As Walt Disney's animated cartoons became more and more popular, the other studios took note. Warner Brothers wanted something right away, so they hired producer Leon Schlesinger. It was Schlesinger who had the insight to hire two Disney animators, Hugh Harmon and Rudolf Ising, who had worked with Disney since the early 20s. Out of work and on their own, the two were looking to start a new cartoon studio and so created a pilot film, "Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid," one of the first cartoons to include synchronized speech. Schlesinger convinced Warner Bros. to produce a series of cartoons starring Bosko, called "Looney Tunes." April 1930 saw the first Looney Tunes cartoon, "Sinkin' In the Bathtub", a milestone in animation history, with Bosko and Honey. Bosko would continue to star along with his girlfriend Honey and dog Bruno. (The group was not unlike Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto). As with Mickey Mouse, Bosko would appear in a variety of professions from aviator to lumberjack. The Looney Tunes were produced at one a month for a year, when a second series of cartoons called "Merrie Melodies" was created. By this time, Harmon and Ising had hired Isadore "Friz" Freleng.
In 1933, after creating 39 Looney Tunes and 27 Merrie Melodies, Harman and Ising left for MGM because of a budget dispute. They took Bosko and Honey with them where they started the "Happy Harmonies" series. Back at Warner Bros, Freleng, the senior animator, despite his youth (age 28 in 1933) continued producing Looney Tunes, its new characters including Foxy and Roxy, blatant imitations of Mickey and Minnie. The next attempt at a regular character was "Beans," who debuted in "I Haven't Got A Hat" (1935). He was quickly upstaged by Porky the Pig, who brought in the wacky and intense Daffy Duck who first appeared in "Porky's Duck Hunt" (1937). Porky also introduced us to "Happy Rabbit," in "Porky's Hare Hunt" (1939). He was later rechristened "Bugs Bunny" after his creator, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, who later left for Universal's animation studio in the early 1940s. Other characters have included, Cookie, Egghead, Gabby Goat, Goopy Geer (dog), Ham and Ex, Little Kitty, Oliver Owl, Piggy and Fluffy (pigs), Petunia Pig, Sniffles, Towser, and Wilbur. The first Bugs Bunny did not look or speak like the Bugs Bunny we know and his wild abnormal behavior was much more subdued. The six major Looney Tune animation directors were: Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett (1913-1984), Fred "Tex" Avery (1908-1980), Arthur Davis (1905-2000), Robert McKimson (1910-1977), and Charles Martin "Chuck" Jones (1912-2002).
In the beginning, Warner Bros wanted two separate cartoon series, in the same way that Walt Disney distinguished between the Silly Symphonies and the Mickey Mouse series. Merrie Melodies were designed to showcase songs from the Warner Bros vast music library. The title of the cartoon was also the title of the song, the best being "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!" (1932), directed by Freleng. It was one cartoon that was able to successfully incorporate music and story, while others were unable to match action to music. From 1934 to 1943, Merrie Melodies were produced in color and Looney Tunes in black and white. Ultimately as successes were reproduced and styles merged, the only difference became the opening titles and themes. Looney Tunes theme music was "Merrie Go Round Broke Down," by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin, and Merrie Melodies was an adaptation to "Merrily We Roll Along," by Charles Tobias, Murray Mencher and Eddie Cantor.
The popular and well-defined Porky, Daffy, and Bugs caused Looney Tunes to deviate from the original musical concept. While many cartoons involved singing, dancing, and childlike themes, a result of the Disney influence, (the exception being Fleischer studios, Popeye and Betty Boop), late 1930s cartoons developed an edge that was funnier and targeted toward adults. They would ultimately become scathing attacks on Hitler and Tojo during the war. Looney Tunes were more popular when they developed the more mature and funnier edge that drew them away from Disney's child-appeal productions. After the war Looney Tunes aired on syndicated television in the late 1950s finding time spots on Saturday mornings when the kids got up, and weekday afternoons, when the kids were home from school for lunch. Because they targeted children, there was a drive to remove adult material, including extreme violence and innuendo.
The original Looney Tunes for the cinema ran from 1930 until 1969. The last short was "Bugged By a Bee". The cartooning was full and fluid and remained a favorite of children growing into adults. Later theatrical shorts were stiff and unimpressive, and although they still maintained the signature Mel Blanc voices, they lacked the fluidity of the early years. There have been attempts at technological gimmicks, such as mixing animation and live action, "Space Jam" (1996), with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan, but have lacked the lasting power. 2002 saw the introduction of the Baby Looney Tunes, but it was equally uninspired. An attempt in 2003 to revive the spirit of the original shorts appeared with a feature film, "Looney Tunes: Back In Action," but the film was a commercial failure.