If you're a member of the human race, chances are you've heard of Disney. More importantly, you've probably heard of Mickey Mouse. The lovable, glove wearing mouse is the face of Disney, and is pretty much the entire reason it exists.
Mickey can be seen everywhere and on anything; from TV shows, to movies, to T-shirts and more! There's even a hidden Mickey head in almost all of Disney's films and TV shows. It's no mistake to say that Disney owes its huge success to Mickey Mouse. But who does Mickey owe his success to? Well, you probably know the answer to that as well.
Walt Disney, the man who started it all! In many ways, the "King of Animation" - a title more than deserving - is just as famous as the icon he created, so I feel like there's no need to introduce you to him.
But as famous as Mickey Mouse is, he's hardly the only iconic cartoon character out there. There have been many cartoon figures throughout history that have captured the hearts of kids worldwide! Some are big, some are small, but all of them are iconic. So what's the difference between them and Mickey Mouse?
Well, we know who brought us Mickey. Like I said, Walt Disney is etched into our minds just as much as the mouse! He's got a company, a studio and TWO theme parks named after him! But what about the other minds behind our favorite characters? A kid can tell you who Bugs Bunny is, but if you asked him who thought him up, you probably wouldn't get an answer. To make up for that, here are 3 famous cartoon characters—and the people who brought them to us!
3. Bugs Bunny
I talked about him a little before I started this list, so it only makes sense to start it off with Bugs Bunny! Bugs is kind of the DC to Mickey's Marvel. Not that he's dark and gritty, it's just that Bugs is just as iconic Mickey Mouse—and is even preferred over Mickey by some.
Funnily enough, in the same way that Disney owns Marvel and Mickey Mouse, Warner Brothers happens to own DC and Bugs Bunny - what a coincidence! Anyway, Warner Bros. may own the rights to the wise-cracking rabbit, but they certainly didn't create him. So who did? The answer might surprise you!
A Bunch Of People!
Bugs doesn't owe his creation to just one man. The first appearance of a rabbit character in the Looney Tunes cartoons was in 1938's Porky's Hare Hunt. This cartoon was actually a remake of the cartoon Porky's Duck Hunt, replacing Daffy Duck (another Looney Tunes character) with a bunny.
But technically speaking, this bunny isn't Bugs for two reasons: One is that the character wasn't named Bugs Bunny, it didn't have a name at all. While the sketches of the character were labeled "Bugs' Bunny," these were meant to be read as "This bunny belongs to Bugs," as the creator of that bunny was named Ben "Bugs" Hardaway.
The second reason is that Hardaway stated that "that rabbit was just Daffy Duck in a rabbit suit." Which is....creepy.
Tex Avery, an animator responsible for several other Looney Tunes characters, was the person who really brought us Bugs Bunny. In 1940, director Tex and his team of animators made the short A Wild Hare. The cartoon featured Bugs - in his first appearance - annoying and evading Elmer Fudd, something he would do very often throughout his career. This short film also marks the first time Mel Blanc voiced the character. Blanc gave Bugs his signature Brooklyn accent, as well as his popular phrase "What's up Doc?" He would go on to voice the character for several years after this.
After the success of A Wild Hare, Bugs had secured his spot as a household name, even though he didn't really have a name yet. Yes, while Tex did bring us Bugs, he didn't actually bring us the name. That credit goes to producer Leon Schlesinger. After seeing the sketches labeled "Bugs' Bunny", Leon removed the apostrophes and gave the character the name Bugs Bunny! Funnily enough, Tex actually hated the name at first, stating:
"Mine's a rabbit. A tall, lanky, mean rabbit. He isn't a fuzzy little bunny!"
But while Tex Avery may be the man behind Bugs and his famous persona, he wasn't the one who gave us his definitive look. That was animator Robert McKimson. In 1943, McKimson and his team completely redesigned Bugs, giving him the look that's stuck all these years!
Throughout the years, many people have directed Bugs Bunny cartoons, and many of them have put their own little spins on the characters. Some spins stuck and some didn't; regardless, it was Tex Avery, Leon Schlesinger, Mel Blanc and Robert McKimson who originally brought us the lovable wise-cracking rabbit! They gave him the persona, the name, the voice and the looks that make Bugs Bunny one of the most iconic characters of all time!
