The men behind Warner Bros. cartoon juggernaut “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” have managed to beat the odds and achieve a degree of prominence in the public eye. Then again,maybe that’s because they have such unusual and distinct monikers like Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones. But to claim thus would be to belittle their accomplishment, and for once in the history of animation’s Golden Age the names of the artists outshine the name of the producer.
“Looney Tunes” began in 1930 when Disney vets Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising teamed with producer Leon Schlesinger to make cartoons, to be distributed by Warner Bros. three years later Harman and Ising left to form the MGM cartoon studio, and Schlesinger and his artists continued on their own. Unlike other studio heads who craved the limelight, Schlesinger and his successor Eddie Selzer seems to have been concerned only with making money. He left it to his directors and animation to meet the press, and gave them complete artistic freedom at the office so long as it was under budget.
The Warner artists used their creative freedom to take the medium in new direction. Directors Tex Avery and Bob Clampett broke from the Disney tradition that the other studio had begun to mimic and imbibed their film with highly exaggerated slapstick comedy. In Avery’s “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (the first appearance of Daffy Duck, 1937) and Clampett’s “Porky in Wackyland” 1938, the character appear at first to be of the naturalist Disney school, but are constantly distorted beyond all rationality, defying every law of physics for comedic effect. The other Warners artists immediately picked up on the style, and eventually every other studio, even Disney, adopted the method. Slapstick ultimately proved to be the theatrical genre animation was best suited for.
Like Disney, the Warner Bros. studio turned the assembly-line-art system to their advantage and collaborated their talents to take the art to a higher level. Nowhere is this better exlempified than in the creation and development of Bugs Bunny, arguably the greatest cartoon character ever. It took over 10 years and 30 films for Bugs personality to coalesce into the suave and wily comic hero that he is today. During that period he was continually tweaked by various directors and redesigned several times by different animators, notably Bob McKimso. By 1950 Warnes three animation units had reached a consensus as to who Bugs was and how he looked; while each nit made it’s own cartoons, it was the same Bugs Bunny every time. Without the tandem talent of Jones, Freleng, et.al., it is unlikely that Bugs would have been as fully fleshed-out a character as he eventually became.It was when animation finally made the leap to television that the art truly began to suffer for business’s sake. The great Hollywood studios of the 30s, 40s, and 50s had been manned by people genuinely interested in making quality cinema. The denizens of the TV animation houses of the 60s, 70s, and 80s only cared that the product was there to market. The quality of writing was poor, and the animation itself was often so limited it barley qualified as animation at all McCay’s prophecy had finally come to pass.