When Warner Bros. Discovery purged more than five decades' worth of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts from HBO Max, the company did not just remove some silly cartoons. They removed iconic pieces of American art that form the backbone of what we think of when we think about Warner Bros. This would be like Disney removing all references to Mickey Mouse from Disney+. The purge included some of the best films from animator Chuck Jones, including What's Opera, Doc? and Duck Amuck, two of the best animated shorts of all time.
At the start of the new year, 256 Looney Tunes cartoons produced between 1950 and 2004 suddenly disappeared from HBO Max, Vulture noted. This not only includes the two mentioned previously, but other iconic works from Jones, including Rabbit Seasoning, Feed the Kitty, Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, and One Froggy Evening. Most of Jones' Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner shorts disappeared as well. (Only the first Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner short, Fast and Furry-ous, is still available.) Sources told Variety the shorts will not be returning. This means you better hold on to the Looney Tunes DVDs and Blu-rays in your collections.
The removed shorts were listed as Seasons 16-31 on HBO Max. The first fifteen "seasons" cover 255 shorts from 1930 to 1949. These are still up there, which means you can at least see the early adventures of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their friends. You just can't watch most of Jones' best films. Warner Bros. Discovery also removed the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons of the Hanna-Barbera classic The Flintstones.
From the outside looking in, none of this makes much sense. Why would Warner Bros. Discovery remove content that it outright owns from its own streaming service? When we saw HBO shows disappear, it was thought that avoiding paying residuals to talent was part of it. But in the case of these cartoons, the talent has been deceased for decades in some cases. However, as Variety points out, there was still some expense WBD was paying to keep them up. The shorts and Flintstones episodes were part of an intra-company deal that expired at the end of 2022. HBO Max decided not to renew the deal, so the cartoons just disappeared.
Jones' best shorts dominated animation historian Jerry Beck's 1994 list of the 50 greatest cartoons, selected by animation professionals. What's Opera, Doc?, the 1957 classic in which Elmer Fudd tries to "kill the wabbit" set to the tune of Robert Wagner's operas, topped the list. Duck Amuck, the fourth-wall-breaking 1953 film in which an animator torments Daffy, came in second. Duck Dodgers (1935) and One Froggy Evening (1955) came in fourth and fifth, respectively. (Disney's The Band Concert from 1935 came in third and is among the very few shorts on Disney+.)
Warner Bros. Discovery has been trimming down the number of titles on HBO Max since the merger was completed in April 2022. In November, a slate of HBO shows was removed just so they could be licensed to third parties for free, ad-supported streaming TV platforms. WBD is also planning to launch a merged HBO Max-Discovery+ platform in the spring of 2023. The company has not announced a name for the new platform, but "Max" is reportedly a contender. We can only hope it works better than anything ACME sells.