The folks at Arizona Museum for Youth understand something fundamental about cartoon characters: They don’t sit still. Whether hunting “wabbits,” chasing a roadrunner over a cliff with a giant butterfly net or narrowly escaping the grip of a “putty tat,” cartoons are on the move. So it stands to reason that one shouldn’t take in a display of cartoon art with hushed voices and hands in pockets.

Appropriately, a host of activities accompany “The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons,” an exhibition opening Friday at Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. The museum’s team of designers and educators have installed a number of stations, where Speedy Gonzales and Yosemite Sam fans can burn off some of the frenetic energy they share with their favorite characters.

“We’re hoping this is an intergenerational exhibit, where parents or grandparents coming with their children or grandchildren will get just as much out of it as the kids do,” says curator Jeffory Morris, who, like many adults, grew up with the “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” cartoons showcased in the exhibit.

The show traces the development of Warner Bros. cartoon stars such asPorky Pig and Bugs Bunny, and gives a step-by-step breakdown of how animated films were made in the days before computer software — a painstaking process of drawing, inking, painting and sequencing characters and backgrounds by hand.

Original works by the legendary animation studio’s directors, including Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett, are represented with drawings, notations and transparent sheets, or cels, dating back to the 1930s. One is of an early, Groucho Marx-esque incarnation of Bugs Bunny. Many are recognizable as the beginnings of episodes you may recall from Saturday-morning TV.

There are 160 pieces in the show.

“It really gives an idea of what went into creating these cartoons that we all remember,” says Morris. “You needed about 7,000 drawings for a seven-minute cartoon. It really took a lot of time to make each one. But it also shows that this incredible process began with just someone with a pencil and a piece of paper. That’s how it starts.”

Visitors can master that basic at a light-table station, where they’ll learn to draw cartoons by tracing them.

At a stop-motion animation station, users move characters, such as Marvin the Martian, inch-by-inch in front of a chosen background. Each movement is photographed with the touch of a button. The images are then pieced together and played to create a short “movie” unique to each user.

For the first time, the museum will use “green screen” technology. Youngsters will be able to dress in provided costumes, act out whatever comes to their imaginations and appear on screen with authentic Warner Bros. cartoons.

Another attraction is a glow-in-the-dark world of canyonlands and mesas straight out of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. There, visitors must match ACME brand products with their silhouettes. ACME, you may remember, supplies the coyote with fake holes, automatic boxing gloves, invisible paint, axle grease, dynamite and absurd contraptions to catch the beeping bird.

While the activities add a layer of fun to the experience, the artwork and animation processes spotlighted on the walls aren’t to be glossed over.

“These (artifacts) weren’t meant to last. They were made to last long enough to put under a cel and have someone ink it out and make a cartoon. The fact that they survived at all is amazing. They’re cultural artifacts,” says Morris.

The “Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons” has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. When it leaves Mesa, it will travel to Italy. The show is on display 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 22, 2012, at Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 N. Robson St., Mesa. Admission is $7 per person age 1 and older and includes entry to the entire museum. For information, call (480) 644-2468 or visit

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or

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