Looney Tunes, the Warner Bros.-produced animated shorts that ran from 1930 to 1969, are some of the funniest movies ever made. From Bugs Bunny to Marvin the Martian, from Daffy Duck to the giant monster covered in red hair, even the most minor of characters have become iconic.
And yet “have become iconic” is a bit of a misnomer, because that’s really only true for people of a certain age. I’m 39, and I grew up with Looney Tunes, but people even 10 years younger than me have only a loose awareness of what they were, usually thanks to the existence of the 1996 film Space Jam, in which these characters play basketball alongside Michael Jordan, in hopes they will not be destroyed by monsters from outer space.
This modern lack of awareness is too bad. Looney Tunes offers a comprehensive course in slapstick humor, wisecracks, and classical music (thanks to the many, many famous pieces used for their scores), and everybody should at least know the wild, fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans of “Duck Amuck,” in which Daffy Duck faces down an animator who keeps trying to erase him and draw some other version of the original angry bird (give or take a Donald).
But HBO Max, the new streaming service, has come to the rescue. The service features a huge collection of the original Looney Tunes cartoons (though not all of them), as well as a brand new series of Looney Tunes animated shorts drawn in a modern style, closer to what you might find on Cartoon Network. And the new versions are pretty good! They’re not as good as the originals, but they’re close enough if you squint.
So I thought I would discuss these cartoons with one of my esteemed colleagues who didn’t grow up with the Looney Tunes the way I did. I speak, of course, of Vox’s critic-at-small, Eliza, who is 4.75 years old and known for her hard-hitting insights and trenchant observations on pop culture. The two of us recently hopped on Zoom to chat all things looney, tuney, and marooney.
Emily and Eliza on the eternal appeal of these cartoons
Marc Antony the dog kisses his new little kitty friend in the classic 1952 short “Feed the Kitty.”Warner Bros.
Emily: I grew up with Looney Tunes. They were shown on the daily children’s program on one of our local stations in South Dakota, which is how I became familiar with their rhythms, the ways they told stories, the assorted running gags that kept escalating. My favorite character as a kid was probably Bugs Bunny — what kid doesn’t love a wise-cracking protagonist? But I was also fond of more obscure characters, like Marc Antony, the big, gruff dog who falls in love with a tiny kitten in “Feed the Kitty” (my favorite Looney Tune).
Revisiting these cartoons as an adult reveals just how much their sense of humor leached out into the world at large. In every single short, there’s a sense of barely restrained anarchy, of wild and glorious violence about to burst forth from every corner. That’s most evident in the slapstick gags — there are so many expressions of funny violence — but the storytelling is also breathless and so, so clever. Gags pile on top of gags pile on top of gags, and the incredibly sim