***This article originally appeared in the May ’20 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 300)***
A year after taking Annecy International Animated Film Festival by storm, the new Looney Tunes Cartoons series is finally ready to make a splash on the small screen. Executive produced by Peter Browngardt (Uncle Grandpa, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome) and Warner Bros. Animation president Sam Register, the highly anticipated show will debut on HBO Max in May.
The new series includes two of the shorts that have already been released independently, the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd episode Dynamite Dance, and the Mummy Dummy outing featuring Porky Pig and Daffy Duck (a.k.a. The Curse of the Monkey Bird). Altogether, the 80 episode season is made up of 11-minute episodes, each showcasing animated shorts that vary in length and include adapted storylines for today’s audience. And yes, the package includes some fun holiday-themed specials as well. Looney Tunes Cartoons also features a fantastic team of voice actors, including Eric Bauza, Jeff Bergman and Bob Bergen.
“I am a huge fan of those early Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Friz Freleng shorts,” says Browngardt. “When I was in junior high, my brother took me to see a screening of classic Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts at the Museum of the Moving Image. He also appeared in person to promote his book Chuck Amuck. That experience changed my life forever. It was the first time I was seeing so many people watch these shorts together and laugh at all these great shorts. It was such an amazing communal experience.”
Browngardt, who names classics such as Falling Hare, Hare Ribbin’, Buccaneer Bunny and Hair-Raising Hare as some of his favorites, began to develop the idea to reboot the Looney Tunes characters with a deep reverence for their origins in the fall of 2017, and the series began production in 2018. The shorts go back to the roots of the characters.
“The characters’ personalities were wacky, zany and high-energy,” notes the director. “We wanted the shorts to be more surreal and cartoony. Our challenge was how to recreate the old style of animation and characters while bringing that energy and aesthetic to 2020. That language and feel of cartoony animation is not so much around anymore. But that’s how I fell in love with the medium. I used to watch those shorts on TNT and on my older brother’s videotapes.”
The Emmy-nominated director and his team of 50 work on the cartoons at the Warner Bros. Animation studio in Burbank, but they are also aided by four international studios (Tonic DNA in Montreal, Yowza! in Toronto, Yearim in Korea and Snipple in the Philippines. “It was a really global effort to create these classic cartoons,” says Browngardt. “We had people from all parts of the world working with these characters that are so timeless and well known. They all used a variety of methods — from old-fashioned pencil and paper, all the way to Toon Boom Harmony and Adobe software — to produce the animation.”
The artists studied all of the classic designs of the characters as inspiration for each one of the shorts. “Every director had their own take on Bugs, Daffy and Porky,” says Browngardt. “We did a lot of drawing and decided to cherry pick from all the characters in time to land on our versions of the characters. We wanted the fluidity and energy. Our characters are more rounded, more squat. We gave Bugs yellow gloves, and Daffy has the longer, thinner bill. Porky is Clampett’s version, with the bigger eyes and head. We definitely did a lot of homework!”
Browngardt says he and his team have been thrilled by the positive response of fans at screenings. “As much as I want to take credit, it all comes down not screwing up these beloved, universal characters. I like to say that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, hoping that we don’t lose our balance and fall flat on our faces. The people who made the original shorts invented this art form. They took the baton and ran with it. They learned on the job and had decades to perfect it. They are the Michelangelos of this artform. I just hope that our shorts will make people laugh. If I can get audiences to have that same communal experience that I had when I saw the Looney Tunes in the theater for the first time, that would be amazing.”
The helmer says he and his team are very excited to share the fruits of their labor after so many years with fans this spring. “It’s so rewarding to be able to share the hard work that so many amazing and talented folks have put into this series over the past two and a half years. I hope that the viewers laugh a lot and fall in love with these characters, just like I did when I was a kid.”
Looney Tunes Cartoons premieres on HBO Max at launch on May 27.
A Few Words from the Brilliant Mr. Bauza
Throughout his career, Eric Bauza has voiced so many remarkable animated characters, it would take several pages to list all his credits. The comedian and former animation artist, who has starred as Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys, Baby Fozzie Bear, Luke Skywalker, Puss in Boots and Stimpy (to name a few), provides the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Tweety and Pepé Le Pew in the new show. We caught up with him to get the skinny on his amazing career:
Can you tell us how you got the gig on the new Looney Tunes show?
Bauza: It was by way of an open casting call. The only other time I’ve ever had a chance to audition for these beloved characters was almost 10 years ago for The Looney Tunes Show when I landed the role as Marvin the Martian. It’s pretty rare when WB recasts these characters, unless they are looking to do something drastically different. I felt that this time around they wanted to give them a fresh take.
What do you love about this new incarnation of Bugs, Daffy, Tweety and Marvin?
What I love the most about this run of Looney Tunes is that Sam [Register] and Pete [Browngardt] and the rest of the team went back to the drawing board … literally. In all my years as an actor and decades before as a fan, this is the closest to the original [Looney Tunes] I think we can get as far as design, animation, writing, background painting, voices and music. I’m very honored and proud to be a part of these animated shorts. The show is the ultimate love letter to the Looney Tunes forefathers. We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel on this round, instead we paid homage to what Clampett, Jones, McKimson, Freleng and Avery created.
What was the toughest aspect of this latest gig?
The toughest part was knowing how accurate the look of the shorts was going to be, so as an actor the challenge is always the right acting of the characters. For me, these characters will always be Mel Blanc. No one can ever replace the mountain of legendary work that he did. But the demand for new Looney Tunes shorts will always need to be met. It’s always been a dream to step into these characters because they meant so much to me as a kid.
I never went to school for “acting.” I started out in animation on the other side of the glass as a character layout artist — I learned everything about acting through watching cartoons, specifically Looney Tunes. Animation has always been in my blood. In a way, my contribution to Looney Tunes Cartoons is a small thank you to Mr. Blanc for teaching me everything I need to know about character acting.
How do you stay sane during these crazy quarantine times?
We certainly are living in crazy times, aren’t we? I try to stay sane by calling my parents, and checking in with my brother and his family back home in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I keep in contact with close friends and, above everything else, I take care of my son. And yes, he loves Looney Tunes, too! We watch the classics almost every day. Since we are on quarantine, as a voice actor I’m working from home. I have the same microphone I used to audition with from 2007. Still works. They say recording voices from home is the new normal, but hopefully for not too much longer. I miss people, LOL. P.S.: Wash Your Hands.
Best advice for those who want to get into the voice acting business?
It’s acting, acting, acting. If you can do funny voices and impressions, that’s great! But acting is the most important thing about your performance — especially in animation. We don’t have the luxury of using facial expressions or body language to convey emotions. Everything that moves you from our performances in animations comes only from our vocal chords. Even if you’re voicing an animated character, the character needs to be grounded in some kind of reality. Once you nail the acting, then the voice will follow.