THE CHUCK JONES 100
"You must build an entire world that is believable. Everything about this world must ring true, and the facts of the imagination must become as acceptable as the facts of reality." - Chuck Jones
This turned out to be a lot harder to put together than I expected. Back when I did a list of 100 great Kurosawa moments in honor of the 100th anniversary of the great Japanese director's birth, it was an easy enough feat to find 100 moments from his 31-movie filmography that were characteristic of his overreaching themes, definitive of his career and just flat out fun. But how do you approach the same assignment when the subject has over 300 directing credits to his name,* several of them bonefide masterpieces from which any number of brilliant moments could be selected? Seriously, there are at least 100 such examples to be found in the scant seven minutes of One Froggy Evening, Duck Amuck or Feed the Kitty alone. I mean, does anyone really have to be reminded how amazing Elmer singing "Kill the wabbit!" is? Or the perfect timing of the countless pratfalls and sight gags of the Road Runner cartoons? Or the number of times Bugs forgot to take that left turn at Albuquerque?
I actually think that they do. Not to take anything away from modern animated film and television, which is frequently as astonishing and pioneering as the work done at Termite Terrace over four decades in the mid-20th century (just check out Chris Funderburg's current Studio Ghibli series for a few examples), but even 50 years after Warner Brothers shut down its original animation division** there's still so much to be taken from Jones' work. The evolution of his directing style - from the kind of unhinged pandemonium of contemporaries Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin to a more restrained, experimental and character-minded approach - parallels the development of the animation field itself from mild distraction to major artform. His creation of such beloved figures as Pepé Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and indelible contributions to the iconography of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny (not to mention his reinvention of subpar creations like Porky Pig, who plays the perfect straight man in such shorts as Scaredy Cat and Robin Hood Daffy), presaged the sort of staggering innovation found in modern character design. And of course there's his humor, which timelessly plays upon real insecurities and anxieties as much as it does surreal scenarios. So many of his best shorts (One Froggy Evening, Now Hear This, Much Ado About Nutting, his Road Runner series and Tom and Jerry toons) are entirely without dialogue - on top of being considered the king of cartoon directors, Jones deserves recognition as one of the great silent comedy filmmakers alongside Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton. Besides all that, Jones also had a talent for spotting talent: once he had his all-star team assembled, he pretty much stuck with them the rest of his career, and this list is as much a tribute to writer Michael Maltese, background artist Philip DeGuard, sound editor Tregoweth "Treg" Brown and the most underrated man in the history of animation, Jones' frequent layout artist, production designer and eventual co-director Maurice Noble.***
Keep in mind this isn't meant to be a definitive list of any kind: just a collection of moments that, in my opinion, perfectly capture the creativity, the co-existence of chaos and subtlety and the comedic timing that made Chuck Jones the all-time greatest director of animated shorts. The images themselves are so kinetic (and some so instantly recognizable) I actually considered letting them stand on their own, but many of them really do require context, especially if (like me) you're compelled to revisit their sources over and over again. Happy hundredth, Chuck.
John Cribbs, 9.21.12
* Technically, after you shave the compilations of previous material and archive footage off his imdb totals it comes out to just below 300.
** This month also marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Louvre Come Back To Me, one of the last films Jones made for Warner Brothers, in which Pepé Le Pew traipses around the famous museum two years ahead of the cast of Band of Outsiders.
*** Ok, so it's also dedicated to other such notable Jones collaborators as animators Ken Harris and Ben Washam, Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan and Richard Thompson, composer Carl Stalling, fellow animator-turned-director Abe Levitow and of course the inimitable Mel Blanc.
Wile E. Coyote stands under the cluster of rocks trying to loosen them with a stick until he suddenly realizes...
There They Go-Go-Go!
