Looney Tunes is a Warner Bros. animated cartoon series which ran in many movie theatres from 1930 to 1969. It preceded the Merrie Melodies series and is Warner Bros.'s first animated theatrical series. The regular Warner Bros. animation cast also became known as the "Looney Tunes" (often misspelled, intentionally or not, as "Looney Toons").
The name Looney Tunes is a variation on Silly Symphonies, the name of Walt Disney's concurrent series of music-based cartoon shorts. Looney Tunes originally showcased Warner-owned musical compositions through the adventures of cartoon characters such as Bosko and Buddy. Later Looney Tunes shorts featured popular characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety, Marvin the Martian, Taz, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, and many others. Originally produced by Harman-Ising Pictures, Looney Tunes were produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1933 to 1944. Schlesinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. in 1944, and the newly renamed Warner Bros. Cartoons continued production until 1963. Looney Tunes were outsourced to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises from 1964 to 1967, and Warner Bros. Cartoons re-assumed production for the series' final two years. From 1942 into the 1960s, Looney Tunes was the most popular short cartoon series in theaters, exceeding Disney and other popular competitors.
In the beginning, both Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies drew their storylines from Warner's vast music library. However, eventually the two series distinguished themselves by Looney Tunes becoming the umbrella for the studio's various recurring characters, while Merrie Melodies continued with the use of one-shot characters. Also, from 1934 to 1943 Merrie Melodies were produced in color and Looney Tunes in black and white. After 1943, however, both series were produced in color.
Both series also made use of the various Warner Bros. cartoon characters. By 1937, the theme music for Looney Tunes was "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin; the theme music for Merrie Melodies was an adaptation of "Merrily We Roll Along" by Charles Tobias, Murray Mencher and Eddie Cantor.
In 1930, Warner Bros. became interested in developing a series of musical animated shorts to promote their music. They had recently acquired the ownership of Brunswick Records along with four music publishers for US $28 million. Consequently, they were eager to start promoting this material to cash in on the sales of sheet music and phonograph records. Warner made a deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. Schlesinger hired Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harman to produce their first series of cartoons. Bosko was Looney Tunes first major lead character, debuting in the short Sinkin' in the Bathtub in 1930. When Harman and Ising left Warner Bros. in 1933 over a budget dispute with Schlesinger, they took with them all the rights of the characters and cartoons which they had created.
A bland white-washed version of Bosko called Buddy became the star of the Looney Tunes series for the next few years. With the animators working in the Termite Terrace studio, they debuted the first truly major Looney Tunes star, Porky Pig, who was introduced in 1935 along with Beans the Cat in the Merrie Melodie cartoon I Haven't Got a Hat directed by Friz Freleng. Beans was the star of the next Porky/Beans cartoon Golddiggers of '49, but it was Porky who emerged as the star instead of Beans. This was followed by the debuts of other memorable Looney Tunes stars such as Daffy Duck (in 1937) and the most famous of the Looney Tunes cast, Bugs Bunny (in 1940). Bugs appeared mostly in the color Merrie Melodies and formally joined the Looney Tunes crew with the release of Buckaroo Bugs. Schlesinger began to phase in the production of color Looney Tunes with the 1942 cartoon The Hep Cat. The final black-and-white Looney Tune was Puss n' Booty in 1943 directed by Frank Tashlin. The inspiration for the changeover was Warner's decision to re-release only the color cartoons in the Blue Ribbon Classics series of Merrie Melodies. Bugs Bunny made a cameo appearance in 1942 in the Avery/Clampett cartoon Crazy Cruise and also at the end of the Frank Tashlin 1943 cartoon Porky Pig's Feat. Schlesinger sold his interest in the cartoon studio in 1944 to Warner Bros.
The Looney Tunes series' popularity was strengthened even more when the shorts began airing on network and syndicated television in the 1950s under various titles and formats. However, since the syndicated shorts' target audience was children and because of concerns over children's television in the 1970s, the Looney Tunes shorts began to be edited to remove scenes featuring innuendos, racial remarks, curse words, ethnic and racial stereotypes, and extreme violence.
The original Looney Tunes theatrical series ran from 1930 to 1969 (the last short being "Injun Trouble", starring Cool Cat). During part of the 1960s, the shorts were produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises after Warner Bros. shut down their animation studios. The shorts from this era can be identified by the fact that they open with a different title sequence featuring stylized limited animation and graphics on a black background and a re-arranged version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down," arranged by William Lava. (When Seven Arts Associates merged with Warner Bros. in 1967, the logos were updated, replacing all regular WB elements with the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts logo, as well as new theme music.) These final shorts were obviously made with a smaller budget and looked cheap compared to the lush scenery and detailed expression of the characters. Theatrical animated shorts went dormant until 1987 when new shorts were made to introduce Looney Tunes to a new generation of audiences. New Looney Tunes shorts have been produced and released sporadically for theaters since then, usually as promotional tie-ins with various family movies produced by Warner Bros. While many of them have been released in limited releases theatrically for Academy Award consideration, only a few have gotten theatrical releases with movies. The last series of new shorts so far ended production in 2004, the most recently theatrically-released Looney Tunes was Pullet Surprise in 1997, shown theatrically with Cats Don't Dance.
