Friday, August 07, 2020

Wise of the Wabbit

The history of Looney Tunes
If you were a viewer of J-Dubb's Theatre videos, you may remember a video I did a few years ago, where I talked about the history of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons. It was the video where an anvil fell on my head, and I saw little birdies flying around. As a history buff, I find it interesting to go back to the old song and dance, Bosko cartoons, and trace them forward through time, until I start to see a familiar picture unfold. Since I know a little more about the subject now, than I did before, I thought I'd write about it.

One thing that I didn't know at the time that I made the video, is that it all started with a small-time cartoonist, named Walt Disney. Now days, you know Disney as the mega corporation that owns 75% of everything there is. But back when young Walt owned a small animation studio that was struggling to get by, he employed two animators by the names Hugh Harmon and Rudolph Ising.

Disney made a deal with Universal, pitching a new character named Oswald the rabbit. Harmon and Ising, who had previously estranged from Disney in a failed attempt to start their own animation studio, returned to animate Oswald cartoons for Disney. Eventually, Universal ended their contract with Disney. Harman and Ising continued to animate Oswald for Universal, and Disney, no longer holding the rights to Oswald, was forced to come up with a mouse character to replace Oswald. Poor Disney.

Let's face it. Oswald was a long-eared Mickey.

Eventually, Universal started their own animation studio, putting Harmon and Ising out of work. The duo went to Leon Schlesinger from Warner Brother's studios, and pitched a new character named Bosko. They created a cutting edge animation, in which Bosko, from his page on the drawing easel, interacts with his live action animator. This impressed Schlesinger, who hired the pair to create Bosko cartoons for a series called "Looney Tunes", a play on the name of Disney's "Silly Symphonies".
Bosko was, well...  essentially a black-face character who, at first, spoke in stereotypical 1920s "black speech". After the first cartoon, however, they gave him more of a high pitched voice, similar to Mickey's. The first cartoon, "Sinking in the Bathtub", began with Bosko, taking a bath while singing "Singing in the bathtub". He then winds up his Model T, and drives to his girlfriend, Honey, who is also singing in the bathtub. Honey joins Bosko on a wacky road trip.

Meanwhile, Schlesinger and the animation team were contracted to start a second animation studio, Merry Melodies. Merry Melodies cartoons were intended to showcase Warner Brother's music. The first few cartoons featured a cast of characters, but the studio eventually decided that Merry Melodies would not feature recurring characters, like their Looney Tunes counterpart. After a few years, Merry Melodies began to produce cartoons in color, while Looney Tunes would continue in black in white for some time.

Harmon and Ising animated Bosko for the Warner Brother's from 1930 to 1933, when they split from the WB, taking the rights for Bosko with them. Meanwhile, Warner Brother's studios needed a new star for their Looney Tunes cartoons. The replacements for Bosko and Honey, were Buddy and Cookie; essentially, whiter, duller versions of Bosko and Honey. Their first cartoon even featured Buddy and Cookie taking a road trip in their Model T, as if to reboot the Bosko cartoons.
Buddy and Cookie were the worst things to come out of Warner Brother's cartoon studios. They were dull. Watching Buddy cartoons, I find myself vocalizing, "What even is the point of  this cartoon?" Audiences of the 1930s agreed with me.

Warner Brothers needed to ditch Buddy. While still creating Buddy cartoons for Looney Tunes, the animators created a Merrie Melodies cartoon called, "Haven't got a Hat". The film was inspired by the Little Rascals, featuring a group of kids performing for a school talent show, including Beans the Cat, Porky Pig, and others. This cartoon essentially doubled as an audition of characters to potentially replace Buddy.
Beans the Cat was chosen to be the next Looney Tune star. At this point, the style of Looney Tunes cartoons began to change. In the beginning, the cartoons mostly revolved around the music. Animations would dance, cannons would expand cartoonishly, and fire off to the beat, sandwiches would sing, ect. With Beans, cartoons became more plot focused.

Beans, in his cartoons, would pair off with other characters from "Haven't got a Hat", including Porky. Beans was short lived, however, as animators realized that audiences preferred Porky. Beans and the other "Haven't got a Hat" characters were phased out, and Porky became the solo star of  Looney Tunes cartoons.

With Porky, Looney Tunes finally had a success. During this time, Porky went through a lot of changes. In "Haven't got a hat", he was depicted as a school child, and his stuttering voice was a sped up recording. In his second appearance, he was an adult with a deep voice. The original reason for Porky's stutter, is that his voice actor, Joe Dougherty stuttered. By the time Mel Blanc replaced Dougherty, becoming the more iconic voice of Porky, the stutter had become synonymous with the character. Porky's design and age changed from artist to artist, until all artists came to agree on one design.
One day, Porky decided to go duck hunting, where he found himself tormented by a goofy, insane duck. Apparently, this wacky duck was unlike anything that had been seen in a cartoon up to this point, and audiences wanted more. Meanwhile, the contract with Merry Melodies, requiring the studio to showcase WB music, ended. Merry Melodies introduced a character named Egghead. In his third appearance, Egghead was paired with the newly named Daffy Duck, in a cartoon very similar to Porky's Duckhunt.
Daffy went back to Looney Tunes, partnering up with Porky. Audiences liked Daffy even better than Porky. Before long, Daffy became the Looney Tunes star. The animators could have phased Porky out, as had happened with Beans, but Porky had become too beloved as a character. Instead, they paired him with Daffy as the straight man and the funny man, a style of humor that refined Looney Tunes humor even more into the brand that we're familiar with.

In one cartoon, Daffy and Porky jumped out of paintings within the live action Warner Brother's studio, where Daffy made a deal with the studio to make him the star instead of Porky. This is somewhat poetic, as the old Looney Tunes era was ushered in by Bosko interacting with his live-action animator, the new era of Looney Tunes, symbolized by Daffy, was similarly ushered in by Daffy interacting with the animators. This also signified a personality change, in which Daffy became less the insane hooting and hollering duck, and more the glory seeking, quick to anger Daffy.

While Daffy was being introduced, Porky starred in a cartoon called "Porky's Hare Hunt", setting him opposite a crazy white rabbit. This white rabbit was featured again in a Merrie Melodies cartoon. No longer restricted to the black and white of Looney Tunes, he was recolored as a gray and white rabbit, and paired with Egghead, in a familiar "foiling the hunter" series of gags.

The gray and white rabbit appeared in a cartoon with a character named Elmer, who looked a lot like Egghead, and dressed like Egghead, but spoke with a peculiar lisp, substituting W's for R's and L's.
From here, a grey and white anthropomorphic rabbit was designed with a Bronx accent and much more laid back personality than the proto-Bug's rabbit. Elmer Fudd was redesigned as a hunter and placed as the antagonist to, and recipient of, Bug's Bunny's gags. Bug's became the star of Merrie Melodies. After they started producing cartoons in color, Looney Tunes began producing Bug's Bunny cartoons, and Merrie Melodies began producing Daffy and Porky cartoons, and the two studios became interchangeable. Eventually, Bug's Bunny stole the role of "Star of Looney Tunes".

More characters were added to the roster, such as Sylvester and Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn, Coyote and Roadrunner, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, and Marvin the Martian. Today, all these characters are referred to under the blanket term "Looney Tunes", with Bug's Bunny being the figurehead.

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