Great shows: Tiny Toons

TreyVore remembers Tiny Toons.
November 05, 2009
It was the start of the 1990s--you know, 1990. At this time, it was considered the final year of the Cold War. Disney had just given us Disney-MGM Studios, the third major theme park in Walt Disney World, and Universal Studios Florida had just opened. At the same time, the Simpsons just finished their first season, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were making their jump towards live-action film around the same time Jim Henson had just died. After spending most of the 1980s repackaging classic cartoon characters, a 1988-era Steven Spielberg came to Warner Bros. Animation with an idea for an animated movie. Did the movie ever come to fruition? No, but a TV show did. This was a cartoon series any and all children of the 1990s remember with incredible fascination called...

Coming in at a time when animation was starting to find it's voice once again, "Tiny Toon Adventures" became the first cartoon series produced between Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Television Animation. Set in a city called Acme Acres, the show was about a group of young animation hopefuls, all based on the classic WB Looney Tunes characters, who attended a school called Acme Looniversity, where cartoon characters go to learn, from the Looney Tunes themselves, how to be funny.

I know what you're thinking, but stop right there. "Doesn't this sound familiar?", you ask. Yes, it has a group of characters that are smaller, younger versions of the classic WB Looney Tunes. You saw countless versions of this idea in the 1980s ever since Jim Henson struck gold with "Muppet Babies". Contrary to what you may think...this show is NOT, at all, trying to be like Muppet Babies. It is a smart, well-developed show with charming animation, humor that appeals to all age groups and characters with lively, pleasant personalities that can often put other kids' shows to shame.

Who are the characters and why do they look like the Looney Tunes then? Well, these characters are..."Original Derivatives". They are not being thrust into our faces as the new replacements of the original characters, as many times you will see that they are not perfect in what they set out to achieve. With one exception, they are not the sons/daughters of the Looney Tunes, and they are also not the Looney Tunes as children. Who's that one exception? Let's meet the characters.

The series' primary characters are Buster Bunny, Babs Bunny, Plucky Duck and Hamton J. Pig.

Buster and Babs "Barbara Ann" Bunny (no relation!) are both based on Bugs Bunny. Acting like Acme Looniversity's popular jock and cheerleader types, they both take after different aspects of their mentor Bugs Bunny: Buster is like the cool, collected contemporary Bugs Bunny while Babs is the more frantic, off-the-wall proto Bugs Bunny. You could say Buster is trying to be more like Bugs in every way while later on in the series, Babs' mentor could be seen as the 1920s female character Honey (from the old "Bosko and Honey" cartoons) in the episode "Fields of Honey". They are good friends with just about every character in the show and have a few enemies/rivals that they tango with. It is also notable that while Babs had a consistent voice actress (Tress MacNeille), Buster had two voice actors, primarily Charlie Adler and later on John Kassir (this is due to the fact that Charlie Adler left because he was getting annoyed over the fact he wasn't getting to do a main character's voice in the later series "Animaniacs").

The other two, Plucky Duck and Hamton J. Pig, are respectively based on Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Plucky is an egotistical, self-centered duck (like his mentor), who's always plotting to fulfill a goal or personal desire and is about as successful in his schemes (ironically, he seems to have lots of episodes that revolve around him in some manner though he thinks otherwise), and Hamton is a meek, complusive cleaner, and of the characters is the least like his mentor. They were voiced by Joe Alaskey and Don Messick. Like Daffy and Porky, they follow the roles of a funny character and a straight character. These two are notable for, within the series, getting a short-lived pseudo spin-off series (which I'll get into later).

Then there are some other major characters that they play off of. First, here are their friends:

One character is Shirley the Loon, who's not really based on an existing Looney Tune but more of a Hollywood satire (Shirley McLaine). She is a cosmic New Age freak with psychic powers and who speaks with a Valley Girl accent. Voiced by Gail Matthius, she is another cheerleader at Acme Acres and has an on-again/off-again romance with Plucky.

