|Warner Bros. Animation|
Animated television programs
Warner Bros. Animation is the animation division of Warner Bros., a subsidiary of Time Warner. The studio is closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters, among others.
The studio is the successor to Warner Bros. Cartoons (formerly Leon Schlesinger Studios), the studio which produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts from 1933 to 1963, and from 1967 to 1969. Warner reestablished its own animation division in 1980 to produce Looney Tunes related works.
Since 1990, Warner Bros. Animation has primarily focused upon the production of television and feature animation of other properties, notably including those related to Time Warner's DC Comics publications.
1970-1986: Restarting the studio
The original Warner Bros. Cartoon studio, as well as all of Warner Bros.' short subject production divisions, closed in 1969 due to the rising costs and declining returns of short subject production. Outside animation companies were hired to produce new Looney Tunes-related animation for TV specials and commercials at irregular intervals. In 1976, Warner Bros. Cartoon alumnus Chuck Jones began producing a series of Looney Tunes specials at his Chuck Jones Productions animation studio, the first of which was Carnival of the Animals. These specials, and a 1975 Looney Tunes retrospective feature film titled Bugs Bunny: Superstar, led Jones to produce The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie for Warner Bros. in 1979. This film blended classic Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts with newly produced wraparounds of Bugs Bunny introducing each cartoon. Warner Bros. responded to the success of this film by reestablishing its own cartoon studio.
Warner Bros. Animation reopened its doors in 1980 to produce compilation films and television specials starring the Looney Tunes characters. The studio's initial head was Hal Geer, who had been the original studio's sound effects editor during its final days, and he was soon joined by Friz Freleng, who left DePatie-Freleng (which became Marvel Productions after being sold to Marvel Entertainment), and returned to Warner as executive producer. Before leaving DFE, Freleng produced new animation for The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981). The new wraparounds for Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982) and Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island (1983) featured footage by a new Warner Bros. Animation staff, composed mainly of veterans from the golden age of WB cartoons, including writers John Dunn and Dave Detiege.
By 1986, Freleng had departed, and Hal Geer also stepped down the following year. Geer was briefly replaced by Steven S. Greene, who in turn was replaced by Freleng's former secretary Kathleen Helppie-Shipley, who would spearhead a major revival of the Looney Tunes brand in the years that followed. The studio continued production on special projects starring the Looney Tunes characters, sporadically producing new Looney Tunes shorts for theaters such as The Duxorcist (1987), Night of the Living Duck (1988), Box-Office Bunny (1990), and Carrotblanca (1995). Many of these shorts, as well as the new footage in the compilation film Daffy Duck's Quackbusters (which includes The Duxorcist), were directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon, as well as Darrell Van Citters.
1986-1998: Moving into television animation
Beginning in 1986, Warner Bros. moved into regular television animation production. Warners' television division was established by WB Animation President Jean MacCurdy, who brought in producer Tom Ruegger and much of his staff from Hanna-Barbera Productions' A Pup Named Scooby-Doo series. A studio for the television unit was set up in the office tower of the Imperial Bank Building adjacent to the Sherman Oaks Galleria northwest of Los Angeles. Darrell Van Citters, who used to work at Disney, would work on the newer Bugs Bunny shorts, before leaving to form Renegade Animation in 1992. The first Warner Bros. original animated TV series Tiny Toon Adventures (1990–1995) was produced in conjunction with Amblin Entertainment, and featured young cartoon characters based upon specific Looney Tunes stars, and was a success. Later Amblin/Warner Bros. television shows, including Animaniacs (1993–1998), its spin-off Pinky and the Brain (1995–1998), and Freakazoid! (1995–1997) followed in continuing the Looney Tunes tradition of cartoon humor.
