Out of the four major streaming services that have arrived in the last nine months, HBO Max has had the least auspicious beginning. Hobbled by owner AT&T’s refusal to play ball with Roku and FireTV, the app remains unavailable to a significant portion of streaming users. That’s a real shame because, despite the name suggesting otherwise, HBO Max has the most extensive library outside of services like Amazon Prime. It has HBO, but it also has an extensive collection of older films from Turner Classic Libraries. It has everything on BBC America, Cartoon Network, and all the parts of CNN worth watching. And it has the Warner Brothers library, with its wealth of Saturday morning cartoons, including the entire Looney Tunes collection.
When HBO Max arrived, it brought eight new series on launch day, including an entire raft of brand new Looney Tunes animations. Fans were skeptical, and rightly so — attempts to make modern versions of The Muppets and other zany humor from the mid-20th century have fallen flat. But Warner Bros. has still got it, and the result was a celebrational panel, “HBO Max: Looney Tunes Cartoons,” at San Diego Comic-Con discussing the process of reviving such a storied franchise. It opened, naturally, with the Toons themselves in their natural habitat — causing mayhem.
Moderated by Damian Holbrook of TV Guide Magazine, the panel included producers Pete Browngardt and Alex Kirwan, art director Aaron Spurgeon, and four cast members: Eric Bauza (Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck), Bob Bergen (Porky Pig), Candi Milo (Granny), and Jeff Bergman (Elmer Fudd). Most of the cast has shepherded these roles for years and happily dropped in and out of character. But the biggest bonus was a brand new Looney Tunes Porky & Daffy cartoon, “Postalgeist,” played for the first time for the public during the panel. (It starts at the 20 min mark below.)
As Browngardt said, going into this project, everyone knew that they were not the first to work with these characters, and god willing, they won’t be the last either. So there was a sense from everyone involved that they were caretaking a legacy, and doing right by it — an awareness, as it were, of their place in an ongoing history. And yet, Kirwan was adamant that part of the reason the new series works is that they allow their modern sensibilities to shine through. After all, as he said, that’s what the original artists did. It was about letting that happen naturally, rather than attempting to come in with a “clever new take.”
As the panel went on, it also became apparent this was an organic process, where the actors function as much as a writer’s room to bounce around jokes as they do as voiceover artists. Bauza said they also take their memories of the originals and let that inform their character’s choices. It’s not just what would Bugs do; it’s what would Mel [Blanc, the original Bugs] do as well. Bob Bergen added that “good drawing acts itself” and that many times it’s all about the animations they see before them, and they follow where it leads.
The new Looney Tunes Cartoons are streaming now on HBO Max, alongside all 31 seasons of the original series, and other collections such as 1995’s Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, 2011’s The Looney Tunes Show, and 2015’s New Looney Tunes.
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