Another character is Furrball, probably the most 'feral' of the main cast. He's like a merging of Sylvester (a male cat that wants to catch a canary to eat) and Penelope the Cat (a mute, unlucky character). He's voiced by Frank Welker. Shown as the homeless type, his role seems to vary depending on when he's needed.

Gogo Dodo is a resident of Wackyland, a Salvador Dali-like dimension within Acme Acres where laws of physics and common sense mean absolutely nothing. His voice actor is Frank Welker. Remember how I said previously said there was one exception to the sons/daughters rule? Well, Gogo is that exception--he's the son of the original Dodo bird from the 1938 Porky Pig cartoon "Porky in Wackyland".

There was Dizzy Devil, an odd-eyed Tasmanian Devil like...the Tasmanian Devil. Voiced by Maurice Lamarche. He's probably the closest to his counterpart.

And of course Fifi La Fume. *drools* She is like an opposite sex Pepe Le Pew. Fifi can be seen as the original 'eternally nude foreign exchange student' 10 years before Cerina Vincent played that role in 2000's Not Another Teen Movie. She completes the cheerleading trio. Voiced by Kath Souci, she is likely the one consistently popular character. It's probably not hard to see why though--something about her just gets one's blood pumping. I admit...she's my favorite Tiny Toon.

Then there are some villains. Elmyra (Cree Summer), the human girl who you could say is idolizing Elmer Fudd, and Montana Max (Danny Cooksey), a spoiled brat who is based on Yosemite Sam. Elmyra is a girl that absolutely loves pets--as well as all animal life--just a little too much. She's not especially smart either, so to the terror of the animal cast, she is overbearingly affectionate and abusive. Montana Max is a short-tempered rich kid who has little to no reason to care about much of anything beyond his own gain.

Then there are some minor characters as well (this list is not complete though). Calamity Coyote and L'il Beeper, who are based on Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Sweetie Bird is based on Tweety. L'il Sneezer and Bookworm, who're based off Chuck Jones's first original character Sniffles the Mouse and his worm friend. Concord Condor is the Tiny Toons's equivalent to Beaky Buzzard. Byron Basset is a lazy hound dog who may have been based off a dog from the cartoon "Dog Tales". Mary Melody is the black girl who's supposed to have a play on the music-oriented Looney Tunes (Merrie Melodies) and more of a friendly human character. Then there's Arnold the Pit Bull, based on the famous Austrian bodybuilder/actor/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was at the height of his popularity at the time) and Fowlmouth, a rooster who's based on Foghorn Leghorn.

Maybe the Tiny Toons' studies played a little bit of a role in the show, but it was not all that the series was about. There were some episodes that showcased the Toons having a life of their own, telling kids how to do things in a funny way, and yes, they also had something of a moralistic side as well. And of course, it was not without having a lot of jokes involving movie stars, TV shows and film, and just about anything that the media could cover at the time. Yes, it's multi-tiered humor; there's the traditional wacky slapstick and mature topics to please both audiences, but the series has the sophistication necessary to avoid just being a mindless pop-culture fest.

The show manages to be cute without feeling like it's here, existing to try to sell toys/cards/figurines/video games or whatever you can buy at your local shopping mart. In addition, the characters have a certain 'warmth' and 'heart' behind them without being sappy. In addition, whenever they seem to mix the animation with music, expect something you'll want to watch repeatedly, over and over. The music themed episodes that they have are that good, seriously.

Then, of course, it's not without its problems. Probably my pick for the worst feature on "Tiny Toon Adventures" is anytime the series starts to get preachy. Examples include why it's important to take care of the environment, why you shouldn't want to wear fur and it's not good to drink if you're underage. One of my least favorite episodes was "Field Trip Day" for the third act--"Slaughterhouse Jive"--yes, the class takes a field trip to a slaughterhouse that Montana Max is running, and Buster, Babs, Hamton and Plucky have to try to stop him. The message of the episode? Eat your vegetables!! Seriously, how many kids like being told by a cartoon to eat vegetables (at least they tried breaking it by the end though)?! To be fair though, it was a series that was made in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and many other series where guilty of the same types of "preaching", so one can say if this show was more contemporary, these preachy elements wouldn't have made it. Still...*shudders*

