Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Tiny Toon Adventures Keeps the Looney Legacy Alive

In 1990, Bugs Bunny celebrated his fiftieth year of bringing laughter to the masses. And while that occasion marked plenty of pomp and circumstance in the media, it also prompted Warner Bros. to parlay the celebration into a renewed spotlight on their entire Looney Tunes catalog, collaborating with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment to come up with a new animated iteration of Bugs & Co. The result was Tiny Toon Adventures, which began airing in fall of 1990 before, first in syndication, later as part of the Fox Kids weekday lineup. Here's the intro:

Set in the same "universe" as the Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons shined a spotlight on a menagerie of "next generation" characters (created especially for the show) who served as analogs to their older mentors (who would make periodic appearances as well). Thus, Bugs Bunny gave way to Babs & Buster Bunny, Daffy Duck's protege was Plucky Duck, Elmer became Elmyra, and Yosemite Sam paved the way for Montana Max. Now, given how many cooks there were in the kitchen during the development process, Tiny Toon Adventures really should have been one big trainwreck.

The idea was first proposed by then-WB prexy Terry Semel, was then further developed by Spielberg, and eventually brought to fruition in its aired version by head writer Tom Ruegger and WB exec Jean MacCurdy. Given that Tiny Toons was the very definition of creation-by-committee, it should have failed just like this later try at tweaking the Looney Tunes icons. However, they managed to create a whip-smart show that was very much tied in with pop culture trends of the moment, like this sketch that parodies the then-popular Bugle Boy jeans commercials:

Here's Plucky trying to convince Tim Burton to cast him in the then-upcoming sequel to 1989's Batman:

Of course, this being a kids' show in the '90s, it also led to all manner of tie-in merch as well. Observe:

There was even a short-lived go at spinning-off Tiny Toons with The Plucky Duck Show, which was part of Fox's Saturday morning lineup in fall of '92. Other than the first ep (which was the "Return of Batduck" clip posted above), the remainder of the show's thirteen installments were compilations of extant Plucky shorts culled from the Tiny Toons library. Watch the intro below:

I have fond memories to this day of coming home from school and watching Tiny Toons while downing an after school snack. Having recently re-watched it on DVD with my boys, I was glad to see that it still held up to my fond memories. Tiny Toon Adventures enjoyed a run of 100 episodes that repeated throughout the decade, first on Fox, then on cable, but more importantly, as the first successful series offering from WB TV animation, it sparked a revolution for them that led directly to the animated BatmanAnimaniacs (more on that soon), and more, and continues to this very day via various offerings on Cartoon Network, etc.

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