Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)

In this morning’s movie, we see the Mona Lisa

…and we see Shaggy and Scooby dressing down Matthew Lillard for his impersonation, so you just might think I arrange these TV shows and features so our wonderful kid would appreciate some of the jokes in this excellent and hilarious movie a little more. And you’d be right, except I was doomed to fail. The kid laughed so hard over the sight gags that I swear he missed every funny thing that the characters were saying, and I don’t know what I was thinking, expecting him to recognize Matthew Lillard after seven whole days had passed. Oh, well.

So I might be a shade disappointed, but our son certainly wasn’t. We watched Looney Tunes: Back in Action and it’s become, yet again, one of the funniest films he’s ever seen. I don’t think anybody was expecting that in 2003. The film was a huge flop, largely because money-making garbage like Space Jam had convinced the world that Warner Brothers had lost every conceivable clue they ever had, and audiences stayed away in droves because Michael Jordan was not one of the star attractions. Oddly, Warner even proved this with one of the special features on our edition: a Duck Dodgers cartoon called Attack of the Drones which does not appear to have a single joke in it. There are five other cartoons made around the same time on the Blu-ray. I don’t plan to ever watch any of them.

But the feature itself was an incredibly pleasant surprise when I took my older kids to see it seventeen years ago. Director Joe Dante, who gave his old pals Dick Miller and Roger Corman cameo parts, created a ridiculous and very, very funny world that draws from so much of popular culture that there’s just no way I could have prepped the kid for every gag in it. This is definitely a film to keep around and prompt your kids to rewatch as they get older. I mean, I’d completely forgotten that among Joan Cusack’s captives and henchmen at Area 52, the Robot Monster’s hanging out in a Mason jar. I remembered that she had a couple of Daleks, Robby the Robot, the thing from This Island Earth and poor old Kevin McCarthy, still in black and white, but I forgot the Robot Monster.

So if you’ve never seen this movie, or if you’ve been avoiding it like the plague because you know how terrible Bugs Bunny cartoons have been since about 1962 and you heard this one is so desperate for contemporary relevance that it features a cameo from a NASCAR celebrity and a gag about Wal-Mart, I promise it’s a million times funnier than it has any right or reason to be. The plot concerns an aspiring stuntman played by Brendan Fraser and a Warner Brothers executive played by Jenna Elfman on a globetrotting search for Timothy Dalton, who is an incredible superspy who poses as an actor who makes superspy movies. Bugs and Daffy come along for the mayhem, while the supervillain in charge of Acme sends an army of animated henchmen to stop them.

Actually, the only thing about this movie that has never worked for me is Steve Martin’s portrayal of the Acme supervillain. The movie stops dead almost every time Steve Martin is onscreen. This is the only movie that you can conceivably say that about, so I guess it’s notable for that as well.

Everybody avoided this film in theaters, and they all missed out. The kid loved it, and he’ll appreciate it more and more as he gets older and the references make more sense. My favorite bits probably include the Georges Seurat sequence, Area 52, the spy car running out of gas, and Bugs getting Marvin the Martian to roll down his space rocket’s window.

But I’ll tell you what’s the best thing about this movie and its world. It’s not the idea that there are twelve or thirteen Damian Drake movies that are probably really entertaining, and it’s not that all the cartoon characters are, Roger Rabbit-like, able to interact with humans, it’s that in this world, Joe Dante established that Roger Corman directs Batman movies. Can I please jump into this picture and watch one of those, Joe?

The Flash 1.17 – Captain Cold

Well, speaking of Dick Miller, as I was in the previous entry, back in 1990-91, he had a small recurring part as Fosnight, an informer who occasionally dropped helpful hints about Central City’s criminal underworld in CBS’s quirky version of The Flash. It was a show that owed a whole lot to the success of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, and gave John Wesley Shipp his first starring role as the Scarlet Speedster. Well, since I’m paying for DC Universe, I might as well take advantage of it and show the kid another thing or two, right? (We also watched one of my favorite episodes of the 1990s Batman cartoon, Paul Dini’s “Almost Got ‘im,” this afternoon.)