Another little thing is the wild, obvious-there-was-more-than-one-animation house style of animation. Now at this time, the animation industry was just about out of the slump that plagued cartoons of the 1970s and many cartoons of the 1980s, and cartoons were becoming fresh and funny once again. I happened to like the animation for the most part--Wang, Akom, Startoons--these were all fine. There was one exception though; that being the pisstastic Kennedy style. What's wrong with it? Well, as indicated in the pic above, the Kennedy style is the worst of the lot. The squash-and-stretch techniques are necessary for animation to succeed, but the Kennedy style goes overkill and completely overdoes this, I am not joking. The characters never, ever seem to stop moving. Seriously, each and every single little move they make and they stretch and bounce like they are made of rubber. Eventually, the guys at WB listened to fans of the series and by 1991, this animation house was dropped. Not just because of the fans' disdain, but because they themselves came to hate it!

Another problem that I had was the character imbalance. I would have loved to have seen more of characters like Furrball, Dizzy Devil and Fifi La Fume; these are characters I find to have pleasant, amiable traits and are worthy of more screentime with Buster, Babs, Plucky and Hamton. I also didn't mind Montana Max as a villain, he was always considered one of the series' better characters...

...but what helps define the imbalance is the character of Elmyra. I remember one episode that seemed to give her last name as "Desmond", but this was later seemingly retconned to being "Duff". Supposedly the Tiny Toons' equivalent to Elmer Fudd (Elmer Fudd = Elmyra Duff, get it?), she's just too stupid to live--and for that matter, too dense to die. A character that's physically 12 but I would say...mentally 3, her pet abusing antics aren't exactly timeless comedy, and while we are not supposed to like or sympathize with her, she immediately becomes grating and obnoxious. If that's not bad enough, someone on the writing staff clearly loved her, because she is a very active character. Obviously the "Creator's Pet", they use her for more than she is worth--blissfully ignoring the fact that as fans of the series, we totally freakin' hate her. Sound pretty bad? I'm not done yet. There were also at least two episodes where Elmyra is seen with a family that comes from nowhere, acting like an animated sitcom episode...yes...freaking yes...someone on the writing staff loved Elmyra to the point they wanted her to have her own spin-off series!! Can you say "ENOUGH ALREADY?!?" I can hear the kids of my generation towards the writer(s) right now: "If you love Elmyra so much, why don't you marry her?" While it's not enough to hurt the show terribly, the overuse of Elmyra is a liability.

Another minor thing that I know won't sit well with some people is the fast and furious random pop culture jokes. While not the humor itself that's necessarily bad, as there's a lot of very funny Hollywood satires and references to famous celebrites, but it's inevitable that an occassional dated reference will rear itself. Some good references? In the episode called "Fields of Honey", Babs makes a statement about how mass media advertising is good for publicity, saying, "Look what it did for Batman!", and as pictured above, Plucky is seen doing an eye-popping awesome Michael Jackson impression. These types of references are material that people will most certainly care about in 10-20 years. A not-so-good pop culture reference? Well, in the episode "Tiny Toon Music Television", the next picture is the title card for a minor segment called "Just Say Julie Bruin", a joke on the 1989-1992 MTV music video-themed sitcom series "Just Say Julie". Is this funny? Well, when Tim Burton was still directing Batman movies, Disney's newest animated film was "The Rescuers Down Under" and Chris Farley was a brand new face on "Saturday Night Live", yes, it is very funny. But would it still be funny by the time we got "Batman Forever", "Pocahontas" and "Tommy Boy" (for the uninitated, that's 1995)? I doubt it; that just STINKS of 'product of its time'.

