Loonatics: Unleashed was probably the most misguided show on television – but not for the reasons you might think.
Loonatics: Unleashed was dead in the water even before it aired.
The public reaction to the show’s announcement and early character designs ranged somewhere between anger and offensiveness. The idea of taking the classic, beloved characters of the Looney Toons and “updating” them with angular body parts, an “extreme ‘tude” 90s aesthetic, and a random assortment of super powers had little chance of gaining any support, from neither adults nor kids. Loonatics: Unleashed seemed to be the product of unhinged hubris, a marketer’s desperate attempt to make Looney Toons somehow work in an era where the Looney Toons seem to be losing their relevance and cache. Space Jam does not age well. Looney Toons: Back in Action is sloppy and unrefined (save for an inspired climactic sequence). And the new Looney Tunes Show, while not at all looney, is simply met with a begrudging tolerance.
In these respects, revamping the Looney Toon characters could be at least partially understood. After all, they’re iconic and infamous, which means Warner Brothers could (and still can) exploit them for profit. But Loonatics seemed less like a show made by a creative committee and more like a show made by a machine, combining all the elements necessary to maximize an exploitable franchise, including toys, games, cereals, comics and trading cards. It’s anime-inspired and colorful and action-y, everything that usually works for the perfect male, 6-11 year-old demographic, who are egregious fans of your Ben-10s and Power Rangers. With this in mind, there’s a feasible logic to the whole thing, even if wiser men should have stepped before this got to the pre-production stage.
Here’s the funny thing: the universally despised “extreme” concept of Loonatics: Unleashed is completely different from the actual show. I expected a copious amount out-of-date, early-nineties cheese; what I got was the leftovers of unhinged creative insanity. It was like watching a human being’s decent into sci-fi madness; a six-year old’s unrestrained desire to see funny animal characters also kick ass. Loonatics ratchets up the crazy in every episode to comical degrees, like some kind of Post-Modern pastiche on science fiction. It would actually be a hilarious satire if it wasn’t so damn serious. The fact that the show tries to legitimize itself is what destroys it, which goes way beyond its ultra-cool premise. If the show WAS extreme/radicalized, then at least that would have been something. But Loonatics doesn’t even grant itself that benefit.
Loonatics: Unleased – (2005)
Director: Dan Fausett, Kenny Thompkins, Curt Walstead, Andrew Austin, Clint Taylor
Starring: Charlie Schlautter, Jason Marsden, Jessica Di Cicco
Screenplay(s) by: Rick Copp, Len Uhley, Steve Cuden
Witness the first eight minutes of the first episode of this amazement:
Loonatics showcases a futuristic world with no rhyme or reason, then hurls a glacier onto it. We then see our titular characters crack wise in the safety of their home. The scene is odd since it would have been smarter to introduce them flying to the glacier instead being oblivious about it. But we see Ace meditating for some reason (an act he never does again) and Lexi skipping into the room listening to a music player, because WOMEN AMIRITE. Danger Duck kinda acts like his Daffy doppelganger, so we’re kinda in decent company, until some woman appears on the big screen named ZADAVIA. You will always cringe when you hear that name, since at this point your brain is trying fill in cracks that don’t even exist. Then the intro kicks in, involving some meteor striking not-Earth/the city-planet (what?) of Acmetropolis (WHAT?) – and it only gets more batshit from there, when they confront the glacier, which was conjured up by humorless alien robot ice Vikings. I can’t make any of this up. And can you believe that this meteor thing is part of a stupidly convoluted intergalactic conspiracy? In other words, why did they put in the work to give Loonatics a mythology?
The Loonatics themselves (who are actually descendants of the original cast – as if this would absolve the creators of their updated bullshit) host a surprising array of special powers, which are rarely used in any practical way. With their abilities you’d imagine these guys could kick everyone’s asses, but they utilize them in haphazard, frustrating fashion. Ace is a hilariously inept leader, who often splits the team into groups that completely make no sense. Badguys, in particular the first season, are exposition-ranting dead-weights, with little to no comic sensibility, and if Loonatics needed ANYTHING, it was comical villains. In fact, that first season limps along with a questionably serious veneer, of awkward attempts to place its action in mature context; a sincerity that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so bizarre. Duck is mainly the comic relief, and kudos to making him a decent fighter as well, but Loonatics desperately seems like it needs more humor than that.
It is exactly more humor that Loonatics receive in the second season, along with a less sharp-edged look. The show tries to be a bit more comedic here, as well as plopping more Looney Toon character cameos into the mix (the fact they did this so rarely in the first season adds to its inexplicable set-up). The problem is that the very premise of Loonatics dulls the humor in its tracks. It makes the crew look stupid instead of goofy. Comedic moments are forced and dumb and only occasionally well-timed. It also doesn’t help that a number of the cameos are just fucked up. Pepe and Foghorn are humans. Porky and Sylvester and Elmer are “complex villains”. Only Yosemite works in any context. More problematic is that the second season is incredibly lazy, with some terribly animated scenes, inexplicable cuts, poorly-done storyboards, and half-assed writing; not that any of this was great to begin with, but it’s depressingly worse here.
There is one legitimately great thing about Loonatics: Tech E. Coyote. Danger Duck has his moments, but Tech is overall genuinely fantastic. He’s a genius and knows it, and often shits on everyone else because he’s smarter than them. He’s also a decent fighter and is the only one with a real backstory. He’s also has the best character design in the show’s style, and has the best “voice” with Kevin Michael Richardson. It’s hilarious because the writers of the show KNOW he’s the best, inserting him liberally into every scenario, whether it should involve him or not. In fact, Duck and Tech are forced into everything since they tend to be the only characters that can be played with in any fun way. Everyone else is weak, boring, or useless, including a sadly under-utilized Rev and a waste of a talented Rob Paulsen.
Beyond Tech and Duck, Loonatics limps along in an entertainment swamp reeking of desperation. Outside of scarce moments of inspiration, Loonatics pretends to be edgy or cool but doesn’t actually TRY to be edgy or cool, leaving a messy, inexplicably complicated overarching plot that belongs in another story. In fact, I would wager that Loonatics caught the Caprica virus – a show that meant to be something original, but was bit by the executive virus, morphing into the bastardized Looney Toon characters that graced our presence. If there was any creative enthusiasm for the show in the beginning, it completely evaporated by the final ten episodes.
Loonatics ends with the Loonatics fighting off an evil bass player who built a cosmic guitar that can create intergalactic wormholes – a bass player who created a criminal holographic funk-band voiced by an actual Parliament Funkadelic band member – motivated because the leaders of the planet (of which he’s from) didn’t let his song become the national anthem. The battle ends a life-long feud between Zadavia and her brother, fighting off their traitorous General Deuce, which allows the Loonatics to be protectors of the universe. This is Loonatics in a nutshell – an overly insane series of ideas without the wink-and-a-nod humor necessary to make it palpable (like, say, The PowerPuff Girls). In the end, Loonatics Unleased seems to be made… well, for lunatics.