At the end of September the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science opened the new touring exhibit “The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons.” The short-lived exhibit closes on Jan. 2, leaving locals just a few weeks to check it out before it leaves town. This Saturday, Dec. 18, from 10am to 2pm, the museum hosts a special event, celebrating the exhibit and offering some additional animated events for patrons.
The exhibit itself shines a spotlight on the art and history of Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes shorts. It’s not a particularly interactive exhibit, more of a traditional “words and pictures on the wall” kind of thing, but it does feature a wealth of pop cultural history and artifacts. Cartoon fans will be happy to get glimpses of their favorite characters, including Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Pepé Le Pew and Sylvester & Tweety. While the classic cartoons may not seem to have a lot in common with natural history, the museum has done a lot to lend the exhibit a scientific angle, asking how cartoon animals compare to local wildlife and how cartoon physics measure up to the real thing.
Bugs Bunny famously said, on more than one occasion, that he “should have taken the left turn at Albuquerque.” But that’s not New Mexico’s only connection to Looney Tunes. Amid the display of model sheets, artist sketches, animation cels and background paintings from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, the museum has inserted a number of the animators’ real-world inspirations.
“The Looney Tunes cartoons are set in the American Southwest and were the first introduction many had to its landscape and animals,” says museum educator Misty Carty. “We’ve had fun comparing the imagery in the cartoons with real life, including adding real New Mexican animal displays to the exhibit. The public can see the size and coloring of a real coyote and roadrunners next to the original artwork of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. And we have mice, a skunk and a duck to compare to Speedy Gonzalez, Pepé Le Pew and Daffy Duck.” So, alongside images of Looney Tunes’ famed antagonists Coyote and Road Runner, you’ll find an actual coyote and roadrunner (albeit of the stuffed and mounted variety). Fans of the Coyote’s favorite traps (ordered direct from ACME Corp.) will be amused to spot a real TNT plunger, used historically in many of New Mexico’s mines. There’s even a display of Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta posters.
“The imagery of Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner and Bugs Bunny have been featured on Balloon Fiesta posters,” notes Carty. “We have on loan the original Balloon Fiesta posters from the first gathering in 1972; the Wile E. Coyote poster was signed by all of the pilots that year. And we also have the current series of posters on display featuring the Looney Tunes characters that will culminate next year for the 50th anniversary of Balloon Fiesta.”
On Dec. 18 the museum starts out the day with a screening of some favorite Looney Tunes cartoons in the Versus Research Dynatheater starting at 10am. Among the animated shorts will be 1949’s “Fast and Furry-ous,” the first Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, and the 1953 Daffy Duck flight of fancy “Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century.” That sci-fi comedy is particularly apt, since the Museum of Natural History has a close association with the planet Mars, having provided analysis before, during and after the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission. Dr. Larry Crumpler, a volcanology and space sciences researcher at NMMNHS, was named to the mission team following his ground-breaking work with the Mars Exploration Rover in 2003 to 2018. (The museum also has a new exhibit on Mars opening up in its Space Sciences wing, so be sure to stop by and check that out as well.) The cartoon screenings are followed by a Science Story Time and a selection of fun activities from participants from around the state, including the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center from New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico Department of Fish & Game, St. John’s College from Santa Fe and the ABQ BioPark.
“Most people are drawn in by the fun aspect of the exhibit, the nostalgia they feel when they see the characters, and the exhibit’s uniqueness,” says Carty. “It’s unexpected to see a Looney Tunes exhibit in a natural history museum. Our twist of connecting the art to the nature of New Mexico has been a fun and memorable educational experience for everyone.”
Admission to the Art of Warner Bros. exhibit and the Looney Tunes screening on Saturday, Dec. 18 is free with regular museum admission. General admission (18 to 59 years of age) is $8. Seniors (60+) and teens (13 to 17) are $7. Children 3 to 12 are $5. To reserve tickets in advance, go to my.nmculture.org/events/123,680.