You’re clearly at a bit of a low point in your life when it’s 6 in the morning and you find yourself still awake watching Looney Tunes. That was me a couple days ago. A few minutes into a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon where he outsmarts an idiot – you know, that one – I came to realize something dark. Well, you know Dante’s Inferno right? Not the game, the book. Here’s my theory – and stay with me here – the entire Looney World is Hell, and all the Looney Tunes characters who “win” all the time are tormentors of the damned.
Before I dive into the similarities, here’s a quick summary of Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri. Right, so one day, this dude named Dante is just sort of chilling in the woods doing 14th century stuff like going on Crusades and trying to not to die from smallpox. All of a sudden, he’s jumped by a lion, a leopard, and a she-wolf, who freak him out because how many babies do you have to steal candy from for karma to sic three disparate predators on you in a forest? “What’s a lion even doing in the woods?” Dante wonders as he struggles not to soil his old-timey pants. After some terrified wandering he meets an old man named Vergil who decides, “Hey, you know the easiest way to avoid these three beasts? Journeying through all nine rings of Hell.” Dante, realizing that one way or another, he’s probably literally going to Hell in the immediate future, just sort of shrugs and coins the phrase, “YOLO.” What follows is an oddly relaxed scenic tour of Hell, exploring the circles of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery before finally running into Satan, who’s trapped in waist-high ice. The two companions have certainly seen some twisted shit by this point, and much like anyone who sees The Human Centipede, they just sort of want to go home and be alone for a while. So they climb up Satan and escape to Purgatory.
So what does any of this have to do with Looney Tunes? Let’s go circle by circle. We’ll skip Limbo though. It’s boring. It’s the CSPAN of circles of Hell.
Look at that! Pepe Le Pew is a basically a throbbing black erection with a white birthmark. His blood is where people go to get ecstasy from. Oxygen is his aphrodisiac. He has a sexual addiction to the words, “sexual addiction.” He’s the animated Don Draper.
But I digress. Look at the poor cat in that video. Was it just misfortune that a streak of white paint made her look like a skunk, inflaming Pepe’s senses like he just saw an sexy French ankle covered in honey? No, it was a hellish punishment. Every Pepe Le Pew cartoon is pretty much the same, with a cat being mistaken for a skunk and being endlessly pursued by the hypothetical embodiment of lust who also stinks because it’s Hell and no one likes you. Then the cat turns the tables and actually becomes the new Pepe Le Pew, ready to torment whatever new soul is unfortunate enough to be sent to that circle of Hell. Every cartoon is therefore a different iteration of this same basic torment. Forever.
The Wile E. Coyote shorts, at their core, are about futility. Here we have a dangerously stupid, yet wonderfully vain animal who spends countless, apparently limitless, amounts of money on flimsy contraptions from Acme Inc in the hopes of catching and eating a roadrunner. Never once in his pursuit does he simply order in some damn food or at least move away from the desert to literally anywhere else. He’s purchased helicopters and skates and cars on multiple occasions and yet never just moves. And while lots of us may say that’s because the coyote values a hard-earned meal, or is just plain stupid, I think it’s merely because he’s in the the third circle of Hell: Gluttony. His tormentor’s the roadrunner, a delicious treat he so desperately wants, yet cannot have. Wile E. Coyote is pretty much Tantalus and the roadrunner is food or water and he can never have any because he’s in Hell.
Honestly, this is kind of a toss-up between Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam, since both are extremely greedy and extremely unsuccessful. They’re like animated representations of the Playstation Vita. I guess I ‘ll have to go with Yosemite though, since he’s literally a 19th century gold prospector all the time. Let me ask you this, what child, in the mid ’40s, when the character premiered, even knew what a gold prospector was?
He’s a poor, greedy soul trapped in Hell for eternity with a passing resemblance to Donald Trump. And to make his punishment more severe, he occasionally already has a massive fortune at the beginning of the short, just to lose it all to an intelligent trickster rabbit. Sometimes legally, as in the short. What greater hell is there to a greedy man than to legally lose your fortune to a rabbit, who doesn’t even want it?
The Tasmanian Devil is the embodiment of pure, unbridled fury. He’s the Chris Brown of animated children’s programming, wildly destroying the lives and days of whomever he encounters. Much like Chris Brown, his only real weakness is questionable music, which causes the fury in him to subside long enough to interact with small defenseless creatures and maybe even develop tenuous relationships. Taz regularly gets outwitted by smaller, tastier creatures, and in spite of his strength, rarely ever gets to eat food that isn’t a comically non-lethal stick of dynamite. His Hell is an unproductive fury. Considering how bad he is at being a predator, though, it’s stunning that his mere presence inspires so much fear. He’s like a poser Bane. This short, for example, is about Daffy Duck trying to get $5000 by luring Taz away to a holding cell through music for the entirety of a ten mile journey. Whenever Daffy stops tickling Taz’s anticipatively erect ear drums with songs, Taz loses his mind and tries to beat him into food. At the end, he’s sold into back into captivity for $5000 by a duck, who’d probably just blow it all on cocaine anyway.
I’m pretty sure one of those tasty little baby animals took the Lord’s name in vain.
Literally anyone. Cartoons back then were crazy violent. For the sake of this list, how about…
Look at this dude. He’s crazy. He’s literally stabbing an empty hole with a spear. And I won’t even bother to note the weird sexual imagery there. Elmer Fudd has, countless times, been proven to be a complete idiot. And yet, apart from Yosemite Sam, he’s probably the most mentally balanced human character in the main Looney Tunes canon. Think about that. In the Looney Tunes Hell World, he’s the closest thing there is to a real person, and he never wins, and he’s always alone. He’s the world’s worst hunter, scraping by somehow in solitude like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Only he doesn’t even have Wilson.
I love Bugs Bunny. He’s undeniably my favorite animated character, and that will never, ever change. In the above short, he reenacts the Barber of Seville, an opera about a barber doing stuff in Seville. Bugs Bunny, however, is not a licensed barber. Which is fraud.
Bugs Bunny is essentially a phenomenally successful grifter from the ’40s, getting by on lies and deceit and the generosity of stupid people. He’s the trickster god of this Looney World and he does his job well.
Daffy Duck is the worst friend a guy could have. Daffy’s the one who calls you at 3 am on Friday morning to spoil new movies for you. He’s that buddy who deletes all your music and replaces it with One Direction albums. He put bath salts in your Red Bull. Daffy is the guy who sets fire to your front lawn so he can make a cool entrance. He’s the one who told you to buy a Zune. If the world was ending, and Daffy could take one friend with him to safety, he’d invite your mom, just so he could possibly have new jokes about plowing your mother if the world somehow survived. And ultimately, he’s probably Bug Bunny’s best friend. Which must be Hell for one of them.