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The Art of Warner Brothers Cartoons

April 23 - July 3, 2005

(above: Bugs Bunny, Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment 2005)


"What's in a name, Doc?" Quite a bit, if you're familiar with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam or any one of the well-loved animation characters appearing in The Art of Warner Brothers Cartoons. The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is pleased to announce the arrival of this lively and popular exhibition, originally part of a four-month tribute at New York's Museum of Modern Art, to Bucks County this spring. The exhibit will be on view in the Museum's Lower Gallery from April 23 through July 3, 2005.

The Art of Warner Brothers Cartoons is a comprehensive overview of a legendary Hollywood animation studio, the rambunctious birthplace of characters who have become part of American folklore. The exhibition is a greatly expanded version of the MoMA show, consisting of over 160 drawings, paintings, "cels," and related objects used in the making of Warner's classic cartoons from the 1930s through 1960. (right: Porky Pig, Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment 2005)

More so than any other animated shorts, Warner Bros. cartoons have infiltrated American life. Since the studio introduced Porky Pig as its first character in 1935, the cartoons have never been less than enormously popular. Warner Bros. perfected the antic, irreverent, street smart humor that has characterized much of short-subject animation ever since. Originally produced for screening in theaters, the studio's cartoons are now broadcast on television several times a day around the world. The influence of characters, styles of humor, notions of pacing, and narrative devices introduced by Warner Cartoons are felt in many corners of popular culture.

Under the early influence of the Disney studio, animation had been soft, sentimental, and storybookish -­ aimed exclusively at a children's audience. Warner Bros. did the complete opposite and modernized animation, creating cartoons that were brash and reckless. With striking frequency, the Warner Bros. writers devised stories of brilliant invention, while the studio's directors masterfully executed them. But the Warner Bros. cartoons did not come alive without the brush of gifted animators, painters, and designers. The Washington Post described them as "men who well may qualify as among the century's great humorists, (who) made an invaluable contribution to the culture that only in recent years has begun to receive the outpourings of appreciation it deserves."

The result was a body of work that with each new screening seems richer, deeper, and clearly a significant part of American culture. This delightful exhibition explores the elaborate creative process that produced classic Warner Bros. cartoons by hand, using examples of original production art from the1930s through the 1960s. With over 1000 titles, the Warner Bros. body of work is a library of modern folklore.

Cel animation was developed in the early 1900s in the United States and Europe. At Warner Bros., typical six- or seven-minute cartoons were in production for periods ranging from several months to over one year, with several dozen artists working on different stages of the highly collaborative process. Several distinct units worked separately on cartoons at Warner Bros. studio, with an entire workforce of 200 people during the years of the heaviest production. Warner cartoons involved a substantial amount of work because they were made in "full animation" using many thousands of drawings for each short. As a result, the characters moved with subtle grace and flowing expressiveness.

Despite the cartoons' popularity, critical attention during the finest years of Warner Bros. production was virtually non-existent. Fast, funny, and anti-authoritarian, cartoons were never deemed worthy of serious consideration. In 1943, however, critic Manny Farber wrote in The New Republic about Warner Bros. cartoons: "The surprising facts about them are that the good ones are masterpieces and the bad ones aren't a total loss."

By the mid-1970s, with the help of television, Warner cartoons were rediscovered. Film students and critics were impressed by the cartoons' sophistication and cinematic savvy. Time called the Warner cartoonists "some of the top film artists and pleasure givers of the past half century." (right: Tweety Bird & Sylvester, Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment 2005)

In connection with this exhibition the Museum will present a host of special events including a Warner Bros. Family Day, Sunday, May 1, from 12 to 4 pm, with free admission for kids under 16, free cartoon screenings, art activities, face painting and more, sponsored by Univest and media sponsors the Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times.

Additional programming includes:

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Copyright 2005 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.