I don’t know David Zaslav. I don’t know his family, his friends, anything good and true and beautiful he’s done in his life. Wouldn’t know him from Adam if I saw him on the street. But I don’t like what he’s doing to Warner Brothers.
That’s all I’m going to say about Brother Dave. Dumb guys talk about people and debate about their personalities. It’s smarter to talk about ideas. Deeds. History. So, let’s compare history with present-day as it pertains to Warner Brothers, specifically their relationship with animation.
The first things one ought to think about from Warner—notwithstanding the countless masterpieces the studio has produced over its near-century—are the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated short films they released in the thirties through the fifties.
These short films, usually around six minutes in length, outstrip nearly every full-length masterpiece of their time for sheer entertainment, style, and repeatability. They also took everything Disney and Fleischer did at that time and brought it to a new level. As much as we all like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; as much as we laugh at Popeye and Betty Boop—there’s hardly a cartoon between them that compares to the best from Warner Brothers. Heck, it wasn’t too long ago that the classic Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd short What’s Opera, Doc? was voted the greatest short cartoon of all time. And if you ask me, that’s not even the best Looney Tunes has to offer.
Here’s a brief list of those shorts that have to be considered necessary viewing for the animation fanatic: The Rabbit of Seville; One Froggy Evening; Duck Amuck; The Old Grey Hair; Duck Dodgers of the 24 ½ Century. These are unparalleled classics that were made under the regime of Warner Brothers, who afforded their animators immense creative freedom and even championed films that contained higher-than-average levels of violence, explicit content, and cutting social messages.
I really wanna harp on that latter statement, by the way. It’s a veritable cliche that Looney Tunes were violent, but we forget how violent they really were. And beyond that they often dealt with social messages and human imperfection, whether it be the lecherous lusts of Elmer Fudd for a cross-dressing rabbit in What’s Opera, Doc? or the plight of the greedy construction worker of One Froggy Evening. For a long time, Warner even tried to preserve these elements as well as the image of their iconic characters, but one wonders if such respect will continue to be paid to animation. When you even try kicking out an icon like Clint Eastwood, how long is it before you trash Bugs Bunny?
Now, this great studio wasn’t part of the original wave of Warner animation. In fact, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera started over at MGM working on the iconic Tom and Jerry shorts, for which they won nine Oscars. But eventually H-B was absorbed into Warner Brothers, specifically in the nineties, and to some degree that was a good thing. Sure, there were definitely classics that Hanna-Barbera produced on their own. Who doesn’t love The Flintstones? The Jetsons? Yogi Bear? Then, of course, there’s my favorite, a dog named Scooby-Doo!
When Warner absorbed the studio, however, some major improvements came to their classic products. Scooby, for instance, received a renaissance, spurred on by the popularity of its reruns on Cartoon Network. Soon the home video market came a-knockin’ and Warner produced several direct-to-video movies that became kids cartoon classics, most notably Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.
Continuing forward with Scooby as an example, several high-quality TV shows were produced with the character, including millennial favorite What’s New, Scooby-Doo? and cult darling Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! All along the way they soldiered on with direct-to-video movies and, of course, the hit theatrical features of the early 2000s. This association seemed to reach its zenith in 2020, when SCOOB! was released, with the intention of creating a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe.
Now, SCOOB! wasn’t a very good movie, but it was profitable. And the concept of an H-B cinematic universe, as dumb as it sounds, is appealing to a fan like me. But with the recent cancellation of SCOOB 2, it’s looking like Scooby’s theatrical days may be numbered. Or worse, dead. Personally, I only hope Warner continues to support hardworking, inventive creators to find ways to keep beloved H-B characters going. As it stands, Scooby-Doo! and Guess Who? has had its second season release via the Boomerang app and there are supposedly some more DTV flicks on the horizon—but how are we to know they won’t end up scrapped as tax write-offs in the end?
If there’s anything that’s safest at WB, you’d think it would be DC. But they just scrapped an incredibly expensive live-action film from legacy DC characters, which really makes one wonder what else is safe.
DC and WB have had a flourishing relationship since the late 80s, and their Batman: The Animated Series is arguably the greatest American animated series of all time—at the very least, the most influential. But with the cancellation of Batgirl and countless animated shows on HBOMAX, the future doesn’t look great for animated DC.
That’s just sad. Setting aside the countless animated television shows produced by Warner in the Batman mold, their animated features have always been standouts. From bonafide classics like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker to the smaller, culty successes of The Damien Wayne Trilogy and Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans, these DTV movies have nearly always borne interesting results. Heck, a few years back they made Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, frankly, I don’t think a movie with that title could’ve been better made.
Still, only time will tell what animation historians will say about this move. The new management seems committed to cutting animation and disrespecting its own studio’s great track record, even of late. And yet the animation fan is a person who has hope. Let not our hope be lost, despite circumstances being what they are.
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Stephen McFerron likes movies. It’s that simple. From the lowest depths of the drive-in to the highest peaks of arthouse; the grand golden age to superhero spectacles, he’s all in! Since watching Gremlins and Jaws at a young age, Stephen has had an appetite for the strange and fantastic, as well as the old! If you’re here to explore movie history, or learn more about the best of today, Stephen’s your guide! He may even say something mildly profound along the way… if he’s lucky!
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