Thursday, September 08, 2011

Warner Bros. Animation - The ReAwakening

History does appear to move in cycles.

Twenty-two years ago, after being in a lingering coma, Warner Bros. Animation came back to life with a full-throated roar when it partnered with Steven Spielberg to create Tiny Toon Adventures:

... The series was conceived during the late-80s, post-Muppet Babies boomlet for younger versions of beloved cartoon characters, and the series could never match up to the original Looney Tunes animation. At the same time, Tiny Toon only rarely achieved the full-scale madcap insanity of Warner’s later cartoon Animaniacs. ...

Warner Bros. Animation is (and was) an interesting animal. During my time at Disney, it was mostly a small, re-issue house that cobbled its old cartoon catalogue together with new interstitials. (A telling description for the place at the time would have been "half dead.") In 1982, during Local 839's long strike, animation veteran Tom Yakutis said to me, "Let's go picket Warner Bros. Animation," and I ended up going with him to a small, non-descript building on Riverside Drive that housed doctors ... and a few Warners cartoonists. While Tom and I were marching up and down, an old man in a fishing hat came out of the building. Tom waved and yelled: "Hey Friz!"

The old guy grunted and nodded. It was the first and only time I laid eyes on Friz Freleng.

In early 1989, Warner Bros. Animation roused from its coffin and began expanding with a vengeance as it geared up to produce Tiny Toon Adventures. I wrote one unproduced story treatment for the show before running off to the House of Labor, but then came back to the new studio in Sherman Oaks to observe a beehive of activity as WBA made Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoids, Sylvester Tweety and a bunch of others through the 1990s.

During that time, Warners Animation had a reputation as being a fine place to work. There was even a period, as animation employment crested, that WBA retained its entire staff for eight or nine months during a down period. They didn't want to lose any talent, so they kept the talent on payroll, with nothing to do. (This is a rare industry occurence, trust me.)

As the nineties faded, so did red-hot employment in the cartoon business. Disney laid off many long-time artists, and jobs at various t.v. houses disappeared. When things picked up again, WBA was, sadly, a laggard, with twenty-five or thirty artists on staff. (Shades of the doctors' building on Riverside Drive!) As recently as two years ago, the studio was still a shadow of its former self, but today it is again in high gear, producing direct-to-video features, action-adventure series, and comedy extravaganzas with tried-and-true Warner Bros. stalwarts Daffy Duck, Poky Pig, and Bugs Bunny. The studio is also in the middle of creating a long series of well-received theatrical shorts.

When you think about it, Warners is the polar opposite of Disney. Not only are their long-time characters considerably different, but unlike the House of Mouse, which has continued as a major animation entity decade after decade, WBA has been buried and returned from the dead numerous times.

With luck, this time its life-span will be long and healthy.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Credit where credit is due: Reelfx did the recent, and very nicely done, CG Coyote and Roadrunner shorts and I believe they are currently doing another set including a Daffy short and a Sylvester/Tweetie.

Anonymous said...

There was even a period, as animation employment crested, that WBA retained its entire staff for eight or nine months during a down period.

That was such a strange time, we were all asked to develop shows and pitch them to the execs (Jean Mc Curdy Alan Burnett and Tom Ruegger) they got tons of show ideas (Good and bad) and tons of artwork and to my knowledge none of it was ever produced.

Steve Hulett said...

Credit where credit is due: Reelfx did the recent, and very nicely done, CG Coyote and Roadrunner shorts and I believe they are currently doing another set including a Daffy short and a Sylvester/Tweetie.

Director Matt O'Callaghan was kind enough to show me most of these, and they are terrific.

The Sylvester/Tweetie short is especially hysterical.

Anonymous said...

Rumor-hazit that WB used Blanc's previously unreleased voice tracks on these new WB shorts (well, not the C &RR ones) is that true? If so, that's damn cool.

Anonymous said...

tiny toons and that other animalaniacs (or something) were horrible. Speilberg knows nothing about animation.

Anonymous said...

I still sing the Animaniacs song now and again. It was majestic animation and you're a stupid troll.

Steve Hulett said...

Rumor-hazit that WB used Blanc's previously unreleased voice tracks on these new WB shorts (well, not the C &RR ones) is that true? If so, that's damn cool.

The latest of Matt's shorts use Blanc's voice tracks. (This has been reported in the trade press.)

But they're not "unreleased" tracks. They were originally done for Capitol Records in the early 1950s and were both part of well-selling kids' records. I remember listening to them a half-century ago, while still in knickers and knee socks.

Blake said...

I love the 11:36 Troll.

animalaniacs (or something)
Speilberg

"I'm way to hipster to know how to SPELL Animaniacs and Spielberg correctly."

Dude, you've just read an article about them... That doesn't make you "cool" or "hipster", that makes you stupid.

And...

"Speilberg knows nothing about animation."

Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

They are using those Mel Blanc vocals not because they're Blanc's best stuff but because they were recorded before 1960 and no royalties have to be paid to the Blanc estate.

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