Before we move on to the next character, you can check out Bugs' very first appearance below! It's before he got his name or his iconic look, and Mel is still working out the kinks in the character's definitive voice, but it's still definitely worth a look!
2. Spongebob Squarepants
He may not be as up there in the world of famous cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse, but the goofy sea sponge has definitely made his mark on television since his debut in 1999. What started as a simple idea became Nickelodeon's longest running television shows in TV history, and while many have criticized the show for its declining quality, you can't deny that Spongebob is a big deal!
Nowadays, Spongebob Squarepants is being run by Paul Tibbit. But it wasn't Tibbit who started the show, nor did he come up with the character. That would be...
Stephen McDannel Hillenburg; voice actor, writer, cartoonist, producer and director! Hillenburg brought us the yellow sponge on July 17, 1999. Now, when you think of Spongebob, you usually don't think of words like "realistic", nor would you that a marine biologist actually worked on this show about a talking sponge and his fellow talking aquatic friends.
Which is why you'll be shocked to know that among the many titles that Stephen Hillenburg has on his business card is marine biologist. After graduating from college in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in marine resource planning, Hillenburg taught marine biology at Ocean Institute.
After that, he enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts as an animation major, where he met animator Jim Murray. Murray was the creator of Rocko's Modern Life - another Nickelodeon cartoon - and after meeting Stephen Hillenburg, he offered him a job on the show as a writer, producer and storyboard artist. After Rocko's got cancelled, Hillenburg decided that his next show should be the best of both of his worlds—combining his passion for marine biology and animation.
While he didn't begin developing it until after Rocko's Modern Life's cancellation, Hillenburg based Spongebob Squarepants after a comic that he made during his time teaching at Ocean Institute.
The Intertidal Zone was more of an educational comic, as opposed to the manic and zany cartoon it would inspire. After Martin Olson - one of the writers for Rocko's Modern Life - read the comic, he praised it and encouraged Stephen to create his own series based on it.
Hillenburg, who had never really considered making his own series, was inspired by the positive attention the comic received, and began working on a show version of The Intertidal Zone. I'm not sure at what point in the development process the show went from one based on something educational to quite literally the opposite of that; but judging from Spongebob's insane popularity, it was for the best.
At this point in time, Hillenburg had all of the basic elements of Spongebob Squarepants; he had the setting of the show, the characters childlike innocence, and he even asked Tom Kenny - a Rocko's Modern Life alumni - to voice the titular character.
However, the titular character in question wasn't named Spongebob. Spongebob went through several different names before getting the one we all know today. First, it was Bob the Sponge, which was the name of the talking sponge character of The Intertidal Zone, from which Spongebob got his inspiration. After that, it was Spongeboy.
Spongeboy Ahoy was the original name for Hillenburg's vision. The show would have had the same premise as Spongebob Squarepants; a young sponge character working at a fast food restaurant who enjoys jellyfishing, bubble blowing and annoying the crap out of everybody around him.
So why the name change? Well, besides the fact that Spongebob sounds infinitely better than Spongeboy, it was surprisingly already taken. Spongeboy was the name of a mop product...for some reason, and so Hillenburg changed it to Spongebob.
As for the character's surname, Squarepants, that was decided after a long and arduous journey. Hillenburg would lock himself in his room for weeks, trying to come up with a last name that would intrigue audiences, and pique their interests. One day, while on a spiritual retreat with Tom Kenny, the two connected their mind bodies and whispered at the exact same time: "Squarepants". I'm just kidding, they named him that because he wore a pair of square shaped pants. My version sounds cooler though.
Anyway, Hillenburg's series became an instant hit! To the point where we're still watching the wild adventures of Spongebob and his wacky pals SIXTEEN years after its debut! Speaking of debuts, you can watch the first episode of Spongebob Squarepants below! You should definitely watch the most recent episode right after, just to see how far it's gotten.
1. Tom And Jerry
This last one's kind of a cheat, seeing as how I'm talking about two cartoon characters. But you simply can't talk about Tom without talking about Jerry, or vice versa! This slapstick duo has been dominating television sets for over 70 years!
They've managed to gain quite a name for themselves, despite hardly ever talking during their long, long run! There have been many different variations of the cat and mouse rivals, with each one having a different showrunner. But today, we're going to talk about the men who started it all! The guys who created the shockingly violent adventures of a witty mouse and a gullible tom cat!
