Merrie Melodies is an American animated series of comedy short films produced by Warner Bros. between 1931 and 1969, during the golden age of American animation. As with its parent series, Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies featured some of the most famous cartoon characters ever created, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.
Merrie Melodies was originally produced by Harman-Ising Pictures from 1931 to 1933, and then Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1933 to 1944. Schlesinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. in 1944, and the newly renamed Warner Bros. Cartoons continued production until 1963. Merrie Melodies was outsourced to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and Format Films from 1964 to 1967, and Warner Bros. Cartoons resumed production for the series' final two years.
Three of the Merrie Melodies films (Tweetie Pie, Speedy Gonzales and Birds Anonymous) won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and another three (Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening and What's Opera, Doc?) have been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
Producer Leon Schlesinger had already produced one cartoon in the Looney Tunes series, based on music, and its success prompted him to try to sell a sister series to Warner Bros. His selling point was that the new cartoons would feature music from the soundtracks of Warner Bros. films and would thus serve as advertisements for Warner Bros. recordings and sheet music. The studio agreed, and Schlesinger dubbed the series Merrie Melodies. Walt Disney Productions had already scored with their Silly Symphonies. Since cartoon production usually began with a soundtrack, animating a piece of music made it easier to devise plot elements and even characters.
The origins of the Merrie Melodies series begin with the failure of a live action series of musical shorts called Spooney Melodies, which featured popular songs of the day. These shorts were basically an early type of music video that included segments with a popular artist singing along with appropriate background sequences. Warner Bros. wanted to promote this music because they had recently acquired (in 1930) the ownership of Brunswick Records along with four music publishers for US $28 million. Because of the success of their Looney Tunes series, Warner Bros. decided to develop a new series of animated musical shorts called Merrie Melodies. Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman led the development. It was meant to be a series of musical cartoons that featured hit songs of the day, especially those then owned by Warner Bros. and featured in their musical films. In 1931, many of the shorts featured the orchestra of Abe Lyman, one of the most famous band leaders of his day.
The first cartoon of the new Merrie Melodies series was Lady, Play Your Mandolin!, released in 1931. Ising attempted to introduce several characters in his Merrie Melodies films, such as Piggy, Foxy, and Goopy Geer. Eventually however, the series continued without any recurring characters. The shorts proved to be enormously popular with the public. In 1932, a Merrie Melodies cartoon, entitled: It's Got Me Again!, was nominated for the first Academy Award to be given for animation.
When Harman and Ising left Warner Bros., in 1933, they took with them all rights to the characters they had created. Leon Schlesinger had to negotiate with them to keep the rights to the name Merrie Melodies, as well as for the right to use the slogan, So Long Folks, at the end of the cartoons. In 1934, Schlesinger produced his first color Merrie Melodies shorts, Honeymoon Hotel and Beauty and the Beast, which were produced in two-strip Cinecolor (Disney had exclusive animation rights to the richer three-strip Technicolor process ). Their success convinced Schlesinger to produce all future Merrie Melodies shorts in color, using two-strip Technicolor. Looney Tunes continued in black and white until 1943. In 1936, the cartoons began to end with the slogan "That's all Folks!" which had previously only been used on the Looney Tunes series. The old slogan "So Long, Folks!" was completely abandoned at this time. The same year, Merrie Melodies began using the bulls-eye opening and closing title sequences (in 1942, Looney Tunes would use the same titles, usually in thicker rings). Also by 1936, Disney's exclusivity on the three-color Technicolor process was lifted, allowing Merrie Melodies a full color palette for the first time.
Contractually, Merrie Melodies cartoons were obligated to include at least one full chorus from a Warner Bros. song. Warner Bros. requested that these songs be performed by name bands whenever possible, but this lasted only through the first few shorts. The policy annoyed the animators of Merrie Melodies, since the songs often interrupted the cartoons' momentum and pacing. In the late 1930s, the animators were released from this obligation, and the Merrie Melodies shorts came to resemble more closely the black-and-white Looney Tunes series. In addition, several new characters were created to (initially) appear exclusively in the Merrie Melodies series, such as Egghead (who became Elmer Fudd), Inki, Sniffles, and even Warner Bros.' most popular cartoon star, Bugs Bunny.
