It would not be a stretch to assert that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the most important, iconic and thus, most adapted piece of writing in modern Christmas history.
A morality tale for those who want a heartwarming story of darkness and redemption but without all the religious trappings, A Christmas Carol lends itself to adaptation because of the universality of its themes, its mesmerisingly rich and resonant characters and a simple but devastatingly effective narrative that delivers some major existential scares followed by a reassuring sense that all can eventually be right with the world, even for those near mortally wounded by it.
These may seem overly heavy themes for a Looney Tunes Christmas movie, 2006’s Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, and to be fair this piece of manic festive animation isn’t as serious nor as thoughtful as other more whimsical attempts such as The Muppet Christmas Carol, but somehow in amongst all the frenetic ghostly appearances (Taz Devil as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? Yes, please!), the slapstick comic maiming of Daffy Duck (Joe Alaskey) in the Scooge role, and the wisecracking of Bugs Bunny (Billy West) in masterfully in-control form, there are some sage lessons still to be learned.
The obvious one, of course, is don’t be a cranky, selfish, nasty, unfeeling rich duck (or person; that would also work since most of us aren’t, you know, ducks).
In this telling of the tale, Daffy Duck is the owner of the Lucky Duck Superstore, a retail enterprise (curiously without a single customer or car in its parking area) so vast that skateboards and lingerie share the same floor and exhausted employees such as Elmer J. Fudd (Billy West) have to work 37 triple shifts in a row just to get the job done.
Or is it simply because Daffy, who’s as cranky as you remember him from the classic Looney Tunes cartoons of the middle twentieth century when the franchise was at its height, is cruel and terrible and doesn’t pay them enough or hire enough people for them to work normal hours?
Whatever the issue is, and let’s go with the Scrooge-like tendencies shall we, everyone from security guard Gossamer to Assistant Assistant Store Manager Porky Pig (Bob Bergen), who is essentially the Bob Cratchit of the piece, devoted to his darling daughter Priscilla (the Tiny Tim equivalent who helps keep Daffy’s eventually melted heart soft and kind) through to other employees like Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian (who simply wants to go home for Christmas) and Speedy Gonzales simply want a break.
And Christmas Day off but hey, they’re not getting that with Daffy ordering them to turn up at 5 a.m. on the big day itself to keep the store running so he can make money, money, much more money!
So far, so Scroogey, even down to the charity collectors – Priscilla Pig, Egghead Jr., Henery Hawk, and Barnyard Dawg Jr. – being refused any money at all at the entrance to a store which Daffy arrives at after driving over Bugs Bunny’s Christmas light-festooned mailbox (which naturally earns Daffy the kind of mischievously completist payback which fueled many a Looney Tunes Cartoon).
With Daffy well and truly established as Scrooge to end all Scrooges – he does get some comeuppance before the ghosts visit with all kinds of duck bill-flinging, slapstick glorious moments where he suffers while others, such as Porky, get off scot free as should be the case because they are lovely and well, even at Christmas, he is NOT – he is visited in his ivory tower office by Sylvester the Cat as Sylvester the Investor, a one-time rival CEO whom Daffy idolised, who is now, Marley-like, caught in chains and adamant that his former retail compatriot is on his way to a hellish eternity if he doesn’t mend his ways.
The interesting thing about Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas is that unlike The Muppet Christmas Carol which moderated the wacky zaniness of its characters so the true message of the story could still be heard loud and clear, this take on Dickens’ tale is happy to go all manically silly, almost all the time.
It’s a lot of fun and makes the visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come – Granny and Tweety (June Foray and Bob Bergen respectively), Yosemite Sam (Maurice LaMarche) and of course Taz – an rollicking riot of wacky visual and verbal comedy.
These characters are in their element and make Daffy pay for his many sins even as they do their best to make him repent of his miserly, cold and inhumanly cruel ways.
Fun it is, and as Looney Tunes goes, lots of classic comedy is had but what’s lost is any sense of cut through that Daffy is learning major life lessons; in fact, he remains flippantly unrepentant right through the first two ghosts making you wonder if there is going to be any kind of turnaround at all.
There is since who says “no” to Taz but it almost feels a little too little, too late, and while Daffy stays entertainingly and appallingly himself, the heartwarming sense that a life has been saved and many other consequential ones too, is lost a little, taking away from the buoyancy the producers try to inject into the final scene where pay rates rise, gifts and holidays are given and everyone lives happily festively ever after.
Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas is still an enormous amount of classic Looney Tunes fun, and it’s a joy if you’re a long-time fan watching everyone do their idiosyncratically loopy thing, and yes, there are some genuinely moving moments such as the one Priscilla and Daffy share when he has a recidivist moment in the middle of his “Road to Damascus” moment, but the special doesn’t ultimately leave a lasting impression, devoting too much time to being frenetically wacky (which again works a treat as far as it goes) and not enough to having you feel something which is, all kidding around aside, precisely why Dickens wrote his immortal classic in the first place.