In the 1970s through the early 1990s, several feature-film compilations and television specials were produced, mostly centering on Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, with a mixture of new and old footage.
In 1976, the Looney Tunes characters made their way into the amusement business when they became the mascots for the two Marriott's Great America theme parks (Gurnee, Santa Clara). After the Gurnee park was sold to Six Flags, they also claimed the rights to use the characters at the other Six Flags parks, which they continue to do presently.
In 1988, several Looney Tunes characters appeared in cameo roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The more notable cameos featured Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester, and Tweety. It is the only time in which Looney Tunes characters have shared screen time with their rivals at Disney—particularly in the scenes where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse are skydiving, and when Daffy Duck and Donald Duck are performing their "Duelling Pianos" sequence.
In 1988, Nickelodeon aired all the unaired cartoons in a show called Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon until 1999. To date, Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon is the longest-airing animated series on the network that was not a Nicktoon.
In 1996, Space Jam, a feature film mixing animation and live-action, was released starring Bugs Bunny and basketball player Michael Jordan. Despite its odd plot and mixed critical reception, the film was a major box-office success, grossing nearly $100,000,000 in the U.S. alone, and introduced a new character named Lola Bunny.
In 2000, Warner Bros. decided to make the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies library exclusive to fellow Time Warner properties, specifically Cartoon Network. Immediately prior to this decision, Looney Tunes shorts were airing on several networks at once: on Cartoon Network, on Nickelodeon (as Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon), and on ABC (as The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show). The latter two had been particularly long running series, and the Warner Bros. decision forced the two networks to cancel the programs. This is the main reason why Looney Tunes are seldom seen on television today.
In 2003, another feature film was released, this time in an attempt to recapture the spirit of the original shorts: the live-action/animated Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Although it earned relatively positive reviews from critics and has been argued by animation historians and fans as the finest original feature-length appearance for the cartoon characters, the film was a box-office disappointment, putting the theatrical future of the Looney Tunes in limbo.
In 2006, Warner Home Video released a new, Christmas-themed Looney Tunes direct-to-video movie called Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas featuring a wide array of characters working in a mega-store under the Scrooge-esque Daffy Duck. The movie parodies the famous book by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
Since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Looney Tunes characters have been featured in numerous video games, such as a same-titled one that came out on Game Boy in 1992. It was later remade for the Game Boy Color in 1999; it was not a best seller and received poor reviews.
The Looney Tunes characters have had more success in the area of television, with appearances in several originally produced series, including Taz-Mania (1991, starring The Tasmanian Devil), The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries (1995, starring Sylvester the cat, Tweety Bird and Granny), Baby Looney Tunes (2002, which had a similar premise to Muppet Babies), and Duck Dodgers (2003, starring Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Marvin the Martian). The Looney Tunes characters also made frequent cameos in the 1990 spinoff series Tiny Toon Adventures, where they played teachers and mentors to a younger generation of cartoon characters, plus occasional cameos in the later shows Animaniacs and Histeria! Most recently, Loonatics Unleashed, a futuristic version of the characters, aired on Kids' WB! It had a large fanbase, although the show was greeted with negative criticism from audiences familiar with the original versions of the characters.
Although the cartoons are seldom seen on mainstream TV, thanks to revival theatrical screenings, and the Golden Collection DVD box sets, the Looney Tunes and its characters have remained a part of Western animation heritage.
On October 22, 2007, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons became available for the first time in High Definition via Microsoft's Xbox Live service, including some in Spanish.
Looney Tunes can currently be seen on the Kids WB! website. Looney Tunes returned to Cartoon Network on January 1, 2009, as a marathon called the "New Year's Day Looney Toonormous Marathon", but have not aired on Cartoon Network or Boomerang since. As of April 2009, the networks' websites have not indicated the "June Bugs" show (the continuous airing of every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made - with the exception those that were deemed racist or stereotypical) will be aired this year.