In 1942, Schlesinger began producing Looney Tunes in color as well, and the two series became virtually indistinguishable except by their theme music and opening titles – in addition, characters once exclusive to one series began regularly appearing in the other as well. In 1944, the studio went to an all-color schedule; though for the first year of this, Bugs still appeared mainly in the Merrie Melodies series (not appearing in a Looney Tunes cartoon until the end of August), whereas Daffy Duck and Porky Pig (who each appeared in a few Merrie Melodies prior to mid-1942) appeared mainly in Looney Tunes that year. It was not until 1945 that the two series completely appeared indistinguishable, and that Bugs appeared in more Looney Tunes than Merrie Melodies.
By 1937, the theme music for Looney Tunes was "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin and the theme music for Merrie Melodies was an adaptation of "Merrily We Roll Along" by Charles Tobias, Murray Mencher & Eddie Cantor (the original theme was "Get Happy" by Harold Arlen, played at a faster tempo). This continued until 1964, when the WB cartoon logos were modernized, and "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" became the theme for the Merrie Melodies as well. When the studio went to full color, even the animators themselves did not make any creative distinction between the two series, as evidenced in an interview quote from director Friz Freleng, "I never knew if a film I was making would be Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies, and what the hell difference would it make, anyway?". The last Merrie Melodies cartoon was also the last released by Warner Bros. Cartoons as part of the original series begun in the 1930s. It was Injun Trouble released in 1969.
Blue Ribbon reissues
Beginning in late 1943, WB, in a cost-conserving effort, began to reissue its backlog of color cartoons under a new program that they called Merrie Melodies "Blue Ribbon" classics. For the reissue, the original front-and-end title sequences were altered. The revised main title card began with the "zooming" WB logo, followed by the title logo set against a background featuring a "blue ribbon" (hence the re-release program's title) and a Grand Shorts Award trophy, followed by the name of the cartoon. This revised title sequence eliminated the opening technical credits. The end title card was also revised (except on the very first reissues, such as A Wild Hare and I Love to Singa when Schlesinger was still producing the cartoons), replacing the original versions.
The revised title sequences were edited right into the original negative, thus the original title sequences were cut away and possibly scrapped. Some of these same revised "blue ribbon" reissues can still be seen on television today. For example, the "Blue Ribbon" version of the Bugs Bunny short A Wild Hare was retitled The Wild Hare for reissue, along with some slight subtle edits (the original unaltered version has been released on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc).
Editing and alteration
Alongside the opening technical credits, other elements from the original issue were altered.
Color Looney Tunes originally released prior to June 1946 that were reissued in this program had the "Porky coming out of a drum" ending (which had him say "th-th-th-that's all folks!") replaced with the Merrie Melodies ending sequence (with "That's All Folks!" being written) from the given reissue season and the 1941 ending version of "Merrily We Roll Along" playing (pre-1936 color Merrie Melodies would also have this ending) with the 1944 and onward writing of "That's all Folks!". Reissues of color Looney Tunes originally released in September 1948 or later would have the 1946 ending version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" playing over the closing rings, and 1946 opening music playing over the opening (again those of the given reissue season), revealing the fact that the cartoon was originally a Looney Tunes short. However, if the original short was released in 1955 or later, the 1946 opening and closing music would be replaced with the 1955 closing and ending versions of The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down. At least some of said Looney Tunes kept their original closing rings: The Goofy Gophers, What's Brewin', Bruin?, Hop, Look and Listen, and Crowing Pains (the latter two have since had their original openings restored on DVD; coincidentally, both were directed by Robert McKimson and star Sylvester). House Hunting Mice has some prints that have the original closing rings.
On the other hand, post-1944 reissues of 1936–1941 Merrie Melodies usually retained their original closing music (but not always), but had the ending sequence of the reissue season replacing the original ending sequence (as to hide any mentions of Leon Schlesinger). Sometimes, Merrie Melodies released in September 1944 or later retained their original ending rings (for example, Lost and Foundling opened with the 1948–49 rings, but closed with the late 1944 rings—with the legend "Produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons Inc."); while other times, they had the closing rings of the reissue season. Also, these cartoons that had the closing rings of the season were either pre-1948 Looney Tunes or a pre-1944 Merrie Melodie. The 1952–53 season (which had no post-1944 Merrie Melodies re-issued) featured a special closing, shown at left; see The Bashful Buzzard for more info.
