BOOKS… Anvils, Mallets & Dynamite: The Unauthorized Biography of Looney Tunes (2021) by Jaime Weinman

#2020s

 

Jaime Weinman writes a passionate and moving picture of those enduring Warner Bros cartoons…

 

The Looney Tunes gang are all here, as Weinman tells the whole story of those characters on and off screen.

 

“The Bugs Bunny Show” US TV series (1960–2000) intro [extended], Rick Davi

 

A cartoon laid back, grey lanky talking rabbit with buck teeth and a strong Brooklyn accent chomps on a carrot and asks you “What’s up, Doc?”. An animated large eyed yellow canary’s baby voice tells the fourth wall “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”. Immediately on hearing about these two animated characters you’ll visualise and hear the two Looney Tunes characters, Bugs Bunny and Tweety Pie.

You might now hear The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down theme tune that accompanied these Looney Tune characters. These and many more characters – including Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales and Foghorn Leghorn –  are lovingly recalled no matter what your age, as you remember these enduring cartoon shows from then and now. 

Pop culture writer Jaime Weinman now immortalises them in his heartwarming biography. This tells of the history of these beloved Looney Tunes characters on-screen and their off-screen creators. His detailed book titled Anvils, Mallets & Dynamite: The Unauthorized Biography of Looney Tunes.

The book title refers to just a few of the outrageously violent ways those hunters try to kill the hunted in Looney Tunes cartoons. This was a constant theme that was seen in many of their cartoons be it between Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat and Tweetie Pie or Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. There is an emphasis on the try, and this cartoon “violence” added to their long-lasting appeal for us all, as those hunter’s plans inevitably backfire again and again and again.

Over 375 pages and 14 chapters, Weinman’s intense love for this subject, like (Bugs) Bunny leaps from every page. Weinman starts with a wonderful convincing and affectionate argument from Rob Long’s Conversations with my Agent  (1996) on why Bugs Bunny – described as ” a funny comic genius” – is more amusing than the Walt Disney creation Mickey Mouse. The book ends in the same passionate way, but this time as Weinman dissects and fully analyses his favourite of these Looney Toons Bugs Bunny cartoons, Racketeer Bunny (1946).

Weinman writes candidly and affectionately of his love for this subject. He tells how his adoration for these animations was amplified after attending a cartoon film festival. This was after watching a number of these cartoons on a large cinema screen. He shares his joy from that time with us, as he tells us that as he was absorbed in the on-screen action he observed little touches he hadn’t noticed after seeing them on TV. These added to his amusement and he

“walked out of the theatre, more convinced than ever that I’d picked the right thing to be a fan of”.

I immediately identified with this author as he wrote telling how he loved watching these cartoons on television as a child. I remember that I watched these cartoons in the 1970s, and like him had watched a number of these cartoons that had been created in the 1940s and 1950s. These same cartoons, with their timeless plots, have been seen and enjoyed over many generations. This seems unique to this genre, as now my stepdude loves and enjoys those same cartoons and characters I watched as a kid.

Looney Tunes is evergreen entertainment and these cartoons are more enduring than many of these live-action films from earlier times. Weinman’s enthusiasm is contagious as he writes about the long-lasting appeal of these earlier cartoons. He advocates that they were often “silly and unreal”, had “idiotic villains” and on their release were often uncensored unlike the live-action films from this time.

He wonderfully sums up these cartoon characters by saying;

“a Looney Tunes character may have one or two traits that define him, and everything else can change depending what’s funnier in the moment”.

He then argues why he feels these cartoons were great. He contests the cartoons are “purely comedy”, themeless and therefore watched solely to be enjoyed. He gives a glowing list of the elements found in these cartoons and gives examples in relation to their formula, premise, gags, amorality, violence and distinctive voiceovers. The violence – although cartoon based – has however been censored over the years, and eleven cartoons were withdrawn from circulation for a number of controversial reasons.

Chapters take a linear approach as they outline the history of Looney Tunes from its origins and these facts are blended with descriptions of cartoons made during this time. Key cartoon characters and those animators, writers and directors who worked in developing and producing these characters over the decades are also explored. Weinman’s thorough and intricate research gives a rounded true story that will appeal to entertainment historians, animators and cartoon fans.