William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
If you were ever a child between the years of 1957 to 2001, you've more than likely seen more than one show by this tag team of animation directors! From Yogi Bear, to The Flintstones, Scooby Doo: Where Are You, The Powerpuff Girls and more—these guys produced half of my childhood!
It's pretty cool that animation's most popular duo would end up creating the most popular cartoon duo of all time! Tom and Jerry are right up there with Bugs and Daffy, Sylvester and Tweety, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler! Most popular cartoons aren't made with the sole intention of becoming popular.
Most of the time, the creators of the cartoon have no idea how famous the show will become, so they try not to rely on it too much. Heck, even Bugs Bunny's creators weren't expecting him to become as big as he did. But that isn't the case for Tom and Jerry. In fact, Hanna-Barbera NEEDED Tom and Jerry to be a big thing! Their jobs were kind of depending on it.
In the 1930's, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were both members of the Rudolf Ising unit at MGM cartoon studios. After a series of failed cartoons based on an old comic strip titled Captain and the Kids led to financial issues, Barbera paired up with Hanna to create a successful cartoon. While discussing ideas for their first cartoon together, Barbera suggested a classic predator-chases-prey cartoon.
"We knew we needed two characters. We thought we needed conflict, and chase and action. And a cat after a mouse seemed like a good, basic thought."
Although Hanna found the idea to be a bit unoriginal, they nevertheless went on with it. Puss Gets The Boot was released in theaters on February 10, 1940. And yes, I said theaters. Back then, cartoons being shown in theaters were the norm. They would always show a cartoon or two before the feature length film, and sometimes a theater would just show a collection of animated shorts to audiences.
Puss Gets The Boot was about a mean house cat, Jasper, and a clever little mouse named Jinx. As expected, Puss Gets The Boot was not very successful. It wasn't that it was bad, it's just that it was too familiar. That wasn't the only problem though. Audiences had trouble connecting with the main characters of the short. Whether it was the unusual names, the clear and constant animal abuse (which was even more apparent with Tom's high pitched cat screams), or Tom's super creepy appearance. No really, Tom was...well, just look at him.
He had more in common with a sinister sorcerer like Jafar than he did a cat! While the short never really gained the level of popularity that the creators were hoping for, it managed to become a favorite among movie theater owners. A year later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the short for Best Short Subject. However, it didn't win.
The power team of Hanna-Barbera were surprised to see the short garner some fame. They were even more shocked to hear that they were being pulled off all of their animation projects by Fred Quimby. Quimby, who ran the MGM animation studio, wanted a series centered around the cat and mouse right away!
Suddenly, Hanna and Barbera were given responsibility of what would become one of Hanna-Barbera's most critically acclaimed cartoons! But before they could become the hilarious slapstick rivals we know and love today, Tom and Jerry had to have a LOT of work done on them. For starters, Hanna-Barbera held a contest in MGM studios to determine who would give "Jasper and Jinx" their new look and name.
Animator John Carr won with his suggestion of the names Tom and Jerry. He won the chance to work with Hanna-Barbera on the new show, and a WHOLE FIFTY DOLLARS! I have no idea how much that could get you back then, but I do hope it was a lot.
The first cartoon to feature the cat Tom and the mouse Jerry was titled The Midnight Snack, airing in 1941. It was nothing but success and incredibly violent slapstick comedy from there for Hanna-Barbera! The characters of Tom and Jerry would evolve gradually over the years, both in personality and appearance.
They both started to develop human-like personalities, which somewhat excused the constant animal violence (Tom's scream was also changed to that of a humans, rather than a dying cats). Tom and Jerry has always been a question of why. Why was it so successful? It was literally using the same old slapstick cat-and-mouse humor that Looney Tunes and every other cartoon show before it had used.
The key to their success lies in the genius team of Hanna-Barbera. Though they weren't an animation powerhouse quite yet, all you have to do is look at Tom and Jerry - a common formula turned incredible success - and it's not hard to see why these guys have managed to create so many different wonderful cartoons!
You can check out the first cat and mouse cartoon by Hanna-Barbera, Puss Gets The Boot, right here!
But since that technically isn't the first Tom and Jerry cartoon - despite many regarding it as that - you can check out The Midnight Snack right here as well!
That's all the cartoon creators for today! I may just come back and do some more in the future. But for now...