Like most of us, Steven Spielberg grew up enraptured by the cartoons he saw on TV and in movie theaters, especially two very dissimilar brands of cartoon: the Pixie stick-sweet fairy-tale features made by Walt Disney and the rude, smart-aleck Warner Bros. shorts star-ring Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, and company.
With cartoons now a bigger business than ever, thanks mainly to their staggering popularity on video, Spielberg has graduated to making his own. He oversaw the production of two separate animated features arriving on cassette this week, and what a surprise they're modeled on the director's favorite 'toon traditions. Carrying on the Warner gang's wisecracking ways, there's the made-for-video feature tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation. Like the syndicated Tiny Toons TV series that spawned it, the movie is about grade-schoolers at ''Acme Looniversity'' not Muppet Baby-like throwbacks but new characters, who sit through classes led by ''Professors Emeritus'' Bugs, Elmer, and Porky.
Parents may also question some scenes in Vacation, sprinkled as it is with jokes about barfing, belching, and getting caught between boobs exactly the sort of humor to make adults wince and the under-10 set howl. Unfortunately, the whole enterprise is less a canny homage, à la Fievel, than a pandering kidvid make-over. It replaces the sophisticated verbal one-upmanship of the original Warner shorts with water fights, temper tantrums, and dumb-adult gags that tell kids they're smarter than adults. It's also fast without being funny: As characters with cloying names like Hamton and Plucky Duck bolt from school and fan out on cross-country trips, the incessant cross-story cutting doesn't relate the vignettes or build to a payoff; it's just a nod to tots' brief attention spans.
Not that Vacation isn't superior to most TV fare. The colors sizzle, the drawing is clever, the dialogue is often amusing. Plucky even hits a few moments of Daffyesque hilarity on the way to a theme park called Happy World Land (''Look,'' he cries, ''it's the legendary Happy-Go-Pukey ride!''). Still, most of these junior 'toons don't have the magnetism or saving wit of their elders. And aside from a few references to the fact that you're watching a tape (''Now the video's begun,'' sings the cast over the opening), Vacation doesn't offer anything you can't get watching Tiny Toons for free on TV-right down to an irksome opening ad for Tiny Toon Real Fruit Snacks. C+