In 1929, producer Leon Schlesinger was contracted by Warner Bros. to create cartoons based around Warner’s catalog song titles to hock their songs used for movies, 78’s and sheet music. Started by Walt Disney alums Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, Merrie Melodies originally featured cartoons completely revolved around a particular song and involving such ordinary characters as Foxy the Fox, Piggy the Pig, Goopy Gear and the black stereotype Bosko. This type of cartoon carried on for a few years and proved to be a bit unoriginal as they were usually no more than imitations of Disney’s Silly Symphonies.
A few years into making these, Warner Bros. changed the contract slightly and didn’t need each cartoon to feature their music anymore and gave free reign for up and coming directors like Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, future film director Frank Tashlin, boy prodigy Bob Clampett and the famous Chuck Jones. Tex Avery was the first to break through with this by making cartoons that proved to be zanier and crazier than what the rest of his contemporaries were doing with his first short “I Love to Singa” and in Daffy Duck’s first short “Porky’s Duck Hunt”.
Each of these directors showed their own unique style that was able to thrive at their studios, Termite Terrace. Bob Clampett went for the most insane and rubbery looking characters, Tex Avery went go-for-broke when it came to gags, Frank Tashlin took his shorts out of the flat looking cartoons of the 1930’s and gave them depth and angles and Chuck Jones showed off his penchant for introducing more subtle gags like slight changes in characters faces or little intricacies that the others would ignore.
In the years starting with World War II, Looney Tunes not only got more subversive and insane (with Tex Avery admitting himself that the shorts weren’t made for kids), but by the end of the forties, the cast of characters that are famous today was already pretty well established: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, and Yosemite Sam. Even stranger, by the fifties, the animators and directors at Termite Terrace continued to use the Warner Bros. catalog of songs from the 1930’s, using archaic songs like Footlight Parade’s “By a Waterfall” and Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” with excellently timed arrangements by Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn.
In the fifties, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts were still going strong with Chuck Jones famous one off characters like Michigan J. Frog in One Froggy Evening, Robert McKimson kept the true and simple wacky formula as people like Tex Avery and Bob Clampett left and Friz Freleng stuck to doing what he did best by sticking to his creations of Sylvester the Cat, Speedy Gonzalez and doing the occasional short featuring new characters including the strange “The Three Little Bops” featuring a fifties rock soundtrack, very angular designed background and the voice of Stan Freberg.
With the increasing popularity of television by the late fifties and the drop in ticket sales, Termite Terrace unfortunately closed it’s doors with it’s animators and directors going on to new things. In the sixties, there was an attempt to bring back the Looney Tunes shorts under Friz Freleng’s new animation studio, but it proved unsuccessful as they were mostly low budget efforts to compete with the style of Hannah-Barbera, they were unfunny and featured terrible (and now incredibly dated) scores by William Lava that featured none of the character and timing the old Carl Stalling soundtracks had. Plus, with all the superior classic shorts being re-runned Saturday mornings for kids, who would want to see these sad new creations?
Though the animated short preceding a film is now dead and television seems to hit the quality of animation from what was acceptable in the past, many of us grew up watching these shorts growing up when they were played on T.V. endless. Even if they aren’t played so much anymore because of the amount of violence, slightly risque jokes and stereotypes, you can still pick them up on DVD editions uncut with tons of great information about the history of the shorts and studio plus rare cartoons like the commissioned cartoons made for troops overseas featuring Private Snafu with scripts written in rhyme by Dr. Suess.
It’s still good to know that since I was a kid, these cartoons are still well loved and remember by all sorts of people. Here I compiled a short list of Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies or films that feature the characters that MUBI have listed on their site.