17 June 2008 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Very enjoyable in its own right; just don't expect Loony Toons.
I saw this American TV special on British television, on a rainy afternoon in Bristol. In several other IMDb reviews, I've stated my displeasure for the work of animator Chuck Jones. Here, Jones actually subordinates his own ego for once, and I was pleasantly surprised that he produced a one-off show that gives kids (and other viewers) a taste of classical music.
I'm not sure if it was a good idea to bung Bugs and Daffy into this. Clearly, they were shanghaied into the project because their presence would bring in some viewers. Unfortunately, those viewers probably expected some Loony Toons comedy -- Bugs Bunny cutting loose in the 'Barber of Seville' -- and that's just not on offer here. This special isn't very funny, and in fact doesn't really try to be funny ... but the presence of those two Merrie Melodies madmen will mislead viewers into expecting Termite Terrace mayhem.
We begin in typical Warners cartoon fashion, with a shot of a symphonic hall. From within come the voices of Bugs and Daffy, arguing over the proper pronunciation for the name of Camille Saint-Saëns, composer of the music we're about to hear. As usual, it's Bugs who's right and Daffy who's wrong. Memo to Chuck Jones: c'mon, fella, would it have hurt just this once to let Daffy be the one who's right? Also, if Saint-Saëns's name is actually in the credits, I must have missed it. Since he died in 1921, I guess Chuck Jones didn't expect him to sue.
The music here is conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, a comparatively youth-oriented conductor who seems to have spent his career (with varying degrees of success) in projects that gave him credit for hipness while also giving him credentials as a highbrow interpreter of classical music. The orchestrations impressed me more than Thomas's conducting. I enjoyed the musical pun in 'Fossils', with the xylophone evoking the image of a series of ribs on a spinal column.
I realise that any animation project will feature some re-use of animation cels, but Jones is more obvious here than he needs to be. We see the same animation cycle, of Daffy Duck hunched over a piano keyboard with a grim look on his face, several times.
The real attraction here, of course -- for anyone but the most die-hard Loony Toons addict -- is the suite of symphonic melodies in 'The Carnival of the Animals'. Each of these is performed as a sort of self-contained music video, each in a different style of animation ... and all of them radically different from Chuck Jones's usually foolery. For instance, 'The Lion' resembles a young child's drawings; very charming in its simplicity. At first, I was deeply impressed that Jones was willing and able to break free so fully from his usual animation style. Then I double-checked the credits of this special; it turns out that the animations for the symphonic sequences are by someone named Herb Klynn, who spent most of his animation career at UPA. His work here is excellent.
The bottom line here is: if you're willing to give the classical music pieces (and their accompanying visuals) a chance in their own right, and don't expect any Loony Toons shenanigans, you might enjoy this special very much, as I did. If you're planning to sit through this thing humming Wagnerian versions of "Kill the wabbit!" and wondering when Bugs and Daffy are going to cut loose with some real slapstick, you'll be disappointed. My rating: seven out of 10.