Steven Spielberg has made a stellar film career of revitalizing the pop-culture passions of his youth, most of them fixations derived from Saturday matinees: monsters ("Jaws"), spooks ("Poltergeist"), aliens ("E.T.") and daredevils (the Indiana Jones trilogy). Although I am one adult of Spielberg's generation who wishes he had stopped short of making a sequel to "Peter Pan," his tributes to the icons of boyhood rarely miss the mark.
So it is with the reborn spirit of the Warner Bros. cartoon as embodied in the TV series "Tiny Toon Adventures," produced by Spielberg's company Amblin Entertainment in cooperation with Warner Bros. Animation. The syndicated series will move to the Fox network in the fall.If Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are the adults in this cartoon world, such Tiny Toon critters as Buster Bunny and Plucky Duck are their grade-school equivalents - boisterous children carrying on the Looney Tunes tradition of comic anarchy. Now the Tiny Toon gang is starring in its first feature-length movie, "Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation" (80 minutes, $19.98), a home-video original from Warner.
It's due in stores Wednesday, March 11, and it's a total delight for all ages. Most children will have a great time, and those who happen to see it with tooned-in parents may wonder why the adults keep falling off the couch.
The Tiny Toon kids live in Acme Acres and attend the Looniversity (the portal replicates the brilliant orange-and-red concentric circles of the Looney Tunes logo). The story opens on the last day of school as the youngsters squirm and wait for the clock to strike three. When it does, out pops a cuckoo dressed as a baseball umpire to bellow, "Strike three, you're out!," and the characters head for their separate adventures: Plucky Duck joins Hamton Pig and his family for a trip to Happy World Land; Buster and Babs Bunny (no relation to each other) create a flood and end up rafting down a river; Elmyra, a little girl who terrorizes cats by loving them to death, visits Wild Safari Zoo, and skunk Fifi pursues celebrities at the Acme Resort Hotel.
As with the classic Warner cartoons of yore, Tiny Toons is a blend of outlandish slapstick, chaotic predicaments, skull-flattening violence and overall impudence, spiced with sly social commentary.
The scene at Happy World Land, for example, skewers our obsession with monumental amusements. A barren parking lot stretches to the horizon, and as the family trudges to the entrance, a chirpy song fills the air: "Happy World Land, where the fun doesn't stop/at only 80 bucks a pop." Plucky vows to go on every ride "until I barf twice."
Tiny Toons also abounds in references to movie characters and celebrities. Superman appears on the scene to save Buster and Babs from a waterfall, but he dumps them out of his arms when an irked Buster says, "Hey, get your own video." At the Acme Resort Hotel, a bellhop greets Jay Leno and offers to check his chin, which Leno is resting on a luggage cart. When Hamton's family stops for a hitchhiker, he turns out to be a lunatic with a hockey mask and chain saw who hates pork.
There are literally hundreds of gags, and some whiz by so quickly you'll want to watch this tape again and again. It also happens to be beautifully animated, full of the color, detail and movement so often absent from the TV and video fare of today.