"The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes All-Star 50th Anniversary" blows the lid off Hollywood. It blows the lid off Cucamonga. It blows the lid off Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole. It blows the lid off Elmer Fudd, but then, there's no trick to doing that. "The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes All-Star 50th Anniversary" is a lid-blower-offer. Shameless, calculating, brilliant and hilariously great.
The one-hour CBS special, at 8 tonight on Channel 9, trots out the whole who's who and what's what of animated Warner Brotherhood: Bugs, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety, the Roadrunner, Pepe LePew, and such blithe spirits as that. But it isn't just another clip parade. To pay tribute to all the manic wizardry that went into the cartoons, a host of three-dimensional stars, flesh-and-blood sorts, sally forth and reminisce about the Warner characters as if they were fellow shrimp noshers on the celebrity circuit.
Bill Murray, making a royally welcome return to the television screen, stands in a pool hall and remembers Bugs as the rabbit in the gray flannel skin. "Bugs never did anything for anybody that didn't serve Bugs Bunny," Murray says bitterly. "That's why he's a star." He gets that look of righteous resignation on his face. "Porky Pig could have any dame he wanted in Hollywood," he reports, and as for Elmer Fudd, "I just don't have any respect for him intellectually."
Murray is most in the spirit of the thing, but all the myriad stars take turns, everyone from Kirk Douglas to David Bowie to Molly Ringwald to Chuck Yeager to Jeremy Irons, who complains of the constant feuding between Bugs and his jealous rival Daffy, "It makes it very difficult to go out with them together."
Last year when Donald Duck turned 50, Disney Studios produced a very slick, proper, Disneyesque anniversary show, with Dick Van Dyke as host. How fitting that the Warner Bros. anniversary show should be much more irreverent, much more hip, much more satirical of Hollywood mythologizing. It is the work of director Gary Weis, executive producer Lorne Michaels, consultant and animation expert Greg Ford, and many others, including of course, via the nimbly interpolated clips, all those boy geniuses who never quite managed to grow up and so got to spend their lives making the artistic equivalent of funny faces.
Many, such as Tex Avery and Robert Clampett, are gone, but Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, two of the canniest vets, remain and appear on the special, as does one-man vocal repertory company Mel Blanc. Jones analyzes the Bunny: "Bugs is an aspiration. It's what you'd like to be. But what you're sorely afraid of is that you're much more like Daffy." It falls on grandfatherly Freleng to strike a deft serious sentimental note that touches on the solid place these characters have in American folklore. He says he looks upon them the way a father looks upon his children. "I grew up with them," he says. "I feel they're still alive."
On the Bugs-Daffy rift, Cher recalls matter-of-factly, "I worked with a partner for 11 years . . ." Candice Bergen notes that during Porky Pig's lean period, when parts were hard to come by, "He really let himself go, and he put on a lot of weight." Jeff Goldblum says the romance between Porky and a certain Petunia Pig, one of those characters that didn't quite work out, was "cooked up" by the studio "for publicity purposes." Eve Arden says of the faded, crumpled Petunia, "She tried so hard. I don't think she could handle the pressure."
In advertising the special, CBS calls it "all new," but what good would it be without plenty of old clips? Those seen on the show include refreshing rarities: Bugs' first utterance of the now immortal phrase, "Eh, what's up, doc?"; Porky's hasty decision to forsake the animation unit so he can try to make it in features; Bugs' famous impression of Leopold Stokowski; Daffy's colossally ill-fated epic "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," and a dismal wreck of a cartoon that Porky drew himself and presents to a justifiably skeptical audience. It consists of a stick figure being repeatedly scratched out and redrawn, the crazed handiwork of a glazed ham.
Steve Martin states flatly that Paul Newman and Meryl Streep stole some of their screen mannerisms from Bugs. Danny Thomas remembers the time Yosemite Sam came to visit him on the set. Penny Marshall says Daffy was simply "one jealous duck." Quincy Jones, Mike Nichols, Geraldine Page and Billy Dee Williams fill out the roster of witnesses, but this is a lot more fun than "Reds." This is, after all, "Bugs."
Elmer chases Bugs, Bugs fools Elmer, Yosemite Sam falls down a mine shaft, and a debate is conducted in the field on whether in fact it is rabbit season or duck season. After Bugs gets an ovation for a few simple dance steps, Daffy sputters, "Hardy har har!" and tries to upstage him with a furious tap routine to "Jeepers Creepers." The silence is so deafening when he finishes that he can hear crickets chirp. Failure, staring him right in the puss.
The Duck Condition, The Rabbit Condition, The Human Condition . . . it's all the same.
In one clip, an unnamed animated dog is cursing his lot in motion-picture life. "Cartoon, hah!" he scoffs. "Degrading occupation! Stooge for a cat and mouse!" Those who made these cartoons never developed a sense of self-importance. They sat around their ramshackle workshop on the Warners' lot trying to make each other laugh -- and, as an afterthought, the rest of the world, too.
They didn't think their work would last. Tonight's "All-Star Anniversary" proves gratifyingly how very very wrong those wugged wascals were.