NEAL CONAN, host:
It's not Wile E. Coyote or Daffy Duck; a new generation of Looney Tunes debuts this fall with names like Tech E. Coyote and Danger Duck. The animated superheroes will protect the Earth and fight evil with special powers. The cartoon series is called "Loonatics Unleashed." Its creator, Warner Bros., generated some confusion when first promoting the show. Some fans were concerned the new characters would replace Bugs and Daffy in the classic Looney Tunes cast. To find out more about the program and its connection with the original Looney Tunes, we called the president of Warner Bros. Animation, Sander Schwartz. He joined us from his hotel in Beijing, China.
It's the middle of the night there. Thanks very much for staying up to talk with us.
Mr. SANDER SCHWARTZ (President, Warner Bros. Animation): You're very welcome, Neal.
CONAN: First, tell us a little bit about these new characters. Is--they're new versions of the original Looney Tunes characters?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: No, they're the descendants of the original Looney Tunes characters. Our new show is set in the year 2772, where the descendants of our favorite Looney Tunes action heroes have come together to form a group of evil-fighting, crime-fighting heroes.
CONAN: If you'd like to take a look at these new characters, you can go to our Web site at www.npr.org.
I do need to ask you--I mean, these are crime fighters with superpowers?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Absolutely. It's a whole new show for a whole new generation of kids, and it is just taking characters that have resonated with generations of fans and introducing a group of descendants of those characters to a whole new audience, and a whole new show.
CONAN: I wonder, though--we always thought of Bugs and Daffy and all those as timeless. They didn't age. They could show up--Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half century. You know, they di--I'm not sure--we thought of them as characters who could move throughout time, and now you seemingly say restrict them, to some degree. At least they're not getting into this century.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, I know what you mean, and we continue to produce cartoons that feature the classic characters. This new show, "Loonatics Unleashed," however, is a whole new show for a whole new generation with a whole new group of characters, with a nod to the classic characters. But, again, it's a new show and it's not the classic Looney Tunes characters.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now many of the classic Looney Tunes--Bugs Bunny, prime example--solved any problems that he was in with his wit and maybe a little bit of slapstick violence. What new powers will his descendants have?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, all of the descendants have their own unique powers, like Taz's descendant is able to control wind and weather. But still, in a nod to their famous ancestors, they retain some of the same characteristics through the generations, and they use their wits about them and they use some of the same techniques that their forbears used in their crime-fighting activities.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Do they represent a change in animation? I mean, we remember how--that great work at Warner Bros. in the old days and those characters really did look a little bit three-dimensional.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, we have a great team of animators working on the show, great directors, and we use a lot of the new techniques that are available today. For example, you'll see a lot of 3-D CGI animation in this show, particularly with regard to the vehicles. And the animation will be new, fresh, and go to a different level than was possible 50 years ago with traditional animation.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. What prompted this idea, do you think?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: We're always looking for new ways to take our classic properties and to extend them and to come up with new shows that are based on them. And this show comes from writers and artists who, in their spare time, were working with the classic characters and decided that they'd like to take a stab at developing a new show with them. So it was just a pitch that we took internally and one that seemed to resonate, not only with us but with the kids that we showed it to.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. This is Dale, Dale calling us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.
DALE (Caller): Yes. I'm disappointed to hear there are still going to be crimes that far in the future. (Laughs)
CONAN: So--human nature may not change, Dale.
DALE: I suppose.
CONAN: I suppose, but at least we'll have powerful buddies to fight whatever crime does emerge.
DALE: That's right. Thanks.
CONAN: I assume that they're to go along with--they will need their superpowers to overcome supervillains.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Of course.
CONAN: All right. Any idea who any of those might be?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Oh, there's a whole slew of them--different supervillains for each show. But the main theme to remember is that they're new characters who live in the future and who will be recognizable to all of the classic Looney Tunes fans.
CONAN: None of the supervillains will be intergalactic `wabbit' hunters?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, that may be in the second season, but not in the first.
CONAN: Let's talk with Peter. Peter's calling us from St. Louis in Missouri.
PETER (Caller): Hi there. Thanks for having me on.
