A child’s cultural education is not complete until they’ve been introduced to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew, but where does one begin? The days of the Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show airing every Saturday morning are over, but between Boomerang’s streaming service and Dailymotion uploads you can watch pretty much anything from the vast Warner Bros. cartoon catalog at your leisure. So again, where do you start? Which cartoons hold up as the funniest and most kid-pleasing today? Here are 15 of my favorites to get you going…
Note: I’ve avoided any of the more politically incorrect Warner Bros. cartoons and everything listed below should be acceptable for most kids. That said, these cartoons are 60 to 70 years old, so you may need to provide some context from time to time. I’ve provided warnings and explanations for some of the dated cultural references where needed.
Birdy and the Beast (1944) Dir. Bob Clampett
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of most Tweety cartoons – too cutesy and formulaic for my tastes. The exceptions to this rule are the original Bob Clampett cartoons, in which Tweety is still weird, pink, and a complete asshole. I’m giving this one the nod, because the other Clampett Tweety cartoons go overly heavy on the 1940s pop culture references.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: The bit where Tweety lights the inside of the cat’s mouth on fire then force feeds him gasoline is pretty mean, but it mostly takes place off screen.
Draftee Daffy (1945) Dir. Bob Clampett
Okay, so technically this is a World War II propaganda cartoon, but your kids don’t really have to know anything about history to enjoy it. In fact, it’s actually pretty anti-war. Daffy’s in a patriotic mood, until “The little man from the draft board” shows up, at which point he’ll suddenly do anything to escape. Kind of bold to make your hero a draft dodger in 1945, but more people will likely sympathize with Daffy today. Draftee Daffy is probably the most manic cartoon Warner Bros. ever produced.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: All the wartime stuff might be confusing, but again, it’s mostly just background color for crazy sight gags.
Baby Bottleneck (1946) Dir. Bob Clampett
Baby Bottleneck is the only WB cartoon that might be even more amped up than Draftee Daffy. The premise is unusually complex for a Clampett short – the post-war baby boom has kicked off in earnest and the storks can’t deliver the babies fast enough, so other animals, including Daffy and Porky, have been enlisted to pick up the slack. Once the setup is out of the way, the cartoon immediately throws any semblance of a story out the window in favor of a series of wild, rapid-fire gags. Daffy running on his stretched out leg might be my all-time-favorite bit of animation.
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These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Some drinking in this one. The gorilla calling “Mr. Anthony” at the end is a reference to a popular radio advice program at the time.
Kitty Kornered (1946) dir. Bob Clampett
It would feel wrong not to include a Porky Pig solo cartoon on this list, so here’s Kitty Kornered. Porky tries to throw his four cats (including a proto Sylvester) out in the cold for the night, because people used to be terrible and do things like that. Of course, they don’t want to go, and mayhem ensues. More Clampett stream-of-consciousness nonsense!
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Drinking and smoking.
Rebel Rabbit (1949) Dir. Bob McKimson
I’m sure you’ve all seen that meme of Bugs Bunny sawing off Florida and setting it adrift. That moment comes from this cartoon. Really, all off Rebel Rabbit is pretty meme-able. Bugs is incensed when he finds out the bounty for rabbits is only 2 cents, and when he’s informed his kind isn’t valued because bunnies are too docile and agreeable, he embarks on a campaign of civil disobedience. In addition to cutting Florida loose, he humiliates congress, gives New York back to the Native Americans, and, honestly? I’m kind of hoping Bugs joins the 2020 presidential race.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Indigenous folk getting back New York is nice, although an accompanying sight gag showing New York skyscrapers transforming into tipis is iffy.
High Diving Hare (1949) Dir. Friz Freling
Friz Freling was the most prolific of the Looney Tunes directors, but I’ve always found his cartoons a little staid. That said, ol’ Friz knew how to milk a gag, and he does an admirable job of keeping “Yosemite Sam falls off a diving board repeatedly” alive for 7 minutes. One of the best one-joke cartoons ever.