Unfortunately, the show basically ended after only about three years (1990-1992), probably so the WB could focus on "Animaniacs" (from time to time the Tiny Toons would make cameo guest appearances), which I already wrote an article about expressing my thoughts on that show. But, something good now. The series ran for about 98 episodes, and there were also 2 specials that were made: "Spring Break" (released in 1994) and "Night Ghoulery" (released in 1995). I never watched the Spring Break episode (but I want to, REAL bad) and I own the "Night Ghoulery" tape on VHS. It's still really funny, proving the Tiny Toons still got it. In addition, what awards did Tiny Toon Adventures manage to win? Well, for all three years it was in production, "Tiny Toon Adventures" was considered for the Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Children's Program". And it won that award, twice! Once in 1990 and again in 1992. In 1991, it was nominated, but lost to "Rugrats". But still, it was nominated for a highly-esteemed award in 1992, and actually BEAT "Batman: the Animated Series"? That's really impressive!

There was also a considerable amount of Tiny Toons merchandise. There were some plushies made of some of the characters (I remember my sister managed to find a plushie of Buster--except he was naked). Then there were some McDonald's Flip Cars (there were four individual cars, which were Buster/Elmyra, Babs/Plucky, Hamton/Dizzy and Gogo/Montana Max) and the "Wacky Rollers" (there was 8--Buster, Babs, Plucky and Hamton, Dizzy, Gogo, Elmyra, Montana Max, and Sweetie with a graphic of a flattened Furrball), as well as a few children's literature books (wish I bought some of 'em), and a short-lived magazine that unfortunately did not become a regular comic book.

There were some VHS cassettes which hold some random episodes of the series (there was "Big Adventures", "Fiendishly Funny Adventures", "Island Adventures", "The Best of Buster and Babs", "Tiny Toons in Two-Tone Town" and "Music Television"). Then of course, there was the movie. There was a Tiny Toon Adventures movie, you ask? Indeed. The movie "Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation" was released by the WB in 1992. Briefly considered for a wide theatrical release, the movie instead was released direct-to-video. It ran for about 73 minutes and starred a good number of characters from the series. Basically it starts at the beginning of summer for the Tiny Toons, and the movie itself follows their vacationing paths. While with Byron Bassett, Buster and Babs go canoeing down in the Southern U.S., Plucky tags along for Hamton's family vacation to HappyWorldLand, Fowlmouth pesters Shirley into wanting to go on a date with him, Elmyra loses Furrball and goes on vacation to a nature park hoping to find a new kitty, and Fifi relentlessly tracks movie star Johnny Pew hoping for an autograph. Sounds like a lot of ground to cover, doesn't it? Oddly enough, it really does work and still is worth tracking down to find on VHS to watch! If you are in a poor mood and desperately want to watch to lift your spirits/laugh your butt off, "Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation" is a surefire mood-lifter! Seriously, why couldn't "Animaniacs" get a movie like this?

And of course, there were some Tiny Toon Adventures video games. The games originally made while the show was new were made by Konami (instead of Acclaim--I guess the Tiny Toons lucked out). I remember playing the original NES game at length, but by the time we got its sequel, "Trouble in Wackyland" and the arts-and-crafts themed "Cartoon Workshop", the NES was basically in decline. There was also "Babs's Big Break", for the Game Boy, which I still enjoy playing. I never got to play the sequel though. I still have my original copy of the SNES game "Buster Busts Loose!", which is still a favorite SNES game of mine. The Genesis game, "Buster's Hidden Treasure", was not as good in my view. Then there were the "Wacky Sports" games, they are...worthwhile, I guess. Special mention goes the aborted game for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar.

Oddly enough, there are some contemporary games that were made, based on the series. Some PlayStation games, called "Buster and the Beanstalk", "Toonenstein: Dare to Scare!" and "Plucky's Big Adventure", are unfortunately games for younger gamers and no one else. There were also two Game Boy Color games and...well, one puzzle game called "Wacky Stackers" and a rare release called "Scary Dreams" for the Game Boy Advance. There was also a cancelled game for the PlayStation 2 called "Defenders of the Looniverse" (I REALLY wanted to play that one).

Now, remember how I said there were some spin-offs to "Tiny Toon Adventures"? Well, there were two.

