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Looney Tunes: Back in Action is a 2003 American live-action/animated fantasy spy comedy film, directed by Joe Dante. It is a feature-length live-action animation hybrid film to feature Looney Tunes characters, after Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Space Jam (1996). The plot revolves around Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny (both voiced by Joe Alaskey) helping aspiring daredevil Damian "D.J." Drake, Jr. (Brendan Fraser) and studio executive Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) find the "blue monkey" diamond, in order to keep it out of the hands of the evil Acme Corporation chairman (Steve Martin), who plans to use it to turn mankind into monkeys. The film was theatrically released on November 14, 2003 with mixed-to-positive critical reception, but 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.
Tired of playing second-fiddle to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck demands his own cartoon from Warner Bros., but is promptly fired. 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. DJ is also fired in the process, and returns home with Daffy hitching a ride, discovering his father, action film star, Damian Drake, is actually a secret agent. Damian instructs his son to travel to Las Vegas, find his associate Dusty Tails, and gain the mystical "blue monkey" diamond, but 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 "Vice-President of Comedy", Kate Houghton, is sent to rehire Daffy or face being fired herself. Bugs informs Kate of the situation, so they steal Damian's spy car, and pursue DJ and Daffy.
In Las Vegas, DJ and Daffy meet Dusty in a casino owned by Acme operative Yosemite Sam, Yosemite Sam's Wooden Nickel. Dusty gives them a strange playing card, but when Sam attempts to kill them, they flee in the spy car with Bugs and Kate. The spy car, which can also fly, crashes in the Nevada desert. The group eventually stumbles upon Area 52, run by Damian's mother, who informs them of the situation, and plays a video recording, which reveals that Acme intends on using the "blue monkey" to transform mankind into monkeys to manufacture their products, before turning them back into human beings to purchase them. Marvin the Martian, 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, and, revealing himself as an Acme operative, 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. DJ rescues Kate. 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". 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.
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. Bugs is incapacitated, prompting Daffy to become Duck Dodgers, in order to destroy the "blue monkey". 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 annoyingly 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 as well as another film called Race Jam, which was to star Jeff Gordon. Both films were ultimately cancelled. Warner Bros. then asked Joe Dante to direct the film, having had previous success with Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987). Early in the 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 re-brand our characters and we want to do Space Jam.'" Years later when Warner Bros. offered Back in Action to him, Dante agreed to direct as tribute to Jones. He and screenwriter Larry Doyle conceived the film as the "Anti-Space Jam" as he had hated how that film represented the Looney Tunes brand and personalities and decided to poke fun at the studio system that put Space Jam into production. Dante said "I was making a movie for them with those characters 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 "We 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 provided the voices of Tweety, Michigan J. Frog, Marvin the Martian and Speedy Gonzales. Brendan Fraser provided the voice of the Tazmanian Devil, having impressed Dante with his vocal impression.
This was the final film legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith created music for. 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.
All tracks written by Jerry Goldsmith, except as noted.
Life Story – Carl Stalling (:18)
What's Up? (1:24)
Another Take (:48)
Dead Duck Walking (3:13)
Out of the Bag (3:42)
Blue Monkey (:54)
In Style (1:09)
The Bad Guys (2:57)
Car Trouble (3:45)
Thin Air (1:24) (a version of the well known Powerhouse theme is heard)
Area 52 (1:27)
Hot Pursuit (2:26)
We've Got Company (1:50)
I'll Take That (1:19)
Paris Street (1:21)
Free Fall (1:15)
Tasmanian Devil (1:10)
Jungle Scene (1:40)
Pressed Duck (3:22)
The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin) (:16)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action was released on November 14, 2003, originally planned to open earlier that summer. With heavy competition and small promotion, the film grossed $68.5 million worldwide against a budget of $80 million, making it a box office bomb.
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 re-brand the Looney Tunes in TV projects such as Loonatics Unleashed (2005–2007), The Looney Tunes Show (2011–2014) and Wabbit/New Looney Tunes (2015–present).
The aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 57% based on 134 reviews, with the site's critical consensus reading: "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 film critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, gave the film "Two Thumbs Up" with Roeper calling 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 as well as the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature and the 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.
Due to the poor box office result of the film, this was the last film created by Warner Bros.' animation department Warner Bros. Feature Animation which was shut down after the film's release until 11 years later, the studio reestablished their animation department to Warner Animation Group and made its box-office hit The Lego Movie.
The film made a reference to the Scooby-Doo live-action film, which was released a year before the film's release. In the scene where Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are having lunch with Matthew Lillard, Shaggy berates Lillard for his performance and threatens to chase him if he makes another mistake on the sequel, with Scooby saying "Yeah, and I will give you a Scooby Snarl!" and growls viciously at Lillard.
Ironically, Lillard's performance was met with praise in those films, went on to succeed Lillard in 2010 as the current regular voice for Shaggy.
This is the first Looney Tunes film to be shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.