What a Cartoon! (also known as World Premiere Toons and The What a Cartoon! Show), is an American animated showcase television series created for the Cartoon Network by Fred Seibert, the original creative director of MTV and Nickelodeon who served as the president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc., prior to founding Frederator Studios. The project was produced by Hanna-Barbera Studios and consisted of 48 short cartoons, intended to return creative power to animators and artists, by recreating the atmospheres that spawned the great cartoon characters of the mid-20th century. Each of the 48 short cartoons mirrored the structure of a theatrical cartoon, with each being based on an original storyboard drawn and written by its artist or creator. The series is influential for birthing a slew of original Cartoon Network hits and helping to revive television animation in the 1990s.
The format for What a Cartoon! was ambitious, as no one had ever attempted anything similar in the television animation era. The shorts produced would be a product of the original cartoonists' vision, with no executive intervention: for example, even the music would be an individually crafted score. Each "Looney Tunes length" (7 minute) short would debut, by itself, as a stand-alone cartoon on Cartoon Network.
The shorts from the project first aired on February 20, 1995 under the title, World Premiere Toons. During the original run of the shorts the series was retitled, The What a Cartoon! Show until the final short aired on November 28, 1997. The project served as the launching point for multiple successful Cartoon Network series, including: Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, The Powerpuff Girls, and Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Each of the show creators worked with the internal Hanna-Barbera "Creative Corps" Art Director Jesse Stagg and designer Kelly Wheeler to craft a series of high quality, limited edition, fluorescent art posters. The Corps launched a prolonged Guerrilla mailing campaign, targeting animation heavyweights and critics leading up to the launch of What A Cartoon. The first poster campaign of its kind introduced the world to the groundbreaking new stable of characters.
The World Premiere Toons experiment introduced many of today's top animation talent and was repeated several times. A spin-off of sorts, The Cartoon Cartoon Show, was introduced in 2000 and most of the Cartoon Cartoons shown got their start as a short on What A Cartoon! A similar program, also created by Fred Seibert, was introduced on Nickelodeon in 1998, titled Oh Yeah! Cartoons.
Despite the series' popularity, it never spawned any official home media releases. However, on April 2020, 4 shorts from the showcase were re-released on the Cartoon Network app as part of an old school Cartoon Network section.
Origins and production
Fred Seibert became president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons in 1992 and helped guide the struggling animation studio into its greatest output in years with shows like 2 Stupid Dogs and SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron. Seibert wanted the studio to produce short cartoons, in the vein of the Golden Age of American animation. Although a project consisting of 48 shorts would cost twice as much as a normal series, Seibert's pitch to Cartoon Network involved promising 48 chances to "succeed or fail", opened up possibilities for new original programming, and offered several new shorts to the thousands already present in the Turner Entertainment library. According to Seibert, quality did not matter much to the cable operators distributing the struggling network, they were more interested in promising new programs.
With Turner Broadcasting CEO Ted Turner and Seibert's boss Scott Sassa on board, the studio fanned out across the world to spread the word that the studio was in an "unprecedented phase", in which animators had a better idea what cartoons should be than executives and Hanna-Barbera supported them. The company starting taking pitches in earnest in 1993 and received over 5,000 pitches for the 48 slots. The diversity in the filmmakers included those from various nationalities, race, and gender. Seibert later described his hope for an idealistic diversity as "The wider the palette of creative influences, the wider and bigger the audiences."
Seibert's idea for the project was influenced heavily by Looney Tunes. Hanna-Barbera founders William Hanna and Joe Barbera, as well as veteran animator Friz Freleng, taught Seibert how the shorts of the Golden Age of American animation were produced. John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren and Stimpy Show, became a teacher of sorts for Seibert and was the first person Seibert called while looking for new talent for the project. As was the custom in live action film and television, the company did not pay each creator for the storyboard submitted and pitched. For the first time in the studio's history, individual creators could retain their rights, and earn royalties on their creations. While most in the industry scoffed at the idea, encouragement, according to Seibert, came from the cartoonists who flocked to Hanna-Barbera with original ideas.
There were a large number of animated shorts created by several cartoonists such as: Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory (2 cartoon shorts)), David Feiss ("No Smoking", which introduced the siblings Cow and Chicken), Van Partible ("Johnny Bravo" (2 cartoon shorts) and "Jungle Boy"), Craig McCracken ("Meat Fuzzy Lumkins," which introduced The Powerpuff Girls, and "Crime 101"), Butch Hartman (who did a number of shorts, including Pfish and Chip (2 shorts) and Gramps), John R. Dilworth (whose Oscar-nominated "The Chicken from Outer Space" introduced Courage the Cowardly Dog), Zac Moncrief ("Godfrey and Zeek"), and countless others. Also included were works from veterans like William Hanna ("Wind-Up Wolf" and "Hard Luck Duck"), Joseph Barbera (shorts featuring The Flintstones' Dino), and Ralph Bakshi (Malcolm and Melvin).
