The beginning (1927-1929)
In 1927, Harman and Ising were still working for the Walt Disney Studios on a series of live-action/animated short subjects known as the Alice Comedies. Hugh Harman created Bosko, the very first Looney Tunes character, in 1927 to capitalize on the new "talkie" craze that was sweeping the motion picture industry. Harman began thinking about making a sound cartoon with Bosko in 1927, before he even left Walt Disney. Hugh Harman made drawings of the new character and registered it with the copyright office on 3 January 1928. The character was registered as a "Negro boy" under the name of Bosko.
After leaving Walt Disney in the spring of 1928, Harman and Ising went to work for Charles Mintz on Universal's second-season Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. April 1929 found them moving on again, leaving Universal to market their new cartoon character. In May 1929, they produced a short pilot cartoon, similar to Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell cartoons, Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid that showcased their ability to animate soundtrack-synchronized speech and dancing. The short, plotless cartoon opens with live action footage of Ising at a drafting table. After he draws Bosko on the page, the character springs to life, talks, sings, and dances. Ising returns Bosko to the inkwell, and the short ends. The short is a landmark in animation history as being the first to include synchronized speech. This cartoon set Harman and Ising "apart from early Disney sound cartoons because it emphasized not music but dialogue." The short was marketed to various people by Harman and Ising until Leon Schlesinger offered them a contract to produce a series of cartoons for the Warner Bros. It would not be seen by a wide audience until 71 years later, in 2000, as part of Cartoon Network's special Toonheads: The Lost Cartoons, a compilation special of rare material from the WB/Turner archives.
The theatrical era (1930–1969)
In the beginning both Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies drew their storylines from Warner's vast music library (notice the names Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies). 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 and became virtually indistinguishable, with the only stylistic difference being in the variation between the opening theme music and titles. 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 1929, 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 Bosko, The Talk-Ink Kid in 1929. The first Looney Tunes short was Sinkin' in the Bathtub which was released 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 new character called Buddy became the only star of the Looney Tunes series for a couple of 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. The ensemble characters of I Haven't Got a Hat, such as Oliver Owl, and twin dogs Ham and Ex, were also given a sampling of shorts, but demand for these characters was far exceeded by Beans and Porky; Beans himself was later phased out due to declining popularity, leaving Porky as the only star of the Schlesinger studio. 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 which marked Bugs' only appearance in a black-and-white Looney Tune. Schlesinger sold his interest in the cartoon studio in 1944 to Warner Bros. and went into retirement, he would die five years later.
The original Looney Tunes theatrical series ran from 1930 to 1969 (the last short being Injun Trouble, a Merrie Melodie by Robert McKimson). 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. The change in the preceding, introductory title cards was possibly to reflect the switch in the animation style of the featurettes themselves. (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 expressions of the earlier shorts. They resemble shorts produced by Hanna-Barbera (based on the influence of Alex Lovy, who worked for Hanna-Barbera after the Walter Lantz Studio). The WB and HB cartoon studios have a history of borrowing from each other and of associating with each other that dates back to this epoch. The series has gotten a lot of Oscars and some Academy Awards.
The television era (1950s–1986), and the return (1987–1996)
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 were edited, removing scenes of violence (particularly suicidal gags and scenes of characters doing dangerous stunts that impressionable viewers could easily imitate), racial and ethnic caricatures (particularly stereotypical portrayals of blacks, Mexicans, Jews, American Indians, Asians, and Germans as Nazis) and questionable vices (such as smoking cigarettes, ingesting pills, and drinking alcohol).
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 Disney and Amblin's Oscar-winning epic, 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 (producers of the film)—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.
Also 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, almost becoming the first non-Disney animated film to achieve that feat. For a two year period, it was the highest grossing non-Disney animated film ever. and introduced a new
Present and future (since 1997)
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 until very recently, when were announced one feature film and some shorts. 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 gang also made frequent cameos in the 1990 spinoff series Tiny Toon Adventures, from executive producer Steven Spielberg where they played teachers and mentors to a younger generation of cartoon characters (Buster, Babs and the gang), plus occasional cameos in the later Warner shows Animaniacs (also from Spielberg) 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. From February 29 – May 18, 2008, many Looney Tunes artifacts, including original animation cells & concept drawings, were on display at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, just off the campus of Youngstown State University. The exhibit had the studio come full circle, as the Warners were natives of the Youngstown area. 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 did not air on Cartoon Network or Boomerang again until 11 months later when it returned to Cartoon Network on November 15, 2009. In 2010, Looney Tunes was taken off Cartoon Network after another New Year's Marathon.
At the Cartoon Network upfronts in April 2010, The Looney Tunes Show was announced to premiere later that year. Coming from Warner Bros. Animation and producer Sam Register, the concept revolves around Bugs and Daffy leaving the woods and moving to the suburbs with "colorful neighbors" including Sylvester and Tweety, Granny, and of course Yosemite Sam. The show will have 2-minute music videos titled respectfully "Merrie Melodies", as a tribute to the Looney Tunes sister shorts, which will feature the characters singing original songs.
Also, it has been announced that Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner will be making a return to the big screen in a series of 3-D shorts that will precede select Warner Bros. films. There are currently six in the works that began with the first short, "Coyote Falls", that preceded the film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, which was released on July 30, 2010. The show premiered on May 3, 2011.
The Looney Tunes Show was cancelled after 2 seasons in 2014 in light of Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Prod, which was announced at the Cartoon Network upfronts in 2014. After the cancellation of the show, a direct-to-video film was released called Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run. Wabbit involves Bugs Bunny facing classic villains such as Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, or Yosemite Sam as well as new villains. Bugs sometimes would be accompanied by Squeaks the Squirrel and a child-like version of Bigfoot. The show was divided up into 2 segments per episode. Each episode would take place within a 15 minute block. The show premiered on September 21, 2015 on Cartoon Network, but was moved to Boomerang due to scheduling changes. In January 2017, Warner Bros. decided to rename the show New Looney Tunes due to their retooling of new characters other than Bugs Bunny. The show went on hiatus in March 2016 and has been on hiatus ever since.
On June 11, 2018, another series, titled Looney Tunes Cartoons, was announced by Warner Bros. Animation. Set for release in 2019 on both linear and streaming television platforms, its first season would feature "1,000 minutes of new one-to-six minute cartoons featuring the brand's marquee characters", voiced by their current voice actors in “simple, gag-driven and visually vibrant stories” that are rendered by multiple artists employing “a visual style that will resonate with fans”, most noticeably having a style reminiscent to the styles of Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson. Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation and Peter Browngardt, creator of Uncle Grandpa, would serve as executive producers for the series.