It was hailed as a triumphant return of the beloved Looney Tunes characters to the big screen. But Looney Tunes: Back In Action turned out to be a disastrous flop that sealed the fate of Warner Bros. Feature Animation.
The 2003 live-action/animated comedy film starred Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman as a stuntman and a studio executive who team up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other cartoon icons to stop a villainous plot involving a magical diamond.
The film had a budget of US$80 million and was directed by Joe Dante, who had previously helmed hits like Gremlins and The ‘Burbs. It also featured cameos from celebrities like Steve Martin, Joan Cusack, Heather Locklear, and Timothy Dalton.
But despite its star power and nostalgic appeal, the film failed to impress critics and audiences alike. It received mixed reviews, with critics calling it “a noisy, manic, and largely unfunny attempt to revive the Looney Tunes franchise” (Rotten Tomatoes). It only returned US$68.5 million at the box office, making it one of the biggest flops of the year.
“It was the last movie made by Warner Bros. Feature Animation before Warner Bros. had to axe the company,” according to Stars Insider.
Warner Bros. Feature Animation was an animation department that was established in 1996 and produced six animated films, including Space Jam, The Iron Giant, and Quest for Camelot. It was meant to compete with Disney and Pixar in the lucrative animation market.
But after four consecutive box-office failures, Warner Bros. decided to shut down the studio in 2003 and lay off hundreds of employees. The studio’s assets were transferred to Warner Bros. Animation, which continued to produce animated films for theatrical and direct-to-video release.
Warner Bros. Animation is the successor to the original Warner Bros. Cartoons established in 1944, which produced the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. It has produced or released many theatrical animated feature films, such as The Lego Movie, Happy Feet, and Scoob!
However, the future of Warner Bros. Animation is uncertain, as Warner Bros. Discovery announced that as part of a cost-cutting restructuring, Warner Bros. Animation will merge with Cartoon Network Studios, with their respective name and output continuing to be in use in the future productions.
This merger could have significant implications for Warner Bros.’s animation legacy, as Cartoon Network Studios is known for producing original animated series such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and We Bare Bears. Will this merger allow Warner Bros. to create more innovative and diverse animated content or will it dilute its brand identity and compromise its quality? Only time will tell.