Back when Looney Tunes: Back In Action was released in cinemas I recall a sense of mild disappointment. I was one of those people acting mildly disappointed. Rewatching the movie recently, I have no idea a) why most people were so disappointed and b) why I felt the same way as most people. Looney Tunes: Back In Action is a glorious, demented mix of live action and animation, directed by Joe Dante, that stands proudly as exactly what it was meant to be: the anti-Space Jam.
The plot starts off with Daffy Duck being kicked off the Warner Bros. studio lot after he decides that he's had enough of always losing out to that damn Bugs Bunny. Daffy ends up causing a security guard, DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser), to lose his job. He continues to be a pain in the backside, even as DJ finds out that his father, Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton), is in some serious trouble. It turns out that Damien Drake isn't just an actor who played a legendary spy in movies . . . . . . . he's actually a bit of a legendary spy in real life. Daffy and DJ head off on a journey to save pops, while Bugs and a studios exec named Kate (Jenna Elfman) head off to catch Daffy and get him back where he belongs. Everyone is, of course, now at risk from the dreaded ACME Corporation (headed up by Steve Martin).
Written by Larry Doyle, this is a gag-packed, reference-packed, rip-roaring ride through a world populated by some of the best characters to ever appear in animated form (I'll always take a classic Looney Tunes cartoon over a Disney short). You get Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Michigan J. Frog, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin The Martian and many more. Think of it as Who Framed Bugs Bunny and you're close. It also features some great cameos, as you'd expect in a Joe Dante movie, from classic sci-fi beasties of yesteryear.
Leading man Fraser proves once again that he's really one of the best in the biz at acting with not much around him. The blend of animation and live action isn't perfect, but it's certainly amongst the very best that you'll ever see, in my opinion. Some of the animated characters display better acting skills than Jenna Elfman anyway, who is someone I have never warmed to (her success always astounded me). Steve Martin has a lot of fun, Dalton is wonderful, Joan Cusack has a few minutes alongside a veritable "greatest hits" selection of aliens. Bill Goldberg is a suitably intimidating henchman, Heather Locklear struts her stuff as Dusty Tails and genre fans will take great pleasure in spotting cameos from the likes of Dick Miller, Roger Corman, Ron Perlman and Mary Woronov.
It's not perfect, but there are times when it comes pretty close. The set-pieces are all brilliant, with a chase through the paintings in The Louvre being the absolute highlight, the characters never feel as if they're being squeezed into the movie just to sell more merchandise and the young will be kept entertained by the slapstic and visuals while adults also get to pick up every sharp gag and in-joke.