I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

“Alright wiseguy, where am I?”- The Wile E. World of Chuck Jones

by Anthony Galli
April 18, 2015

Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?

Even if one doesn’t recognize the Chuck Jones name, he or she will undoubtedly recognize the Chuck Jones brand. That much is inevitable, since Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig are just a few of the characters he helped to popularize. The Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote were created solely by him. Chuck Jones gave us Pepe LePew and Marvin the Martian.

Jones is recognized within a certain generation, kids of the 70s, for having animated Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tiki-Tavi, as well as the children’s novel The Phantom Tollbooth.

And who, at some point in their life, hasn’t seen Jones’ 1966 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

He directed commercials with StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna, and for Heineken Beer and Gillette razors. He took over MGM’s Tom and Jerry franchise in the late 1960s, and has three of his animated shorts, Duck Amuck (1953), One Froggy Evening (1955),and What's Opera, Doc? (1957), in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Chuck Jones has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, winning 3 Academy Awards, in addition to being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy in 1996.

Joe Dante’s 1984 film Gremlins features a Charles. M. Jones High School, and in 1977 filmmaker George Lucas required that theaters play 1953’s Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century before his new film Star Wars.

It just seems that Chuck Jones has always been here, and also that his work will outlive us all.

Chuck Jones, sometimes credited as Charles. M. Jones, rose to prominence in the 1940s and ‘50s, a time commonly referred to as The Golden Age of Animation. The Disney studios were the pinnacle of the animation world, the “Acme,” if you will, with feature-length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia following hot on the heels of successful shorts like Three Little Pigs and the Silly Symphonies series. The Fleischer Brothers, Max and Dave, were producing the popular Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop series’, Hanna-Barbera were developing their Tom and Jerry franchise, and Walter Lantz had Woody Woodpecker going on. Creative competition was fierce.

It is easy to forget that The Golden Age of Animation occurred before the advent of television, so all of the incredible work being done was generated specifically for the movie screen. These short films had to be larger than life, and twice as much fun, to warrant their place on the bill. They had to be cinematic in scope, and include well-defined characters that could hold an audience’s attention and keep them entertained before the main feature.

Although Disney was the undisputed leader of animated film at the time, the studio’s style was considered, by some, too “realistic” in design and tone. However remarkable and influential Disney’s animation turned out to be, it was also criticized by some animators for not taking full advantage of the possibilities inherent in the medium.

As a counter to the staid, respectable family fare from Disney, a group of anarchic, unpredictable upstarts from competing Warner Bros. Studios took it upon themselves to push the envelope and exploit the relatively new medium of animation for all it was worth.

Between the creative authorship of Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, Bob Clampett, and, of course, Chuck Jones, legendary characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tasmanian Devil, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird, and numerous others exploded into life on movie screen across America.

In stark contrast to the anodyne, conservative wholesomeness of the Disney oeuvre, the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes of the Warner’s stable relied on mischievous characters, surreal premises, and inimitable comic timing.

And, as any cursory viewing of these films will demonstrate to even the hardest hearted cynic, this stuff is just flat out funny!

For example, a page in Wile E. Coyote’s notebook with plans to catch the Road Runner in Fastest with The Mostest reads:

“(1) Float out in balloon (2) Drop bomb on Road Runner”

Now, this is pretty simple stuff, nothing overly complicated or sophisticated. Onscreen, it’s pretty funny to see the Coyote’s diagrams, and his enthusiasm for the plan. But, just the thought itself, that Wile E. Coyote would take the time to commit such a ludicrous and simple plan to his notebook, is pretty hilarious. I guess he had to remember his plan somehow.

1953’s Daffy Duck/Porky Pig vehicle, Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century, is notable for a number of reasons, least of which…it’s hilarious…but also visually stunning. Daffy, as space explorer Duck Dodgers, just short of the 25th Century, is informed that “The world’s supply of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom, is alarmingly low,” and is sent with his trusty pig friend to find Planet X, located “somewhere in this area.”

Duck Amuck, also from 1953, is just out of control. A surrealist nod to the freedom accorded to artists, the short film is almost defiant in its lack of compromise. Duck Amuck offers no concessions to the audience or to the studio for which it was made. It seems to be a celebration of art for art’s sake, and a poke in the eye of conformity and convention. In essence, Chuck Jones and his crew of co-conspirators are simply answering, for themselves, the question; “Why not?”

Although Chuck Jones is listed as Director on hundreds of the Warner Bros. films, and given special credit for the brilliance of his animated work, there was also an indispensable team of artists that helped bring his visions to fruition who are not especially recognized outside of a contingent of animation nerds. The same names crop up on Jones’ Warner Bros. productions, such as scriptwriter Michael Maltese, background and layout artists Maurice Noble and Philip DeGuard, musical director Carl Stalling, and voice characterizations by the man of a thousand voices Mel Blanc.

Whatever luck or timing or fate brought this troupe together proved fortuitous, as every brush stroke, sound effect, and stutter merged together effortlessly to provide adult entertainment created, ostensibly, for children. It is amazing to consider that this work was produced 50 and 60 years ago, by hand, as something to keep children entertained in theaters while they were waiting for the main feature to begin.

Although Chuck Jones always maintained that he and his crew had only ever set out to entertain themselves, it seems they also set out to prove that anything is possible.

Works Cited

Film Comment Interview, Jan-Feb 1975

FUNNYWORLD Interview with Chuck Jones (1971)

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.