porky Pig: a short, pudgy pink hog that wears a blue shirt but no pants, kind of an everyman character who wants nothing more than to enjoy the simple life on his humble farm, except that he's constantly getting pestered by total psychopaths the likes of Bugs and Daffy. In some shorts he's cast as Daffy's rather unwitting sidekick, though thanks to the karma of cartoons he generally ends up unscathed while Daffy finds himself blown to smithereens.

Yosemite Sam: a red-bearded rootin'-tootin' gunslingin' cowboy-- and don't you ferget it-- gold prospector and occasional foil to Bugs Bunny in western themed segments. When riled up by Bugs' pranks, he's prone to blasting off wild shots in the air and hollering out folksy Old West invective. Refers to Bugs as a "DADGUM VARMIT".

Marvin the Martian: a fan-favorite occasional villain in sci-fi spoofing episodes, like the Buck Rogers sendup Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. Marvin's face is a featureless black ball except for white eyes, and he wears a Roman centurion uniform (a sort of visual pun). His schemes to thwart Bugs and Daffy and destroy the Earth generally go awry when his gadgets work a little too well or get hijacked at the worst possible times. (Classic example: a packet of 10,000 freeze-dried Martians ("JUST ADD WATER!") which, when knocked into a drain, traps his entire goon-squad underground.)

Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner MEEP MEEP!: Always appearing as a pair, the Roadrunner cartoons are unique in that neither of the characters speak (though the Coyote sometimes communicates through white signboards that he holds up to the camera). Wile E endlessly chases the Roadrunner through a surrealistic desert landscape, employing ever more convoluted technological devices-- from slingshots to catapults to rocket-powered roller skates-- which arrive in huge boxes from the Acme Corporation. The Coyote seems to have nigh-limitless resources, but the Roadrunner always evades. This is because, while Wile E. is a consummate engineer, the Roadrunner has 3 doctorates in cartoon physics.

Taz the Tasmanian Devil: a shaggy, savage brown brute that devours everything in his path. Taz is generally depicted as a force of nature, a literal whirlwind of destruction, but whom every once in a while seems to have a moment of zen-like clarity and growls deadpan, strangely poetic one-liners like "Whyfore you toss Taz into yon cold, cold pond?"

Foghorn Leghorn: a tall barrel-chested rooster with the cocky (heh) bluster and drawl of a Southern good ol' boy. ("That- ah say, that wuz a joke, son.") Foghorn Leghorn cartoons took place on a hot, dusty farm somewhere in the American South and had their own cast of characters, including the barnyard dog, a spinster hen, the hen's nerdy bookworm son (who Foghorn was constantly trying to educate in more manly, red-blooded past-times), and a tiny but scrappy chickenhawk.

Sylvester & Tweety: a cat-and-mouse (or, yah know, "cat-and-bird") cartoon, generally separate from the other characters, starring a tubby black and white tabby (Sylvester) and a childish, naive, but not-entirely-innocent yellow canary (Tweety). They're both pets of a spry, frumpy grandmother. Sylvester tries to eat Tweety on the sly, under the watchful eyes (and whapping pink umbrella) of Grannie, but is always caught or otherwise deflected.

Speedy Gonzales: a side character that sometimes appears in Sylvester & Tweety cartoons. Speedy is a brown-furred Mexican mouse who wears a wide sombrero and moves like lightning, screaming " Arriba! Arriba! Arriba! Andelé!" He's sometimes controversial because of the Mexican stereotyping, but in general it's a positive stereotype: Speedy is a Zorro-meets-Mighty Mouse figure that hands Sylvester his comeuppance for preying on the defenseless Tweety.

Pepé Le Pew: a debonair French skunk who strolls with a bouncy gait through Paris in search of l'amour. In a spoof of French romance films, Pepé's dialogue is an oh-so-soulful mishmash of French and English phrases. ("Ahh, mon couer... Le scent of a belle femme skunk fatale!") Here, of course, the ethnic stereotype is not so flattering (it's based on a longstanding belief in the U.S. that French people are smelly and unclean) but, like Speedy, Pepé is generally a lovable character. The general setup for a Le Pew cartoon is star-crossed love: Pepe falls for a black cat (Penelope Pussycat) who he mistakes as a lady skunk. Penelope later swoons for Pepé too, though she still can't bear his smell, so she instead plays hard-to-get or concocts other plans to de-scent him. ("Le sigh. C'est la vie...")

a-ba-dee ba-dee ba-dee-- That's all, folks!

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.