Everything that happens during Michigan J. Frog's rehearsal of "Won't You Come Over To My House" right up to the curtain rising. One Froggy Evening
Sam and Ralph freeze in choking position, take lunch, then return to the same position. A Sheep in the Deep
Crude scenary. Duck Amuck
Dynamite hair curlers. Water Water Every Hare
The unleashed wildcat ignores its target and goes right for Ralph Wolf at the end of the rope. Don't Give Up the Sheep
Papa Bear watches uncomfortably as Junyar preps the razor blade for his Father's Day shave. A Bear for Punishment
Daffy insists on riding the WB shield. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The man-club arms himself with the red flower and takes back the pack. Mawgli's Brothers
Pronoun trouble. Rabbit Seasoning
"Acres and acres of her, and she is all MINE!" Pepé falls in love with a wild cat in Wild Over You
Turtle lamenting the decline of turtle necks: "Well, that's show business." Nelly's Folly
Slap dance to "Las Chiapanecas" Bully for Bugs
Society in sound. Now Hear This
Chase atop sheet music on eighth note-back. High Note
Chroma the Great conducts the sunset. The Phantom Tollbooth
Pepe pleading with Penelope through sound/smell-proof glass, their voices strained string instruments. For Scent-imental Reasons
Daffy Duck: overwhelmed by obscurity. Duck Amuck
Headless hare. Rabbit Rampage
Reverse fishing. My Favorite Duck
An infinity of Sam Sheepdogs. Ready Woolen and Able
Bugs, disguised as the great conductor Leopold, leaves one glove suspended in mid-air signaling the high note, orders earphones, waits for delivery, unwraps them, puts them on, then returns. Long-Haired Hare
Barber chairs that just keep going up. Rabbit of Seville
Snuff sends The Scarlet Pumpernickel into sneezing spasms.
Gossamer's reflection runs away from him. Hair-Raising Hare
The dynamite bridge catches up with Ralph right in the middle. Steal Wool
The disintegrating-proof vest works. Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century
An invisible Jerry shaves a bemused Tom. Of Feline Bondage
The horse walking on air is flabbergasted at the sight of a flying rabbit. Super Rabbit
Sleepy Porky: indifferent to the effects of zero gravity after his campsite is uprooted and launched into space atop a flying saucer. Jumpin' Jupiter
10 from the Road Runner cartoons:
Catapult malfunction montage To Beep or Not to Beep
The cranked-up steel gate finally snaps open on cue, just in time for WEC to smash into it - best payoff ever. Stop! Look! and Hasten!
The laws of physics take a bizarre turn when the rubber band refuses to snap. Guided Muscle
Wile E. actually gains control of the flying suit, but gloats just long enough to hit a wall. Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z
He hits the ground before the rope runs out of slack. To Beep or Not to Beep
No sooner has Wile E. Coyote downed all the earthquake pills and tossed the useless, empty bottle that his eyes bulge and he grabs it back before it hits the ground: the label reads "Not effective on Road Runners." Hopalong Casualty
Wile E. whips the sniper rifle around when he notices his target behind him...too bad there's no ground there - the trampoline also doesn't help much Whoa, Be-Gone!
The Road Runner leads a magnet-wearing Wile E. to the train tracks, and suddenly the plan doesn't seem quite so sound. Beep Prepared
Wile E. paints a fake tunnel entrance on the side of the mountain: Road Runner runs right inside. Fast and Furry-ous
Somehow, the roadrunner manages to run right through the steel plate AND the coyote holding it. Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z
Bugs glances at the mailbox reading "Wile E. Coyote: Genius," turns to the camera and raises an unimpressed eyebrow. Compressed Hare
Cookbook wars. Rabbit Fire
Babyface Finster's sinister opening heist in Baby Buggy Bunny
Nasty Canasta bites Daffy's gun in half. Drip-Along Daffy
Ali Bahma gets progressively more nervous as Bugs lets out a shriek with each saber stuck into the basket. Case of the Missing Hare
"Hassan chop!" Ali Baba Bunny
Dan Backslide, nemesis of the Dover Boys, abducts dainty Dora Stanhope while she's playing Hide and Seek, and accidentally brings the tree along. The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall
The Terrible Trivium: demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort: "There are so many useless things yet to do!" The Phantom Tollbooth
