“Looney Tunes” is back, this time on HBO Max, but with one major difference from the original series. In this iteration, when Elmer Fudd goes after Bugs Bunny, he won’t be armed with a rifle, but a scythe. Because if there’s one thing that doesn’t suggest a violent and bloody demise, it’s a scythe.
In explaining the change, executive producer Peter Browngardt said, “We’re not doing guns. But we can do cartoony violence — TNT, the Acme stuff. All that was kind of grandfathered in.” Why the guns weren’t also grandfathered in was not explained, as the producers are obviously being even more illogical than the actual cartoons here. For some reaason, violence is okay, so long as it’s limited to giant blades, explosives, and other such obviously non-lethal and non-problematic means.
It’s not like dynamite — the explosive, not Napoleon — has ever hurt anyone or that there was a movie titled for a giant blade that the protagonist used as a murder weapon. Also, how does scythe failure work? When Elmer shoots Daffy and he gets coated in ash or his feathers fall off, that makes sense. Will the scythe just bounce off? Bend? I should probably stop giving them ideas for how to make it plausible.
Given that the whole premise of “Looney Tunes” is violent conflict, it’s an odd choice, if a wholly predictable one given the times. This is why the writers should go for Molotov cocktails instead of dynamite. But also given the times, it’s worth noting that guns are not the only problematic thing about classic “Looney Tunes.” There are so many more, starting with another thing about Elmer.
1. Elmer Fudd’s Speech Impediment
In the early cartoons, when Elmer went hunting with a gun, he was known to turn to the camera and say, “Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.” Depicting a character this way is obviously wrong, as it uses his speech impediment for laughs. This is unacceptable, and we haven’t even touched on the fact that Elmer is also fond of telling Bugs, “Say your pwayers, wabbit!”
If HBO Max wants to truly make a difference with cartoons dedicated to showing characters fighting, it will avoid capitalizing on one of its protagonist’s difficulties with pronouncing certain letters and especially avoid having him discuss religion.
2. Bugs Bunny’s History of Racism
This short video sums up many of Bugs’ troubling statements over the years, although it’s unclear why making fun of Nazis is problematic, unless you’re an Illinois Nazi.
Will the new “Looney Tunes” eschew moments like these as well? Given that they haven’t explicitly made a point to say they won’t and that silence is violence, viewers need to be on the alert that Bugs might start sounding like David Duke at any given moment. It’s not just Bugs, either. Other beloved characters also need to attend some struggle sessions.
3. Speedy Gonzalez
Speedy Gonzales is the fastest mouse in all of Mexico, as you may have been able to deduce from his name. You would not, however, know this from watching “Looney Tunes” reruns on TV. Despite the League of United Latin American Citizens’ plea of “Viva Speedy! Give the mouse a chance,” Cartoon Network shelved shorts starring Speedy when it acquired the rights to the show in 1999.
Warner Brothers did release DVDs including the character, but each disc started with this message: “The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are still wrong today. While the following does not represent the WB view of society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
This puts HBO Max in a bind, since the current approach to history is to pretend it never existed, which would suggest quietly killing off the character. On the other hand, killing off a beloved Latino icon means the network is failing to see color. In other words, it’s problematic no matter what they do.
4. Pepe le Pew and #MeToo
For the unfamiliar, the basic premise of shorts starring the amorous skunk is that he finds an object of desire, often a black cat that has walked under a can of paint and now resembles a skunk, and then doesn’t take no for an answer.
Beyond the fact that Pepe is an unflattering stereotype of a smelly Frenchman, his refusal to get consent from the targets of his attraction in a way that would make Bill Cosby blush means the classic character needs to be canceled. This isn’t about je ne sais quoi, this is about justice.
5. PETA-Disapproved Treatment of Animals
Sure, it’s often animal-on-animal violence, and the humans in the show often lose to Bugs and Daffy Duck, but teaching kids to chase animals is wrong.
While a thorough 20-second Google search suggests PETA has never spoken out against “Looney Tunes,” that doesn’t mean HBO Max has to be as taciturn about animal rights as that organization. Detonating them with old-school explosives isn’t the answer to our furry friends.
6. ‘Looney Tunes’ Completely Eschews Science™
Whether it’s Bugs and Elmer completely failing to blow one another up or Wile E. Coyote’s battles with gravity, which often completely run afoul of the laws of physics, “Looney Tunes” has long failed to submit to the one true god: science. The characters even openly mock science. In one short, Bugs Bunny outright says, “I know this defies the laws of gravity, but I never studied law!” This may be the most problematic thing about the show.
For one, subverting the laws of physics is the height of privilege. For another, if we’re going to rely on television to help raise the next generation, it needs to demonstrate the importance of always genuflecting to experts and that umbrellas do not make suitable parachutes.
So far, HBO Max has avoided these pitfalls, but given the source material, we have to ask how long they can do so. Moreover, we need to ask what purpose does continuing the reboot serve, especially given the timing. HBO Max has already demonstrated the bravery of capitulation by temporarily pulling “Gone with the Wind.” Now it’s time for them to permanently pull the plug on “Looney Tunes.”