Saturday, September 21, 2013

Vital Viewing (Bea Benaderet's Long Count Edition)

Animator Chuck Jones was born on this day in 1912. He's best known for the thirty-some years he spent at Warner Brothers, where he brought to life such characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck (my favorite WB cartoon character, incidentally), Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner.

The characters Jones didn't bring to life include Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, the Tasmanian Devil,  and, for those of you with long memories, Bosko. Also, his Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and Elmer look and act a little different than they do in shorts directed by Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, or Robert McKimson. I bring this up to remind you that the animation studio founded by businessman Leon Schlesinger (whom Jones, Avery, Tashlin, Clampett, Freleng, and McKimson reportedly disliked) was no assembly line operation but a progressive arrangement that encouraged artistic freedom, innovation, and individuality. As long as the cartoon took no more than two weeks to make and turned a profit. Hell, I don't know. The system worked somehow. Maybe it was just dumb luck. Variously called Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies, the cartoons were both commercial and artistic successes (though a whole generation would pass before the latter was acknowledged.)

Chuck Jones is now generally recognized as the most artistic, innovative, and individualistic animator ever to have emerged from the studio. Predictably, this almost got him fired early on.

Jones first cartoons for Schlesinger/Warners were cute Disney-like things, many starring a squeaky, motormouthed mouse named Sniffles, an innocent adrift in a world of antisocial basso profundos. These cartoons were lovely to look at but not all that funny. Jones was told to change his style. He did, and came up with this hilarious short. Except his bosses weren't all that amused.  Done in a kind of too slow-then too fast-then too slow again-then too fast again style, with minimalistic backgrounds and abstractly drawn characters, it was considered downright radical in 1942. Jones himself abandoned the technique for a while, until he took it up again about five years later, most notably with his popular Road Runner cartoons.

So, here, then, is The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall, a parody of a once-popular, now-obscure series of books for adolescents. I really don't think you have to be familiar with the source material to find any of this funny.

Schlesinger/Warners never did fire Jones. World War II was on, and good cartoon directors were in short supply. So at least something positive came out of that attack on Pearl Harbor.


  1. I remember good old PU!
    My fave cartoon was Chuck Jones' Tom and Jerry. Cartoons were really what made me want to be an artist. Walt Disney's Snow White is my favorite. I love all the hand done background and animation. Computer's are great and I use photoshop everyday, but I really don't enjoy the animation that is computer generated. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I still love all those old cartoons. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Kirk!

  2. Oh, yeah, Patricia, Jones did Tom and Jerry in the 1960s, by which time he had moved to MGM. He also did The Grinch Who Stole Christmas there. I actually think there's a bit of a resemblence between Tom the cat and the Grinch, at least from the side. They both thrust their mouths out like Mussolini.

    Tom and Jerry were originally done by William Hanna and Joseph Barbara, before they moved to TV and things like Yogi Bear and the Flintstones (talk about a change of style!) There's an interesting cartoon from them I'll show you sometime in the future.

  3. I was always happy to see the WB presents Logo come on. I remember going to the movies and seeing a cartoon and not 20 minutes of advertisement.
    I still love the Opera ones with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Of course being a southwestern, Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner was a favorite. My Mum loved Pepe Le Pew and we would sit there and laugh at his antics.
    Such good memories.
    I too miss hand done work as @Patrica said.
    The flat awful animation that is on the throw away kids programs (Disney, Nick)is horrific.
    I was just watching a "Making of" the Kung Fu Panda movie and they were showing how they made the hair movie so it would seem believable. So computer animation can work.
    Today Studio Ghibli is my favorite.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. The two opera ones I'm aware of, parsnip, are "The Barber of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?", both directed by Jones.

      I wonder if the dominance of computer animation as far as feature films go has less to do with what audiences are willing to watch, and more with what's economically possible. When I was growing up in the 1970s, you got one animated feature a year, and always by Disney, which sometimes didn't make money off of them. Those features were hand-drawn. These days it seems you get an animated feature a month, sometimes two, and Disney (and its subsidiary Pixar) face competition from Dreamworks, and as you said, Studio Ghibli, so there's money to be made there. The features from Pixar and Dreamworks tend to be computer. I don't know that's its possible to do a high-quality hand-drawn cartoon feature once a month. It would be too expensive. As it it, we still get one hand-drawn feature from Disney a year, so we haven't really lost anything in that regard. And Ghibli does hand-drawn cartoons for the anime fans out there. Kids cartoons are just churned as soon as possible. Just hope the writing is halfway decent.

      It's possible to combine hand-drawn and computer, and I don't just mean in big expensive features. I swear in recent year The Simpsons, of all shows, have dabbled in computer animation. Homer looks 3-dimensional on occasion.