Classic Colors: Warner Brothers Cartoons

In 1935 we were introduced to Porky Pig, he was just the first in the long history of classic characters from the Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes series.

Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies were essentially the same series. They both used the same reoccurring characters from the Warner Brothers’ collection, and only the theme music and title frames differentiated the two. However, Merry Melodies was the first one to be produced in color, and it wasn’t until 1943 that color was added to Looney Tunes.

In 1967 Warner Brothers had all the original black-and-white Looney Tunes sent out to Korea to be retraced with color frame by frame. Later, in the 1990’s the cartoons were re-released, this time using digital coloring methods.

Though much controversy surrounds Looney Tunes, because of racial stereotypes from the WWII era, the colors and characters will always live fondly in our hearts because of their part in the creative history of American animation.

Classic Looney Tunes Characters

porky_pig.jpg     Porky Pig

“Go-go-go-go-go-go-good mo-mo-mo-mo-[gets honked at by a car behind him] ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT!! Hello.”
The character was designed by animator Bob Clampett and introduced in the short I Haven’t Got a Hat (first released on March 2, 1935), directed by Friz Freleng. Studio head Leon Schlesinger suggested that Freleng do a cartoon version of the popular Our Gang films. Porky only has a minor role in the film, but the fat little stuttering pig quickly became popular. Porky’s name came from two brothers who were childhood classmates of Freleng’s, nicknamed “Porky” and “Piggy”.


sylvester_j_pussycat.jpg     Sylvester

“Suffering succotash!”
The character debuted in Friz Freleng’s Life With Feathers (1945). Freleng’s 1947 cartoon Tweetie Pie was the first pairing of Tweety with Sylvester, and the Bob Clampett-directed Kitty Kornered (1946) was Sylvester’s first pairing with Porky Pig.


Bugs Bunny

“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

According to his biography, he was “born” in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York and the product of many creators: Ben “Bugs” Hardaway (who created a prototypical version of Bugs Bunny known around Termite Terrace as Bugs’ Bunny) Bob Clampett, Tex Avery (who directed A Wild Hare, considered Bugs’ formal film debut), Robert McKimson (who created the definitive Bugs Bunny character design), Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng.

duck_amuck.gif     Daffy Duck

“Of course, you realize this means war.”
Daffy first appeared on April 17, 1937, in Porky’s Duck Hunt, directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett. The cartoon is a standard hunter/prey pairing for which Leon Schlesinger’s studio was famous, but Daffy (barely more than an unnamed bit player in this short) represented something new to moviegoers: an assertive, combative protagonist, completely unrestrainable. As Clampett later recalled, “At that time, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.”


elmer_fudd.png     Elmer Fudd

“Wisten to the whythmic whythm of the woodwinds as it wowws awound and awound…and it comes out here!
In 1940, Egghead/Elmer’s appearance was refined giving him a chin and a less bulbous nose (although still wearing Egghead’s clothing) and Arthur Q. Bryan’s “Dan McFoo” voice in what most people consider Elmer Fudd’s first true appearance: a Chuck Jones short entitled Elmer’s Candid Camera. The Bugs Bunny prototype drives Elmer insane.


tweety-copy.jpg     Tweety Bird

“I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”
Bob Clampett created the character that would become Tweety Bird in the 1942 short A Tale of Two Kitties, pitting him against two hungry cats named Babbit and Catstello (based on the famous comedians Abbott and Costello). On the original model sheet, Tweety was named Orson (which was also the name of a bird character from an earlier Clampett cartoon Wacky Blackouts). Tweety was originally not a domestic canary, but simply a generic (and wild) baby bird in an outdoors nest – naked (pink), jowly, and also far more aggressive and saucy, as opposed to the later, more well-known version of him as a less hot-tempered (but still somewhat ornery) yellow canary.


marvinthemartain.jpg     Marvin the Martian

“The Earth? Oh, the Earth will be gone in just a few seconds.”
Junior Termite Terrace animation director Chuck Jones noted Bugs Bunny soon learned to outwit the all-bluff-and-bluster Yosemite Sam (the creation of the senior director, Friz Freleng), so he decided to create the opposite type of character; one who was quiet and soft-spoken, but whose actions were incredibly destructive and legitimately dangerous. Marvin the Martian made his debut in 1948’s Haredevil Hare.