Weinman’s detailed outline of the Looney Tunes history is told from its beginnings in 1930, by Leon Schlesinger who as the talkies came in created a new company producing six minute cartoons. Schlesinger recruited Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising as animators and they brought their cartoon character Bosko to the company. The name, Looney Tunes was inspired by the Disney name Silly Symphonies, and these early cartoons changed “what made Disney bland”. After being taken over by Warner Brothers, music was used from this company’s own library as well as classical music.

This detailed history then continues and includes familiar directors, animators, writers and cartoon names and these are beautifully illustrated with examples of their work. Weinman backs up his biographies with some heartwarming descriptions and analyses of their individual portfolios. These cartoon scenes are written so vividly you can visualise them. He helpfully adds the cartoon’s name that the scene came from as an aid for future viewing. Added together these factors wonderfully illustrate Weinman’s extensive knowledge of this subject. 

His history leads chapter by chapter to the present day. More recently a  number of these animated characters starred as themselves but in live-action films such as Space Jam (1996) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). In this latter film, Weiman believes “Mickey mostly watched Bugs Bunny work”. Weinman tells that these cartoon characters’ quirks and behaviours were homaged in the live-action Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles (1974).

Other pop culture references are added as he tells of these cartoon characters who were caricatured in these cartoons and of Looney Tunes’ influence on George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. This franchise has also inspired a wide range of merchandise, as well as media player products.

Weinman writes with the same never ending enthusiasm about those real-life characters who created this series.  There are wonderful comparisons of those different cartoons directors’ works at the studio, citing the work of familiar names from my own cartoon viewing as a child such as Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. He also plays tribute to the sound effects, music and writers associated with Looney Tunes. 

At one time, individual cartoons were made by one of three departments within the company. A fourth department concentrated solely on those older black and white cartoons. He adds that these cartoons often show the individual director’s and their department’s personal stamp. Weinman effortlessly compares the directors’ different styles for their individual ways of showing characters, themes, gags and storytelling in their cartoons. Weinman gives many examples of their work illustrated with scenes from these cartoons.

He also explores the components of these animations by looking at the use of sound effects, voice actors and music, and how these were developed as an integral part of these productions. Biographies of Looney Tunes’ most famous contributors such as the voice actor Mel Blanc and writers such as Michael Maltese are also remembered in this way. He also explores the more controversial cartoons and tells that many previously released cartoons are censored today for their racial, violent and cultural depictions.

The book gives detailed biographies of those cartoon characters as personalities in their own right. These include personal favourites such as Bugs Bunny, Tweety Pie, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Weinman provides their full stories, outlining their origins, their physical development as cartoon characters, the different reincarnations of their personalities, their behaviours over the years and their representations in both cartoons and live-action films. Weinman illustrates these characters in meticulous detail describing a wide number of their memorable cartoon scenes as he writes his honest accounts of these.

His book shows that these cartoon caricatures may have changed in their looks and personalities over this time, but one thing is clear. That kids of all ages will still tune in to watch these cartoon hunted animals outwit their hunters in fun and imaginative ways again and again and again. These cartoons are enjoyed no matter when they were made and kids often watch and enjoy these timeless films made long before they were born.

In one chapter Weinman defines show business as;

“People who accidentally create art that lasts.”

It is clear from his explanation that these cartoons are the literal definition of show business. He also speaks for many of us telling how we have “never grew out of loving” Looney Tunes, and this I believe is supported by their 94% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Weinman believes that these cartoons have “never got the credit they deserved”.  I feel they have now, and they have their time in the spotlight once more, thanks to this illuminating and heartwarming book.

Now, I advocate that you join Weinman as he brings those much-loved characters to life in his animated biography for his passionate encore. And as you remember those glorious cartoons, characters, writers, voice actors, theme tunes, gags and directors from your childhood and beyond that defined showbusiness… that’s all folks…

 

A disclaimer and personal thank you to NetGalley and Sutherland House for inviting me to write this post. Also thanks to Sutherland House for allowing me to review this book. Financial compensation was not received for this post. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.

 

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