A handful of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts from the World War II era are no longer aired on American television nor are they available for sale by Warner Bros. because of the racial stereotypes of African-Americans, Jews (especially in the earlier cartoons, despite the fact that all four of the Warner brothers that the studio was named for were Jewish as well), Japanese, Chinese, and Germans (especially during WWII, as in "Tokio Jokio") included in some of the cartoons. Eleven cartoons that prominently featured stereotypical black characters (and a few passing jokes about Japanese people, as was the case with Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Jungle Jitters) were withdrawn from distribution in 1968 and are known as the Censored Eleven. This has caused dismay among some animation enthusiasts, who feel that they should have access to these shorts. There has been some success in returning these cartoons to the public; in 1999 all Speedy Gonzales cartoons were made unavailable because of their alleged stereotyping of Mexicans, but because the level of stereotyping was minor compared to the World War II era cartoons as well as the protests of many Hispanics who said they were not offended and fondly remembered Speedy Gonzales cartoons from their youth, these shorts were made available for broadcast again in 2002. This would be short lived, however, as Cartoon Network and Boomerang ceased airing Warner Bros. cartoons after the release of the library on DVD.
In addition to these most notorious cartoons, many Warner cartoons contain fleeting or sometimes extended gags that reference then-common racial or ethnic stereotypes. The release of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 includes a disclaimer at the beginning of each DVD in the volume given by Whoopi Goldberg which explains that the cartoons are products of their time and contain racial and ethnic stereotypes that these days would be considered offensive, but the cartoons are going to be presented on the DVD uncut and uncensored because editing them out and therefore denying that the stereotypes existed is almost as bad as condoning them.
A written disclaimer, similar to the words spoken by Goldberg in Volume 3, is shown at the beginning of each DVD in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 and Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5 sets:http://
WB has also had controversy over Turner Entertainment's "dubbed version" prints, used on many pre-1948 cartoons beginning in 1995. These versions were actually new ones derived (hence the "dubbed" moniker) from earlier-generation prints of whatever versions of shorts were available, even if they were the altered "blue ribbon" prints. These "dubbed versions" had many alterations. They have a generic end card (with either orange or red rings, depending on the credited producer), with a disclaiming copyright to Turner, thus replacing the original colored cards (a la Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies). Many animation fans have believed that changing the end card was a bad move on many of the pre-1948 cartoons, especially "The Old Grey Hare", which features a static version of the end card shaking from an off-screen explosion. Because of the generic end card, this ending gag was obliterated in the dubbed version, though there is also a second dubbed version which preserves the gag. In this version, the original end card shakes, and the Turner disclaimer fades up at the end.
In almost all cases, the original end title music was kept, although sometimes an earlier or later version of the closing theme is heard on the titles (some reissued Looney Tunes had their ending music changed to that of the Merrie Melodies series).
These "dubbed versions", which continue to be shown on cable and broadcast television to this day, are not representative of the original theatrical release versions of the "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" shorts. Despite Warner Bros./Turner's best efforts to include the best available versions of the shorts possible on DVD, several "dubbed version" cartoons have been released on DVD, either in special 2-disc editions of the WB/Turner classic films or on their Looney Tunes Golden Collection 4-disc DVD sets if no better version does exist or is undiscovered.
In 1967, the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts company reissued 78 of the black-and-white Looney Tunes in a primitive colorization process. The original prints were sent to South Korea where artists re-traced each cartoon frame-by-frame in color. The quality dropped considerably with the hand-colored versions, to the point where some animation was not carried over.
These cartoons continued to be seen over the decades, and even some of the hand-colored cartoons ended up on low-budget bargain-bin home video labels (the hand-colored versions were copyrighted, but it has been suggested they too have fallen into the public domain).
Then, in 1990, 1992 and 1995, Warner Bros. released the same 78 black-and-white shorts again in color (plus 26 cartoons which were not colorized in 1967), but this time using a digital colorization process rather than re-coloring them frame-by-frame as in 1967. The digital technology allowed for the quality of the original animation to be preserved; thus, these colorized versions could be seen as superior to the 1967 versions.
The digital color versions have aired on the Turner networks (Cartoon Network and Boomerang except on the programming block Late Night Black And White). Incidentally, the 1967 hand-drawn color versions continued to be seen on the Turner networks until Looney Tunes were pulled from the airwaves in 2007.
In the early 1950s, Warner Bros. sold its black-and-white Looney Tunes (plus the first Merrie Melody, Lady, Play Your Mandolin!, and the B&W Merrie Melodies made after Harman and Ising left) to Sunset Productions. Warner insisted that the opening and closing titles be changed to remove all references to Warner Bros. The cartoons were distributed by Guild Films until it was sold to Motion Pictures for Television. In the 1960s, Seven Arts Productions bought that company. In 1967, Seven Arts merged with Warner Bros. to create Warner Bros.-Seven Arts thus putting those films back in Warner's ownership.
In 1957, Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.) acquired for television most of Warner Bros.' pre-1950 library, including all Merrie Melodies (except for those sold to Sunset) and color Looney Tunes shorts that were released prior to August 1948. Unlike the sale to Sunset Productions, a.a.p. was allowed to keep the Warner titles intact and simply inserted an "Associated Artists Productions presents" title at the head of each reel so each Merrie Melodie cartoon had the song "Merrily We Roll Along" playing twice (while each Looney Tune had both opening songs each playing once). a.a.p. was later sold to United Artists, who merged the company into its television division—United Artists Television.
