Bah, Humduck!: A Looney Tunes Christmas (2006) [Revisited]

I watched and "reviewed" this back in 2011, but those quotes are there for a reason. This is far from the only version of A Christmas Carol I'm revisiting as part of this year's project. I didn't much care for this when I last saw it, but I've seen some endorsements online and decided it was worth giving it another shot, if only to add some depth to the snarky, uninformative diatribe I wrote eleven years ago.

I'll start by saying the re-watch didn't improve my opinion much, though there were a handful of good moments and aspects I failed to credit the first time around. I'll get around to those in a bit. First, let's do something else I apparently didn't feel was relevant in 2011 and actually describe the damn special.

Bah, Humduck! is a homage/parody of A Christmas Carol featuring Looney Tunes characters as versions of themselves. This of course differs from versions where established characters are playing the actual characters of A Christmas Carol (e.g.: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, Mickey's Christmas Carol, A Flintstones Christmas Carol, and perhaps most relevant to this discussion: Bugs Bunny's Christmas Carol). Unlike all of those, the Scrooge analog is quite literally Daffy Duck, here a wealthy CEO of a department store.

A number of classic Looney Tunes characters appear as his employees, including Marvin, Wile E. Coyote, and Elmer Fudd, as well as the two most problematic characters in the WB catalog, Pepe le Pew and Speedy Gonzalez. They're all peripheral characters who have a couple lines of dialogue and at most a trivial side story about wanting to get home for Christmas or take a vacation. More central to the plot is Porky, who more or less reprises his role from the 1979 Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales special.

Once again, he's playing the assistant, though here he's technically Porky Pig rather than Bob Cratchit. His daughter, Priscilla, is this special's version of Tiny Tim, though her situation is quite a bit different. She seems to be an only child, and - surprisingly - isn't sick, let alone dying. She is, however, trying to navigate the holidays with one parent. I don't believe it was spelled out, but the implication was her mother died, leaving Porky to raise her alone. And Daffy is a harsh employer, requiring constant overtime and remaining open on Christmas, a fact that creates additional stress for Porky, who can't even afford the toy Priscilla wants on his meager salary.

Like Porky, Bugs Bunny occupies a similar niche to his role in the 1979 special. He's ostensibly a holiday shopper who eventually gets locked in the store with Daffy, but he still serves as a sort of combination of Fred, the charity collectors, and even a default narrator. Unlike the earlier special, he doesn't take on the ghost roles, however.

Instead, Sylvester plays this world's version of Marley. In life, Sylvester was a greedy CEO who was murdered by an angry employee. He didn't seem to know Daffy in life, but Daffy was a fan of his. He gives the standard warning and informs him of the upcoming spirits. Also, he roughs Daffy up a bit (all the spirits do to varying degrees).

The three spirits differ from the other characters in that they are introduced using the traditional Dickensian monikers. In other words, the Ghost of Christmas Present, while played by Yosemite Sam, is still supposed to be the Ghost. I used him as an example, because there are two ghosts of Christmas Past, Tweety and Granny, who bring Daffy back to the orphanage where he spent Christmases of his youth alone. It's somewhat of an odd sequence, in that it establishes a sympathetic origin for the character's callousness, but still takes delight in having Granny physically assault him. For better or worse, they dial the childhood trauma up pretty far: they want the audience (or at least those young enough to not roll their eyes at the mention of an orphanage) to feel sorry for Daffy.

Present shows Daffy how his cruelty affects his employees and prevents them from experiencing Christmas with their families. In particular, it shows how hard things are for Porky and his daughter, and how despite this the kid remains hopeful and kind-hearted.

Daffy remains unconvinced until the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, played by the Tasmanian Devil, shows him a future in which he's died. Porky and Priscilla are the only ones who seem to care, with Priscilla in particular expressing sympathy for how alone he must have been. This of course convinces him to change. The ending is more or less what you'd expect, with Daffy making things right with his employees and becoming a better person (albeit with lasting reservations).

I promised a few bright spots, so let's talk about things that worked in this forty-five-minute special. First, the sequence with Sylvester had a couple solid jokes I enjoyed. Nothing brilliant, but I chuckled when they joked about his murder. Likewise, I liked how Bugs Bunny was conscious of what was going on and was more than happy to make casual small talk with the ghosts. The best example of this isn't in the special, though - there's a deleted scene where he's telling the Ghost of Christmas Present some trivia about Christmas traditions over a mug of hot chocolate. I also like that Taz is portrayed as the most forgiving and sympathetic of the spirits. It's a surprising choice, all things considered, and it makes for a few nice moments.

Finally, I think Priscilla mostly worked, provided you're willing to overlook how trite the whole thing is. The character's empathy strikes a nice chord - I wouldn't say I was touched or anything - but it did feel like a well-constructed moment in the midst of a special largely bereft of them.

Which brings us to the section about what didn't work. And unfortunately, there's a lot to discuss here, beginning with the most pervasive flaw, the physical humor. Throughout the special, Daffy is constantly taking hits, prat falls, and getting physically assaulted by both living and supernatural characters. That's of course not a flaw in and of itself: it's more or less the modus operandi of Warner Bros. cartoons. But the artistry and thought that make classic Looney Tunes shorts endure is entirely absent. The hits Daffy takes just aren't funny, visually or conceptually. For the most part, there aren't really jokes worked into the hits: the hits themselves are treated as punchlines, and that's not enough.

The animation style doesn't help. It's not technically bad - it's all clean and colorful - but there's really not a lot to the designs. I'm no expert on the process, but everything here has a sleek, computer-aided look that feels cheap and lazy. It feels like people using technology to try and replicate the feel of earlier shorts without even really understanding the limitations or possibilities of that technology.

As far as the theme's concerned, I think this drops the ball. The special shifts the focus away from Daffy's day-to-day cruelty and instead places it on his dismissal of Christmas. This is a common error in kids' adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but the lessons Scrooge learns aren't actually centered around Christmas. The significance of the holiday in the original is that it's a time of miracles. The chance at redemption is a gift presented to Scrooge, not a punishment on behalf of a slighted holiday.

That's less important to the overall experience of watching this, obviously, but I think it's worth noting how this fails to capture the spirit (no pun intended) of the work it's adapting. While I was a little overly harsh in my earlier review, I stand by my assertion this really isn't worth your time. The jokes just aren't funny enough, and the runtime drags thanks to tired physical humor that rarely if ever works.