Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chuck Jones

At Warners after Avery's departure in 1942, Chuck Jones (1912-2002) furthered the development of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. He was also responsible for Elmer Fudd, who first appeared in Elmer's Candid Camera (1940) (although the name "Elmer Fudd" had first been applied in WB cartoons to the Egghead character in A Feud There Was (1938)). Jones provided the famous Hunter's Trilogy of cartoons about 'wabbit-season'/'duck-season' in the early 50s, with Bugs Bunny, hunter Elmer Fudd, and the hapless Daffy Duck:
  • Rabbit Fire (1951)
  • Rabbit Seasoning (1952)
  • Duck! Rabbit! Duck (1953)
He also created the Road Runner series with Road Runner ("Beep, Beep") (known as Accelerati Incredibulis) and Wile E. Coyote (known as Carnivarious Vulgaris), debuting together in Fast and Furry-ous (1949). Intended to be a one-time only appearance, their popularity called for another cartoon produced 3 years later, Beep, Beep (1952), and then a series of cartoons for many years.

Chuck Jones also developed more minor animated characters such as Pepe Le Pew, Inki, Marvin Martian, Michigan J. Frog (see below), Gossamer, and Charlie Dog. As Disney did with Fantasia (1940), Jones fused classical music (Rossini's Barber of Seville, Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and a visual gag about Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro) into the cartoon form in one of his best animations - Rabbit of Seville (1950), featuring Elmer Fudd and Bugs as opera singers.

The comic Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies masterpiece Duck Amuck (1953), inducted into the National Film Registry in 1999, has been widely considered Jones' best cartoon short. In the self-reflective animation, a tormented Daffy Duck struggles against the malicious, off-screen animator himself (revealed at the end as Bugs Bunny, although Jones admitted he was the culprit), as his character is redrawn, and the props, soundtrack, and backgrounds are changed as Daffy's chances as an emerging cartoon 'star' are sabotaged.

Another of Jones' most famous cartoons was the renowned One Froggy Evening (1955) - about a singing/dancing frog (in retrospect named Michigan J. Frog) who was unearthed from a condemned building's cornerstone. A construction worker - who pursued a fortune with the talented croaker, was dismayed when the Frog would only perform for him and not for an audience or talent agency. The cartoon was noted for a lack of spoken dialogue, and a rich collection of ragtime era songs - Steven Spielberg once noted that it was "the Citizen Kane of animated film". [Years later, a look-alike Michigan J. Frog would become the mascot of Warner Bros. new television network channel.] The animation was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2003.

An additional Jones' masterpiece was What's Opera, Doc? (1957) - featuring Elmer Fudd (as a Teutonic warrior-knight), a cross-dressed Bugs Bunny (as "Brunhilda"), and music from Richard Wagner's 18-hour opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1992, What's Opera, Doc? became the first-ever animated film to be inducted into the National Film Registry. At its conclusion, as the Tannhauser Overture plays, Elmer walks away with a lifeless Bugs in his arms, who perks alive and memorably quips: "Well, what did you expect in an opera -- a happy ending?"

Jones also contributed script and character designs to UPA's Gay Purr-ee (1962), one of the last animations produced by the innovative studio. Similar to Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955) (and Disney's later effort The Aristocats (1970)) and The Wizard of Oz adventure tale about a country girl, this full-length animated classic featured the voices of Judy Garland (as young feline heroine Mewsette who set off for Paris in the Gay 90s), Robert Goulet (as country bumpkin beau, Jaune-Tom in pursuit), and Hermione Gingold (as cathouse manager Madame Rubens-Chatte), and original songs by Wizard of Oz composers Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg.

[ - Jones opened his own company, Chuck Jones Enterprises, in 1962, producing nine 30-minute animated films. From 1963-1971, Jones headed the MGM animation department. His The Dot and the Line (1965) was an Academy Award winner for Best Short Subject: Cartoon. One of Jones' greatest accomplishments was directing (as chief animator) the half-hour animated holiday TV special Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), a Peabody Award winner. Jones also directed/produced other Seuss classics, including Peabody Award-winning Dr. Seuss: Horton Hears a Who! (1970) and Dr. Seuss: The Cat in the Hat (1972). Later, he developed The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), a compilation of eleven shorts including his own two masterpieces mentioned above, and an 11-minute Road Runner montage-compilation consisting of 31 gags from 16 cartoons. One of his final works was an original cartoon short in Peter Hyams' satirical view of TV titled Stay Tuned (1992) in which an American suburban couple (John Ritter as Roy and Pam Dawber as Helen) became transformed into cartoon mice. He also directed an animation segment for the feature film Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

