Warner Bros. Studio Store
The only thing that made trips to the mall bearable
I've never been a mall guy. No mall has ever contained more than one store that I was even remotely interested in shopping at. Usually mall stores are fashion based which means very little to me, the guy who likes movies, music and comic books. If I remember anything about a mall it is usually what restaurants they have in their food court (Hot Dog On A Stick anyone?) or how many times I am annoyed by pushy cart vendors trying to sell me Dead Sea salt exfoliants. That being said, the single store of interest is usually enough to get me back to the mall a few more times before I'm banned from said mall for punching out the pushy cart vendor after he insists that he has for me a "very good deal".
Growing up in Orange County, the South Coast Plaza shopping mall was such a place for my young self. Always a bore unless it was Christmas and they had Santa sitting in the middle of his life-sized North Pole playset, scaring kids and making promises of ponies no parent could keep. But there was a year-round ray of hope on the upper levels of this retail palace, a little slice of cartoon heaven called The Warner Brothers Studio Store.
Although rarely on TV these days, the early 90's was populated by a resurgence of Warner Brothers animated characters on TV and in the movies. The classic characters like Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird were showcased in movies like Space Jam, while newer versions were being beamed to our homes in the form of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. Most importantly (to me anyway), Warner Brothers had acquired the rights to the DC Comics universe of characters and brought us shows like Batman: The Animated Series.
With all this media exposure you can bet they were ready to make money on merchandising. And thus, the Warner Brothers Studio store stepped up to meet the demand.Even before entering inside the store front grabbed your attention.
It looked like the entrance to a movie studio with sculpted metal signs and statues of your favorite cartoon characters out front (more about them in a minute). Upon entering the thing that really struck you was the size of the place, they were taking up some major square footage. Disney had their own stores in malls as well, but they were always very small and kind of cramped, so seeing the scale of the WB stores let you know they were really begging for your bucks.
They had lots of different sections to explore like the kitchen items where you could get a Yosemite Sam mug or the plush toys where you could grab yourself a stuffed Speedy Gonzalez of varying sizes. Then there was the clothing area where you could grab your ghetto "Thugs Bunny" t-shirt to accompany your backwards Sylvester baseball cap.
These racks and shelves lined with cartoon craziness were all well and good, but I was just a kid, I wanted to play! Luckily they had me covered. Near the back of the store beyond the clothing area they had gone to trouble of building a life-sized rocketship meant to belong to Marvin the Martian.
Now this was more like it. As you approached a Marvin statue pointed the way to enter the ship, that's right, you could actually climb aboard for space adventure! Inside there were television screens playing animated space classics like "Duck Dodgers in the 24th and 1/2 Century" and numerous buttons that lit up just begging you to push them and start the engines. I was actually a pretty big kid (i.e. FAT!) for a 9 year old so it was a bit of tight squeeze to move around in there, but I didn't care, there was actually something fun to do at the mall!
Upon exiting the space ship there was a cool area that was designated as the Art Studio where they had actual animation cels from WB shows for sale. The cels were displayed on the walls and were pretty impressive to look at. But I think that's all most people did, look. My friend's dad actually worked in the Art Studio section and frankly, he always seemed desperate for a sale.
Granted it was the 90's and the speculation market was pretty active in the comic and animation world, but still I think it was a rough go trying to convince people to spend $300.00 on a picture of Foghorn Leghorn. But they might have shelled out that much for the character statues.
Truly one of the most endearing parts of the store was the various WB cartoon sculptures spread around the store. Seeing these normally 2-D characters in a real world setting and carved with such detail really ignited my imagination.
It reminded me of when Mickey's Toon Town was being constructed at Disneyland and you could only see it while taking the train around the park. There was one section of the bushes that was cut open so you could look and see the Downtown section and it blew my mind, cartoons could be real! But as much as I wanted to see Daffy Duck walking and talking in front of me there was a whole team of characters I wanted to live and breathe even more, the Justice League.
This was the real reason I loved the Warner Brothers Studio Store, life-sized statues of my favorite super heroes. You have to remember, at this point we didn't have the promise of great super hero movies like we have today. We had to deal with campy 60's Batman re-runs and the 70's Wonder Woman show. Sure we had the Superman movies and Tim Burton's Batman was all the rage, but comic book movie production was very sporadic and not reliable entertainment like the 21st century has spawned. So to see these characters in all their ceramic glory was the tops for me. They had plenty of smaller figures and collector's plates as well, but I was just taking in the displays.
My absolute favorite was the Super Friends/Justice League display that sat high above the shelves with the major players from the team posing heroically. Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and even Aquaman, they were all there. I've tried the best I can to re-create the display in the picture above, but even that doesn't do it justice. Perched on a finely crafted skyscraper ledge they stood, with hands on hips looking out over the world they were sworn to protect and it was a beautiful sight to behold. All I needed was the promise of 5 minutes to stare up at that heroic majesty and my Mom could talk me into waiting for her as she stopped by the make-up counter at May Company. It was worth it!
But then one day the statues were gone. Not just my beloved super heroes, but all of them! The store had gone out of business. I guess the price of all that floor space finally caught up with them. You can only get so much for an Elmer Fudd plastic sippy cup after all. But where was my refuge from the fashion frenzy of mall shopping? What of the super hero statues? Who was responsible for this?
The Penguin? Mr. Freeze? Lex Luthor? LUTHOR! It had to be. Only he had the resources and corporate know-how to pull off a scheme this dastardly! Oh, you'll rue the day you messed with a chubby young boy and his Warner Brothers Studio Store, you balding butt-face! LUUUUUTHHHHOOOOOOORRRRR!