Ravishing Ronald: a denatured boy! Bunny Hugged
"Judge" Bugs catches "Officer" Elmer with the bribe he received from "Rocky" Bunny - personality swaping and fun with Bugs' Bonnets
Lump massager. Operation Rabbit
Transportation tubes. Rocket Squad
Acme Strait-Jacket Ejecting Bazooka. The Hasty Hare
The great big Electro Who-cardio Schlooks. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
The foreman's button. The Bear That Wasn't
Paul Bunyan's pocket watch. Lumber Jack-Rabbit
Elmer gets a concrete facial. Rabbit of Seville
Dr. Kilpatient's patient is seeing spots. Hare Tonic
The butler doesn't know he's pouring a glass of duck. Daffy Dilly
Marc Anthony's horrified expression as he watches his beloved Pussyfoot being made into cookies. Feed the Kitty
The Dover Boys meet the distressing situation with their usual uncompromising moral fortitude. The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall
Wile E. Coyote sets up a window to climb through and burglarize Bugs. To Hare is Human
Bugs' physical at boot camp. Forward March Hare
X-Ray used to see through Claude's "ghost." Hypocondri-Cat
Two sizes too small. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Things are getting desperate on the raft. Wackiki Wabbit
The hunters are driven away by the ghostly White Seal
Sylvester with noose and razor and no way to explain. Claws for Alarm
The talent agent glances skeptically at the camera. One Froggy Evening
Post-rum cake hangover never captured so perfectly as sounds of the city torment The Mouse on 57th Street
The squirrel's Sisyphean task of trying to crack the coconut leads to the Empire State Building and the demolition of the street below. Much Ado About Nutting
Is that really what I sound like on the inside?? Now Hear This
Claude Cat: mentally broken by Hubie and Bertie's demand that he eat them. Cheese Chasers
"Shoot me again! I enjoy it!" Daffy's freakout in Duck! Rabbit, Duck!
Alien, eager to enlighten the population of his adoptive planet, doesn't realize they can't understand him. Martian Through Georgia
The POV shot that opens The Cat's Bah
The giant eye that follows Duck Dodgers as he enters spacequarters. Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century
Chalkboard version of Ralph Phillips duels with the math problem. From A to Z-Z-Z-Z
The way Belvedere the bulldog runs. Dog Gone South
Charlie Dog: 50% pointer - "There it is. There it is. There it is." Often an Orphan
No Barking takes 60 seconds to perfectly portray a stupid, happy dog.
The cricket sees a single leaf and remembers the country. A Cricket in Times Square
Even his fellow bears see him as a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. The Bear That Wasn't
Indignant drunk to five-inch tall elephant: "You're late!" Punch Trunk
Hitching a ride on the back of the sleigh. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
"El bwana" turns out to be Bogart, who scares off the natives then asks Bugs to help out a fellow American who's down on his luck. 8 Ball Bunny
Pepe stinks the arm off the Venus De Milo, peels the Degas, breaks Dali's clocks and makes it difficult for the Mona Lisa to keep smiling. Louvre Come Back to Me
The murder weapon with the Shropshire Slasher's name on it - a vital clue. Deduce, You Say!
The fat horse and Bugs' billowing blonde braids. What's Opera Doc?
Han-sel? Bewitched Bunny
Hapless Mr. Wilbur chases baby Mot as he soars above the skysprapers in his toy flying saucer. Rocket-bye Baby
The intense final showdown between the mongoose and a vengeful Nagaina. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
The cat and mouse didn't forget the gravy: revenge on the bloated bulldog. (The dog gets his comeuppance!) Chow Hound
Shep's deemed a hero, and the frustrated cat is confounded by the unsteady hand of justice. (The dog doesn't get his comeuppance!) Fresh Airedale
The split screen creates two feuding Daffys. Duck Amuck
The film breaks, saving Daffy's life. My Favorite Duck (Bugs is similarly spared in Rabbit Punch)
Freedom's not a license for chaos: the line suffers the morning after a night of making new shapes. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics
"YOICKS...AND AWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!" *SLAM!* Robin Hood Daffy
Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z: Wile E. Coyote pleads for leniancy...
...and Chuck lets him off the hook.
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