The Tasmanian Devil, often referred to as Taz, is an animated cartoon character featured in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes series of cartoons. The character appeared in only five shorts before Warner Bros. Cartoons closed down in 1964, but marketing and television appearances later propelled the character to new popularity in the 1990s.
As the youngest of the Looney Tunes, the Tasmanian Devil, or 'Taz' as he has come to be known, is generally portrayed as a dim-witted carnivore with a notoriously short temper and little patience. He will eat anything and everything, with an appetite that seems to know no bounds. He is best known for his speech consisting mostly of grunts, growls and rasps, and his ability to spin and bite through just about anything.
In 1991, Taz got his own show, Taz-Mania, which ran for three seasons, in which he was the protagonist.
Robert McKimson based the character on the real-life Tasmanian Devil, or more specifically its carnivorous nature and voracious appetite. It is believed that the character of the Tasmanian Devil was inspired by Tasmanian born actor, Errol Flynn. The most noticeable resemblance between the Australian marsupial and McKimson's creation is their ravenous appetites and crazed behavior.
Although the bipedal Tasmanian Devil's appearance does not resemble its marsupial inspiration, it contains multilayered references to other "devils": he has horn-shaped fur on his head (similar to the Devil's appearance) and whirls about like a dust devil (similar in appearance to a tornado) which sounds like several motors whirring in unison. Taz is constantly voracious. His efforts to find more food (animate or inanimate) are always a central plot device of his cartoons.
The character's speech, peppered with growls, screeches, and raspberries, is provided by Mel Blanc. Only occasionally would Taz actually speak, usually to utter some incongruous punchline, (e.g. "What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?") and yet the character is capable of writing and reading. A running gag is that when Bugs Bunny hears of the approach of "Taz" and looks him up in an encyclopedia and starts reading off a list of animals that "Taz" eats; Bugs finds "rabbits" not listed until "Taz" either points out that "rabbits" are listed or writes rabbits on the list.
After the short entered theaters, producer Eddie Selzer, head of the Warner Bros. animation studio, ordered McKimson to shelve the character, feeling it was too violent for children and parents disliked this. After a time with no new Taz shorts, studio head Jack Warner asked what had happened to the character. Warner saved Taz's career when he told Selzer that he had received "boxes and boxes" of letters from people who liked the character and wanted to see more of him.