The Looney Tunes are some of the most popular cartoon characters in history, but why are they called “tunes” instead of “toons”?
The Looney Tunes are some of the most famous and beloved cartoon characters in history, and even though they have been around for decades, there’s one big question fans still have about them: why are they called “Tunes” and not “Toons”? The entertainment industry is a very competitive world, and there are certain areas where the competition heats up quite easily and often, among those the realm of cartoons. The name that usually comes up when talking about cartoons is Disney, but Warner Bros. also has a long list of popular cartoon shows and characters, and among those are the Looney Tunes.
Looney Tunes is an animated comedy short film series that accompanied Merrie Melodies (also a series of comedy short films) from 1930 to 1969. Both shows introduced the audience to a variety of characters that would go on to become part of pop culture and favorites of generations of viewers, and who would eventually branch out to other media. These characters are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, and many more, but Bugs Bunny became the breakout star of the show. The success of Looney Tunes was such that it became a franchise, with several TV shows, movies, comic books, video games, and more, and they continue to be quite popular with the audience after all these years.
Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Tunes have starred in a number of TV shows – from compilations like The Merrie Melodies Show to original shows like Tiny Toon Adventures and most recently Looney Tunes Cartoons – and a couple of movies as well, most notably Space Jam in 1996, Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003, and Space Jam: A New Legacy in 2021. The Space Jam movies saw Bugs and company teaming up with Michael Jordan and later LeBron James, forming the Tune Squad, and with that, a big question about the history of the Looney Tunes resurfaced: why are they “Tunes” and not “Toons”? Contrary to what some might believe, it’s not an intentional typo made for the laughs, and Disney actually has something to do with it.
Back in the 1920s, Disney produced a series of animated musical short films titled Silly Symphony, which were originally intended as accompaniments to pieces of music. Because of this, the stories had independent continuity and didn’t feature continuing characters, and became notable for their innovation with Technicolor and the introduction of Donald Duck, who made his debut in “The Wise Little Hen”, in 1934. The popularity of Silly Symphonies led to other studios trying to copy that same model, among those Warner Bros., who came up with Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. The “Tunes” part, then, was due to the musical side of the stories, which was lost with time but the name remained.
The confusion over the Looney Tunes’ name grew when Tiny Toon Adventures came out, as it went with the appropriate term for the show, and to add even more to it, Space Jam named Bugs and Jordan’s team “Tune Squad”. Although it doesn’t make sense anymore for the Looney Tunes to keep the name “tunes” as they are not related to music at all anymore, it wouldn’t make sense to change it either, as it ultimately adds to the humor and craziness of the characters, helping them stand out from their biggest competitors.
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Adrienne Tyler is a features writer for Screen Rant. She is an Audiovisual Communication graduate who wanted to be a filmmaker, but life had other plans (and it turned out great). Prior to Screen Rant, she wrote for Pop Wrapped, 4 Your Excitement (4YE), and D20Crit, where she was also a regular guest at Netfreaks podcast. She was also a contributor for FanSided’s BamSmackPow and 1428 Elm. Adrienne is very into films and she enjoys a bit of everything: from superhero films to heartbreaking dramas, to low-budget horror films. Every time she manages to commit to a TV show without getting bored, an angel gets its wings.
When she’s not writing, you can find her trying to learn a new language, watching hockey (go Avs!), or wondering what life would have been like had Pushing Daisies, Firefly, and Limitless not been cancelled. Breakfast food is life and coffee is what makes the world go round.
Guillermo del Toro said “hi” to her once. It was great.