Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation

Front Cover
Kevin S. Sandler
Rutgers University Press, 1998 - Art - 271 pages
3 Reviews

"A wide-ranging inquiry into an important area of contemporary scholarly interest, and also an engaging, well written and intelligently conceived collection." -Eric Smoodin, author of Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons From the Sound Era

Despite the success of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their Looney cohorts, Warner Bros. animation worked in the shadow of Disney for many years. The past ten years have seen a resurgence in Warner Bros. animation as they produce new Bugs Bunny cartoons and theatrical features like Space Jam as well as television shows like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. While Disney's animation plays it safe and mirrors traditional cinema stories, Warner Bros. is known for a more original and even anarchistic style of narration, a willingness to take risks in story construction, a fearlessness in crossing gender lines with its characters, and a freedom in breaking boundaries. This collection of essays looks at the history of Warner Bros. animation, compares and contrasts the two studios, charts the rise and fall of creativity and daring at Warner's, and analyzes the ways in which the studio was for a time transgressive in its treatment of class, race, and gender. It reveals how safety and commercialization have, in the end, triumphed at Warner Bros. just as they much earlier conquered Disney.

The book also discusses fan parodies of Warner Bros. animation on the Internet today, the Bugs Bunny cross-dressing cartoons, cartoons that were censored by the studio, and the merchandising and licensing strategies of the Warner Bros. studio stores. Contributors are Donald Crafton, Ben Fraser, Michael Frierson, Norman M. Klein, Terry Lindvall, Bill Mikulak, Barry Putterman, Kevin S. Sandler, Hank Sartin, Linda Simensky, Kirsten Moana Thompson, Gene Walz, and Timothy R. White.

  

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User Review  - Jessica_Olin - LibraryThing

I read this book in preparation for a class I'm teaching that will focus on cartoons as a reflection of society. For that purpose, this book is perfect. If that were my only consideration, I would ... Read full review

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A hit or miss collection of 13 essays that works very well for the first seven chapters, then falls apart for the next five, only regaining some value in the final chapter.
The 'bad five' include
some pretty poor attempts at typical race and gender studies (virtually a requirement in any anthology), an article on merchandising that sounds like it was reprinted out of a Warner Brothers catalog, and a very early (and, in my view, practically useless) attempt at analyzing the copyright debate between online fan-culture and Warner Bros.
As for the others, the introduction is a solid, if often debatable, overview of the trajectory of Warner Brothers animation. Putterman's "Short Critical History" is so short that it's practically bullet points on when animators arrived and left and what changes were wrought in the characters; informative but brisk. White's article on "the critical shift" from Disney to Warner Bros. as the most respected animation is serviceable, if unspectacular. Walz article on Charlie Thorson and "Disneyfication" of Warner's is very interesting history. Sartin's work on cartoon sound as a descendent of vaudeville is also interesting, though perhaps also more difficult to support.
Frierson's work on the "hillbilly" stereotype does all the work that good race/gender scholarship usually does, and greatly overshadows the race/gender articles in this book. Crafton, very reliable in his own book, gives an awkward (if interesting) reading of caricature and parody that relies on the idea that humor is always inherently an attack; a position with which I disagree. Finally, Klein's overview of "The Mask" and digital/realist renditions of the cartoon aesthetic is interesting, though not particularly rewarding in my view.
All in all, a book that is half very useful and half positively awful. But animation studies are rare, so we take what we can get.
 

Contents

Warner Bros and Character
26
A Short Critical History of Warner Bros Cartoons
29
Charlie Thorson and the Temporary Disneyfication
49
The Image of the Hillbilly in Warner Bros Cartoons
86
Caricature and Parody
101
AfricanAmerican
121
Pepe le Pew
137
Bugs Bunny in Drag
154
Merchandising in the Nineties
172
Who Owns Looney Tunes?
193
The Mask Masques and Tex Avery
209
List of Contributors
257
Copyright

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References to this book

Animation and America
Paul Wells
No preview available - 2002
Animation and America
Paul Wells
Limited preview - 2002
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About the author (1998)

KEVIN S. SANDLER is an assistant professor of media industries at the University of Arizona. In 1995 he won the Society for Animation Studies Student Essay Contest .

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