The What a Cartoon! staff had creators from Europe and Canada (Bruno Bozzetto), Asia (Achiu So), and the United States (Jerry Reynolds and colleague Seth MacFarlane). The crew also contained young series first timers (like Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken, Rob Renzetti, Butch Hartman, and John Dilworth), but veterans as well (like Don Jurwich, Jerry Eisenberg, and Ralph Bakshi). In addition to the veterans, Hanna-Barbera founders William Hanna and Joseph Barbera each produced two shorts each for What a Cartoon!. Many of the key crew members from previous Hanna-Barbera series 2 Stupid Dogs joined the team of What a Cartoon! as well.
Many of the crew members of What a Cartoon! later went on to write and direct for Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, and The Powerpuff Girls, including those named above. The "Kitchen Casanova" director John McIntyre is particularly known for directing several Dexter's Lab episodes. Ralph Bakshi's two shorts ("Malcom and Melvin" and "Babe! He... Calls Me") were considered too risqué to be shown. It has been rumored that John Kricfalusi was slated to direct several new What a Cartoon! shorts of his own (produced by his production company, Spümcø). However, both Yogi Bear-influenced cartoons were commissioned separately by Seibert, and instead premiered on their own: "Boo Boo Runs Wild" and "A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith" both premiered in 1999.
The first cartoon from the What a Cartoon! project broadcast in its entirety was "The Powerpuff Girls in Meat Fuzzy Lumkins", which made its world premiere on Monday, February 20, 1995, during a television special called the "World Premiere Toon In" (termed "President's Day Nightmare" by its producers, Williams Street). The special was hosted by Space Ghost and the cast of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and featured comic interviews and a mock contest with the creators of the various cartoons. The Toon-In was simulcast on Cartoon Network, TBS Superstation, and TNT. To promote the shorts, Cartoon Network's marketing department came up with the concept of "Dive-In Theater" in 1995 to showcase the cartoon shorts. The cartoons were shown at water parks and large municipal swimming pools, treating kids and their parents to exclusive poolside screenings on 9' x 12' movie screens.
Beginning February 26, 1995, each What a Cartoon! short began to premiere on Sunday nights, promoted as a World Premiere Toon. Every week thereafter, Cartoon Network showcased a different World Premiere Toon made by a different artist. After an acclimation of cartoons, the network packaged the shorts as a half-hour show titled World Premiere Toons: The Next Generation, featuring reruns of the original shorts but also new premieres. Eventually, all of the cartoons were compiled into one program bearing the name of the original project: The What a Cartoon! Show. The show's initial premieres for each short preceded Cartoon Network's Sunday night movie block, Mr. Spim's Cartoon Theatre. The shorts continued to air on Sundays until 1997, when the network moved the shorts to Wednesdays at 9pm. Following the premiere of Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken as full series in July 1997, the series shifted to Thursday nights, where it remained.
The What a Cartoon! Show continued airing new episodes on Thursdays until November 28, 1997, when the 48th short of the 48 contracted during Seibert's era aired. In 1998, Cartoon Network debuted two new short pilots and advertised them as "World Premiere Toons": "Mike, Lu & Og in Crash Lancelot" and "Kenny and the Chimp in Diseasy Does It!". Both were produced by outside studios and eventually garnered their own series, Mike, Lu & Og in 1999 and Codename: Kids Next Door in 2002.
The show continued to air until eventually being dropped from the schedule in 2000. Reruns have played on Cartoon Network's retro animation sister channel, Boomerang.
Dexter's Laboratory was the most popular short series according to a vote held in 1995 and eventually became the first spin-off of What a Cartoon! in 1996. Two more series based on shorts, Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken, premiered in 1997, and The Powerpuff Girls became a weekly half-hour show in 1998. Courage the Cowardly Dog (spun-off from the Oscar-nominated short The Chicken from Outer Space) followed as the final spin-off in 1999. In addition, the Cow and Chicken short I Am Weasel eventually was also spun-off into a separate series: in all, six cartoon series were ultimately launched by the What a Cartoon! project, any one of which earned enough money for the company to pay for the whole program. In addition to the eventual spin-offs, the What a Cartoon! short "Larry and Steve" by Seth MacFarlane featured prototypes of characters that would later go on to become MacFarlane's massively successful Family Guy.
The one off short Mina and the Count (created by Rob Renzetti) later became a recurring segment on Nickelodeon's own anthology series Oh Yeah! Cartoons. Despite having five more episodes on Oh Yeah! Cartoons Mina and the Count wasn't picked up by Nick, Instead Nickelodeon Green lighted Rob's other short My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot.