Warner Bros. Animation also began developing shows based upon comic book characters owned by sister company DC Comics. These programs, including Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995), Superman: The Animated Series (1996–2000), Batman Beyond (1999–2001), and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001–2006) proved popular among both children and adults. These shows were part of the DC animated universe. A theatrical Batman spin-off feature, Mask of the Phantasm, was produced in 1993 and bumped up to theatrical release. The film was well received by critics but performed poorly at the box-office, though it eventually became a commercial success through its subsequent home video releases.
1998-2004: The rise and fall of Warner Bros. feature animation
Warner Bros., as well as several other Hollywood studios, moved into feature animation following the success of Disney's The Lion King in 1994. Max Howard, a Disney alumnus, was brought in to head the new division, which was set up in two studios: one in Sherman Oaks near the television studio, and the other in nearby Glendale. Turner Feature Animation, later merged and named Warner Bros. Feature Animation, like all of the in-house feature animation studios proved an unsuccessful venture, as five of the six films it produced failed to earn money during their original theatrical releases (due to lack of promotion for their animated features). The first of Warners' animated features was Space Jam (1996), a live-action/animation mix which starred NBA star Michael Jordan opposite Bugs Bunny (Jordan had previously appeared with the Looney Tunes in a number of Nike commercials). Directed by Joe Pytka (live-action) and Bruce W. Smith and Tony Cervone (animation), Space Jam proved to be a success at the box office. Animation production for Space Jam was primarily done at the new Sherman Oaks studio, although much of the work was outsourced to animation studios around the world.
Before the success of Space Jam, a Turner Entertainment-run studio that spun off from Hanna-Barbera were already producing animated features following the success of the Disney features. The first was The Pagemaster, a fantasy adventure featuring the performances of Macaulay Culkin and Christopher Lloyd with live-action segments serving as bookends for the film's story. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film was a financial and critical disappointment during its holiday release of 1994. After the merger with Turner and Warner Bros. in 1996, Turner Feature Animation completed its second and last feature, Cats Don't Dance (1997), which was met with warm critical and audience reception but bombed thanks to little marketing and fanfare. By the time of Cats' release however, Turner Feature Animation had merged with Warner Feature Animation and transferred a majority of its staff from said studio.
The following year, the next film, Quest for Camelot (1998), underwent severe production difficulties and was panned by both critics and audiences, but its soundtrack (especially one of the songs, "The Prayer") did receive some accolades. The third animated feature from Warner Feature Animation, Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999), performed greatly with test audiences but the studio decided to rush its release to the end of the summer with a very small marketing push. The studio's next film, Osmosis Jones (2001), was another animated/live action mix that suffered through another troubled production. This time, the animation segments, directed by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon, were completed long before the live-action segments were filmed, eventually directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly and starring Bill Murray. The resulting film was a box office flop, although it was successful enough on home video for Warner's Television Animation department to produce a related short-lived Saturday morning cartoon, Ozzy & Drix for its WB broadcast network.
Following the releases of The Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones, the feature animation staff was scaled back, and the entire animation staff - feature and television - were moved to the larger Sherman Oaks facility. The final Warner Bros. Feature Animation production was another live-action/animation mix, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), which was meant to be the starting point for a reestablishment of the classic cartoons brands, including a planned series of new Looney Tunes theatrical shorts. The newer Looney Tunes were produced by Back in Action writer and producer Larry Doyle. After Back in Action, directed by Joe Dante (live action) and Eric Goldberg (animation), received mixed reviews and failed at the box office, production was shut down on the new shorts and the feature animation unit was dissolved. Several TV series based loosely upon the Looney Tunes property, Baby Looney Tunes (2002-2005), Loonatics Unleashed (2005–2007), and The Looney Tunes Show (2011–present) have assumed the place of the original shorts on television.
