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Merrie Melodies is a series of animated 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 from 1964 to 1967, and Warner Bros. Cartoons resumed production for the series' final two years.
Three of the Merrie Melodies shorts (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.
Leon Schlesinger had already produced one cartoon in the Looney Tunes series, 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. 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 Merrie Melodies series was taken on by Rudolph Ising, one of the two animators (the other being Hugh Harman) who had worked on the original Looney Tunes short. The first of these was Lady, Play Your Mandolin!, released in 1931. Ising attempted to introduce new characters in his Merrie Melodies films, such as Piggy, Foxy, and Goopy Geer, but Foxy was a derivative of Mickey Mouse that he was dropped, possibly at Disney's urging. The Merrie Melodies shorts became largely plotless musicals or romances without any recurring characters and continued in this vein even after Ising left the studio in 1933.
In 1934, Schlesinger produced his first color Merrie Melodies shorts, Honeymoon Hotel and Beauty and the Beast, which were both produced in Cinecolor (Disney had exclusive rights to the richer Technicolor process). Their success convinced Schlesinger to produce all future Merrie Melodies shorts in color as well. Looney Tunes, however, continued in black and white until 1943.
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 1943, Schlesinger began producing Looney Tunes in color as well, and the two series became virtually indistinguishable except by their theme music and opening titles. By this time 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. 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?".
Warner Bros.-owned songs continued to appear in some of the shorts, however, as shown by the frequent repetition of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" and "Singing in the Bathtub," as well as the music of Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott, particularly "Powerhouse".
Merrie Melodies is also the title of a segment in The Looney Tunes Show in which various characters sing songs.
Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies
Beginning in the 1940s, WB, in a cost-conserving effort, began to reissue its backlog of older color cartoons under a new program which they called Merrie Melodies "Blue Ribbon" reissues. 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, 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 erroneously retitled The Wild Hare for reissue, along with some slight subtle edits (the original unaltered version has been released on both LaserDisc and DVD).
For the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD releases, WB went through great lengths to track down whatever elements of the original title credits still exist 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 can once again be seen as they were originally intended. Unfortunately, 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.
- Schneider, Steve (1990). That's All Folks!: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation. Henry Holt & Co.
- Beck, Jerry and Friedwald, Will (1989): Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company.