With a 60 year career, and more than 300 animated films, Chuck Jones won a total of three Academy Awards (the three awards were for: (1) For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) (with Pepé LePew) - Pepe Le Pew's sole Oscar nomination, (2) the animated short So Much for So Little (1949) that won in the Documentary: Short Subject category, and (3) The Dot and the Line (1965)), and he was presented with an Honorary Oscar in 1996. - ]
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Friz Freleng

One of the earliest pioneering animators was Friz Freleng, who directed the first Porky Pig cartoon (in two-strip Technicolor) I Haven't Got a Hat (1935) featuring the stuttering character. In the 40s when he was working at Warners, he was best-known for his contributions to the zany Looney Tunes cartoons, including for example, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in You Oughta Be in Pictures (1940) - a spoof satire of the way in which emerging, fast-talking star Daffy convinces Porky to quit his job at Warners by ending his contract with studio head Leon Schlesinger. Freleng also introduced the characters of hot-tempered Yosemite Sam (who first appeared in Hare Trigger (1945)) and Speedy Gonzales (who appeared redesigned in Freleng's Speedy Gonzales (1955)), and brought lisping cat Sylvester (known for his trademark: "Thufferin' Thuccotash!") and yellow Tweety (Bird) (with the trademark: "I tawt I taw a puddy tat!") together in a series of Friz Freleng-directed films from 1947-1964. Their first film together (in which Sylvester was called "Thomas") was Tweetie Pie (1947) - it brought the Warner Bros. cartoon department its first Academy Award. [Sylvester's first film was Life With Feathers (1945), while Tweety Pie preceded the feline predator and first appeared in A Tale of Two Kitties (1942), but was named Orson.]

Friz Freleng (and David DePatie) also created the cool, bluesy 'The Pink Panther' animation with a pink feline character for the opening credits of The Pink Panther (1963). The first of a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the pink character was titled The Pink Phink (1964), and it won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject. In 1969, he successfully transitioned the character to television as The Pink Panther Show. One of his most famous cartoons was a jazzy version of the original The Three Little Pigs titled Three Little Bops (1957). Freleng won several Oscars over the years, for the films Tweety Pie (1947), Speedy Gonzalez (1955), Birds Anonymous (1957), and Knighty Knight Bugs (1958).

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Tex Avery Era at Warners

The Classic Cartoon Characters

From 1935 onward until the early to mid-40s, Warner's director of animation Fred 'Tex' Avery (who was recruited from Lantz, see more below), was responsible for much of the manic, satirical, absurdist, extra-violent, crude characters and corny gags and slapstick of numerous productions. Avery's animations, often designed for adult audiences, were often noted for 'pushing the envelope' of acceptable taste. Their first animated star was Porky Pig (see Bob Clampett below). Avery's first WB cartoon was Gold Diggers of '49 (1935) starring Porky Pig.

Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were titles that directly copied competitor Disney's Silly Symphonies. Looney Tunes became known for closing with the familiar Porky Pig end tag: "That's All Folks!" In 1936, composer Carl W. Stalling (who was the musical director of Warners' animation department for over two decades) chose "Merrily We Roll Along" (used most often for Merrie Melodies) and "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" (used most often for Looney Tunes) as the distinctive theme songs for Warners' cartoons.

Along with his famed animating staff - Isadore "Friz" Freleng, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, Tex Avery created two of the greatest stars for Warners:

  • Daffy Duck
  • Bugs Bunny
Daffy Duck's first appearance was in Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937), remade the next year as Porky's Hare Hunt (1938). The name Daffy Duck (derived from the name of famed baseball player Dizzy Dean's brother Daffy) was used for the first time in the title of Avery's second duck-hunt picture Daffy Duck and Egghead (1938) - this was also the first Daffy Duck cartoon in color. [Egghead was the prototype for the character of Elmer Fudd.] (Through most of these years, Mel Blanc provided the voice for all the starring WB characters: Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzalez, and many others.)

A prototype of Bugs Bunny debuted with co-star Porky Pig in Porky's Hare Hunt (1938) as a wiseguy hare. Bugs first said his famous line ("Eh, what's up, Doc?" voiced by Mel Blanc) in his fourth, Oscar-nominated Tex Avery cartoon, A Wild Hare (1940) - the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon with Elmer Fudd as a rabbit hunter (and noted for Elmer's first use of his 'wabbit' voice). Bugs finally received his identifiable name by his fifth cartoon, Elmer's Pet Rabbit (1941).
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