The 90s were a paradise for lovers of entertaining animated series not only aimed at children. Of course, the “Simpsons” hovers above everything. But there was also “Beavis And Butthead”, “Batman – The Animated Series”, “Ren and Stimpy”, “Rocko’s Modern Life”, “Darkwing Duck” and several hits that were co-produced by Steven Spielberg.
In addition to “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain”, these included, above all, the “Tiny Toon Adventures”. For three seasons starting in 1990, the series helped establish the meta-madness that would define the decade and saw itself as both a crazy homage to the “Looney Tunes” classics of the past and a redefinition of the anarchist cartoon humor embellished with many film quotes Tex Avery and Chuck Jones.
The setting was clever: the younger-looking twin versions of numerous popular characters, supplemented by some wonderful, especially satirically pointed originals (Elmyra Duff!, Montana Max! Wacky!), study at Acme Looniversity how to become real toons. They are taught by Bugs Bunny and his colleagues. The memory of the ingenious slapstick of “Wrong Game with Rogger Rabbit” was always with us, but the riot of “Looney Tunes” was at times tailored with bright colors and yet scenarios that tended to be chaotic. Pianos and anvils are constantly flying at the protagonists. And the stories are led by Buster and Babs Bunny – two teenage bunnies who are very affectionate towards each other in several episodes, one could even say: crazy about each other.
“Tiny Toons Looniversity”: Reboot of a reboot
And now it’s getting exciting: There’s now a new edition of the series called “Tiny Toons Looniversity” – and Buster and Babs, recognizably modeled after Bugs and Honey Bunny, are suddenly twins. This is penetratingly put into perspective in the first (turbulent, very successful) episode. This is quite a shock for fans of the series, most of whom now have children of their own. On the internet there is hardly any talk about the success of the infusion and instead mainly about this one major change debated. Tenor: WTF! Why change something that worked perfectly?
The question is justified, because the staging of the connection between the two rabbits is quite unusual, as it tends to create at least a romantic, if not sometimes even sexual, tension. The most prominent example is an episode entitled “Prom-ise her anything”, in which Buster has to overcome himself to invite Babs to a prom night. There is a lot of spark between the two and there is also some cuddles.
In other episodes, it was repeatedly alluded to that both of them are deeply attached to each other, even if cartoonish bitching reigns at times. The flirting is intelligently legitimized with a gag that ties the “Tiny Toons” to the joke canon of the “Looney Tunes” (“Is something, Doc?”): Both bunnies always said when they introduced themselves: “Not related” . An ambiguity that left all doors open for the authors. They liked using them.
Viewers love the tension between characters
If you now browse through the frustrated posts on the Internet about why many viewers are boycotting the new version, which is imaginatively produced and very nicely written by today’s standards, then you should always keep in mind that the romantic or sexual energy between two (main) characters, themselves when the theme of a series should be completely different, which makes people want to watch. Just think of “The X-Files.”
This is of course increased if there are reasons against a liaison or if both characters are unable to confess their love. However, such subthresholds are quite rare, even in most quality series. It takes the right writers and the right actors. Most animated series either show long-term couples who sometimes get fed up with their partner, or there are stories about falling in love, but the shared bond doesn’t last longer than a few episodes. In this respect, the relationship between Buster and Babs is definitely something special.
In internet forums it is pointed out that the two cartoon characters can serve as a paradigm for the so-called furry movement. This is a subculture of people who orientate themselves on anthropomorphized creatures from the animal and fantasy world, dress like them (for example at cosplay conventions), and pin after them in a way that is certainly libidinally charged. The furry principle is, to a certain extent, charged with natural mystique; the erotic component is perhaps sometimes hidden, but basically plays the most important role.
Is this perhaps the reason why the makers of “Tiny Toons Looniversity” made the two rabbits siblings? Tom Rueger, one of the creators of the original series and not involved this time, reacted to X with a mix of surprise and cynicism when he heard the message in the first trailer: “Ummm, ew?”
“I think that a younger audience might not want to see cartoon characters making out,” said Nate Cash, one of the showrunners of the “Tiny Toons” reboot, when asked by some angry fans at a comic book convention. But more importantly, he added, the show’s creators, including writer and actress Alison Becker (“Parks and Recreation”), can explore more facets of the characters’ lives by giving the toons a family story. The series is no longer as referential and adult as the first seasons in the 90s, but is crazier and more community-building.
Familial love as a protective zone from injuries
The blissful warmth of the family that sets boundaries but also provides security (not only in the concrete sense; also the community of friends who ensnare and help each other is now transformed into a family complex in which everyone is willing to tolerate the quirks of the other). against the unpredictable energy of growing up with all its freedoms and tests of courage, dangers and passions. In this respect, the university is the right reflection as a terrain of changing sensitivities and as a new definition for this animated series. The new sensibilities for minorities, but also the feeling for the need for protective zones against (encroaching?) ambiguities, began primarily in this milieu, especially in the USA.
This also coincides with another development that has recently taken place in the “Simpsons” (which is why there have been loud voices here that the series is currently recovering from a creative decline that has lasted many years): animated series are now also told extensively, it is possible about lively characters who question their view of the world in vivid stories and thus re-evaluate prejudices. An episode of “Tiny Toon Adventures” in the 90s was a crazy collage of jokes, references and, above all, a story that always had a double bottom. Now it turns out that it’s also about developments, about establishing diverse identity options – about clear stories with moral messages.
Whether this has to be a vote against an unclear (innocent, non-binding, teenage-like) rabbit love, which translated into today could probably be understood as something like a friendship plus, may remain an open question for now. But the lesson from the strong emotions that such a basically simple plot change triggers in loyal TV viewers is, of course, that the producers’ needs to depict the world in its entire social and psychological color palette are once again in line with that Fans’ need to have certain emotional needs satisfied, something that television has exhaustively provided for decades.
The stories of the Tiny Toons may be more complex, but with the loss of an ambivalent relationship between its main characters, the series reduces the level of difficulty on the level of symbolic, non-verbal communication with almost infantile pleasure-satisfaction logic – i.e. the royal territory of animation.
“Tiny Toons Looniversity” ordered two seasons for (HBO)Max, and the new episodes were once again produced by Steven Spielberg, who always identified himself as a big fan of the “Looney Tunes” and the “Tiny Toons” once as one his passion projects. The new series also appears to be lovingly developed. If you want to give it a chance: Toggo (RTL Super) is currently showing the first season, and all episodes are also available to stream in the channel’s media library.