Warner Brothers CartoonsAlso known as:
The division of Warner Bros. Cartoons opened during the Golden Age of American Animation in the 1930′s. It was responsible for many of the classical theatrical cartoons known to audiences today, with its instantly recognizable WB logo appearing before all of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons.
First founded in 1933, it started as a freestanding company run by Leon Schlesinger. Schlesinger started in the industry as a businessman in Philadelphia, working at a theatre and later founding a commercial arts company which made title cards for silent films. As the popularity of sound overtook the silent movies, Schlesinger sold the animated show that would become Looney Tunes to Warner Bros., signing on Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising to create the cartoon.
The first Looney Tunes star was Bosko, the ink-blob kid created by the Harman-Ising team of animators, and the cartoon depicts what appears to be a young, black Southern boy who sings and dances, and he was the vehicle that first initiated the interest of purchasing Looney Tunes. Bosko’s onscreen depiction is that of a black minstrel, who sings and dances as he wanders onscreen with his dog following close behind, and he seems to be adept at playing many musical instruments including the piano. Bosko was first introduced as a character resembling Mickey Mouse, following the conventions of singing and dancing in early cartoons. The character was officially registered by the animators for trademark as “Negro boy”, and early Bosko cartoons take on the stylized feel of a vaudeville show, with a frontal turn towards the viewer.
After a contract dispute in 1933 with Harman-Ising, the team left for MGM, taking Bosko with them, forcing Schlesinger to mount his own studio in the WB lot. By early June 1933, Schlesinger had completed his staff pilfered from other studios in the West Coast as well as the East, in New York. Among those recruited were animators such as Bob Clampett, and many of whom left Harman-Ising for Schlesinger. A group of young men started working on the WB lot, almost all of them under the age of 30 caught in the gold-rush town that was the new Warner Bros. Cartoon Studios. They worked long hours, and worked hard to replace the Harman-Ising Bosko character of Looney Tunes.
Tom Palmer was called in to work on some animations, but after three cartoons, he was rejected by the studio and Earl Duvall took over, a former storyman for Disney. After making 5 cartoons with Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes, Earl Duvall left. The budget constraints at the time within the studio was considerable, as Schlesinger was paid only $7500 for each cartoon, where was comparatively Walt Disney was spending thrice the amount for each cartoon. These limitations led to a lack of richness of the visual quality in early WB cartoons, as animators were trying to find their footing.
Fritz Freleng was hired and running the studio with Jack King by early 1934, directing Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. In this period they produced work of a certain level of artistic merit, though it was very difficult with the budget constraints to spend extra time to perfect a cartoon sequence, as it meant skimping on another. The budget problem was helped by small increments paid by WB as a result of the introduction of color to the screen, but it wasn’t much. The Fritz Freleng period echoed the standards set by the Harman-Ising unit, and the aesthetic of the cartoons were extremely similar, and would be until the mid 1930′s.
The studio at this time was mobile and full of changes for these young, ambitious animators who wanted to do more important work than in-betweens, and there was tremendous potential for growth possible. In 1935, Freleng created the Merrie Melodies character Porky Pig, which was enthusiastically picked up by Tex Avery when he arrived on the WB lot in the spring of 1935. Avery had previously been working odd jobs when he arrived in LA in 1928, and eventually got himself a job inking cels for Oswald the Luckey Rabbit cartoons. He worked at Universal Studios afterwards, moving up the ranks to become an animator in 1930. Wanting more control in his own storylines, as he had been submitting gags that were either taken up or rejected, he found himself drawing up two storyboards for his supervisor, but lost his job at Universal in 1935 due to dissatisfaction with his contract. After a long honeymoon with his bride, who also worked as an inker at Universal, Avery contacted Schlesinger and sold him on the idea of letting Avery direct cartoons, and was subsequently given the chance of storyboarding a cartoon for WB studios.
One of the characters Avery noticed in reviewing the WB material already available was the stuttering character of the pig who recited a poem in I Haven’t Got a Hat, a cartoon which showcased the possible animal character replacements for Buddy, who replaced Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid. With his arrival on the lot as full-time director alongside other directors Freleng and King, the studio was getting crowded, resulting in the move of Avery with his unit members.
Avery, his team of animators including Clampett and Chuck Jones, and two former collegues from Universal, Sid Sutherland and Virgil Ross, were moved out of the Schlesinger unit onto another WB lot of land lovingly dubbed by the animators “Termite Terrace”. This nickname became synonymous associations with the classic period of Warner Bros. Cartoons known by many. Porky was the chosen star for Avery, and he redesigned the pig to be more cute, and more distinctly “cartoon”, shying away from the realism and believability of Disney animations. After Avery had his footing in with Schlesinger, his work began to rise up from the mediocraty of the norm, and he became interested in the sense of illogic. These cartoons began to speed up as he made more of them, learning by the 6th Looney Tunes under his direction that animated gags were more appealing and hilarious if they were delivered at a sped up pace, allowing audiences for less time to ponder the logical legibility of them.
From 1936-1944 the famous team of directors and animators on the lot worked together, creating numerous characters and shorts considered classics today: from Bugs Bunny to Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Porky the Wrestler, which was made in 1937, took us into a different world. Jack King took it upon himself to direct Porky cartoons as well, working on three of them before going to work at Disney on the newly conceived Donald Ducks cartoons. The crazy character of Daffy Duck, with its exaggerated and high-pitched voice, was made famous in the 30′s, living through the gags he continually pulled on Porky Pig. Mel Blancs was the hired voice of both Daffy and Porky, and had a dynamic ability to play different characters with distinct manners of speaking. With the arrival of Stalling at WB in 1936, experience and expertise were brought into the music department, and his distinct style of music accompaniment helped enhance the insane comedic effect that Avery was striving towards in his cartoons. With the addition of Stalling’s complex arrangements as well as Blanc’s voice at WB, the cartoons had to become more wacky than typically at Schlesinger studios before this exciting time.
In 1944, Schlesinger sold the unit back to Warner Brothers, and because of a minor strike, many of the famous animators had left by 1946. Jones, Freleng, McKimson and Art Davis all stayed until the studio was shut down in 1963. The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons were contracted out to DePatie-Freleng Studios, a joint company, after the studio shut down until 1969, when WB stopped production on all shorts.
Renown for their catalogue of lunatic and fantastic animals, one of the most famous projects produced by WB Cartoons was “The Wild Hare” with Bugs Bunny in 1940.
In ”To Duck or Not to Duck” produced in 1943 by the famous team of animators in place, Daffy Duck verses Elmer Fudd in a boxing match rigged in Daffy’s favor, and the audience is thrown into an insane duck world. The animals are intelligently represented contrary to the stupid hunter Elmer. The arrangement of the music with the intro and outro music, along with the Looney Tunes characters’ signature turns towards the camera to address the viewers, equates to some of WB’s most recognizable tropes in their cartoon characters.
In “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”, Daffy again is shown on screen, exaggeratedly animated with extremely conscious style, jerking the character on screen rapidly, expressively. This short makes use of the ability of visual puns to excite, as Daffy gets erased at one point by the animator’s eraser, and there offers many levels of reality to play with onscreen.
After the Paramount decree in 1948, book blocking was no longer permitted in theatres, and the impact on cartoons was extremely negative. The animated shorts were no longer being sold as a part of the package, but separately instead, forcing studios to cut budgets and severely undermine the possible quality of their animation departments as theatre owners were only willing to pay so much for cartoons.
- Barrier, J M. Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.