Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lola Bunny and "The Looney Tunes Show"

Image from Toony Time

I have a dog in this fight, but it's more like a Chihuahua. Still, there's an opinion I have to share: Lola Bunny is the best thing about The Looney Tunes Show, and a character who is a million times better than her initial appearance in Space Jam. Not that being better than Space Jam Lola is hard, but I appreciate the principle.

I don't have a problem with adding new Looney Tunes characters, male or female. If you are trying to bring back fondly-remembered characters, you're already going to have to rewrite them, so adding a new character to suit the changing times also shouldn't be out of the question.

The trouble with Lola Bunny (voiced by Kath Soucie) was only that she was a shallow character, and one that had no comedic aspects whatsoever, no one involved in her creation who pretended they were making a new addition to a comedic cast. In Space Jam she took herself entirely seriously, and the narrative let her. She was saved from slapstick instead of participating it. All of that sounds like nothing a Looney Tunes character, however removed from their original roots, would be. And there's that creepy sexualisation….

And dammit, Lola felt so calculated. Tokenism isn't adding a minority character itself, but adding them superficially, not as characters, but as points to score with advertisers and executives. The way that Lola Bunny was so distant from anything recognizably Looney Tunes shows how little effort was put into making her.

Lola from The Looney Tunes Show (voiced by Kristen Wiig), on the other hand, starts out as an insane stalker with the attention span of a very stupid insect. Canada is behind on episodes of the series, but from where I sit, Lola is now, actually a funny, cartoony, loony character. She's exactly what a comedic female character should be: subject to the same pitfalls and pratfalls as the male cast, instead of getting stuck being the moral centre, the "straight" one who is there to roll her eyes at the men's antics.

Some have taken offence to Lola's insanity, saying that it pushes the idea of women in love as desperate and crazy. But craziness should be allowed in cartoons, and Lola isn't defined by her relationship to Bugs: she's got a weird personality that shines through everything she does, and that is what defines her, rather than the attraction to Bugs (unlike Space Jam, where "love interest" comes above "sexy basketball star"), and furthermore, her possessiveness of Bugs is just plain fun. Lola is simply a complete and total nutbar, and it's not because she's female—it's because she's a funny cartoon character. In addition, she does things without Bugs, such as the President's Day song.

Lola still might not be to everyone's taste, because the writers do a very good job of making her sound and act exactly like the type of flighty, rambling person that you might encounter in real life and have grate on your nerves. There's a certain realism to Wiig's line delivery that you don't get from a lot of cartoon characters, including everyone else in the cast. But for all of that, Lola is likable, so that you can enjoy her enough to appreciate that quality.

However, while I like Lola, I don't find The Looney Tunes Show to be that interesting. I'll watch it when it's on, but it doesn't grab me. It's not that I'm a big fan of the original Looney Tunes shorts and don't like to see them changed: I like those old cartoons, but they don't loom large in my mind. It's just that something feels unnatural about The Looney Tunes Show, the sheer weirdness of trying to place characters from the 30s-50s into a modern style of humour and pacing.

My inner schoolmarm likes to wag her finger and remind me there's nothing that can't be done well, but even so, you've got to establish these personal standards, so you can get a better idea of what you want from entertainment. You are free to make exceptions to these standards at any point, but you have to make note of them.

In this case, I'm usually not comfortable with the idea of "eternal" fictional characters, being remade for every era and taste, long after the creator is gone. I see this as based on the conceit that a character is just an image, and not a personality that depends on their era. I believe the opposite….a character can't just be ported from one era to another, but we do it because of the longer and broader reach of mass media today, where because we can touch the past so easily, we can bring it back in a new form just as easily.

Lola Bunny is a good example of this. She's a fun character, but she's so obviously the product of a modern style of humour, it shows that Looney Tunes have to be totally rewritten to conform to modern standards, and I fundamentally don't understand why writers need to go through that trouble, instead of creating original characters. It's because I'm a nerd, I guess, who doesn't emotionally understand the value of name recognition or why going with a recognized brand is still "safe" even if you have to rewrite it.

That stays true, even if I think Lola is damn great. We need more cartoony female characters, and if something like Lola can be turned to the side of good, then we can hope for more cartoony female characters to show up in unexpected places.

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