|Looney Tunes: Back in Action|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joe Dante|
Eric Goldberg (animation director)
|Screenplay by||Larry Doyle|
|Story by||Larry Doyle|
|Based on||Looney Tunes|
by Warner Bros.
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$68.5 million|
Looney Tunes: Back in Action is a 2003 American live-action/animated comedy film directed by Joe Dante. It is the third feature-length live-action/animation hybrid film to feature Looney Tunes characters, after Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Space Jam (1996). The plot follows Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny (both voiced by Joe Alaskey) as they help aspiring daredevil Damian "D.J." Drake, Jr. (Brendan Fraser) and Warner Bros. executive Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) find the "blue monkey" diamond in order to prevent the evil Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) of the Acme Corporation from using it to turn mankind into monkeys that will manufacture his products; the group also attempts to rescue D.J.'s father (Timothy Dalton), an actor and spy who has been captured by Mr. Chairman.
The film was theatrically released on November 14, 2003 with mixed-to-positive critical reception. Financially, the film was a box office bomb, grossing $68.5 million worldwide against an $80 million budget. This was the final film to be scored by composer Jerry Goldsmith, who died less than a year after the film's release. This was also the final film to be produced by Warner Bros. Feature Animation.
Tired of playing second banana to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck demands his own cartoon from Warner Bros., but is promptly fired by the "Vice-President of Comedy", Kate Houghton. Security guard and aspiring stuntman, DJ Drake is asked to escort Daffy off the studio lot, but the ensuing chase leads to the Batmobile demolishing the studio water tower, causing DJ to also get fired in the process. He returns home with Daffy hitching a ride, where he receives a message from his father, action film star, Damian Drake, who is actually a secret agent. Damian instructs his son to travel to Las Vegas, find his associate, Dusty Tails, and find a mystical diamond called the "blue monkey" diamond, before he is shortly thereafter captured by the Acme Corporation, led by the childish Mr. Chairman. DJ and Daffy head for Vegas. Meanwhile, Bugs' routines fall apart without Daffy, so Kate Houghton is forced to find and rehire Daffy or face being terminated herself. Bugs informs Kate of the situation, so they head to DJ's home where they find Damian's spy car, and use it pursue DJ and Daffy.
In Las Vegas, DJ and Daffy meet Dusty in a casino owned by Yosemite Sam, who happens to be an operative of the Acme Corporation. Dusty gives them a strange playing card, which is a clue to finding the diamond. Sam and his henchmen attempt to kill them and take the card, but they manage to elude him and flee in the spy car with Bugs and Kate. The spy car, which can also fly, crashes in the Nevada desert. As they traverse the desert, Wile E. Coyote tries to stop them, but fails miserably like he always does. The group eventually stumbles upon Area 52, run by a woman called 'mother', who informs them of the situation. She plays a video recording, which reveals that the Blue Monkey has the power to devolve humans into monkeys and evolve them back again. Acme intends on using the blue monkey on all of mankind to manufacture their products, and then turn them back to purchase them. Marvin the Martian, who was imprisoned in the facility, escapes and leads a group of fellow alien inmates to obtain the playing card, but the heroes escape. Seeing that the card has Mona Lisa's face on it, the group conclude they must view the painting in the Louvre, located in Paris.
At the Louvre, they discover that the card contains a viewing window, and looking through it, the window reveals that the Mona Lisa has a map of Africa hidden beneath. Elmer Fudd appears, who is also an Acme operative, and chases Bugs and Daffy through the gallery for the card whilst Kate is kidnapped by Mr. Chairman's bodyguard, Mr. Smith, to obtain a photo of the African map with help of Beaky Buzzard. DJ rescues Kate and Elmer is disintegrated by Bugs after jumping out of a pointillism artwork. Bugs and Daffy reunite with DJ and Kate, and they leave Paris.
DJ, Kate, Bugs, and Daffy travel to Africa, meeting Granny, Sylvester, and Tweety, who escort them to the ruins of a jungle temple where they find the blue monkey. However, Granny and company reveal themselves to be Mr. Chairman, Smith, and the Tasmanian Devil in disguise. Mr. Chairman uses a disintegration gun to transport himself and the heroes to the Acme headquarters where he forces DJ to give him the diamond, when Damian is revealed to be his prisoner, but goes back on his word to release him.
Marvin is sent to place the blue monkey on an Acme satellite which will emit an energy beam around the world to turn everyone, except Mr. Chairman, into monkeys. DJ and Kate rescue Damian from a death trap, whilst Bugs and Daffy pursue Marvin into space. Bugs is incapacitated, prompting Daffy to become Duck Dodgers, in order to destroy the blue monkey. In a hint of irony, the transforming energy beam only strikes Mr. Chairman, turning him into a monkey. Bugs and Daffy return to Earth, where Daffy discovers the whole adventure was staged to make a film. However, Bugs promises Daffy they will be equal partners, but just as Daffy's luck seems to be improving, he is flattened by the Looney Tunes iris, where Porky Pig attempts to close the film with "That's all folks!" only for the studio to shut down before he can finish, and he tells the audience to go home.