The What a Cartoon! project and its assorted spin-offs brought Cartoon Network more commercial and critical success, and the network became an animation industry leader as the 1990s drew to a close. In 2001, coinciding with the death of William Hanna, Hanna-Barbera merged with Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network opened its own production arm, Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, as the rightful H-B successor to produce original programming for the network and future projects. Two What a Cartoon! shorts, Windup Wolf and Hard Luck Duck, were the last cartoon shorts directed and produced by William Hanna, co-founder of Hanna-Barbera. In addition, The What a Cartoon! Show and spin-offs were the final original productions released by Hanna-Barbera.
Creator of The What a Cartoon! Show, Fred Seibert, left Hanna-Barbera in late 1996 to open up his own studio, Frederator Studios, and to produce Nickelodeon's own version of What a Cartoon!, titled Oh Yeah! Cartoons. The showcase contained familiar What a Cartoon! alumni (Butch Hartman, Rob Renzetti) and launched several successful Nickelodeon series, including The Fairly OddParents, ChalkZone and My Life as a Teenage Robot. Frederator Studios launched another animation showcase in 2006, titled Random! Cartoons, which in turn produced Nickelodeon's Fanboy and Chum Chum in 2009 and Cartoon Network's Adventure Time in 2010.
A sequel-of-sorts to the What a Cartoon! project, a Cartoon Network project titled The Cartoonstitute was announced in April 2008. Created by Cartoon Network executive Rob Sorcher and headed by The Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken, the project was to "establish a think tank and create an environment in which animators can create characters and stories", and also create new possible Cartoon Network series. However, the project was eventually scrapped as a result of the late 2000s recession and only 14 of the 39 planned were completed. Nevertheless, J.G. Quintel's Regular Show short and Pete Browngardt's Secret Mountain Fort Awesome were greenlit to become full series.
- Some pilots, like Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo and Codename: Kids Next Door, were paired as regular episodes outside What a Cartoon. Some others, like The Powerpuff Girls and Courage the Cowardly Dog, were not paired as regular episodes due to length issues as the segments in said shows are mainly 11 minutes long. The Cow and Chicken pilot episode "No Smoking" never paired with any of the episodes of that show due to the tobacco depictions and religiously insensitive material include the Red Guy as the Devil. That pilot was last seen on Cartoon Network in March 1998 following these issues.
- Fred Seibert (December 30, 2006). "Blog History of Frederator's original cartoon shorts. Part 15.". FrederatorBlogs.com. http://frederatorblogs.com/frederator_studios/2006/12/30/blog-history-of-frederators-original-cartoon-6/. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Fred Seibert (September 1, 2007). "Blog History of Frederator's original cartoon shorts. Part 17.". FrederatorBlogs.com. http://frederatorblogs.com/frederator_studios/2007/09/01/blog-history-of-frederator%e2%80%99s-original-carto-2/. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Fred Seibert (September 16, 2007). "Blog History of Frederator's original cartoon shorts. Part 20.". FrederatorBlogs.com. http://frederatorblogs.com/frederator_studios/2007/09/16/blog-history-of-frederator%e2%80%99s-original-carto-5/. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Fred Seibert (October 25, 2009). "Blog History of Frederator's original cartoon shorts. Part 22.". FrederatorBlogs.com. http://frederatorblogs.com/frederator_studios/2009/10/25/blog-history-of-frederator%e2%80%99s-original-cartoon-shorts-part-22/. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Joe Strike (July 15, 2003). "The Fred Seibert Interview — Part 1". AWN (Animation World Network). http://www.awn.com/articles/people/fred-seibert-interview-part-1. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Fred Seibert (September 2, 2007). "Blog History of Frederator's original cartoon shorts. Part 18.". FrederatorBlogs.com. http://frederatorblogs.com/frederator_studios/2007/09/02/blog-history-of-frederator%e2%80%99s-original-carto-3/. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Joe Strike (August 4, 2003). "The Fred Seibert Interview — Part 2". AWN (Animation World Network). http://www.awn.com/articles/people/fred-seibert-interview-part-2. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Ed Liu (April 3, 2008). "Cartoon Network Creates The Cartoonstitute". Toon Zone. http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=22715. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Aaron H. Bynum (April 3, 2008). "CN Upfront 2008: 'The Cartoonstitute' Announcement". Animation Insider. http://www.animationinsider.net/article.php?articleID=1688. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- "Comments on Craig McCracken's DeviantArt profile". deviantArt. June 6, 2009. http://comments.deviantart.com/4/6465375/1085753054. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.
- Mike Reynolds (August 13, 2009). "Cartoon Greenlights 'Regular Show,' 'Horrorbots'". Multichannel News. http://www.multichannel.com/article/327550-Cartoon_Greenlights_Regular_Show_Horrorbots_.php. Retrieved on November 20, 2010.