Marvin was never named in the original shorts (though he was called Commander X-2 in The Hasty Hare in 1952), but decades later when the character attracted merchandising interest, the current name was selected.


taz_the_tasmanian_devil.jpg     Taz

Growls, screeches, and raspberries.
In fact, this appetite serves as the impetus for McKimson’s Devil May Hare (first released on June 19, 1954). In the short, the Devil stalks Bugs Bunny, but due to his dim wits 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 Devil. The character’s speech, peppered with growls, screeches, and raspberries, is provided by Mel Blanc. Only occasionally would Taz actually speak, usually to utter some incongruous punchline, (eg. “Why for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?”)


Wile E. Coyote + RR

Mheep!, Mheep! Ouch.

created by animation director Chuck Jones in 1948 for Warner Brothers. The characters went on to star in a long-running series of theatrical cartoon shorts and occasional made-for-television cartoon. The E never refers to a name within the context of the cartoon, but a 1975 comic has it standing for ‘Ethelbert’. Although his last name is routinely pronounced with a long “e” as in the real-life animal (e.g. “ky-O’-tee”), in at least one case, he has been heard pronouncing it with a long “a” (e.g. “ky-O’-tay”, To Hare is Human) in an attempt to sound refined or intelligent.

The Coyote has separately appeared as an occasional antagonist in Bugs Bunny shorts. While he is generally silent in the Coyote-Road Runner shorts, he speaks with a refined accent in these solo outings. The Road Runner vocalizes only with a signature sound, “meep meep”, and an occasional tongue noise. Wile E. was initially voiced by Mel Blanc and the Road Runner by Paul Julian.

foghorn_leghorn.jpg     Foghorn Leghorn

“I say, I say, What’s that big chicken hawk!”
Foghorn Leghorn is a large, anthropomorphic adult rooster with a strong Virginia or Kentucky accent (reminiscent of Colonel Sanders) and a penchant for mischief. He first appeared in 1946 in a Henery Hawk film entitled Walky Talky Hawky. All of the motion picture Foghorn Leghorn cartoons were directed by Robert McKimson, and the rooster vies with the Tasmanian Devil as the most popular character associated with the director.


sam.jpg     Yosemite Sam

“Come back here, ya varmint!”
Animator Friz Freleng introduced the character in the 1945 cartoon Hare Trigger. With his fiery, irascible temper, short stature (in two early gags in Hare Trigger, a train he is attempting to rob passes right over top of him and he has to use a set of portable stairs to get on his horse; in Bugs Bunny Rides Again, he rides a miniature horse), and fiery hair, Sam was in some ways an alter-ego of Freleng. The animator often denied any intentional resemblance. However, in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, surviving members of his production crew assert, and the late director’s daughter acknowledges, that Sam definitely was inspired by Freleng.


pepe_le_pew.jpg     Pepe le Pew

“Zee cabbage does not run away from zee corn-beef.”
Chuck Jones, Pepé’s creator, wrote that Pepé was based (loosely) on the personality of his Termite Terrace colleague, writer Tedd Pierce, a self-styled “ladies’ man” who reportedly always assumed that his infatuations were requited. Pepé’s voice, provided by Mel Blanc, was based on Charles Boyer’s Pépé le Moko from Algiers (1938), a remake of the 1937 French film Pépé le Moko. Eddie Selzer, animator producer—and Jones’ bitterest foe—at Warners then, once commented that no one would laugh at those cartoons. (He actually used a much less pleasant term.) However, this did not keep Selzer from accepting an award for one of Pepé’s pictures several years later. There have been theories that Pepé was based on Maurice Chevalier.


speedy_gonzales.jpg     Speedy Gonzales

“Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba! Yii-hah!”
Speedy debuted in 1953’s Cat-Tails for Two, directed by Robert McKimson. This early Speedy was a meaner, skinnier, rattier-looking creation with a sizable gold front tooth. It would be two years before Friz Freleng and animator Hawley Pratt redesigned the character into his modern incarnation for the 1955 Freleng short, Speedy Gonzales. The cartoon features Sylvester the cat menacing a group of mice while guarding a cheese factory at the Mexican border. The mice call in the plucky, excessively energetic Speedy to save them, and amid cries of “¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!” (Spanish for Hurry up! Get up!) courtesy of Mel Blanc, Sylvester soon gets his painful comeuppance. The cartoon won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).


Images and Information from wikipedia:Looney Tunes

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Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.