In 1981, UA was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and five years later, Ted Turner acquired the MGM library—which also included U.S. rights to the RKO Pictures library, in addition to its own pre-1986 material, the classic Warner Bros. library, and some of UA's own product, in an attempt to take over MGM. Turner's company, Turner Broadcasting System (whose Turner Entertainment division oversaw the film library), merged with Time Warner in 1996, thus the classic library was once again under ownership of WB (although technically they are owned by Turner, with WB handling sales and distribution).
All the while, starting in 1967 WB was able to retain the rights to "Lady Play Your Mandolin" and the black-and-white Looney Tunes, even though a number of them fell into the public domain (WB holds the original film elements)—a majority of these public domain shorts have been released on many low-budget independent home video labels. As of 2006, all WB's animated output (including the post-'48 shorts WB also kept) are under the same Time Warner umbrella of ownership.
UA (under the pre-WB/Turner-merger management of MGM/UA Home Video) officially released numerous compilations of the classic pre-8/48 cartoons on VHS and LaserDisc, most of these under the title The Golden Age of Looney Tunes. Today, Warner Home Video holds the video rights to the entire Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies animated output by virtue of WB's ownership of Turner Entertainment—this is why their Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box sets include cartoons from both the pre-8/48 Turner-owned and post-7/48 WB owned periods.
When the Looney Tunes were shown on TV, WB and a.a.p. prepared 16 mm "dupes" of the original prints for the syndication market; these prints faded over time, causing them to look "inferior" to what was being shown on the networks. Meanwhile, prints with better material especially for the networks that showed post-7/48 cartoons were created periodically to continue appearing fresh. a.a.p. and its successor companies never had any access to the original negatives of the cartoons a.a.p. bought.
As a result, when the cartoons ended local syndication, there would be considerable difference in quality of the WB-owned and a.a.p./UA/MGM/Turner-owned shorts. The former package had new prints prepared (usually) from the original negatives for the cable networks that aired them, whereas the latter package, when shown on the Turner networks, looked dull and faded, even after 2 separate remasters in 1987 and 1995. This was a problem even on the official video releases in the VHS era prior to 1999: WB's compilations used the original negatives, while MGM was limited to 16 mm "dupes".
The LTGC sets are all derived from the original negatives, restored to pristine condition, creating an experience similar to when the shorts were first shown in theaters.
Four of the Looney Tunes have been selected to the National Film Registry:
- What's Opera, Doc? (1957) selected in 1992
- Duck Amuck (1953) selected in 1999
- Porky in Wackyland (1938) selected in 2000
- One Froggy Evening (1955) selected in 2003
Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Animation):
- Tweetie Pie (1947)
- For Scent-imental Reasons (1949)
- Speedy Gonzales (1955)
- Birds Anonymous (1957)
- Knighty Knight Bugs (1958)
Academy Award nominations:
- It's Got Me Again! (1932)
- Detouring America (1939)
- A Wild Hare (1940)
- Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941)
- Rhapsody in Rivets (1941)
- Pigs in a Polka (1943)
- Greetings Bait (1943)
- Swooner Crooner (1944)
- Life with Feathers (1945)
- Walky Talky Hawky (1946)
- Mouse Wreckers (1948)
- From A to Z-Z-Z-Z (1953)
- Sandy Claws (1954)
- Tabasco Road (1957)
- Mexicali Shmoes (1959)
- Mouse and Garden (1960)
- High Note (1960)
- Beep Prepared (1961)
- Nelly's Folly (1962)
- Now Hear This (1963)
- Cartoon Network
- The Den
- Cula 4
- RTE 2
- Boomerang (2000-2007,came back in 2008 briefly)
- Cartoon Network (1992-2004, brief return in 2006, returned on as part of a New Year's Day marathon)
- Nickelodeon (1988-1999)
- TNT (1988-1998)
- Syndication (1955-present)
- The WB (1995-2001)
- ABC (1960–1968, 1973-75, 1985-2000)
- CBS (1968-1973, 1975-1985)
- NBC (1960's-1980)
- FOX (1992-1994)
- Cartoon Network (1993-2000)
- CN Too (2006)
- Boomerang (2000-)
- BBC One (2002-2004; occasionally beforehand)
- BBC Two (2002-2004; occasionally beforehand)
- CBBC Channel (2002-2004)
- ITV (1955-2002)
- CITV (1983-2002)
- okto (Present)
- Cartoon Network Southeast Asia(Starhub Digital Cable)
- Boomerang Southeast Asia(Starhub Digital Cable)
- Star Channel
- TV TOKYO (1989-1992)
- CARTOON NETWORK