Warner Brothers’ first animated feature was Sinkin’ in the Bathtub in 1930. Until 1969, the studio developed classic cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The creators of these characters were some of the most well-known animators who continued to rise and become respected leaders in the industry. Amongst them were Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery. Even Friz Freleng gained experience here before establishing his own studio.
A decade after it dissolved, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979) was filmed using archived film. This prompted Warner Bros. to revamp its cartoon unit and Warner Brothers Animation was born. Throughout the ‘80s, the new animation studio was restarted, creating feature cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, and beginning a serious revival of the Looney Tunes characters. In 1989, Warner Brothers Animation moved to television, beginning with the ever-popular Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1995), showing Looney Tunes characters as younger versions.
Another subsidiary of Time Warner (the Warner Bros. parent company) was DC Comics. Famous for superhero characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, WB Animation began creating animated series based on these graphic series. Cartoons like Superman: the Animated Series (1996-2000) Batman Beyond (1999-2001) did fairly well. The studio wanted to go further than animated series, though. Always a rival of Disney, Warner Brothers saw the success of The Lion King (1994) and produced their first semi-animated film, Space Jam (1996), a combination of animation and human actors that featured NBA star Michael Jordan. Although they were not the first to fuse live action with animation, it was a huge success.
In 1996, Time Warner merged with Turner Broadcasting, reacquiring the rights to many of their original cartoons. In 2001, with the death of William Hanna, Time Warner purchased Hanna-Barbera, giving them access to an even greater library of cartoon animation. Broadcasting from various children’s channels like Kids’ WB! and the Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers cartoons continue to be aired and distributed today.
Looney Tunes (1930-1969) and Merrie Melodies (1931-1969)
The original characters included Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, Taz the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, and Sylvester the Cat.
Looney Tunes was Warner Brothers’ first animated theatrical series, created in black and white. The name is a variation of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, a contemporary animated series, basing each cartoon short on songs within the massive Warner music library. It ran alongside Warner Bros. color series, Merrie Melodies, showing animation alongside Warner Brothers’ movie soundtracks, serving almost as advertisements. However, by 1943, both series were produced in color and were practically identical. The famous theme song to Looney Tunes is “The Merry-Go-Round-Broke-Down” by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin and the theme for Merrie Melodies was “Merrily We Roll Along” by Charlie Tobias, Murray Mencher, and Eddie Cantor. The songs are very similar and are occasionally played back to back at the beginning of later cartoons.
The first real Looney Tunes star was Porky Pig, appearing in 1935. Daffy Duck came out in 1937 and Bugs Bunny was introduced to Merrie Melodies in 1940, appearing for the first time on Looney Tunes in 1944. In the 1950s, Looney Tunes began appearing on network and syndicated daytime television in 1988, and new Looney Tunes shorts were produced again until their finale in 2004. In a legendary moment in 1988, Disney, Amblin, and Warner Brothers collaborated, winning an Oscar for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1989) which featured characters from Looney Tunes and Disney, comically competing on screen.
Throughout the ‘90s, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were airing on Nickelodeon, ABC (as The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show) and the Cartoon Network. As of 2000, Warner Brothers decided to air the series solely on the Cartoon Network, where it currently remains.