The opening music was almost always the 1941-1945 opening version of "Merrily We Roll Along". However, a few had the 1945 opening version of that song—some cartoons had the standard length of the Blue Ribbon title sequence, with the audio from the original credits playing over the part where the cartoon's title is shown (such as Farm Frolics, Old Glory, Wacky Wildlife, and Tick Tock Tuckered), while others had a shortened version of said sequence (edited to fit the length of the music; cartoons with this style opening included Lost and Foundling and Trap Happy Porky). If the reissued cartoon was a Merrie Melodies short originally released between late 1941 and early 1945, then the opening music would have been the same from the original release (unless the reissue had the 1945 music), but in other cases, the opening music is different from the original.
The one exception to the "original credits are cut" rule was The Mighty Hunters, which had the 1952–53 Blue Ribbon opening playing for the first 15 seconds, but then moved into the original title card and credits.
The original method of preparing Blue Ribbon reissues persisted through the 1955–56 season. Most of the cartoons that were reissued without the original title card and credits would end up in the pre-August 1948 package of cartoons sold to Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.), thus only 5 cartoons in the post-July 1948 package would be reissued in this manner: these were Daffy Dilly, The Foghorn Leghorn, Kit for Cat, Scaredy Cat, and You Were Never Duckier. Beginning in the 1956–57 season, "Blue Ribbon" reissues (of other cartoons in the post-July 1948 package) retained the original opening titles and technical credits (the aforementioned Mighty Hunters having been a precedent), with some of the cartoons indicating their original Looney Tunes issue if the opening and closing theme was "The Merry Go-Round Broke Down." The rings continued to be replaced to correspond with the reissue season. The series The Looney Tunes Show, which premiered in 2011, features music video segments titled "Merrie Melodies," as a tribute to the Looney Tunes sister shorts. A new version of the Merrie Melodies logo was used, with a single M note used for both words.
For the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD releases, WB went to great lengths to track down whatever elements of the original title credits still existed, in an effort to re-create as best they could the original versions of the altered "Blue Ribbon" shorts. Some pristine prints of the original issues were obtained from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. As a result, such cartoons as I Love to Singa and Book Revue (the Blue Ribbon version of which was mistitled Book Review) can once again be seen as they were originally intended.
Although some original titles couldn't be found, some Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies have the Blue Ribbon Reissue title cards, but the original ending titles have been restored for some of the shorts. For example, Mouse Wreckers begins with the Blue Ribbon Reissue titles while it ends with the 1948 Looney Tunes green rings. There are some "Blue Ribbon" reissue versions of cartoons that are represented on the Golden Collection DVDs as they are the only versions that were made available for exhibition. In any event, to this day there is controversy among animation fans and historians on the alteration of the "Blue Ribbon" releases.
Inducted into the National Film Registry
- What's Opera, Doc? (1957), selected in 1992
- Duck Amuck (1953), selected in 1999
- One Froggy Evening (1955), selected in 2003
Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Cartoon)
Academy Award nominations
- It's Got Me Again! (1932)
- Detouring America (1939)
- A Wild Hare (1940)
- Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941)
- Rhapsody in Rivets (1941)
- Pigs in a Polka (1943)
- Life with Feathers (1945)
- Beep Prepared (1961)
- Nelly's Folly (1962)
- Looney Tunes
- Warner Bros. Cartoons
- Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies filmography
- List of Warner Bros. cartoons with Blue Ribbon reissues
- "Merrie Melodies" www.bcdb.com, April 12, 2012
- "1947 academy awards". Retrieved 2013-06-26.
- "1955 academy awards". Retrieved 2013-06-26.
- "1957 academy awards". Retrieved 2013-06-26.
- National Film Registry: 1989-2007
- TV Guide Magazine's 60 Greatest Cartoons of All Time
- Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. p. 181.
- The latest released WB cartoon sold to a.a.p. was Haredevil Hare, released on July 24, 1948.
- The earliest-released color cartoon to have been retained by WB over the years is You Were Never Duckier, released on August 1, 1948.
- "1940 academy awards". Retrieved 2007-09-20.
- "1941 academy awards". Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- Beck, Jerry and Friedwald, Will (1989): Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company.
- Goldmark, Daniel (2005). Tunes for ’Toons : Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23617-3
- Schneider, Steve (1990). That's All Folks!: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation. Henry Holt & Co.
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