The studio was formed originally as Universal Studio Cartoons on the initiative of Universal movie mogul Carl Laemmle, who was tired of the continuous company politics he was dealing with concerning contracting cartoons to outside animation studios. Walter Lantz, who was Laemmle's part time chauffeur and a veteran of the John R. Bray Studios with considerable experience in all elements of animation production, was selected to run the department.
In 1935, the studio was severed from Universal and became Walter Lantz Productions under Lantz's direct control, and in 1940 Lantz managed to gain the copyright for his characters. The cartoons continued to be distributed by Universal through 1947, changing to United Artists distribution in 1948-49, and by Universal again from 1951 to 1972.
The biggest characters for the studio were Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The music-oriented Swing Symphony cartoons were another successful staple, but ended after swing music dried out.
Throughout the studio's history, it maintained a reputation as an animation house of medium quality. Lantz's animated shorts (dubbed "Cartunes") were considered superior to those of Famous Studios and Terrytoons, but they never gained the artistic acclaim of Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, or UPA. However, the studio benefited from gaining talent from the other studios who were tired of the management there and usually found the Lantz studio a more enjoyable working environment. Tex Avery was just one of the many talents Walter Lantz Productions benefited from on the rebound.
After Disney's success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Lantz studio planned to make its own feature, Aladdin and His Lamp featuring the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello, but after Mr. Bug Goes to Town failed at the box office, it never made it to actual production.
Unlike other major animation studios of America, the studio never continued full-time in existence during the classic period of American animation, closing down in 1940 for two months, and then in 1948, reopening its doors two years later (both closures were caused by financial problems inside Lantz's distributors); it was shut down again (permanently) in 1972, after the end of the Golden Age of American animation. Since then, the characters of the studio have continued to be used in syndicated television series, in licensed merchandise, and as mascots at the Universal Studios Theme Parks. Universal Animation Studios manages the Walter Lantz cartoon library today.
In February 2006, the now-NBC Universal (who still owns the Lantz library) sold the trademarks rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit along with the copyright to the original 26 cartoons produced Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. At the time Lantz took over the series with Disney's blessing are the only Oswald related material plus the 26 cartoons created at Charles Mintz Studio that were not part of the sale still remains property of Universal. The sale was part of a deal that centered around both the rights to Oswald and NBC's acquisition of the rights to the NFL's weekly Sunday night game; in exchange for NBC Universal selling the rights to Oswald to Disney, Al Michaels was freed from his contractual obligations with ESPN and ABC so he could join NBC and become the Sunday Night Football play-by-play man.
In July 2007, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection, a three-disc DVD box set compilation of Lantz Cartunes. A second volume was released in April 2008, followed by a vanilla release in 2009, Woody Woodpecker Favorites, which contained no new to DVD material. Animation historian Jerry Beck, partly involved in the production of the DVD releases, has stated that plans for further volumes are currently on hold due to the 2008 financial crisis.
Walter Lantz filmographyEdit
- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1929–1943, 143 theatrical cartoons)
- Cartune Classics (1934–1942, 1953–1957, 51 theatrical cartoons) (miscellaneous characters)
- Andy Panda (1939–1949, 24 theatrical cartoons)
- Woody Woodpecker (1941–1949, 1951–1972, 195 theatrical cartoons)
- Swing Symphony (1941–1945, 14 theatrical cartoons) (musical cartoons, often featuring top boogie-woogie musicians)
- Musical Miniatures (1946–1948, 6 theatrical cartoons) (offshoot of the Swing Symphonies, featuring classical melodies)
- Chilly Willy (1953–1972, 50 theatrical cartoons)
- The Beary Family (1962–1972, 28 theatrical cartoons)
- Inspector Willoughby (1958-1965, 17 theatrical cartoons)
- Foolish Fables (1953-1955, 3 theatrical cartoons)
- Hickory, Dickory, and Doc (1959-1962, 8 theatrical cartoons)
- Homer Pigeon (1942-1956, 3 theatrical cartoons)
- Lil' Eightball (1939, 3 theatrical cartoons)
- Maggie & Sam (1955-1957, 4 theatrical cartoons)
- Maw and Paw (1953-1955, 4 theatrical cartoons)
- Meany, Miny and Moe (1936-1937, 13 theatrical cartoons)
- Nertsery Rhyme (1939, 2 theatrical cartoons)
- New Universal Cartoon (1938, 16 theatrical cartoons)
- Pepito Chickeeto (1957, 1 theatrical cartoon)
- Peterkin (1939, 1 theatrical cartoon)
- Pooch the Pup (1932-1933, 14 theatrical cartoons)
- Sugarfoot (1954, 2 theatrical cartoons)
- Windy & Breezy (1957-1959, 5 theatrical cartoons)
- Coca Cola Commercials (1948-1953, 19 theatrical commercials)