Today in art: ‘Looney Tunes’ and the importance of decency

A gentle television cartoon is supposed to produce just the right amount of chuckles. These cartoons are supposed to lighten up the average person, brighten up the yawning depressive despair of daytime schedules in almost any condition. When they’re done well, you may not be able to take your eyes off them for a moment.

When they’re done badly, on the other hand, they can be hugely boring. In fact, that may be the best guarantee of a laugh.

This issue has occasionally come up in the comics world. The cartoons we knew – for example Looney Tunes, GoldieBlox, King of the Hill, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle – were routinely beaten up by critics. Looney Tunes was already notorious for being difficult to watch, owing to its unfunny slapstick antics. Even with Bruce Campbell on board (he played Moe, Shemp, Wile E. Coyote, etc.) after his reputation had been ruined for more than a decade by the amazing Evil Dead, he still played the clown bad guy.

The studio commissioned another crappy cartoon, A Tootiful Blond Elephant. This led the company to only green-light six new cartoon projects for the following 22 years. The new titles gave Looney Tunes’ cartoon staff only 0.5% of the world’s resources.

The animators never went back, and the gatekeepers of the CBBC programmes then didn’t give us a single new comedy series for almost a decade after that. The newly launched BROS in 2006 has so far failed to live up to its name. The Daily Telegraph warned its readers in a 2006 article that it would “bring a welcome return to pure, elementary form”. Sadly, it seems that the rosiest projections of Rachenger were too optimistic. It started out as a brilliant advertisement for cartoon art, only to self-destruct in five years.

At the moment, the Looney Tunes property looks to be doing pretty well. Twenty-two years after it ended its life as an adult drama, it is still the top-rated US cartoon on cable TV channel Nickelodeon. In the UK, it’s the number one animated show on CBBC. As the well-respected indie production company Jim Henson Pictures announced last week, Rancorous Ridges, a new show created by world-famous animator Rick Baker, has got the go-ahead from the producers of The Simpsons and SpongeBob Squarepants.

Pixar, too, has come to the rescue of Looney Tunes. In the 2006 movie Cars, the cartoon stars are voiced by the people who voiced them in the classic Tunes cartoons: George Carlin, Pat Ferris, Dean Jones, Lawrence Lewy, Mike DeCarlo and Burgess Meredith.

To my eyes and ears, this might be the best proof yet that these old cartoons are not only the best cartoons of all time, but also the best cartoons ever made.

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