Warner Bros. Animation is the animation division of Warner Bros. Television. The studio is closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters, among others. The studio is the successor to Warner Bros. Cartoons, the studio which produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts from 1933 to 1963, and from 1967 to 1969. Warner reestablished its animation division in 1980 to produce Looney Tunes–related works.
In recent years, Warner Bros. Animation has focused primarily on producing television and direct-to-video animation featuring characters created by other properties owned by Warner Bros., including DC Comics, MGM Cartoons (through Turner Entertainment Co.) and Hanna-Barbera Productions.
The original Warner Bros. Cartoons 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 (distributed by United Artists, the previous owner of the pre-1950 Warner Bros. library), 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 opened 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 Comics), and returned to Warner as executive producer. The new wraparounds for The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), 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/Merrie Melodies 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.
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 (1988–1991). 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), The New Batman Adventures (1997–1999), 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 Batman spin-off feature, Mask of the Phantasm, was produced in 1993 and bumped up to theatrical release. The film was near universally-well received by critics but performed poorly at the box-office, though it eventually became a commercial success through its subsequent home video releases.
In 1991, Warner Bros. distributed its first animated film, Rover Dangerfield. Its title character is a dog whose look and mannerisms are inspired by his voice actor Rodney Dangerfield. The film received mixed reviews and under-performed at the box office due to lack of promotion. Three years later, Warner distributed Don Bluth's Thumbelina, which also received mixed reviews from critics and under-performed at the box office.
That same year, Warner Bros., as well as several other Hollywood studios, moved into feature animation following the success of Walt Disney Feature Animation's The Lion King. Max Howard, a Disney alumnus, was brought in to head the new division, which was set up in Sherman Oaks near the television studio 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 six of the seven films under-performed during its original theatrical releases (due to lack of promotion).
The first of Warners' animated features was Space Jam (1996), a live-action/animated hybrid which starred NBA star Michael Jordan opposite Bugs Bunny (Jordan had previously appeared with the Looney Tunes in a number of Nike commercials). It was directed by Joe Pytka (live-action) and Bruce W. Smith and Tony Cervone (animation). Space Jam received mixed to negative reviews from critics but 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 under-performed and received negative reviews from critics during its holiday release of 1994. After the merger with Turner and Warner Bros' parent Time Warner 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 under-performed due to little marketing and fanfare. By the time of the film's release however, Turner Feature Animation had merged with Warner Feature Animation and transferred a majority of its staff from said studio.
The following year, its next film, Quest for Camelot (1998), underwent production difficulties and received negative reviews from critics, however its soundtrack (such as one of the songs, "The Prayer") received some accolades.
The third animated feature from Warner Feature Animation, Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999), received a positive reception from critics and audiences. However, the studio decided to rush its release to the end of the summer with a rushed 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 received mixed reviews and under-performed, although it was successful on home video for Warner's Television Animation department to produce a related Saturday morning cartoon, Ozzy & Drix (2002–2004) 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.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action was released in 2003. It was intended to be the starting point for a reestablishment of the classic cartoons brands, including a planned series of new Looney Tunes theatrical shorts, 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 from critics and under-performed at the box office, production was shut down on the new shorts. However, several TV series based upon the Looney Tunes property – Baby Looney Tunes (2002–2005), Loonatics Unleashed (2005–2007), The Looney Tunes Show (2011–2014) and Wabbit (2015–present) – have assumed the place of the original shorts on television.
Warners' parent company Time Warner merged with Turner Broadcasting System in 1996, not only regaining the rights to the previously sold Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts but also taking on two more animation studios: Turner Feature Animation and Hanna-Barbera Productions. 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 Boulevard in Hollywood, California, one of the last "big name" studios with a 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 and two new series, What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002–2006) and Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006–2008). The Turner merger also gave WB access to the pre-May 1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer library, which included its classic cartoon library (including such characters as Tom and Jerry (originally created by the H-B duo), Droopy, Barney Bear, Screwy Squirrel, and many more of Tex Avery's MGM characters). WBA has since co-produced a series of 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. WBA 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 website gathers its core animation properties in a single online environment that is 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. Some of the characters to be used in the project from the Warner libraries include those of Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, pre-1986 MGM animated characters and DC Comics.
