A pig and a duck ride an elephant into the jungle. No, this isn’t the set-up for a joke, it’s the basis for The Curse of the Monkey Bird, the latest in a series of Looney Tunes cartoons set for release on HBO Max. From a story created by director Peter Browngardt, Johnny Ryan, and Eddie Trigueros, Monkey Bird is a delightful short film which captures the spirit of the Looney Tunes of yore within a modern aesthetic. The result is something highly kinetic, completely absurd, and wholly new, even if it feels all too familiar.There’s been a trend lately of leaning into nostalgia in order to trigger an emotional response from potential audiences. It’s more often decried as a greater issue of lack of originality and as a reliance on childhood joys over growth and expansion. In short, the accusation is nostalgia = regression. The truth of the matter is that there are two types of targets: kids who have access to their parents’ funds and the parents themselves, so when the millionth superhero film is released, it seems like a betrayal of consumer trust, when it’s just that the kids who grew up on those stories are ready to take their kids and they just so happen to hold the purse strings.
So what does all of this have to do with The Curse of the Monkey Bird?Monkey Bird beautifully rides the line between the truest definition of nostalgia — the notion of looking back on something lost with fondness — and something which is pure and new. The story is one of a million different Looney Tunes cartoons we’ve seen before: characters placed in ridiculous peril who, through the use of comedy, both slapstick and situational, find themselves relieved of danger in an unsuspecting way. Academically, it doesn’t sound very funny, but a joke explained never is. The setup is an old chestnut, as is the execution: a continual ramping up of one bad situation to another until the film is done. Like any other Looney Tunes tale, the characters, in this case, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck (voiced by Bob Bergen and Eric Bauza, respectively), are a double act with Daffy serving as the funny one, while Porky plays it straight and usually ends up on the wrong end of Daffy’s choices. In many ways, you can replace either character with a different member of the Looney Tunes community and the jokes will land the same. In fact, the presentation of Daffy seems more akin to Bugs with the jokes, but that just supports the point. All of this is familiar and universal, instilling incredible comfort as the audience enjoys another in a long line of Looney Tunes cartoons. This is the aspect that lures you in. That tickles the olfactory bulb in the limbic system of the brain, sending all of those positive memories flooding in before the adventure has even started. Monkey Bird’s aesthetic, though, feels like a completely different beast.As though ripped from the days of Ren & Stimpy, the art direction from Aaron Spurgeon (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) possesses a quality where it feels like an extra character in the story. Gone are the softer edges and more plain 2D elements of classic Looney Tunes, as new style imbues the sets with a sense of life and energy of their own. This even extends to Porky and Daffy who retain their classic looks, but are animated with more vigor and adaptability. Some of this is likely due to more advanced technology enabling the animators to create grander and larger reactions on the duo than penciling might’ve allowed. Don’t fret, though, as the animators never lose sight of who Porky and Daffy are, so the reactions and interactions with the sets are never disingenuous. This is where the positive nostalgia comes into play. Everything about Monkey Bird seems presented as what we know, but by being designed with an eye through a modern lens, it feels entirely fresh and exciting.Currently, no release date is known for The Curse of the Monkey Bird, though the rumors remain that it will release as part of the larger Looney Tunes collection on HBO Max in May 2020. This can only excite fans of classic Looney Tunes as the more stories we get of Porky, Daffy, Bugs, Sam, Foghorn, and the rest of the gang, the better. For future generations, as well as current ones.
Current expected release May 2020.
Updated May 28th, 2020: The Curse of the Monkey Bird is now available on HBO MAX.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.