“Eh… What’s up, doc?”
The words have been heard by everyone from the mouth of Bugs Bunny, the animated rabbit at the center of countless “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” cartoons. While Bugs got his start all the way back in 1938, there’s plenty of life left in the carrot-loving cartoon character.
In September, Cartoon Network debuted the first season of “Wabbit — A Looney Tunes Prod.”, an all-new animated series that brings Bugs Bunny and his friends back to television and sees them ditching the sitcom format used in most of their modern appearances. Instead, the series returns to the classic format established by “Merry Melodies,” wherein Bugs stars in two shorts per episode, each dominated by orchestral music and a healthy dose of slapstick comedy.
At New York Comic Con, producer Gary Hartle and voice actors Jeff Bergman (Bugs Bunny), JP Karliak (Wile E. Coyote) and Bob Bergen (Porky Pig) visited to the world-famous CBR Tiki Room to speak with Albert Ching about the new Cartoon Network series, their characters, and how the series is both reverential to the classic cartoons while incorporating contemporary culture and references. They also discuss how they keep the characters both consistent and fresh for each new animated interpretation.
In the first interview, voice actors JP Karliak and Bob Bergen discuss what they enjoy most about the new take on the classic “Looney Tunes” characters in “Wabbit” and how they keep their work and the characters fun. They also discuss the frequently rumored sequel to “Space Jam,” which saw the characters team up with NBA legend Michael Jordan for a seriously out-of-this-world basketball game.
On what’s most fun about reinventing these characters in 2015:
JP Karliak: I think the coolest thing about it is that it is very much a return to the classic “Merry Melodies” and “Looney Tunes” shorts. First of all, it is in shorts, little five- to six-minute things, and it really has that snappy musical orchestration to it. It just kind of sings. Especially when we all get in the room and record to together, it really has this ping-pong thing that really works.
Bob Bergen: For me it’s all in the writing. Always, no matter what you are doing. Jeff and I were talking about this earlier, we both started with Tiny Toons like 25 years ago with these classic characters and have done so many different projects and productions that the writing is always different, you’re always trying to please the people you are working with.
[Writer/producer] Matt Craig found a formula for putting Porky’s comedy and stutter that eventually I got like, “I see what he’s trying to do, okay.” Like you said, it’s a glove. It fits like a glove. So, without these words to say we’ve got nothing to do. It’s all about the writing. As people who are closely tied to the world of animation, these characters have endured, there was never really a time where these characters were out of rotation.
On why it’s important for these characters to stick around and be reinterpreted for new generations:
Bergen: Well, from an employment standpoint — but this is a franchise that has been around since the ’30s, that there’s no reason for these characters to ever be out of the public eye. Whether it’s reruns of the classics, new versions or a new movie. There’s a reason the Looney Tunes have been so successful over the years. They are great characters, just like Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and Lucy. These are classic comedic characters just like those.
Karliak: You watch any of the classic “Looney Tunes” and it still has the same snap the same pop that it always did.
On the timeless nature of the characters going back all the way to the beginning:
Karliak: Absolutely. I think contemporizing it just adds to the awareness of it. It is sort of like what they did with the Mickey shorts for Disney. They brought Mickey Mouse back into the consciousness as a viable character. “Looney Tunes” are the same way, even more so because Bugs, Daffy and Porky’s personalities are on the tips of our tongues.
Bergen: But if you think about it, the classic “Looney Tunes” were contemporary at one point. So what we’re seeing today, looks like, “Oh, that’s Carmen Miranda. That’s fun.” Back then it was like seeing Madonna. I don’t think it was quite Madonna but my point is that we are putting them in contemporary situations right now and they’ve always been put in contemporary situations. In thirty years, when “Wabbit” is in reruns, they’re going to go, “Oh, I remember those Uber drivers. Those were wacky.”
On if there’s any truth to the rumors circling a sequel to “Space Jam”:
Bergen: You work on a thing, it’s a job, and you hope it is successful, you hope somebody remembers it past the recording session. I have heard the same rumors too; Billy West, Dean Baker, myself, we have been on Twitter asking, “What have you heard guys?” Because we don’t know, I’ve heard the same rumors the fans have. I would love to do a sequel to “Space Jam,” maybe a crossover “Wabbit” version of “Space Jam.” I think Wile E. could have a fun part in “Space Jam 2: The Year He Makes Contact.”
Karliak: He’d probably do a reinvention of Air Jordans. It’d be fatal.
Bergen: It’d be great to see these characters on the big screen again.
In the second interview, the voice of Bugs Bunny himself, Jeff Bergman, and producer Gary Hartle discuss balancing a return to the iconic nature of early Bugs stories with modern sensibilities and what it’s like for Bergman to have voiced the same character for more than two decades.
On giving the characters a classic spin, but with a nod to modern sensibilities:
Gary Hartle: Yeah, it has a little more edge to it. I think one of the things we did was that we kind of rolled back to the rascally-ness of Bugs. You know, he’s a bit of a stinker, as he likes to point out. … I think that as other people have tried to do other incarnations, like any icon they start to clean him up and wash him out. We just went back to letting Bugs be Bugs and I think that’s part of the success of the show.
On how Bergman approaches the reimagined character after playing him for so long:
Jeff Bergman: That’s a good question, I don’t know if anyone has ever asked that. It’s very different, every project is very different because every director, every animation director, every dialect director has their own impression of what they want the character to sound like. So it changes; it’s changed through the years. I think if anything, it more resembles the earliest [versions] because it is so action-packed. So it is much more energetic, I think.
Hartle: One of the things that I really stipulated in this is that it is like vaudeville. If you look at the old ones, and we do emulate that, it is like they are on a stage and the actors then came from that discipline. So we are kind of doing the same thing. So are setup is very simple, I might have two characters playing off each other and we keep the camera on them and let them to this bada-bing bada-bang kind of talk and the rhythm of that is important to the show. I think that’s the crux of how we do our show.
Bergman: We sometimes will have maybe eight or nine guys in there, in the studio and we’re just going back and forth. It’s madness. It’s a runaway train. But I think we get that in the performances.
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