As part of a short film series about films that were never made, director Joe Dante (Gremlins) talks about the time he developed a film about Golden Age Hollywood animators called Termite Terrace, the unglamorous nickname of the Warner Bros. animation studio in the 1930s.
In the video, Dante recounts how his friendship with Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones inspired the film, and how he developed the idea with screenwriter Charlie Haas (Matinee, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) in the early-’90s:
Warner Bros., unsurprisingly, didn’t express any interest in a historical drama about animation artists and passed on the idea. Dante has, in other interviews, referred to it as the “heartbreaker” of his career.
Haas’ script for the film has circulated privately for years and has been read by various people. Cartoonist Cole Rothacker is one of those people, and he wrote about it on Tumblr, describing it as “a pretty terrific script, giving animators, who have tedious, thankless jobs, a moment in the spotlight, a movie that pays great tribute to them and all their hard work. It does for animators and Looney Tunes what Goodfellas did for mobsters.”
Rothacker also points out that the film had a strong point of view — that of Chuck Jones’:
All the names were changed, some characters were combinations of 2 or more real people, but it was basically the story of when Chuck Jones first arrived at the WB lot in the late ’30s and rose through the ranks, going from in-betweener to director. It shows the struggles Jones went through, along with his mentor Tex Avery. The movie is definitely from the perspective of Jones, as it depicts the Bob Clampett analogous character as an incompetent, two-faced lout.
Shortly after Warner Bros. passed on Dante’s film, they re-branded Bugs, Daffy, and the rest of the Looney Tunes roster for the 1996 film Space Jam, which was a hit for the studio. Dante eventually worked with the Looney Tunes characters, too, when he directed the 2003 live-action/animated combo Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a creative misfire that was micromanaged to death by Warner Bros. executives who used 25 writers on the film.
If you want a taste of what Termite Terrace might have looked like, here’s an actual late-1930s studio gag reel from Warner Bros.’ animation studio that shows the artists and execs goofing around: