Cartoon Network’s brand new take on classic Looney Tunes characters, Wabbit, comes out on DVD today with a two disc set of episodes, Wabbit. A Looney Tunes Production: Season 1 Part 1: Hare Raising Tales. Is it worth your time? Well, that depends. How well do you deal with change, and how well did you like the Looney Tunes’ last venture into television animation, The Looney Tunes Show?
In 2011, Cartoon Network released the first episodes of the first new Looney Tunes show since the much maligned Loonatics Unleashed was cancelled in 2007. The Looney Tunes Show was a brand new take on the Looney Tunes characters, transplanting them all into suburbia, and making the humor a lot more situation and character based, rather than character and slapstick based.
Personally, I didn’t mind. I grew up watching The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show every Saturday morning, and I’ve been collecting the classic shorts on DVD for years. I love the Looney Tunes, and I loved the new sitcom-ish formula. I thought it was a clever way to bring the characters into the modern world without feeling tired. It was not perfect, but it was usually very funny.
The Looney Tunes Show lasted two seasons before being effectively cancelled in 2013, burning off one final episode a year later. Response to the show had been mixed and, while most people praised the writing, many others were upset that they had mostly done away with the slapstick comedy that the Looney Tunes had been known for, as well as the fact that Bugs Bunny had taken on more of a straight man role, rather than his early, more mischievous persona.
When The Looney Tunes Show was cancelled, it was announced that in its place Cartoon Network would be debuting a brand new take on the classic Looney Tunes characters called Wabbit. While I was disappointed at the loss of one of my favorite cartoons, the pain was soothed with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before they would be back on my screen.
A little over a year after the last episode of The Looney Tunes Show finally aired, Wabbit debuted. It was just what the critics of The Looney Tunes Show demanded. Gone was the half hour, sitcom format, and the more reserved Bugs Bunny. In its place was a series of 5-6 minute shorts with a crazy Bugs Bunny facing off against a wide variety of villains, just like in was 70 years ago. There was just one problem. It wasn’t that funny.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of humor. There is usually at least one moment per episode that will get some sort of emotional response from me, from a side smile with an eye roll, to a big grin, to the occasional, actual laugh. The show is not entirely devoid of humor, it’s just often devoid of it.
Part of the problem here is that Wabbit seems to have been made in response to the backlash against The Looney Tunes Show. Bugs Bunny was too reserved? Then make him even more manic than he ever was! The show didn’t have enough slapstick? Then pump the new show so full of slapstick that there’s no room for anything else! The problem is, in trying to get back the slapstick, they lost the wit. Wabbit swings so far back into the realm of slapstick comedy that there is almost no intelligent humor left!
One of the biggest problems with the show is the fact that they have done away with almost every character except Bugs Bunny. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by that fact – the show is called Wabbit, after all. But the choice to exclude almost everyone else is baffling. Especially since instead of mining their roster of established characters, they felt the need to introduce a rather bland new supporting character, Squeaks the squirrel.
Part of the reason that the Looney Tunes brand works so well is the huge cast of characters. You can have an episode focused on Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, an episode focused on Sylvester and Tweety, or even one focused on more obscure characters, like the Goofy Gophers. Every character has a unique personality, and every character can tell a unique story; the ability to switch between characters keeps everything fresh. When the entire show is focused on Bugs, every episode begins to feel like a remake of the last one.
When I say that this new show excludes almost everyone, I mean that there have been a number of appearances by a select few classic characters; they are just completely different than they have ever been. The most frequent returning character is Wile E. Coyote. However, instead of the bumbling, mute coyote of the Roadrunner cartoons, we get the British accented version from his few appearances alongside Bugs Bunny. This makes sense, as Roadrunner is nowhere to be found and he is now Bugs’ neighbor, the only problem is that he is an over-the-top buffoonish caricature of the genius he once was. He is hateful and arrogant, and a completely unlikable character with no redeeming value.
The other most frequently returning character is Yosemite Sam. This character they got mostly right. He is stupid, has a short temper, and is pretty much the same character that you’ve always loved to hate. Except he has been redesigned so horribly that he is almost completely unrecognizable and heinously ugly.
Yosemite Sam is not the only character to get a redesign in Wabbit. Every character that has come back or made a cameo appearance has been altered in some way. I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing for most of the characters. The Looney Tunes Show also featured redesigns, and it was frequently criticized for them. Every character was given a slightly more modern feel. This never bothered me, I kind of liked the new looks. Character designs always evolve, the Bugs Bunny of the 1950’s looks almost nothing like the Bugs Bunny of the 1930’s and 40’s. The changes for The Looney Tunes Show were far less drastic than those. While I prefer the designs in The Looney Tunes Show, I don’t actively dislike most of the new looks in Wabbit.