In 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.
Warner Bros. Animation is also producing 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 the Road Runner was released, being the first time WB Animation produced theatrically released content since The Karate Guard (the last Tom and Jerry short) 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 Flash in the Pain starring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. All of these 6 shorts, directed by Matthew O'Callaghan and produced by Reel FX Creative Studios are available on the official Warner Bros. Animation YouTube channel.
On October 27, 2014, Warner Bros. Animation produced its first show for Adult Swim, entitled Mike Tyson Mysteries, as it follows retired boxer Mike Tyson, the ghost of the Marquess of Queensberry, Tyson's adopted daughter, and a pigeon as they solve mysteries. The style of the show borrows heavily from '70s cartoons, most notably Hanna-Barbera productions such as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and The Funky Phantom; however it also contains adult language and concepts, in the manner of Family Guy or South Park. While each episode involves a mystery as a framing device, often these are ignored altogether as the plot takes another direction, and episodes sometimes end on cliffhangers which are never resolved.
On December 16, 2014, Warner Bros. Animation's stop-motion Christmas special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas debuted on NBC. Based on the 2003 New Line film Elf, and its Broadway musical adaptation Elf: The Musical, the special was animated in stop-motion in the style of Rankin/Bass Productions Christmas specials, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. In Buddy's Musical Christmas, Santa narrates the story of Buddy's travels to New York City to meet his father. Along the way, his unrelenting cheer transforms the lives of everyone he meets and opens his father's eyes to the magic of the holiday.
On June 11, 2018, a new series of shorts, Looney Tunes Cartoons, was announced by Warner Bros. Animation. Set for release in 2019 on both linear and streaming television platforms, its first "season" would feature 1,000 minutes (or 16 hours and 40 minutes) of new one-to-six minute cartoons featuring the brand's marquee characters, voiced by their current voice actors in “simple, gag-driven and visually vibrant stories” that are rendered by multiple artists employing “a visual style that will resonate with fans.” Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation, and Peter Browngardt, creator of Uncle Grandpa, would serve as executive producers.
In January 2013, Jeff Robinov (then the head of the studio's motion picture division) founded a screenplay development department, nicknamed a "think tank" for developing theatrical animated films, known as the Warner Animation Group, the successor to the dissolved hand-drawn animation department Warner Bros. Feature Animation. The group includes John Requa, Glenn Ficarra, Nicholas Stoller, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and Jared Stern. Warner Bros. created the group with the hope that the box office reception of its films will be competitive with other animation studios' releases. The group is reportedly somewhat similar to Pixar Animation Studios' "brain trust" in terms of how its members consult with one another and give feedback on each other's projects.
On January 7, 2013, Warner Animation Group announced its second film, Storks, which was originally scheduled for a 2015 release, but was pushed to September 23, 2016. On the same day, it announced its third film, Smallfoot, which was originally scheduled for release in 2016, but was later moved to September 28, 2018.
On February 7, 2014, the same day The Lego Movie was released, it was reported that Jared Stern and Michelle Morgan were hired to write The Lego Movie Sequel. The sequel was announced to be released on May 26, 2017, but later that year, it was reported that a spin-off film featuring Batman from The Lego Movie might take the sequel's release date, pushing the sequel to May 18, 2018. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller returned to script and co-direct the sequel. Rob Schrab was set to direct the film, but was later replaced by Mike Mitchell due to "creative differences". On June 2016, the release date was pushed to February 8, 2019.
On May 23, 2018, it was announced that WAG will produce an animated adaptation of The Ice Dragon, a children's fantasy book by George R. R. Martin. Martin will produce and possibly write the script for the film.
On July 12, 2018, it was announced that WAG will produce an animated movie about Toto from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The new film will be based on the children's book Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of Oz.
In October 2018, it was announced that a live action/animated hybrid film based on Tom and Jerry is in development and that it would begin production in 2019. With a release date set for December 23, 2020.
Upon its February 2019 release, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, a sequel of The Lego Movie, received a 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with mostly positive reviews from critics and has grossed over $183.4 million worldwide.
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