Lights, Camera, Action Button! Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Lights, Camera, Action Button! is a series exploring film-to-game adaptations in regard to their faithfulness, quality and value long after the original film may have passed into nostalgia. In this edition Jack Ford looks at Looney Tunes: Back In Action.
The second film where human characters interact with the Looney Tunes starred Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman and Steve Martin alongside Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the toons in supporting roles for 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
For this film Gremlins director Joe Dante had particular interest in taking the helm: he was not happy with the Looney Tunes’ portrayal in Space Jam years earlier and, along with screenwriter Bob Goldberg, set out to make a film true to these beloved characters. Dante would later admit the finished product is not entirely the film he wanted to make, which comes across when watching the film as it is evident where it has been touched by the hand of the studio. (This also raises the question of what sort of film would he make in response to Space Jam: A New Legacy)
Following through to the reaction to Looney Tunes: Back in Action, audiences found it amusing enough but, crucially, not as much as Space Jam, and it would fail at the box office. This was bad news for Warner Bros., who had hoped the film would rejuvenate the property and create a new demand for Looney Tunes merchandise, so set about creating many tie-ins for the film. This included the obligatory video game, which was developed by EA and Warthog Interactive and released alongside the film for PS2 and Gamecube in November 2003.
Response to the game was, like the film, unfavorable. It was criticized for being too simple and repetitive (merited to a degree). Yet the game of Looney Tunes: Back In Action was never intended to be particularly innovative or push boundaries. It is, after all, aimed at younger audiences. The final product it is still an effectively cartoonish and solid sandbox platformer that is not thrill a minute but does enough to entertain.
Game and film are at the same time very similar but also very different. Both have Bugs and Daffy as the lead animated characters, while the lead humans of the film have no virtual counterparts (and to be honest not missed much). Both begin with Daffy having had enough of playing second fiddle to Bugs; in the film he is fired and joins security guard DJ (Fraser) on the trail of his father Damien (Timothy Dalton), a secret agent out to thwart a plot by Mr Chairman of the Acme corporation (Martin) to find the Blue Monkey Diamond.
In Looney Tunes: Back In Action Daffy tries to get his script, Duck Danger, green lit, intending to fund it using the Blue Monkey Diamond. Before Mr Chairman, the only human character to cross over, can get his hands on it, the diamond is stolen by a monkey. So the heroes and villains both set off across the globe in search of the monkey and retrieve the diamond. He and Bugs become playable characters and traverse five locations, all seen in the film, in pursuit of the prize.
Each character has their own unique skills: Bugs can burrow underground, attack with a large hammer and change into a number of costumes which grant him temporary powers. Daffy can swim and take part in certain events as his alter-ego Duck Danger. Completists can spend a lot of time finding the many collectable items and completing sub missions – which include saving Tweety bird from Sylvester multiple times – but the main story missions must be completed in order to progress. At the end of each of these missions a monkey is caught, only for it to turn out it’s not the one they were looking for.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action begins with Bugs and Daffy having to escape the Warner Bros. Studio lot, patrolled by over-zealous security guards Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, as well as shutter bug tourists who have no qualms in getting up close and personal to the stars. Bugs has to first get the heat off Daffy, who then duals enemies in golf carts before the level culminates in a more elaborate version of the movie’s scene where they bring down the iconic Warner water tower.
Next up they head to a location seen at a later point in the film, The Louvre. In the film they are there to find a clue to the location of the Diamond hidden in the Mona Lisa but here, still in search of the monkey, their main concern is helping Pepe Le Pew find stolen art. In addition to that Daffy has to break a bull and there is a version of the scene where Bugs and Daffy are chased through a series of paintings by Elmer Fudd, though not as inventive.
With the Louvre completed, our heroes head to a familiar location: Yosemite Sam’s Wooden Nickel Casino in Las Vegas. Whereas in the film Daffy and DJ come here earlier to seek information from an informant of Damien’s, in the game it’s where Bugs and Daffy simply track down the Diamond. With Sam determined to keep the two out, Bugs first has to done a sharpshooter costume and duel Nasty Canasta to get inside. There the two of play a mini-game on a rollercoaster, Daffy gets in a wrestling bout with Crusher, before the final face-off with Yosemite Sam in a battle reminiscent of Balloon Fight.
While the Wooden Nickel is one of the more colourful locations players will see, it’s also where the game starts to lose energy and feel repetitive. A feeling exacerbated by the next level, which sees Bugs and Daffy abducted by Marvin the Martian and taken to Area 52, a location so bland I actually had to play it again just to remind myself what it even looks like. This part of the film, ostensibly used for plot exposition, was notable also for cameos of famous creatures plucked from sci-fi history, including the infamous Robot Monster and the Daleks.
This version of Area 52 is nowhere near as creative: more running and jumping around, intercut with Daffy racing Martians on scooters and Bugs chasing a monkey through obstacles similar to those seen in a futuristic level of Crash Bandcioot. The level ends with Bugs commandeering a laser to defeat Marvin, then he and Daffy head to the final destination, the jungles of an unnamed country though the map would suggest somewhere in Africa.
After Bugs and Daffy traverse rickety rope bridges and crocodile-infested waters, like in the film they come to the ultimate destination: an ancient temple. Here they have to rescue other characters from natives, survive a trip down some white water rapids with a cameo from Taz getting in on the action. The game culminates with a very different ending to the film’s, where players take control of Tweety and take on the final boss.
Whereas the film can feel a little bit all over the place in its frenetic pacing and jumping from location to location, in the game it works better within its internal logic. What’s more, the game does what the film set out to do and focus on the Toons, eliminating the human leads altogether to allow for more focus on them, their antics and their characters.
It takes some license with the story and has some events out of order, but the game does well to port over a lot of the content from the film. Aiding that aspect is the cartoony aesthetic, which actually works really well and feels more in line with what this property was setting out to do: put the Looney Tunes back in the spotlight.
Looney Tunes: Back In Action is very like the film: it does not offer anything new or original but it’s cartoonish, colourful and enjoyable enough to see it through to the end, with Looney Tunes fans the ones getting the most from it. It does play very young and will be all too easy for seasoned players, who won’t see much in what is on offer, but there are definitely audiences who will appreciate it.
In the case of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, both film and game had so much potential but in the end aimed too low, leaving as the final result a product that does enough to satisfy but ends up feeling disappointing as it does no more than that.