HBO Max has a lot of exciting shows and movies in development, but at launch, the new streaming service's lineup of original programming is pretty limited. There's a vast library of classic movies and popular shows to fill that gap, but if you're looking for something new you're options include Love Life (a romantic comedy anthology series starring Anna Kendrick) and a Late Night-style show hosted by Elmo. But if there's one bright spot in the HBO Max launch lineup, it's the Looney Tunes revival.
Official titled Looney Tunes Cartoons (a bit redundant, but what do you expect from the company behind "HBO Max"), the beloved show's revival captures the charm, slapstick humor, and timeless art style of the original almost perfectly. And while the animation might feel slightly off at times, this is the best version of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety, Porky Pig, and the rest of these looney tunes we've seen in a very long time.
Let's get this out of the way first. The animation is both the best and worst part of Looney Tunes Cartoons. The backgrounds of each episode are hand-drawn and gorgeous. Establishing shots and epic landscapes will bring you right back to the original series. And when the show gets more surreal (like in an extended fireman pole sequence, part of which is embedded at the top of this review) it transcends its kiddie cartoon genre to become art.
The same can't be said for the characters. While it's tough to identify exactly what's wrong with the way Bugs and the rest of the gang look in Looney Tunes Cartoons, it's impossible not to watch the show and instantly realize something is wrong. My hunch is that it's a result of the Toon Boom Harmony software used for the series, which blends some old school techniques with modern technology. The result is pretty close to the real thing but different enough that you'll never stop noticing it.
One area where this Looney Tunes revival perfectly replicates the original is in its slapstick humor. It doesn't matter how many times you drop a piano on Daffy Duck, it's always funny. The team behind Cartoons knows this, and they're not afraid to lean into it. An early episode featuring Daffy and Porky Pig exploring a booby-trapped temple feels like an early high point when it comes to this slapstick comedy, but there's plenty sprinkled throughout the show.
Finally, the voice acting in Looney Tunes Cartoons is solid and sometimes impressive. There's no way to bring back Mel Blanc (the original voice of Bugs Bunny who died in 1989), but Warner found a suitable new replacement in Eric Bauza. The Canadian voice actor plays Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Tweety, and Woody Woodpecker, offering fans a reassuring test run ahead of his ultimate challenge: Space Jam: A New Legacy. A few other voices fill out the cast with no noticeable weak spots.
Looney Tunes Cartoons isn't a time machine, but it's the next best thing: A near-perfect revival of one of the most important pieces of American art in our 244-year history as a nation.
It's also a solid first step for HBO Max, proving that this new streaming service might just have what it takes to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and Disney. If Warner can keep pumping out faithful updates on its classic library that should be reason enough for new subscribers to stick around after their free trials run out.
Looney Tunes Cartoons premieres May 27 on HBO Max.