Bugs Bunny soon may be eating his words instead of a carrot. For 40 years, the "wacky wabbit" and his cartoon chums have signed off hundreds of Warner Bros. cartoons with the familiar line, "That's all, folks!"
Today, however, that line has changed at one of Hollywood's oldest movie studios, where company executives announced recently, "That's notm all, folks!"
Seventeen years after Warner Bros. closed up the animation shop where such Looney Tune favorites as Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and Proky Pig were produced, the studio has decided to go back to the drawing board for new cartoon capers.
Under the guidance of Fritz Freleng, a five-time Oscar winner who directed the studio's cartoons for more than 30 years, Warner Bros. will begin beefing up its library of 500 cartoons. (Although occasional new Warner Bros. cartoons were produced during the studio's 1963-1980 animation hiatus, they were done through contracts with independent artists and not by in-house staffers.)
The venture, admits executive vice-president Edward Bleier, is somewhat risky. One of the studio's goals is to convince movie theater owners to again run cartoon shorts before feature films.
But when pressed, Mr. Bleier also admits there is no evidence to support the existence of such a market for cartoons. In fact, he says, one of the major reasons Warner Bros. closed its animation studio in 1963 was because theater owners phased out cartoons as movie warm-ups.
Still, Mr. Bleier points to the Saturday morning success of "The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Show," which consistently captures top ratings for CBS. Animated specials have done well also, including a recent prime-time Daffy Duck special that outdrew "Happy Days" and "The White Shadow."
Most important, Mr. Bleier says, the new venture is designed to preserve the continuity of the art by training young artists under Mr. Freleng, one of the few early animation masters still alive. He is the animator behind characters such as Porky Pig and Sylvester the Cat.
Mr. Freleng still draws each of his thousands of sketches by hand. And while many other animators have opted for "limited" animation, which involves fewer pictures and limits it characters to fewer movements, Warner Bros. has stayed with the much more costly and time-consuming "full" animation process.
But the price apparently is worth it to Warner Bros., Mr. Bleier says: "If they weren't full animation, they wouldn't be our characters. . . . There is no price for the cost of producing these characters.!
Mr. Freleng's first project will be a full-length retrospective movie featuring some 60 minutes of his past work and another 20 minutes of new cartoons. Later, he hopes, there will be new, longer formats for his old creations, and perhaps new characters as well.
While Warner Bros. looks ahead during this the 50th anniversary of the studio's first cartoon -- and the 40th birthday of Bugs Bunny -- there is much to reminisce about. Mr. Freleng singles out Yosemite Sam, the short, loud, handlebar-mustachioed villain, as his favorite character.
He says, "I needed a villain . . . and I thought, what would be funnier than the littlest guy you could make with the loudest voice you could give him?"