Judge Patrick Bromely's hidden shame is his nickname—Elmyra.
They're tiny. They're toony. They're all a little looney.
Buster, Babs, Plucky Duck (my personal favorite) and the rest of the Tiny Toons are back for the second half of their massive (65 episodes!) first season. Does the show still hold up nearly 20 years later? Particularly for someone who missed the cutoff to be watching it the first time around? I'm talking about me. I'm old.
Facts of the Case
Tiny Toon Adventures: Season 1, Volume 2 contains a whopping 30 episodes of the animated series, spread out over four discs. Here's a look on what's in the set:
Last December, my wife gave birth to our first baby, a little boy named Charlie. In the months since, I've been reassessing sections of our DVD library, mentally pulling those titles that I can't wait to show him when he gets a little older. Someday, I'm going to be able to sit down with him and watch Ghostbusters and The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Crystal and watch as he reacts to them for the first time, like I was once able to (in the case of The Dark Crystal, that reaction could easily be abject terror…let's hope he's as fascinated by puppets as I once was). But before those days are here, he's going to need to watch cartoons and, being a pop culture snob and insistent on only exposing him to those entertainments the wife and I deem worthy, I'm not content for him to watch whatever happens to be on Nick Jr. at the time. These early days are crucial, and we've got to start developing his tastes right away. That means I've got to start seeking out DVDs of stuff I'd want to show him when he's just a couple years old.
Which brings me to the 1990s animated series Tiny Toon Adventures. On paper, this seems like a horrible idea: junior versions of my beloved Looney Tunes characters getting their own spin-off series? Did the world learn nothing from Muppet Babies? And why can't kids just watch the original Looney Tunes? Why must everything be altered and updated to make it more palatable?
These are the concerns of someone who has never watched Tiny Toons, because it's actually a really good show and a worthy successor to the original Looney Tunes. That's high praise, indeed, but totally warranted; only Joe Dante's underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action came as close to recreating the sharp wit and anarchy of the original Tunes. If you're keeping score, that means that Space Jam and that awful Loonatics Unleashed did not. Because they are the worst.
But back to Tiny Toons, which is surprisingly pretty great. I'd like to credit producer Steven Spielberg for this feat of quality control, but then I remind myself that Spielberg's name is also attached to Transformers and The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He has been known to let some terrible things fall through the cracks. The achievements of Tiny Toons are more likely the product of writers like Paul Dini, who penned many of the episodes and would go on to write and produce Batman: The Animated Series (which also helps explain one of the show's inspired pop culture jokes, where Plucky Duck goes through the many stages of Batman; it's rare for a kids' cartoon to include a Dark Knight Returns gag—especially one that doesn't stop to pat itself on the back for the reference).
Seriously, though. Tiny Toons. The conceit of the show—that the pint-sized cartoon characters are students at ACME University, where they learn the ins and outs of animated life from a teaching staff made up of original Looney Tunes characters—is a clever one. Not only does it allow for numerous guest shots from Bugs, Daffy and the rest of the original crew, but it also creates a self-referential tone that kids might not appreciate but adults well-versed in cartoons (like yours truly) can get a kick out of. Tiny Toons is as much a cartoon as it is about being a cartoon; though I'm as burned out on post-modern "meta" entertainments (the post-Scream years) as the next guy, I've got to give Tiny Toons credit for being ahead of the curve. And it's a kids show, no less.
The show throws out pop culture references more often than I'd like, insuring that parts of it won't date well (a parody of MTV's Just Say Julie probably wasn't relevant by 1995, much less 2009). Still, they're just one layer to the humor; they're not in place of actual jokes. I get annoyed when some critic says that adults will enjoy a movie like Shrek 2 "as much as the kids" because there are pop culture references that kids won't get. That doesn't entertain me. Thankfully, Tiny Toons doesn't commit that sin. It can be enjoyed by adults because it's funny and cleverly written and there are genuinely sophisticated jokes.
Volume 2 has its share of standout episodes, including "Tiny Toon Music Television," which singlehandedly introduced They Might Be Giants to a generation of kids, and the aforementioned "Inside Plucky Duck" for its inspired Batman parodies. Actually, very few of the episodes misfire completely; "Whale's Tales" comes close, largely because it tries for a different tone by still features too much broad slapstick to make that tone work.
I wish I could say Warner Bros.' DVDs of Tiny Toon Adventures were as good as the shows themselves. All 30 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio, but it's clear that Warner Bros. hasn't gone to a great deal of trouble to restore them at all. There are a good deal of visible flaws—scratches, dirt, etc.—and the colors are very inconsistent. This is a bright, colorful show, but these transfers don't always show that off. They look faded and old. Given how great Warner Bros. has been with their video quality in the past, this is a big disappointment; if they can make cartoons that are 50 years old look brand new (like on their Looney Tunes: Golden Collection releases), why not cartoons from the 1990s?
Audio quality is significantly better. Both a 5.1 surround and a 2.0 stereo option is available, and each is lively and services the dialogue just fine. There are no extras, which is another disappointment.
While I wish the DVDs were better, I can't fault the content of Tiny Toon Adventures: Season One, Volume 2. Not only does it feature nearly as many episodes in one set as there were in the two subsequent seasons combined, but the writing and the Looney Tunes spirit are first rate. Here's one show I'm looking forward to watching with Charlie.
And sorry about all the personal family exposition. If you'd wanted that, you'd be reading Harry Knowles.
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