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Woody Woodpecker is a funny animal cartoon character, an anthropomorphic acorn woodpecker who appeared in theatrical short films produced by the Walter Lantz animation studio and distributed by Universal Pictures. Though not the first of the screwball characters that became popular in the 1940s, Woody is perhaps the most indicative of the type.
Woody was created in 1940 by Lantz and storyboard artist Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, who had previously laid the groundwork for two other screwball characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio in the late 1930s. Woody’s character and design would evolve over the years, from an insane bird with an unusually garish design to a more refined looking and acting character in the vein of the later Chuck Jones version of Bugs Bunny. Woody was originally voiced by prolific voice actor Mel Blanc, who was succeeded by Ben Hardaway and later by Grace Stafford, wife of Walter Lantz.
Lantz produced theatrical cartoons longer than most of his contemporaries, and Woody Woodpecker remained a staple of Universal’s release schedule until 1972, when Lantz finally closed down his studio. The character has been revived since then only for special productions and occasions, save for one new Saturday morning cartoon television series, The New Woody Woodpecker Show, for the Fox Network in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Woody Woodpecker cartoons were first broadcast on television in 1957 under the title The Woody Woodpecker Show, which featured Lantz cartoons bookended by new footage of Woody and live-action footage of Lantz. Woody has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 7000 Hollywood Boulevard. He also made a cameo alongside many other famous cartoon characters in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Woody Woodpecker and friends are also icons at the Universal Studios Theme Parks worldwide, as well as the PortAventura Park in Salou, Spain (they were originally brought to the park by Universal Studios, and remain there today despite Universal no longer having a financial stake in the park).
In 2011, the Universal-owned studio Illumination Entertainment (creators of Despicable Me), announced a Woody Woodpecker film to be made.