1996-present: Acquisitions and Warner Bros. Animation today
Warners' parent company Time Warner merged with Turner Broadcasting System in 1996, not only reacquiring the rights to the pre-August 1948 color Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies (plus all the B&W Merrie Melodies except Lady, Play Your Mandolin! and the post-Harman/Ising B&W entries, which WB had held on to since 1967 after merging with Seven Arts Productions, which had owned that cartoon and the B&W Looney Tunes) but also taking on two more animation studios: Turner Feature Animation and Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Turner Feature was immediately folded into Warner Bros. Feature Animation, while Hanna-Barbera merged with Warner Bros. Animation itself. Until 1998 Hanna-Barbera operated on its original lot at 3400 Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood, CA, one of the last "big name" studios with an actual Hollywood zip code. Studio operations, archives, and its extensive animation art collection were then moved northwest to Sherman Oaks. Hanna-Barbera occupied space in the office tower adjacent to the Sherman Oaks Galleria along with Warner Bros. Animation.
With the death of William Hanna in 2001, Warner fully took over production of H-B related properties such as Scooby-Doo, producing a steady stream of Scooby direct-to-video films (beginning with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island) and two new series, What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002–2005) and Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006–2008). The Turner merger also gave WB access to the pre-1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer library, which included its classic cartoon library (including such characters as Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Barney Bear, and Screwy Squirrel). WBA has since co-produced a few direct-to-video films with Turner which starred Tom and Jerry. Besides producing content for the daytime market, Warner Bros. Animation also produced Baby Blues with sister company Warner Bros. Television and 3 South with MTV Animation for primetime. The series which Hanna-Barbera had been producing for Turner's Cartoon Network before and during the Time Warner/Turner merger were shifted to production at Cartoon Network Studios, a sister company to Warner Bros. Animation. Warner Bros. Animation is today exclusively involved in the production of animated television programming and direct-to-video features. It produced many of the shows airing on the Kids' WB Saturday morning programming block of The CW until May 24, 2008. These programs included Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!, Krypto the Superdog, Xiaolin Showdown, The Batman, and the aforementioned Loonatics Unleashed and Tom and Jerry Tales. By 2007, the studio had downsized significantly from its size during the late 1990s. Warner Bros. downsized the studio further in June, shut down the Sherman Oaks studio, and had Warner Bros. Animation moved to the Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, California. In early 2008 after the demise of Kids' WB!, Warner Bros. Animation became almost dormant with only Batman: The Brave and the Bold in production at the time.
To expand the company's online content presence, Warner Bros. Animation launched the new KidsWB.com (announced as T-Works) on April 28, 2008. The new website gathers its core animation properties in a single online environment that will be interactive and customizable for site visitors. The Kids WB offers both originally produced content along with classic animated episodes, games, and exploration of virtual worlds, all supported by advertising. Some of the characters to be used in the project from the Warner libraries include those of Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and DC Comics.
On March 25, 2009, sister network Cartoon Network announced Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated in the Fall 2009-2010 season by Warner Bros. Animation. Warner Bros. Animation recently announced several new projects, such as The Looney Tunes Show (formerly called Laff Riot); a reboot of ThunderCats, and several series based on DC Comics properties such as MAD, Green Lantern, and Young Justice.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Animation is producing also DC Showcase, a series of short subjects featuring lesser known comic book superheroes, to be released in tandem with direct-to-video films based on DC Comics properties.
On July 30, 2010 Coyote Falls, a 3D cartoon featuring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner was released, being the first time WB Animation produced theatrically released content since The Karate Guard in 2005, and the first time the animation studio used full CGI and stereoscopic 3D. Two more theatrical Road Runner cartoons have followed during the year (Fur of Flying and Rabid Rider). On June 8, 2011, three more shorts were announced: I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat with Sylvester, Tweety, and Granny, which was released with Happy Feet Two; Daffy's Rhapsody with Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, which was released with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island; and an untitled Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short.
In addition to its in-house and Turner-owned material, Warner Bros. Animation also manages Rankin-Bass' post-1974 library (with few exceptions), feature films originally produced by other studios (such as Watership Down and the original The Lord of the Rings), and the entire Peanuts television catalog (the latter licensed from copyright holder Peanuts Worldwide).