The Tasmanian Devil, often referred to as Taz, is an animated cartoon character featured in the Warner Bros. "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" series of cartoons.
Though the character appeared in only five shorts before Warner Bros. Cartoons closed down in 1964, marketing and television appearances later propelled the character to new popularity in the 1990s.
Creation and first appearance
Robert McKimson based the character on the real-life Tasmanian Devil, or more specifically its carnivorous nature and voracious appetite. Owen and Pemberton suggest that the character of the Tasmanian Devil was inspired by Errol Flynn.The most noticeable resemblance between the Australian marsupial and McKimson's creation is their ravenous appetites and crazed behavior.
Although the bipedal Tasmanian Devil's appearance does
not resemble its marsupial inspiration, it contains multilayered references to other "devils": he has horn-shaped fur on his head (similar to the Devil's appearance) and whirls about like a dust devil (similar in appearance to atornado) which sounds like several motors whirring in unison. Taz is constantly voracious. His efforts to find more food (animate or inanimate) are always a central plot device of his cartoons.
In fact, this appetite serves as the impetus for McKimson's Devil May Hare (first released on June 19, 1954). In the short, Taz stalksBugs Bunny, but due to his dimwittedness and inability to frame complete sentences, he serves as little more than a nuisance. Bugs eventually gets rid of him in the most logical way possible: matching him up with an equally insatiable female Tasmanian Devil.
The character's speech, a deep, gravelly voice peppered with growls, screeches, and raspberries, is provided by Mel Blanc. Only occasionally would Taz actually speak, usually to utter some incongruous punchline, (e.g. "What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?") and yet the character is capable of writing and reading. A running gag is that when Bugs Bunny hears of the approach of "Taz" and looks him up in an encyclopedia and starts reading off a list of animals that "Taz" eats; Bugs finds "rabbits" not listed until "Taz" enters and either points out that "rabbits" are listed or writes rabbits on the list.
Retirement and popularity
After the short entered theaters, producer Eddie Selzer, head of the Warner Bros. animation studio, ordered McKimson to shelve the character, feeling it was too violent for children and parents disliked this. After a time with no new Taz shorts, studio head Jack Warner asked what had happened to the character. Warner saved Taz's career when he told Selzer that he had received "boxes and boxes" of letters from people who liked the character and wanted to see more of him.
McKimson would go on to direct four more Tasmanian Devil cartoons, beginning with Bedeviled Rabbit (released on April 13, 1957). McKimson would also pair the Devil with Daffy Duck in Ducking the Devil (August 17, 1957) before pitting him once again against Bugs in Bill of Hare (June 9, 1962) and Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare (March 28, 1964). His last two appearances done by the classic Warner Brothers directors, writers, and voice actors were in Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales appearing in The Fright Before Christmassegment and at the very end eating the sleigh full of presents. Then he appeared in the 1983 movie Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island as Yosemite Sam's first mate.
Taz got his own spin off show Taz-Mania in an early 1990s. It follows the adventures of the classic Looney Tunes character, Taz (Tasmanian Devil) living in the fictional land of Tazmania. Unlike similar cartoons of its time, it frequently broke the fourth wall, and often made jokes from the fact that Taz could actually speak perfectly normally when he wanted to. In the show, he was a young slacker who was living with his family, working as a bell-hop at a local hotel, and having adventures with his friends.
Taz’s late-blossoming popularity would pay off for Taz in Warner Brothers television animation. For example, his miniature understudy, Dizzy Devil, was introduced as a recurring character in the Warner Bros. television series, Tiny Toon Adventures. Taz also regularly appeared on the show from time to time.
Taz made cameos in Animaniacs one in Draculee Draculaa, and Cutie and the Beast.
Taz also had a guest starring appearance on Histeria
The Tasmanian Devil made a cameo appearance as himself in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed when Scooby drinks a potion which turns him into Taz.
In "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", he is an agent working for Mr. Chairman, sent to capture Bugs, Daffy Duck, D.J. Drake and Kate Houghton when they find the Blue Monkey Diamond. There, he is similar to Fat Bastard of the Austin Powers movies. Taz’s descendant Slam Tasmanian would later appear in Loonatics Unleashed as a member of the superhero team the Loonatics along with other descendants of the Looney Tunes.
Taz also appeared in the MAD segments "Tasmanian Devil Duster" and "Body of Pwoof". The ID monster in the classic science fiction movie Forbidden Planet strongly resembles the Tasmanian Devil.
The Looney Tunes Show
The Tasmanian Devil first appeared in "The Looney Tunes Show" episode "Devil Dog" voiced by Jim Cummings (known for voicing Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Pete and Darkwing Duck). In the show, he is portrayed walking on four legs like a real Tasmanian Devil and his eyes are bloodshot red (later turned yellow when Bugs uses a taming trick that Speedy Gonzales taught him). Initially, Bugs believed Taz to be a dog and kept him as a house pet, to his roommate, Daffy Duck's, discomfort. Eventually Bugs learned the truth and tried to return him to his home in Tasmania, only to find out that Taz would rather live with him, naming him "Poochie".
Taz has since been in the series since that episode. Taz would later have a main role in another episode called “Ridiculous Journey”. In “ridiculous journey after accidentally getting shipped to Alaska by Yosemite Sam, Taz, Tweety, and Sylvester join forces on an epic journey home. They end up being tracked by a tracker named Blacque Jacque Shellacque.
In 1997, a newspaper report noted that Warner Brothers had "trademarked the character and registered the name Tasmanian Devil", and that this trademark "was policed", including an eight year legal case to allow a Tasmanian company to call a fishing lure the Tasmanian Devil. Debate followed, and a delegation from the Tasmanian government met with Warner Bros. Ray Groom, the Tourism Minister, later announced that a "verbal agreement" had been reached. An annual fee would be paid to Warner Bros in return for the Government of Tasmania being able to use the image of Taz for "marketing purposes". This agreement later disappeared.
After much lobbying from the Tasmanian state government in Australia, Warner Bros. decided to assist the fight against extinction of the Tasmanian Devil due to devil facial tumour disease. Tasmanian Environment Minister Judy Jackson, prior to the company's support, heavily criticised Warner Bros., stating that the company had made millions of dollars from the character, but did not put up any money when other companies had.
The deal with Warner Bros. allows the Tasmanian Government to manufacture and sell up to 5000 special edition Taz plush toys with all profit going towards funding scientific research into the Devil Facial Tumour Disease. The deal also aims to increase public attention towards the threatening disease.
The Tasmanian Government and Warner Bros. have previously disputed the government's right to use the character as a tourism promotion, which Warner Bros. offered if they paid for it. The government refused this offer.
As the youngest of the Looney Tunes characters, the Tasmanian Devil, or 'Taz' as he has come to be known, is generally portrayed as a ferocious albeit dim-witted omnivore with a notoriously short temper and little patience. He will eat anything and everything, with an appetite that seems to know no bounds. He is best known for his speech consisting mostly of grunts, growls and rasps, and his ability to spin like a vortex and bite through just about anything.