Los Angeles Times

Film captures wit of classic toons

Orlando CityBeat Writer

At last, at last! It only took them 15 years and four failed attempts, but I'll be hornswoggled -- I say hornswoggled, son -- if they didn't finally capture the zany wit and multileveled antics of our beloved pals, the Warner Bros. (and friends/licensees) stable of cartoon legends.

Director Joe Dante clearly loves both the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, and today's movie-making technology. This route has been tried before -- most recently in 1996's uneven Space Jam -- but this time it works almost continuously. The freewheeling mixture of classic characterizations (including what some might say are too many reworks of scenes that worked before), and winking pop-culture commentary blend surprisingly well, and make this movie more of a sequel to 1986's inspired Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than to that Michael Jordan vehicle (indeed, Michael gets one tiny, insiginificant cameo -- just to remind us that he's not very funny).

Even the most jaded Net Cynic is bound to get more than a few laughs out of the eye-popping array of characters and the many not-aimed-at-kids references in the film. Among the moments I found particularly hilarious: the animated Shaggy and Scooby berating a hapless Matt Lillard over his portrayal of Shaggy in the live-action Scooby Doo; the surprise appearance of Robby the Robot and a bevy of lost sci-fi classic monsters and other creatures (including a real mind-blower from the UK) in the already-a-classic "Area 52" sequence; finding Nemo (you have to see this to understand); the totally-unexpected homage to Alfred Hitchcock; and the already-a-classic-again-already Louvre museum chase scene (which even ends with Bugs mentioning that he believes cartoons should be educational -- and he's right!).

Indeed, the flaws in this film can be summed up in two words: the humans. Brendan Fraser is a good sport in a thankless job, but he and Jenna Elfman, the wasted Heather Locklear, the stunning all-star (but almost silent) cast of Acme Vice Presidents (led by Acme Chairman and All Around Rotten Egg Steve Martin as a bizarre mix of The Jerk and Elton John) and even the mildly amusing but hammy Tim Dalton all simply can't keep pace with the subversive and pervasive pratfalls, glorious visual jokes (such as dogs playing poker -- in Vegas!) and clever one-liners. Okay, there is one other flaw -- a tiny bit of poor taste involving the Tasmanian Devil.

Surprisingly, this cartoon actually has a fair amount of depth: Bugs and Daffy (particularly Daffy) go on at length about being exploited by the film business; Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzalez comment on Political Correctness; the characters (live and animated) break the fourth wall in amusing and insightful ways, and on top of everything else, it works as a good Bond parody. Oh, and in the words of the Comic Book Guy -- "best product placement ever."

Not since Pixar started doing kid movies that weren't stupid or banal have we had a major motion picture that is aimed at the entire family and succeeds in that aim. Cherish that -- but keep an eye out for falling anvils.

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