I'd been feeling uneasy about the behavior of the classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters -- Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, et al -- for quite some time before I realized this.

The slight change in their voices could be explained by, first of all, the inevitable changes wrought in Mel Blanc's vocal chords by the onset of age, and then by the taking up of those voice acting duties by a replacement once the great Mr. Blanc was no longer available.

But something was just off about the guys. Their comic timing was all wrong. The edginess was gone. And whereas before the various characters were relentless in their attempts to swindle, maim, and even devour one another, now everyone seemed to be...getting along. And what the hell was up with the Tasmanian Devil? The slobbering, rapacious, barely-coherent engine of death and destruction was now calling himself "Taz" and posing on t-shirts and baseball caps like some kind of animated Marky Mark.

Then the Warner Brothers network, aka "the WB" appeared, heralded by a torrent of television commercials featuring one of my favorite characters ever, Michigan J. Frog -- and then it all became clear.

You will remember Michigan J. from the cartoon "One Froggy Evening", in which the greedy protagonist tries to wring big bucks from showing off this incredible singing and dancing frog he's found. The scheme backfires when it becomes apparent that the frog will only perform when no one else is watching. The obvious moral is that there are just some things that cannot be exploited for material gain, and any attempt to do so can only end in ruin.

THAT'S when I realized what had been done. Michigan J. Frog, the REAL Michigan J. Frog, by his very nature cannot be the spokesman for the WB because HE ONLY SINGS WHEN THE WORLD'S ATTENTION IS ELSEWHERE. The amphibian cavorting shamelessly in front of millions on behalf of the crappy shows airing at the time must therefore be someone else.

Furthermore, that would explain how Tweety and Sylvester (whose primary relationship is via the food chain) can be compelled to call off their endless struggle in order to solve mysteries together, and how the whole crazy anarchic crew could play an entire basketball game without it disintegrating into a total shotgun-blasting, dynamite-throwing battle royale halfway through.

I don't know where they got these new characters -- distant relatives of the originals maybe, a sort of Patty Duke-style identical cousin thing? -- but however hard they try, they just can't pass for the real thing. Nice try, WB, but sorry.

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