Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little Love for Lady Toons

Back in July, Vulture surprised me by posting a clip from Cartoon Network’s new Bugs Bunny deal, The Looney Tunes Show. This seemed strange because I don’t expect Vulture to give a damn about anything on the Cartoon Network. (Okay, maybe Adult Swim, maybe one of the live action shows.) Still, the clip in question featured Kristen Wiig as the voice of Bugs Bunny’s lady counterpart, and anyone with a brain knows that Wiig now succeeds most when she’s doing something that isn’t specifically for Saturday Night Live. More than just putting Wiig in the general proximity of Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam, however, this video also features something that almost never happens in Warner Bros. cartoons, old or new: The girl chases after the boy.

Watch and be pleasantly surprised by Kristen Wiig’s singing voice (even if you can’t help from picturing Wiig herself every time Lola Bunny opens her mouth):

And if your brain is wired like mine, you’re be happy to see that they’re riding the horse from “What’s Opera, Doc?” at the end.

But ignore magical horses for a second and think back to the old school Looney Tunes cast. Obviously, there were no real female characters, only Granny (supporting player and sexless hag), Witch Hazel (antagonist and sexless hag), Petunia Pig (a “Skeeter” of Porky, and no one’s favorite character), Penelope the Cat (non-speaking target of Pepe Le Pew’s raging skunk boner) and Tweety Bird (who, despite the way he talks and and looks, is actually male). This is why most modern updates of Looney Tunes have to fudge it in order to even out the gender ratio, why Lola, the female bunny invented for Space Jam, has gotten as much mileage as she has and why Wiig is voicing the character today. Considering that history, it’s notable that a female character today has any agency at all, even if she’s using it to become a stalker. But I figured Lola’s unrequited declarations of love can’t be the first to come from a female Looney Tunes or Looney Tunes-related character. Right?

Hit the jump to see the handful of examples I could think of.

There’s Miss Prissy, the hen who acts sort of like a more mentally retarded version of the neighbor from Mama’s Family. In the 1951 short “Lovelorn Leghorn,” she sets out to claim a husband, rolling pin in hand (wing?), by bopping him on the head.

And that’s it: I honestly can’t think of a single other back-in-the-day Looney Tunes short in which a female character shows any romantic, sexual or otherwise relationship-related initiative. I haven’t watched these in years, I should admit, but you’d be surprised how often these shorts are rattling around my now-adult head. There has got to be one that I’m forgetting, though, right? A one-off character maybe? Anyone?

Pending an answer, I’ll move forward forty years to Tiny Toons, a series that I loved as an eight-year-old but I now cannot watch without noticing how sloppy it looks and how bad the jokes are. Oh well. I remember the three main female characters expressed opinions about dating and relationships in a limited capacity, but the one that seems most applicable to this discussion would be Fifi, Tiny Toons’s Pepe Le Pew analogue. First off, it’s remarkable that Warner Bros. would take Pepe, the original series’s most sexual character, and make him into a female with the same amount of horny energy. But they did, and there’s even an episode where poor, lovelorn Fifi gets a wide-on for the Tiny Toons version of Sylvester after he gets a stripe painted down his back and temporarily becomes the new Penelope. (Warner Bros. cartoons, by the way, led me to believe that animals get accidentally painted with white stripes a lot more often than they actually do.)

With her heart beating out of her chest in that big, cartoony way where it’s shaped like the kind of heart that actual hearts don’t look like, Fifi has something close to a wild take — that spastic, vaguely orgasmic overreaction cartoon characters have during moments of joy, alarm or horniness and that cause them to howl like wolves, blast off like rockets or make that old-timey “awoogah” horn noise. But Fifi’s version of it is pretty restrained. I mean, her eyes don’t even bug out of her head.

Warner Bros. followed Tiny Toons with Animaniacs, and one of its conceits was that a new character, Slappy Squirrel, had actually existed as a female counterpart to Bugs and Daffy and the rest in the show’s version of the Looney Tunes good ol’ days. However, by the time Animaniacs takes place, Slappy had grown to into a crotchety old lady and she consequently didn’t get any sexiness. The weird thing that Animaniacs did, however, was to create a second female character who works kind of like a classic, Looney Tunes type but who gets all the romantic, sexy energy that Slappy doesn’t: Minerva Mink.

As far as gender readings of cartoon shows can go, Minerva Mink flies off the charts… and the motion of those off-the-charts action makes all the sexy ladies’ skirts fly up, Marilyn Monroe-style. She’s nothing but sexual — like, literally, because all of her segments revolve around her love life and attractiveness at the exclusion of everything else — and yet she’s appearing on a kid’s show that is descended from those old Looney Tunes shorts. She may not have been the most popular Animaniacs character and she may appeared all that often, but it’s kind of like Minerva nonetheless makes up for decades of not really giving the female characters all that much to do, at least as far as sex goes.

Watch as Minerva — who, by the way, is voiced by Julie Brown, but no, the other one — makes every male toon in the whole woodland explode into “Hey! Sexy lady!” wild takes, regardless of species.

It’s not just her looks, either. The character seems to be aware of the effect she has on males, and she uses it however she wants. Hey there, agency!

But that doesn’t mean that she’s not subject to the same bodyshaking, bodymorphing, hypergasmic fits when she’s the one looking at a character she’s attracted to. In fact, all the female counterparts to all the characters who went nuts for Minerva now get their chance with the werewolf (wolfwolf?), and Minerva herself has her eyes pop out, her body melt into the ground and her head float off like a balloon.

And this, as near as I can tell, is the most sexual — in control or out-of-control, pursuer or pursued — that Warner Bros. ever let a female cartoon character get. (This in the Bugs Bunnyverse, of course. For Batman, the same execs let Roxy Rocket have an implied orgasm on screen, but it’s a different business when you’re in Gotham and not tunneling past Albuquerque.) I’d imagine the writers of The Looney Tunes Show have gotten to the point that they’re just not so hung up on gender, in which case Kristen Wiig makes a great choice as the voice of the show’s most prominent female character: She’s funny to men and women, and she has the box office receipts to prove it. Regardless, I’m still interested to see how much freedom Warner Bros. gives its female characters — and how often their eyes get to bug out of their heads.


  1. Great post! Not that I remember cartoons being all that sexy, period. Must be that adult retro-vision. But still beats daytime TV... :)

  2. Well, it's harder to spot something you don't know anything about. And I like to think bored writers can't help themselves, especially when they assume that kids won't notice.

  3. Anonymous10:03 PM

    What about Hello Nurse from the Animaniacs?

  4. Hello Nurse is sexual, but she's receptive of everyone else's sexual energy. Sure, she stalks the Warner Bros. (and their sister, Dot), but that's just her job. She's all business.

  5. The only Other character Wikipedia lists who only somewhat counts is Hatta Mari, a femme fatale pigeon who is a Nazi spy (watch "Plane Daffy" to see her). It's not surprising that she isn't popular, although she apparently shows up on an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures. Tex Avery seems to use that archetype frequently (see "Red Hot Riding Hood" for an example), but I think they were mostly in MGM cartoons so they don't count. There's also the fake, ugly Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but that's really pushing it. So yeah, I think your examples are pretty much it.