There are a lot of good things to be said about Cartoon Network’s new series, The Looney Tunes Show. It’s smartly written with a rapid-fire succession of jokes, complimented by some impressively fluid and nuanced character animation that makes even the lengthy dialogue exchanges fun to look at. The use of the classic Looney Tunes cast for various supporting roles is inspired and they never feel like they’re being mishandled or under-utilized. The “Merrie Melodies” musical segments can be pretty hit or miss, sure, but I think they’ve had more successes than failures. Even the CG-animated Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner segments serve their purpose, infusing furious, slapstick action into a show that’s more concerned with sitcom style banter and less extreme gags (an oddity for something carrying Looney Tunes in the title, admittedly.)
Yes, The Looney Tunes Show has been great and I could go on praising it until I’m blue in the face. However, there’s one accomplishment to the show’s credit that I think warrants its very own spotlight.
The Looney Tunes Show has done the impossible by completely overhauling Lola Bunny and transforming her, for the first time ever, into not just a good character, but an awesome character. And she may very well be the best character in the whole show.
Why she sucked
Originally created for the inexplicable Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan crossover film Space Jam, Lola Bunny was conceived as a flawed character right from the start. The movie “needed” a female cartoon character in the lead, and since the only females in the Looney Tunes stable are a 90 year-old woman (Granny), a cackling sorceress (Witch Hazel) and a perpetual rape victim (Penelope Pussycat), an original one had to be created. So what we got was Lola Bunny: The most boring Looney Tunes character since, I dunno, Buddy. But even he got a pretty awesome revival on Animaniacs (and he’s technically a Merrie Melodies character, anyway.)
Born purely from the loins of political correctness (gotta have that female character!), there was nothing interesting about her whatsoever. Lola was a female rabbit, thus naturally attracting the affections of Bugs Bunny, but because she was a Strong Female Character, she found Bugs’ well-intentioned if not well-spoken advances annoying and insulting (disliking being called “doll”, for example.)
Unlike every other Looney Tunes character, Lola was immune to slapstick antics or pratfalls at her expense, because she was a girl… and violence toward girls is wrong. She had no exaggerated personality traits, she behaved like a total stick in the mud, she couldn’t engage in any zany antics because the censors couldn’t permit female cartoon characters to be hurt…
Lola Bunny was just about the worst character ever.
However, she was “hot”, at least by anthropomorphic cartoon animal standards. So the pig-yiffing furries of the internet managed to keep her memory alive through Rule 34 fanart long after her star had crashed and burned.
But bestiality-infused sex appeal does not a good character make. There was nothing good about Lola Bunny. That is until…
The Looney Tunes Show
In an April, 2011 interview with Comic Book Resources, The Looney Tunes Show writer Rachel Ramras weighed in on how shitty a character the original Lola Bunny was, “Ours is nothing like that Lola… We had the benefit of knowing [Lola Bunny voice actress] Kristen Wiig, so we had the advantage to write to her strengths.”
So essentially they recreated Lola Bunny from the ground up, using no reference to her original incarnation save the fact that she was a tan-colored female rabbit in a romantic relationship with Bugs Bunny. Thank God for that.
First appearing in the second episode of the series, “Members Only”, this Lola Bunny is anything but the bland, lifeless cut-out of furry sex-appeal from Space Jam. She’s spastic and brimming over with an excess of energy and enthusiasm; constantly talking as though she has no internal monologue whatsoever. Turning the relationship angle on its head for “The Looney Tunes Show”, the writers found more potential for humor by making Lola the one pursuing Bugs rather than vice versa.
Lola is now something of an insane, needy, clingy stalker whom Bugs finds absolutely terrifying but cannot shake despite his best efforts (he later grows to find her more charming, if still taxing to be around). This was a brilliant reversal, as not only does it give Lola a quirky behavioral tic, but it succeeds in making Bugs more interesting, too. Bugs hasn’t gotten as much play as his more remarkable Looney Tunes costars in the past few decades because, like Mickey Mouse, he’s come to be the straight-man; the stiff voice of reason amongst a gaggle of stronger personalities. Writers have focused too much on his smooth and unwavering confidence to the point that he’s practically in “god-mode” at all times; nothing can faze him and nothing can beat him (try suffering through “Bah Humduck” if you’re brave-enough). He can conquer any challenge because he’s smarter and better than everybody else.
And that’s just boring.
But Lola, on the other hand, presents a challenge he can’t overcome as easily as dimwitted hunters, nerdy Martians or temperamental cowboys. And for me, Bugs Bunny is at his most amusing when he’s struggling with a conflict that he can’t resolve with the same tired-old “Hunters Trilogy” gags he’s been using for seventy years.
And yet, the new Lola Bunny doesn’t necessarily need Bugs to be funny. The only notable thing about the Space Jam era Lola was that she was Bugs’ girlfriend. Take that away from her and, being such an incredibly hollow creation, she had nothing left to stand on her own with. But this Lola has more than enough personality to headline adventures as a solo act. The episode “The DMV” sees the cast undergoing various trials and tribulations necessary to get their driver’s licenses renewed. Lola’s segment was easily the best and it featured her playing off of Yosemite Sam, not Bugs.
And if you didn’t laugh at her “President’s Day” song then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
“My country ‘tis of thee; Sweet land of Mister T; And Mrs. T!”
In short, Lola Bunny actually feels like she deserves to be called a Looney Tunes character, now. She’s got personality in excess and undergoes the same levels of physical trauma as her male counterparts, proving herself a true equal.
If anything worries me, I suppose it might be that Lola Bunny is really just Kristen Wiig, a comedian and actress perhaps best known for being on Saturday Night Live. As writer Rachel Ramas noted in that interview, this new Lola Bunny was tailored to Wiig’s characteristics and strengths and she is as responsible for Lola’s success as the writers and character designer Jessica Borutski (who created her distinct new look). The problem I’m foreseeing is: What happens if Wiig becomes unavailable to voice Lola in future Looney Tunes productions?
Recasting could be tricky, since this incarnation of Lola essentially *is* Kristen Wiig. And I’d rather not lose this new version forever or have her go through another reincarnation, especially now that they’ve finally perfected her.
The Looney Tunes Show is awesome on all fronts and if you haven’t watched it yet, then you really, really ought to. This new Lola Bunny, however, is true evidence that “there’s no such thing as bad characters, just bad writers”. If a character as irredeemably terrible as Lola Bunny can be reworked into the highlight of a series, outshining even her costars with seventy years of cartoon cred, then I really think there’s hope for everybody. No matter how much they suck.