One thing I lament a bit is the loss of the shared television experience. And in particular, the thrill of knowing a seasonal favorite was airing on a given night. These things seem to be dying as even Charlie Brown has found himself relegated to PBS. And it’s mostly due to these specials getting gobbled up by streaming platforms. There’s still a few that get seasonal airings, but their numbers are dwindling.
Once upon a time, a seasonal special was a surefire way to get some nice ratings during a holiday. That made them attractive for producers who went out of their way to create a holiday themed cartoon for their popular characters. And when it comes to cartoons, few could argue that the Looney Tunes weren’t near the top of the mountain in terms of popularity, or just sheer greatness. Bugs Bunny is a character that can lay claim to being top dog, or rabbit, in the field of animated characters. Want to argue Donald Duck or Popeye? Sure, they and others can make an argument, but so can Bugs. I’m not concerned with figuring out who is best, but I am reminded that Bugs and the gang once had their own holiday specials you could find on television at the right time of year. Unfortunately, they’re almost all bad. How can this be?! Bugs Bunny is fantastic! Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety, Sylvester – they practically write themselves! It’s an unfortunate reality though, as we saw with Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales, and the rabbit didn’t just get victimized by Christmas.
In 1977, CBS aired Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special. This could have been an annual viewing tradition, and it was for a little while, but fell by the wayside because it’s, well, not great. Come the 70s, Warner’s theatrical shorts division was dead and their vast cast of characters had pivoted to the small screen. The classic Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes were now airing in syndication with little in the way of original animation being created aside from wrap-around segments or commercials. Warner and CBS not surprisingly saw an opening to do a Halloween special because the Looney Tunes have dabbled with the macabre before. They could have, and probably should have, just rounded up some popular, spooky, cartoons and aired them in a block. Maybe they could have done some wrap-arounds too, or brought in a live-action host, and people probably would have tuned in. They did not.
Instead, Warner made the decision to take 8 classic (well, mostly classic) shorts and edit them together. Only they didn’t stitch them together with wrap-arounds, instead they tried to make the transition from one toon to the next seamless with new animation. This feels almost sacrilegious to cut up these cartoons like that. Some are even split in half with entire cartoons shoved in the middle. A-Haunting We Will Go is the first toon, and it gets chopped up to have four different cartoons inserted into it before it concludes. Now, maybe if the original directors were making these calls it wouldn’t be so bad, but none of them worked on this special. Hal Geer is the credited executive producer while David Detiege is the credited director who must have overseen the new animation and layouts. I don’t know if they tried to get Chuck Jones or Friz Freleng to do this thing, but presumably that would have cost money and they probably didn’t want to be a part of this.
If dicing up the cartoons feels bad enough, wait until you see the new animation! Holy Hell is it bad. Now, I don’t want to rag on the animators and artists involved. They probably had a shit budget to work with and Warner animation was a shell of its former self come the late 70s, but they couldn’t even get Bugs Bunny on model. It is immensely distracting to watch the old animation suddenly cut to the new, because Bugs looks about as different as he can. He looks like the bootleg Bugs that adorned VHS covers of public domain cartoons in the 80s. It’s bad. The audio is also noticeably different since Mel Blanc had gotten older. That can’t be helped, but it does just add to that jarring feeling.
If you can get past all of that, is there something to enjoy here? Yes and no. You get snippets of the old shorts in some cases which just isn’t very satisfying if they’re cartoons you’re familiar with. The pacing is off and most will be left feeling frustrated. Which is a shame, because most of these shorts by themselves are plenty enjoyable:
- A-Haunting We Will Go
- Broom-Stick Bunny
- Hyde and Hare
- Hyde and Go Tweet
- A Witch’s Tangled Hare
- Claws for Alarm
- Scaredy Cat
- Transylvania 6-5000
- Bewitched Bunny
Some of these edits will confuse kids. The special goes right from Hyde and Hare to Hyde and Go Tweet which both feature Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the character models aren’t the same. Claws for Alarm and Scaredy Cat are brutally cut up and quite lousy as a result, even though Scaredy Cat is a terrific toon by itself. And like the new animation issues, you’re also jumping from different eras of Warner shorts which have different production values. It also draws attention to the reuse common in these cartoons like Bugs’ witch costume and walk cycle being the same as Daffy’s nephew. I guess what I’m saying is, this special cuts up the cartoons while also drawing attention to their original flaws. Talk about a swing and a miss.
If you want to spend Halloween with Bugs Bunny and his friends, you can get this special on DVD. You won’t find it airing anywhere, but it is streaming for free in the usual places. It’s mostly an example of what not do do with these shorts. If you want to just experience some spooky tunes, watch the above mentioned shorts by themselves. Or see if you can get the Halloween edition of Toon in With Me that aired this morning. Maybe it’s on demand, but it has some of these cartoons and it’s far more well put together than this. There’s also a block of Looney Tunes airing tomorrow morning on MeTV that may or may not follow a spooky theme. The official Warner YouTube channel even has a bunch of Halloween cartoons on there for free which is way better than this, even if they’re edited. Basically, there are far better options when it comes to enjoying Halloween with Bugs and the gang.