Judge Mike Rubino turned down a full ride to Acme Looniversity.
"They're tiny. They're toony. They're all a little looney."
Tiny Toon Adventures was a show that, I now realize, was a pretty big part of my childhood. While I was more interested in re-runs of G.I. Joe and the emerging Ren and Stimpy, for whatever reason Tiny Toon Adventures just always seemed to be on. While there are plenty of cartoons from my younger days that haven't aged well, Tiny Toon Adventures is somewhat of an exception.
Facts of the Case
The first episode, The Looney Beginning, sets the premise for the entire animated series. Warner Bros. places the future of its animation department on the shoulders of one down-and-out animator who is suffering from a terrible case of writer's block (and can only seem to come up with terrible characters to base a show around). But, late one night he accidentally creates Buster and Babs Bunny, heirs to the Bugs Bunny throne of animation. Dismissing them as another failed attempt at character design, he goes home defeated…but they come to life and create the rest of the show for him, whipping up characters and locations based on archetypes and rules from Looney Tunes lore.
Tiny Toon Adventures is formulated in the classic Warner style of standalone animated shorts with all of the characters seemingly descended from their adult counterparts; Porky Pig is now Hampton J. Pig, Daffy Duck is Plucky Duck, Montana Max is Yosemite Sam, etc. All these kids attend Acme Looniversity, where they're learning the tricks of the animated trade.
When I was a kid, I didn't think too much of Tiny Toon Adventures. It was a funny show that acted as a nice distraction until bigger cartoons came on; but it also had some pretty excellent episodes mixed in, like those music video ones featuring They Might Be Giants. But what I didn't really get was how much I was missing in the show. Like many kids cartoons of the late-80s/early-90s, there were plenty of things thrown in there for adults. In the case of Tiny Toons, it was a heck of a lot of show biz satire.
Tiny Toons was one of the first big animated series created by the rebounding Warner Bros. Animation Studio, and they treated it as if it were picking up where the classic Looney Tunes left off (just biding their time before Space Jam). Each episode of the show centers around one or two of the series characters, and is written and directed by various artists. The show is even scored, wonderfully, by a full orchestra. For a syndicated cartoon, Warner Bros. sure didn't skimp. This may have been due in part to the influence of Amblin Entertainment, which was founded by Steven Spielberg, who would go on to produce Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Again, as a kid I could care less about half of this stuff, but, looking back, it's impressive.
This first volume of the show's debut season is packed with 35 episodes across four and a half discs. That's a lot of cartoons, and really there are only a handful of clunkers in the bunch. Because the episodes are all written by different people, and since there are so many characters, the show offers a wide variety of humor. Nowadays, I most appreciated the insider Hollywood stuff, mainly because I can't believe they expected kids to get any of it back in the day. In one episode, Woody Allen, Michael Keaton, and Jack Nicholson make appearances when the Tiny Toons crew tries to sneak into a posh Beverly Hills restaurant. Stuff like this can be found in almost every episode. And since Spielberg is running the show, there are more than a few Star Wars/Indiana Jones parodies throughout the series.
Hollywood parodies aside, the show still offers some great entertainment for children. Much of the humor, when the show isn't riffing on Cher, is repetitive and annoying to the point that only kids could enjoy it. But the characters are all colorful and wacky, and there are plenty of call-backs to the classic days of Warner Bros. animation. Unlike those original Looney Tunes of half a century ago, Tiny Toon Adventures is solidly set in the '90s. The show feels like a loud, goofy time capsule to an era when people had shirts covered in triangles and neon lines. It may be dated but Tiny Toons still manages to be better than a lot of kids programming today…and it's not trying to sell you any collectable cards or toys.
As I mentioned, this is merely volume one of the first season (there are three seasons total), and is packaged on four and a half discs. In an odd move by Warner Bros., essentially just to save a little cash, the fourth disc in the set is double-sided, with the secondary side featuring three episodes and a bonus feature. The video and audio quality on these discs can be a little mixed. For the most part the show looks good, but there are plenty of scratches and dust that pop in from time to time. There is also a bit of color flickering and overall lack of clarity that seems to be prevalent in other shows around the same time period. The sound quality is fairly high, however, and the orchestrated score comes in both stereo and Dolby surround varieties.
The lone special feature on the disc is, surprisingly, a strong one. "From Looney Tunes to Tiny Toons" is a brief look at the development of the show, and features interviews with many of the producers, writers and animators responsible for getting the series off the ground. It's a very well-produced video featuring clips from the vintage days of Looney Tunes juxtaposed with clips from Tiny Toons. If only it wasn't on a flipper disc.
If Tiny Toon Adventures was a big part of your childhood, like it was mine, then you can rest in knowing that your memories of watching the show after school won't be totally destroyed. The series holds up reasonably well, while still maintaining that interesting '90s aftertaste. These 35 episodes are brimming with wackiness, and with a series that ran for almost 100 episodes, there is a lot more to come.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "From Looney Tunes to Tiny Toons"
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