Like many things in life (and perhaps even more in entertainment), Tiny Toon Adventures can only be fully understood when considered with what came before and after it. For example, how much more irritating were the Ewoks when you realized that they were paving the way for Jar Jar Binks? Can you watch Jack Nicholson’s original interpretation of the Joker without thinking of Heath Ledger’s more recent portrayal? All the same, Tiny Toons can really only be seen in retrospect as the link between the Muppet Babies of the late 1980s and the subsequent, far more engaging Animaniacs, which premiered in 1993. It should be evaluated on its own terms, but it can’t really be thought of or remembered any other way.
Tiny Toon Adventures takes place (for the most part) at ACME Looniversity, where younger counterparts of nearly all of the original Looney Tunes characters learn how to be ‘looney' from the original characters of the 30s and 40s. Though the primary focus remains on the characters of Babs (Tress MacNeille) and Buster Bunny (Charles Adler), Plucky Duck (Joe Alaskey), and Hamton J. Pig (Don Messick) who essentially have the same personality as the character on which he or she is based, there is a wide supporting cast that includes rough younger approximations of the Tasmanian Devil (Dizzy Devil), Yosemite Sam (Montana Max), and Pepe Le Pew (Fifi La Fume). While a number of the episodes try to focus on their attendance of ACME Looniversity, they also do things such as travel back in time, become parodies of other major popular characters and, in certain cases, turn into giant eyeballs. There’s also some experimentation in format with one parody of MTV music video shows (an instance of the show really dating itself) being among the highlights of the set.
The major issue with Tiny Toon Adventures is that it never pretends to be anything other than a repackaging of older material cynically marketed to unsuspecting children (all of whom are now grown up). It’s not fair to say that on their own Babs and Buster Bunny are totally unlikeable characters (they’re certainly not the Loonatics), but they’re not merely familiar, they’re carbon copies drained of all edge and personality; it's especially disheartening coming from the progeny of the gleefully anarchic Bugs Bunny. In addition, the colors have all been softened to a palate of pink, green, and blue that is totally lacking in impact and the jokes feel, well, compromised in comparison with where we want it to go. Obviously, there’s only so far that you can go with a show that originally aired on network television, but considering this was on at the same time as The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Ren and Stimpy, it’s not asking too much to want a little more bite to it.
Which is not to say that the show is totally without charm, or that it isn’t more knowing than the vast majority of children’s animation altogether. Like the subsequent Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures devotes considerably more energy to skewering Hollywood targets than it ever does on anything resembling a plot. To be fair, it often does so with surprising accuracy (the Batduck parody of the merchandising bonanza that accompanied the release of the 1989 Batman gets it pretty accurately). This being a Steven Spielberg production, there are also a number of references to older classic Hollywood films, and a few ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ sight gags that are for collectors only. All of this worked to better effect in Animaniacs, which seemed a little more willing to risk alienating its audience, but it’s clear here that the animators were experimenting with effects that would later go into a more interesting show. While that is fun and exciting when a show is still airing, it loses some of its edge once we have already seen the final product.
DVD Bonus Features
The set includes a trailer for The Zeta Project, a recent DVD release of a cartoon from the creators of Batman Beyond about a hitman robot that decides he is no longer going to kill people.
"Tiny Toon Adventures: Season 1: Volume 2" is on sale April 21, 2009 and is rated NR. Animation, Television. Directed by Art Leonardi, Art Vitello, Rich Arons. Written by Paul Dini, Sherri Stoner, Tom Ruegger, Gordon Bressack. Starring Charles Adler, Cree Summer, Danny Cooksey, Don Messick, Frank Welker, Joe Alaskey, Maurice LaMarche, Rob Paulsen, Tress MacNeille.