Bugs and Pals to Bring Shorts Back to Movies
Overture! Hit the Lights! Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck will soon bring back a cinematic phenomenon largely missing from movie theaters for decades — the cartoon short.
The Warner Bros. film studio is producing a new series of animated briefs starring its stable of Looney Tunes characters to run in front of such upcoming feature-length family films as the next “Harry Potter” movie.
So far, the studio has given its animation department the go-ahead for a dozen cartoon “featurettes” of favorites like the wise-cracking Bugs Bunny (“Ehhhh, what’s up, doc?”), the stammering Porky Pig (B-dee, b-dee, b-dee, that’s all folks!”), loudmouth rooster Foghorn Leghorn (“That’s a joke, son!”) and the wide-eyed Tweety Bird (“I tawt I taw a puddy-tat!”).
The project is part of a concerted strategy by Warner Bros., a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc., to make the most of a 70-year-old brand dating to the earliest days of animation and familiar to generations of movie and TV audiences.
“Looney Tunes are classic characters, they’re part of the culture,” said Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros.’ resurgent animation division. “It’s a familiar and added attraction that we can offer our family feature audiences.”
Revival of its theatrical shorts coincides with Warner Bros.’ upcoming production of a new Looney Tunes feature mixing Bugs and his cartoon pals with a live-action cast starring Brendan Fraser. “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” slated for a November 2003 release, marks the first such feature since1996’s “Space Jam” with basketball star Michael Jordan.
Extending the brand to yet another outlet of the AOL Time Warner family, the studio also plans to launch a new “Baby Looney Tunes” TV series on cable’s Cartoon Network. The preschool-oriented show, featuring Bugs, Daffy, Tweety and friends as toddlers, debuts Sept. 3.
“Hopefully, all these different media will cross-promote each other,” Schwartz said.
Looney Tunes are perhaps best known to Baby Boomers and younger generations for their longtime TV presence, starting in the 1960s with “The Bugs Bunny Show.” But they got their start 70 years ago as theatrical shorts in an era when cartoons were as much a part of the moviegoing experience as popcorn.
In recent years, cartoon shorts have become almost as rare as the Hollywood musical, though notable exceptions include the Pixar Animation Studios Inc. short “For the Birds” which was released last year with Walt Disney Co.’s computer-animated feature “Monsters, Inc.”
The very first Looney Tunes cartoon, an eight-minute musical short created by ex-Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, was released by Warner Bros. in April 1930.
It starred Bosko and Honey, a diminutive pair of human-like characters who seemed loosely patterned after Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse while displaying some features of racially stereotyped blacks. In later adventures, they were joined by a dog named Bruno, again deriving from the formula of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto of Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” cartoons.
Today’s more familiar crop of Looney Tunes characters came a few years later, with Porky Pig making his debut in 1935, Daffy Duck in 1937 and Bugs Bunny and his goofy nemesis, Elmer Fudd, in 1940. Most of the original human talent behind those cartoons, including animators Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, are gone, as is legendary Looney Tunes voice artist Mel Blanc.
But at least one veteran, voice actress June Foray, who has done the talking for Granny in the “Tweety & Sylvester” cartoons for 50 years (she’s also the original voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel), is coming back for the latest round of shorts, Schwartz said.