Rabbit Hood (1949) Dir. Chuck Jones
Rabbit Hood is a great cartoon for a lot of reasons, but it’s one of my all-time favorites due to the Sheriff of Nottingham, one of the most hilariously inept Bugs Bunny villains ever. Sometimes you almost feel a little sorry for Elmer Fudd, but the foppish Waluigi-looking Sheriff is a perfect punching bag. Every joke here is pretty much perfect — I will forever be in awe of the bit where Bugs fools the Sheriff into building a house in the King’s rose garden.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Bugs “knighting” the Sherriff repeatedly looks more painful than your typical Looney Tunes violence. The live-action dude at the end is Errol Flynn, who played Robin Hood at the time.
Hillbilly Hare (1950) Dir. Bob McKimson
The first half of Hillbilly Hare is pretty standard Bugs Bunny stuff, but the second half features maybe the funniest extended gag in Looney Tunes history. Our hillbilly villains being compelled to humiliate themselves by the power of square dancing never gets old. Also, Bug’s famer’s daughter outfit is definitely a top-tier look. Not that I, uh, keep track of such things.
Rabbit of Seville (1950) Dir. Chuck Jones
Straight up, the best-directed seven minutes of animation ever. The timing, the animation, it’s all perfect. And the cartoon’s funny as hell, too! If you want to turn your kid into an animation nerd, show them this cartoon early and often.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Bugs gets pretty reckless with that straight razor and dresses as a stereotypical snake charmer for one gag.
Rabbit Seasoning (1952) Dir. Chuck Jones
Obviously, this list needed at least one “Rabbit Season! Duck Season!” cartoon. This short is mostly about language, with Bugs besting his adversaries with pronouns instead of dynamite, so kids might not love it as much as some of the others. But hey, this one’s for the parents.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: The punchline of every gag is Daffy getting shot point-blank in the face.
Feed the Kitty (1952) Dir. Chuck Jones
I wouldn’t describe most Warner Bros. cartoons as sweet, but you may need to brush after this one. The bits where the bulldog Marc Anthony thinks his kitten friend has been made into a cookie is some serious Pixar-level emotional manipulation.
Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (1953) Dir. Chuck Jones
Duck Dodgers is a great, inventive cartoon that revived the underrated Daffy Duck-Porky Pig team, although the main reason I’m including it is the fantastic trippy alien scenery. Maurice Noble’s layouts and backgrounds were integral to Chuck Jones’ later cartoons, and this was some of his best work.
Much Ado About Nutting (1953) Dir. Chuck Jones
So, you may notice this list doesn’t include the iconic One Froggy Evening. Don’t get me wrong, I can sing the Michigan Rag by heart, but for my money, Much Ado About Nutting is an even better Chuck Jones cartoon in the same vein. Like Froggy Evening, Nutting is a mostly dialogue-free cartoon featuring a one-off character, although its squirrel star is far more likeable than that damn frog. Overall, a less nihilistic cartoon, which young kids should love.
Barbary Coast Bunny (1956) Dir. Chuck Jones
As the years went along Bugs Bunny softened from manic jerk, to moral, yet still ruthless, hero, to more of an amiable scamp. Later Bugs was often a bit too friendly for my likings, but this is one of the best, funniest examples of nice-guy Bugs. Also, Daws Butler (Snagglepuss himself) turns in a great, unique performance as Nasty Canasta.
These cartoons are over 60 years old warning: Smoking and gambling.
Stop! Look! and Hasten! (1956) Dir. Chuck Jones
The Roadrunner cartoons follow a very strict formula, with each being a six to seven minute grab bag of unrelated gags with no real plot, so Stop! Look! and Hasten! is interchangeable with pretty much any other entry in the series released before around 1960. This one gets the nod because of the wonderfully pathetic/dark opening where Wile E. Coyote is so hungry, he’s literally eating bugs.
And that’s not all, folks! Narrowing down the Warner Bros. catalog to only 15 cartoons was a near impossible task, and, by necessity, I’ve omitted a lot a classics. But again, hopefully this is just a starting point to a long and looney animated adventure with your kids.