A follow-up to Space Jam was planned as early as the film's release. As development began, Space Jam 2 was going to involve a new basketball competition between the Looney Tunes and a new villain named Berserk-O!. Artist Bob Camp was tasked with designing Berserk-O! and his henchmen. Joe Pytka would have returned to direct and Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone signed on as the animation supervisors. However, Michael Jordan did not agree to star in a sequel. According to Camp, a producer lied to design artists, claiming that Jordan had signed on in order to keep development going. Warner Bros. eventually canceled plans for Space Jam 2.
The film then re-entered development as Spy Jam and was to star Jackie Chan. Warner Bros. was also planning a film titled Race Jam which would have starred Jeff Gordon. Both projects were ultimately cancelled. Warner Bros. eventually asked Joe Dante to direct Back in Action, having had previous success with Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987). In the early 1990s, Dante wanted to produce a biographical comedy with HBO, called Termite Terrace. It centered around director Chuck Jones' early years at Warner Bros. in the 1930s. On the project, Dante recalled "It was a hilarious story and it was very good except that Warner Bros. said 'Look, it's an old story. It's got period stuff in it. We don't want that. We want to rebrand our characters and we want to do Space Jam.'"
Dante agreed to direct Back in Action as tribute to Jones. He and screenwriter Larry Doyle reportedly wanted the film to the "Anti-Space Jam" as Dante disliked how that film represented the Looney Tunes brand and personalities. Dante said "I was making a movie for them with those characters [Looney Tunes: Back in Action] and they did not want to know about those characters. They didn't want to know why Bugs Bunny shouldn't do hip-hop. It was a pretty grim experience all around." Warner Bros. hired Walt Disney Feature Animation's Eric Goldberg, most known for his fast-paced, Warner Bros.-inspired animation of the Genie in Aladdin (1992), to direct the animation.
On the film, Dante stated "It's a gagfest. Not having a particularly strong story, it just goes from gag to gag and location to location. It's not a particularly compelling narrative, but, of course, that's not where the charm of the movie is supposed to lie." On the subject of filming, Dante said "[W]e would shoot each scene three times. First we'd rehearse with a stand-in--a 'stuffy,' we called it. Then, we'd shoot the scene without anything in it; then, we'd shoot the scene again with this mirror ball in the shot which shows the computers where the light sources are. Then the animators would go to work and put characters into the frame. The problem with that movie came when the studio [executives] started to get tired of our jokes and wanted us to change them. But, of course, the animation is done to the voices and not the other way around. It was difficult trying to convince them that you don't just bring in 25 gag writers and try to write a joke that's short enough to put in somebody's mouth." Although the production had twenty-five gag writers, the film has only one credited writer.
Despite being directed by acknowledged fans of the original cartoons, Dante stated that he had no creative freedom on the project, and called it "the longest year and a half of my life." Dante felt that he and Goldberg managed to preserve the original personalities of the characters. However, the opening, middle, and end of the film are different from what Dante envisioned.
Goldberg also provided the voices of Tweety, Michigan J. Frog, Marvin the Martian and Speedy Gonzales. Brendan Fraser provided the voice of the Tazmanian Devil and She-Devil, having impressed Dante with his Taz vocal impression.
This was the final film scored by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Due to Goldsmith's failing health, the last reel of the film was actually scored by John Debney, though Goldsmith was the only credited composer in marketing materials and the Varèse Sarabande soundtrack album only contains Goldsmith's music (although the first and last cues are adaptations of compositions heard in Warner Bros. cartoons). Debney receives an "Additional Music by" credit in the closing titles of the film and "Special Thanks" in the soundtrack album credits. Goldsmith died in July 2004, eight months after the film's release.
Warner Bros. was hoping to start a revitalized franchise of Looney Tunes media and products with the success of Back in Action. New animated shorts and a Duck Dodgers TV series were commissioned to tie-in with Back in Action. The film instead triggered Warner Bros. to release new TV projects in an effort to re-brand the Looney Tunes such as Loonatics Unleashed (2005-2007), The Looney Tunes Show (2011-2014), New Looney Tunes (2015-2019) and Looney Tunes Cartoons (2019-present).
Critical response aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 56% based on 139 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "The plot is a nonsensical, hyperactive jumble and the gags are relatively uninspired compared to the classic Looney Tunes cartoons." At Metacritic, the film scored a 64/100, indicating "generally favorable reviews"Chicago Sun-Times movie critics, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, gave the film "Two Thumbs Up"; Roeper called it a "cheerful and self-referential romp blending animation with live action in a non-stop quest for silly laughs," while Ebert called it "goofy fun."
The film was also nominated for Saturn Award for Best Animated Film, Annie Award for Best Animated Feature and Satellite Award for Best Animated or Mixed Media Feature.
Warner Home Video released Looney Tunes: Back in Action on VHS and DVD on March 2, 2004. The film was re-released on DVD in separate widescreen and full screen editions on September 7, 2010. It was also released on Blu-ray with bonus features on December 2, 2014. A double DVD and Blu-ray release, paired with Space Jam, was released on June 7, 2016.
The film has a platformer video game of the same name developed by Warthog Games and published by Electronic Arts for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Xbox and Microsoft Windows versions were planned, but were cancelled due to the financial failure of the film.