PETER: I--OK. I haven't, of course, seen this new show, so I can't really comment about it, except to say that if it is well done and good, then it'll probably be good. However, I'm a huge fan of the old Warner Bros., and Mel Blanc is a genius at doing voices. And any attempts that I've seen to sort of render Bugs Bunny in the modern age, or some of these other characters--a lot of times the voice work is not quite as good, I would say. And I would like to address the issue of the classic ones from the past and what steps are being done to preserve and restore and make available these things. I know some have been done. A friend of mine has the DVD of the "Golden Jubilee Collection" or whatever it's called.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Mm-hmm.
PETER: However, I know there's, like, tons and tons more of this stuff that's not available. And the other thing I wonder about is, in the restored DVD version, how come they're still formatted for TV and not restored to the full original wide screen, like they were shown at the movie theater originally?
CONAN: Well, let's get--give Sander Schwartz a chance to respond, OK?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Thank you. There are over a thousand original Looney Tunes shorts, and we go through the catalog, or we're in the process of going through the catalog, and digitally remastering and restoring all of the original Looney Tunes. Of course, it takes time and it takes money. And as we go through the library and do that, we put together collections. We have two Looney Tunes DVD "Golden" collections presently available from our Warner Home Video, and you can be sure there'll be more to come in the future.
As far as the formatting, 4-by-3 vs. 16-by-9, we're restoring them first in the 4-by-3 format for today's television and, with time, we'll restore them in the 16-by-9 format as well.
CONAN: Peter, thank you very much for the call.
PETER: Oh, can I just say one more thing?
CONAN: I'm afraid we're running out of time, Peter. We need to get to--move along. Thanks very much for the phone call.
And I would like to thank Sander Schwartz very much for his time. Again, it's very late in the night in Beijing, China. We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: Sander Schwartz is president of Warner Bros. Animation.
And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Thomas Adams joins us now. He's an 11-year-old Looney Tunes fan. He's with us by phone from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
And, Thomas, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
THOMAS ADAMS (Looney Tunes Fan): Hello.
CONAN: You started a Web site to protest the new Looney Tunes animated series. How come?
ADAMS: I didn't like the way they looked. They just looked like a mad scientist's experiment gone wrong.
CONAN: So did you feel better after hearing from the head guy in animation at the company that created Looney Tunes, that at least these were not replacing the original characters?
ADAMS: A little bit, but the reason I wasn't was because they are gonna put their money more in--they're gonna put their money into the Loonatics instead of the classics.
CONAN: I see. And what kind of response did you get from readers, people who saw your Web site?
ADAMS: The initial response was better than expected, but I'm--now I have over 200,000 signatures and 5,000 e-mail responses.
CONAN: So what are you going to do with that petition?
ADAMS: I plan on taking it to WB.
CONAN: Now this--the petition--as I understand, it calls for the WB to `reconsider changes to our beloved classic cartoon characters.' You're going to deliver it to them. Do you expect it to do any good?
ADAMS: Well, it could give them ideas...
ADAMS: ...on what--episodes and stuff.
CONAN: And what episodes and stuff--and I wonder, when this new cartoon series comes out, will you be among those watching it, at least to look for quality control?
CONAN: What is it that you like about these characters so much, Thomas?
ADAMS: Excuse me?
CONAN: What do you like about these characters so much that you care enough to go to all this work?
ADAMS: Well, it was just harmless, innocent fun.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Harmless, innocent fun. Well, we wish you good luck.
ADAMS: Hold on. One point I want to get across is that I know that WB has put millions and millions of dollars into developing the Loonatics, and I know that they have a right to show the Loonatics. But if--without the Looney Tunes, there would be no Loonatics. And I don't want WB to put--stick the classics on the back shelf somewhere. So may--and I hope that the Loonatics have--I hope that it's a successful show, and maybe WB can use that to renew interest in the Looney Tunes.
CONAN: Thomas Adams, thanks very much. Good luck.
ADAMS: Thank you.
CONAN: Thomas Adams is the 11-year-old creator of saveourlooneytunes.com, and he joined us from his parents' home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And again, if you want to see a picture of the crime-fighting super Loonatics, you can go to our Web site at npr.org.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.