The first spin-off series (which was a spin-off in only the loosest sense of the word) was "The Plucky Duck Show", which began, and ended, in 1992. It was a new series complete with it's own variation on the TTA theme song (all about Plucky, no less), but all I can say is this show was REALLY short-lived. How short was it? I mean, technically there were about 13 episodes altogether, but it truthfully lasted only one episode! That episode, the half-hour long "The Return of Batduck" (a send-up to the 1992 movie "Batman Returns"), was the one and only original episode produced for this series; later on it was repackaged and aired as a regular episode on TTA. All the other 12 episodes were made up of recycled Plucky-centric episodes of "Tiny Toon Adventures". The show's theme was later recycled into the series' finale, "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas". If this was all they did with it, it kinda makes me wonder why they even bothered.

The second spin-off series was the highly controversial and much-reviled "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain". It was also short-lived, having began in September 1998 and ended in April 1999. It's an odd beast, in the sense it's a spin-off in that Elmyra got her own show, and it's a sequel series, in that it chronologically is set after "Pinky and the Brain" (if I try to make sense of what this is supposed to be, my brain will explode). Remember how I once noted that the writers seemed like they were trying their absolute hardest to get Elmyra her own show? Well, it finally came to fruition when the suits at the WB decided that "Pinky and the Brain", already a spin-off from "Animaniacs", should have a new element to freshen it up. So, they decided to place them in a sitcom setting, so it could be "more like The Simpsons". So, the plot, about Pinky and the Brain having lost Acme Labs in one of the Brain's experiments, drifted until they were adopted by Elmyra. While still plotting to take over the world, Elmyra would basically do anything she could to screw things up. Now, "Pinky and the Brain", agruably the best sketch on "Animaniacs", basically was reduced to a turd that won't flush once they moved to Elmyra's house. The intelligence was gone, the humor was gone, the other cast members were gone, and hell, everything meaningful, you name it, was gone. It ran for only 13 episodes, but only 5 actually aired and the remaining 8 were not seen until it became part of the "Big Cartoonie Show" in 1999. How an abomination like this won a Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Children's Animated Program" is beyond my comprehension...

I remember in "Night Ghoulery", there was a segment called "Night of the Living Dull" where Gogo Dodo was facing a threat from the "World's Biggest Tiny Toon Fan", who once asked, "When is Fifi going to get her own series?" ...Yeah. Fifi doesn't get her own show, but Elmyra does? No justice in this world...

The show seems to still have a rabid fanbase that it seems to hold tight, so it seems like the WB can still do an awful lot more with this show. I mean, seriously. After the WB shut down the Termite's Terrace (ending the Looney Tunes short cartoons), it's not like the Tiny Toons' mentors have been all that successful as of late--they had repackaged television runs (ie. "The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show"), some random specials and a few companion cartoons to introduce a movie yeah, but as far as anything else goes, what might be the most successful product they've had was "The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries" which came out in 1995 (the first season was dedicated to Friz Freleng, who died in that year). But time has past since that year--what else have they done lately that was really all that successful and/or had staying power? "Space Jam"? "Tweety's High-Flying Adventure"? "Baby Looney Tunes"? "Duck Dodgers"? "Looney Tunes: Back in Action"? "Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas"? "Loonatics Unleashed"? I don't know if these products not doing much for the current generation of kids is the fault of poor execution, tired gags or maybe Mel Blanc just can't be replaced. Or maybe the Looney Tunes don't seem to have their appeal at any longer than 7-8 minutes. Or maybe it's just a result of the world getting simply just want to watch cartoons about anime kids fighting inside robot mechs and "Tom and Jerry"'s not good enough anymore (depressing), but maybe the WB ought to try revitalizing the Tiny Toons. Put together with the lack of preachiness, just think of what they could be making jokes about nowadays! I mean, most of the voice actors are still around--right now only Hamton would have to be revoiced (Don Messick died in 1997).

I will of course hold onto "Tiny Toon Adventures". A time capsule of the early 1990s, it may have a few dated elements but other than that it's aged just fine. And of course, with DVD being what it evolved into, the show is deservedly getting some DVD treatment. Any child of the 1990s will likely hold fond memories, I assure you--give it a shot, it's still heartfelt, fun and funny. All that's left? How about...

"Au revoir, mon petit potato du couch!"

Many thanks go to Tiny Toon Image Gallery Plus!
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