Maybe the more obvious pick for a look at The Flash would have been its pilot, or the two with Mark Hamill as the Trickster, or the two with Jason Bernard as Nightshade, the retired hero from the 1950s, but I’ve always enjoyed Gail Morgan Hickman’s “Captain Cold” more than all the other episodes. It guest starred Michael Champion, who was always playing toughs and cops on television in the 1980s and 1990s, as the supervillain, and I correctly guessed that the mix of dopey puns about snow and ice and the sense of “how will the Flash win” menace would keep our favorite eight year-old critic amused. Naturally, he enjoyed the climax the most. There’s nothing like seeing the villain hoist on his own petard when you’re a kid, is there?

On the other hand, this took such a long time to get moving. The Flash – and Lois & Clark, to a large degree – came from that time when television executives seemed terrified to throw too many wild ideas at the screen for fear of whether the audience could swallow them. At one point, they spend nearly a minute discussing how the hitman might have come into possession of a gun that does what it does. Were there really any viewers in their fifties and sixties watching this who needed to have “he has a freeze ray” spoonfed to them like this? And yet I remember reading a critique of the series once that wondered whether casual viewers could have understood a character as outre as Nightshade, as though “he was a superhero, he got old, he retired” was some kind of radical concept.

Anyway, our son certainly squirmed as the character development was limited exclusively to another guest star, wondering why he’s supposed to be caring about the journalistic ethics of somebody he’ll never see again when there’s perfectly good super speed and freeze ray stuff to be seen. But the problem with The Flash, both then and now, is that they have an hour of TV to fill and this guy’s scraps tend to be finished in seconds. I liked the show’s supporting cast, and its crazy timelost design, with art deco buildings and Tamara de Lempicka prints in everybody’s apartment, but I honestly prefer the modern TV incarnation, where there is so much more going on every week, and where members of the huge regular cast develop instead of one-off characters.

On the other hand, Grant Gustin’s Flash is known for making catastrophically bad, universe-threateningly poor decisions several times a season. John Wesley Shipp’s Flash may have run out of steam getting from one side of town to the other and back in sixty seconds, but he was no dummy. It’s nice to see a superhero with as much common sense as this Barry Allen.

Eerie, Indiana 1.4 – The Losers

I have to say… as wonderful as it is to have this fun show on DVD, I’m less than thrilled by the quality of the prints they used. I remember the series being much more vibrant and colorful when it was shown, and the prints, at least the ones of episodes three and four, have been cut by about thirty seconds. They lack the “Elvis / Bigfoot / man’s best friend” spoken section of the title sequence*. Perhaps these were copies prepared for syndication? Hopefully if some company ever decides to reissue this on Blu-ray, they can find the original masters and work from those.

Anyway, our son cheered when we told him we were watching another episode tonight. He really enjoys the young protagonists, but he simply sums it up by saying “It’s just so weird!” Joe Dante was back to direct episode four, and he brought along a pair of fabulous character actors: Henry Gibson and Dick Miller. Astonishingly, we’ve been doing this blog almost daily for close to four years and I don’t think that we’ve run into Miller before.

Gibson and Miller play employees of a top-secret government project called the Bureau of the Lost. They’re out to keep the economy stimulated by making sure people keep having to buy replacements for the things they misplace. But the hapless citizens of Eerie aren’t actually misplacing anything; Miller’s just creeping around swiping socks, lug nuts, pen caps, random pages from the phone book, and so on. The Tellers get selected for a run of bad luck, and Marshall’s dad’s briefcase vanishes. Dad’s in a state because it contains the formula for a petroleum-based banana flavoring, and Mom’s furious because he’s forgotten that it was an anniversary present.

Marshall and Simon’s scheme to deliberately lose something and see what happens leads them to Eerie’s bike gang, a laundromat stocked with the old Warren Eerie comic, and to the goofy bureau itself, where the word “found” causes Gibson’s character to get antsy. It reminded me of one of the lands from The Phantom Tollbooth! Our young heroes don’t quite save the day, the economy keeps ticking, and now we’ve got a very good explanation for the next time our son loses an important brick from a Lego set. Everyone wins!

*I might have got ahead of myself… the title sequence wasn’t quite formalized this early in the show, and later episodes on the set have the full version.