On December 31, HBO Max removed over 250 Looney Tunes theatrical shorts from its service, cutting in half the number of classic Warner Bros. shorts available on the service.
Which cartoons did they scrub off the service? The shorts removed were those created from 1950 onward, including films directed by Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson. The deletions particularly impacted Chuck Jones, eliminating most of his iconic works, such as Rabbit of Seville, Duck Amuck, Feed the Kitty, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, One Froggy Evening, What’s Opera, Doc?, and the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner series.
Doesn’t Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) own these cartoons? They do. The WBD-owned Looney Tunes shorts were licensed to WBD-owned HBO Max as part of an intra-company deal. The licensing agreement expired at the end of 2022 and WBD chose to withhold the cartoons from itself.
Are the films coming back? Per a report in Variety that quoted an insider with knowledge of the service, the shorts will not be returning to HBO Max.
What happens next? No one knows. Warner Bros. made a little over one thousand shorts under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies banners between the 1930s and 1960s, and only one-quarter of them are available on HBO Max. The company could choose to license a package of shorts to another streaming service or if it could keep them in the vault.
Is this normal? Sadly, yes. The streaming services have little regard for their historical legacies or making classic animation available to subscribers. WBD also owns hundreds of MGM cartoons which it has not made available on HBO Max. The Walt Disney Company produced hundreds of animated shorts during its Golden Age yet has only made a fraction of them available on its Disney+ service. Paramount owns hundreds of Terrytoons films and has made none of them available on Paramount+. NBCUniversal owns hundreds of Walter Lantz-produced shorts which are not available on Peacock. Sony owns hundreds of Columbia Pictures shorts which have not been licensed to any streaming service.
Is there any hope for fans of classic animation? Don’t hold your breath. In fact, cartoon fans can expect even more content to be removed from these services, according to comments made last Thursday by Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Weidenfels, who said, “We shaved off a lot of the excess last year, and I think that’s something that everyone else in the industry is going to go through.” Counterintuitively, Weidenfels also believes that the less content you offer customers, the more you can charge people: “There’s no doubt that these products are priced way too low. … If you look at trend lines over the past 20 or 36 months, a number of players have started gradually bringing up prices. So I think there’s a building consensus that this phase of dumping pricing is over.”