We’re all familiar with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, but what about Owl Jolson, Ralph Phillips, or the Dover Boys of Pimento University? Between the 1930s and 1960s, Looney Tunes and its sister series Merrie Melodies produced a number of animated shorts that don't feature any of the usual reoccurring characters. These cartoons are often visually experimental, entertaining, and downright weird. Here are five obscure Looney Tunes cartoons.
1. The Dover Boys of Pimento University (1942)
Steampunk Looney Tunes? Okay not quite, but this parody of the now-forgotten children’s series The Rover Boys is full of stylized early-20th-century goodness. The three Dover boys, Tom, Dick, and Larry, are playing hide-and-seek with “their” fiancée Dora Standpipe during a “gay outing in the park” when Dora is abducted by Dan Backslide, a mustache-twirling villain voiced loudly by Mel Blanc.
But while Dora may act like a damsel in distress, it’s Dan Backslide who needs saving in the end. This cartoon broke away from earlier animation styles by having the characters hold theatrical poses for a longer-than-usual time on screen. Between that and the all-human cast, the cartoon seemed so strange to Warner Brothers that it almost got director Chuck Jones fired.
2. The Three Little Bops (1957)
A version of “The Three Little Pigs” done all in jazz by trumpeter Shorty Rogers. The Three Little Bops are swinging jazz musicians and the Big Bad Wolf is a square who can’t jam, so the pigs throw him out. This makes the Wolf mad, so he tries to destroy the clubs the pigs are performing in, which are made of—you guessed it—hay, sticks, and bricks. The story doesn’t end well for the Wolf, but then again, it never does. Trivia on this cartoon: the movie Pulp Fiction references The Three Little Bops when Mia Wallace, played by Uma Thurman, tells John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, “Don’t be [square]” and draws an imaginary square in the air.
3. I Love To Singa (1936)
Another jazz-related Looney Tunes, this time a spoof of The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. A little owl named Owl Jolson loves to sing jazz, but his stern German parents want him to sing classical. Family strife ensues until a radio contest changes the father’s mind about his “jazz crooner,” turning I Love To Singa into an endearing tale about a family learning to love a child despite his differences. Al Jolson and Cab Calloway also performed the catchy song “I Love To Singa” in the movie The Singing Kid, which came out the same year. (Many years later, South Park also featured it in the episode "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.") The cartoon hits some insensitive notes, making fun of stuttering and showing what seems to be a sexual assault between a telegram deliverer and a secretary, but man, that owl is cute.
4. From A to Z-Z-Z-Z (1954)
Ralph Phillips is a boy who can’t stop daydreaming.
Instead of paying attention in class, he imagines he can fly, fights his math problems on the chalkboard, flees from attacking Indians, deep sea dives, wins a boxing match, and turns into Douglas MacArthur. The cartoon, which seems modeled after the James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” has a sequel, Boyhood Daze, where Ralph daydreams after being sent to his room for punishment. In fact, the Looney Tunes crew seemed to like Ralph Phillips. A grown-up version of the character appears in two army recruitment films: Drafty, Isn’t It? and 90 Days Wondering. It seems that Ralph becomes a military man in the end.
5. The Bear That Wasn’t (1967)
A morality tale about a bear whose habitat is replaced by a factory and who is convinced by Corporate America that he’s a “silly little man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat." While the cartoon, directed by Chuck Jones, was originally made for MGM, it was based on a children’s book of the same name written by Looney Tunes animator Frank Tashlin. Though the book was published in 1946, Tashlin waited 20 years to animate it, turning down Disney in the process. Unfortunately, he didn’t like the cartoon, feeling it ruined the message of his book and calling it a “terrible experience” in an interview. Be that as it may, the animation alone is worth watching here.