The Merry Go-Round Goes Round Again (and Again): How Peter Browngardt Saved Bugs Bunny

Despite controversy surrounding same-day theatrical and streaming release for its Warner Brothers films, HBO Max as a streaming service is wonderful. While the repercussions of the move have damaged the profitability and viability of the theater experience, coupled with the ongoing closure of the New York City and Los Angeles market from state lockdowns and mandates; it is at least comforting to know that one of the main five streaming services has some content appealing to nostalgia correctly without pandering and flanderization.

When the new series launched in May 2020, skepticism arose as to how this would play out – would it be another gimmicky show like “The Looney Tunes Show” (2011-2014) and with Cartoon Network veteran Peter Browngardt at the helm, there was concern, at least from this viewer, about the genuine zaniness and cartoon of this new iteration, but what Browngardt and his team managed to pull out of the rabbit hole is something that Chuck, Tex, Friz, Bugs, Bob, and Mel would all be proud of.

Slight Tangent on Political Correctness in Cartoons:

In this current era of political correctness, where Yosemite Sam no longer has guns and Wile E. Coyote… well, actually he’s still ACME’s number one buyer — there is something to be said about the authenticity of the characters. Firstly, Yosemite Sam is a cartoon character parodying the outlaws of the Old West and was created as an anthesis to Elmer Fudd by Tex Avery (who believed that Fudd was too dumb and formulaic). Chuck Jones’ famed chasing duo of the Southwest and Friz Freleng’s cat and bird of the suburbs are perfectly preserved. Secondly, if violence is a concern – as it always has been with cartoons, welcome to the generations of parents and adults with the same grievance – you’re not alone; but for the argument (and albeit tangent), if your children are learning from the television instead of you, then to quote Bugs Bunny: boy do you have your lion’s crossed. There is a case for this concern, and sometimes it is warranted, but we are talking about cartoons who are older than most people at the moment. You can only (properly) judge things such as this by the time in which they were created, instead of a modern lens – that doesn’t make it wrong or right, but it puts everything into context.

Now, where were we? Oh yes…

Peter Browngardt, Cartoon Network, The Looney Tunes Show, and Concern.

In 2011, Cartoon Network released an okay version of Bugs and Co. entitled simply, “The Looney Tunes Show“. Running for three seasons, this sitcom style half-hour cartoon features the Looney Tunes in suburbia dealing with modern day issues – neighbors, politics, restaurants, their own questionable antics met with questionable consequences – very Simpsons in nature. Speaking of the famous yellow family, in the Cartoon Network iteration of Looney Tunes, almost every character succumbed to flanderization.

Flanderization:

The process by which a single trait from a character is overstated and brandished to the point that it becomes the character’s only trait. Flanderization is almost always for the worst and tends to draw viewers away from the the medium that the character represents.

(i.e. Ned Flanders, all of Family Guy, etc.)

While not all of “The Looney Tunes Show” was bad, there was some admittedly great writing (sometimes) and sight gags (sometimes), but it’s main flaw was the flaw that every Looney Tunes property has followed. They boiled down characters to one specific trait – and while they are essentially one trait most of the time, that is what makes the characters funny, in Cartoon Network’s flanderization of Bugs, Daffy, and Porky, it became… uncomfortable and unrecgonizable. Bugs was always the smart one, Daffy was the egotistical jerk, Porky was a whimp, and Lola (who was given more of a character), was subject to fill the dumb blonde role. That’s about it. It was very unsettling (bordering annoying) to see these beloved characters just exude one emotion for three seasons on cable television. There shouldn’t be an expectation for children’s cartoons to have deep character development, or even any at all, but that doesn’t mean characters for children’s cartoons can’t have any. While Cartoon Network tried to develop these characters, they ultimately became something they weren’t, and thus, Bugs was distanced from what made him funny.

While there isn’t a doubt that Cartoon Network had a talented team behind the show, it seemed that nostalgia for the characters carried this show longer than it needed to – but the nostalgia was improper. It was good to see the characters, but the situations were not well placed. Perhaps this could have been remedied if it was based more in the zany world of Looney Tunes instead of a world that is more reality focused like “The Simpsons“.

Peter Browngardt came onto the scene in 2000, but his tenure at Cartoon Network includes “Chowder” and “Uncle Grandpa“, two shows that admittedly were fine for their target audience, but also fell victim to flanderization eventually. So there was skepticism that when he was to helm HBO Max’s “Looney Tunes Cartoons“, the characters would once again fall victim to the same thing again. Fortunately, Browngardt and team did their homework.

Bugs Bunny is smart, but he is also a bit of a stinker. Daffy is insane again, he’s not so much of a jerk. Elmer is a goofball, Porky is the everyman. Everyone is back where they should be. In terms of story, there is none – each episode is unique to itself and is a callback in some sort to a classic short from the golden years. It is perhaps one of most pure iterations of the characters since “Space Jam” and will become a definitive staple of the IP.

This series is wonderfully animated through vectors, voiced beautifully – every single detail has been taken into account. The colors, the atmosphere, carries a neo-vintage look, even the title cards are nearly identical to the Merrie Melodies and Warner Brothers Cartoons of the mid 1940s (which is honestly the favorite part for this viewer). It is perhaps in this way, through properly placed nostalgia, you will want to revisit the old gang in their original theatrical shorts. As we approach the 100th anniversary of these characters (we still have eight years, but it’s close enough), we should celebrate their significance to not only film, but to the culture as a whole. Let us hope that the flanderization of these characters will cease now.

The merry go round, for now at least, is up and running again.

Thank you Mr. Browngardt, Tex, Chuck, and Mel would be proud.

Looney Tunes Cartoons and Looney Tunes are available on HBO Max.