Related to the absence of almost every other Looney Tunes character, is the fact that they’ve all been replaced with a random assortment of generic bad guys. Bugs Bunny’s classic enemies, like Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, have been all been done away with in favor of ninjas, random forest creatures, tooth fairies, leprechauns, and a host of other generic antagonists that literally no one cares about and will never make a second appearance. There are exceptions to this, as there has been the occasional recurring villain such as the Grim Rabbit, but for the most part the villains in Wabbit are mostly one-note, one-off characters that the audience is never given the chance to care about and most are so unlikable that we don’t even want the chance to care about them.
Part of what made Bugs’ old shorts so great was that his antagonists were almost all recurring characters that were either just as famous and well-loved as Bugs, or they were spot-on parodies of specific people or types of people. They weren’t just characters written solely for the sake of being a complete jerk for no other reason than to give Bugs someone to face off against, they were there to provide humor just as much as Bugs was.
As much as I have been criticizing the show, it’s not all bad. The background art is all top-notch. It has a modern feel to it, very stylized, but keeps a bit of the flavor of the old painted backgrounds from the Loony Tunes’ golden era.
Also the voice work is stellar. There is no surprise here. Everyone from The Looney Tunes Show is back, and they’ve all been doing these characters for years.
I should also mention the animation itself as well. While a few of the character designs haven’t been the greatest, the animation itself is all excellent. The lines are all clean, and everything moves fluidly. The writing may not be where I’d like it to be yet, but at least the show is great to look at.
As a lifelong Looney Tunes fan I want to love this show, so I am constantly trying to find some redeeming value in it. I will continue watching in the hopes that it gets better and, since this is Looney Tunes, I will keep watching for far longer than I would if this were any other new show. I realize that a lot of shows take some time to find their footing and become the show that they want to be. Wabbit wants to be a classic Looney Tunes show for a modern age. It just has a way to go before that can happen. If they brought back more characters and toned down the slapstick, even just a little, it would go a very long way to improving the show.
This show is not a bad show, and if you’re a kid who has never seen a classic Looney Tunes short, or isn’t discerning enough to know what one should be, then this show is just fine and maybe even great. But for an adult Looney Tunes fan who loves good writing and good characterization, right now this does not feel very much like a Looney Tunes show.
The DVD Release
Like most Cartoon Network releases, this is not a full season set. Instead of a random collection of episodes, it is a half season set which is significantly better. It does feel like a random collection, but that is simply because there is no overarching narrative. Every episode is its own story, and there really isn’t anything in the way of continuity here.
There are 26, 11-minute episodes on this set, and each episode contains two shorts – meaning that there are 52 shorts in total on these discs. As many of these have run together in my mind, I’ll just pick out a few stand-out episodes that merit more attention than others.
The Yosemite Sam episodes are some of the best. Despite his really awful redesign, he’s still a great character and the fact that Maurice LaMarche still does his voice is the icing on the cake. Episodes like “The Inside Bugs,” or “Pain and Treasure,” really highlight his character and are a lot better than the average episode.
“Oils Well that Ends Well” was a mostly good episode that was partly a spoof on the tired old oil tycoon trope, and partly a spoof of Burning Man and/or Coachella. It had quite a few good gags, and I didn’t completely loathe the villain as a character. Though I did hate that awful chattering thing she did with her teeth.
“Survivalist of the Fittest” followed Bugs’ attempt to sabotage a wilderness survivalist’s attempt to survive in the woods alone. This was basically a spoof of Bear Grylls, or other similar personalities, but unlike many other shorts in this collection, he wasn’t just a random bad guy being a jerk for no reason. Bugs Bunny was mad at him because he ate a family of rabbits, so he seeks out vengeance. It really felt like something the classic Bugs would do, and the short was a lot more enjoyable because of this.
“Office Rocker” saw the return of the Tasmanian Devil, and I have to say that this version of him has the potential to be much better than the version we got on The Looney Tunes Show. On The Looney Tunes Show Taz was not really anything more than Bugs Bunny’s dog. He had some good moments, but I didn’t like that he was demoted so severely. In this version, he is fully sentient and he works in an office trying desperately to suppress his violent personality. He makes reference to a wife and kid, so I really hope that we get to see these characters some day.
Wabbit. A Looney Tunes Production: Season 1 Part 1: Hare Raising Tales is a good collection of a better than average cartoon, but a rather lackluster addition to the Looney Tunes family. I am not giving up on it, the episodes did seem to gradually get a little better toward the end of the set, so I’m still holding out hope that this show can become something greater.
If you are a Looney Tunes fan, and a completist, you’ll want to get this DVD. If you are a parent of a kid who loves Bugs Bunny, get them this DVD, they will love it. If you are a die-hard classic Looney Tunes fan, maybe check back in on season two. Hopefully by then they will have found their footing.
Wabbit. A Loony Tunes Production: Season 1 Part 1: Hare Raising Tales: US
What are your thoughts on Wabbit? Was I too hard on the show?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes