A Man for All Seasons
Noell Wolfgram Evans
world was saddened to learn on February 22nd of the passing
of Chuck Jones. The filmmaking master passed away due to congestive
heart failure at the age of 89 years old. He was born in Spokane,
Washington in 1912 and soon after moved to Hollywood where
he remained, in body or in spirit, for the rest of his life.
He is survived by his wife, daughter and various other family
members including: Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, The
Grinch, Michigan J. Frog, Sniffles, Pogo, Marvin Martian,
Tom Cat and Jerry the Mouse, Witch Hazel, The Road Runner
and the Coyote, Rikki-Tiki-Tavi, Raggedy Ann and Andy along
with numerous others."
is how an obituary of the animation great may be run. It would
be accurate, but incomplete as it would not truly represent the
man or the influence in his work. It's said that Jack Warner,
the boss at Warner Brothers during animation's Golden Age,
thought that his animation unit made Mickey Mouse cartoons. That
anyone could work and thrive under conditions where no one understands
what you do is a testament to talent, creativity, tenacity and
As one of
the last surviving members of the great Warner Brothers animation
unit of the 1930s - 1950's (in fact as one of the last surviving
'name' members of the entire 'Golden Age of Animation'), Jones
often found himself standing in the spotlight. His work output,
attitude and knowledge placed him in the position of 'Animation
Guru', it was a job that he enjoyed to the fullest. He made constant
appearances lecturing at classes and festivals, acting as a consultant
to animators and historians and acting as a general 'Goodwill
Ambassador' for animation. The more public and open he was though,
the more scrutinized he, and his work, became.
He was often
derided for seeming to take credit away from his peers and 'balloon'
his contributions to the Warner Brothers cartoons of the 30's,
40's and 50's. (Arguments that some say Jones himself started
himself in his books 'Chuck Amuck' and Chuck Reducks') This argument
would be countered by others who would point to the creativity
in his most famous cartoons, most notably 'What's Opera, Doc?'
(1957) and 'Duck Amuck' (1953). Still others will concede that
Jones did in fact create some memorable works, but if his career
were to be looked at as a whole, it would show a definite imbalance,
thanks in large part to his early Disney-influenced work like
'The Night Watchman' (1938) and his later turn with Tom and Jerry
in the 1960's. It's obvious that Chuck Jones was, and remains
to be, a much-studied artist.
is a definite reason for that. Consider that during the course
of his 60+-year career, he directed over 300 movies. Two of these
films, 'What's Opera Doc?' and 'Duck Amuck', continually find
themselves at or near the top of any 'All Time Greatest Cartoon'
lists. 'What's Opera Doc? is an animation tour-de-force that takes
on all of the conventions of opera and animation in six and one-half
minutes. Its striking visual design and layout were created by
Maurice Noble who did an amazing job of placing an opera into
a cartoon without making it feel 'cartoony'. Michael Maltese wrote
the story while Milt Franklyn arranged the score from Wagner's
'Ring' cycle (and he threw in some original music as well). All
of this was orchestrated by Jones to create a memorable, exciting
and moving animation experience. Prior to this, Jones and Co.
created 'Duck Amuck', perhaps one of the most dissected short
films ever created. In case you've failed to see it, its plot
would seem to be a simple one: Daffy Duck appears on screen to
act out a scene. As soon as he starts though an unseen animator
changes the scene's settings. Daffy quickly adjusts and restarts
only to have things change on him again and again. Soon everything
is upside down and Daffy appears on a white 'canvas' arguing and
pleading his case to the off-screen, omnipotent hand that controls
his fate while he is painted purple with yellow polka-dots. This
constant change and adjustment and change again builds and builds
until the surprise ending which can be viewed in any number of
ways. In fact this whole picture can be taken from a number of
angles and in fact it has been. 'Duck Amuck' has been seen as
everything from a pure piece of animation (a cartoonists cartoon
as it were) to a philosophical statement on creation and existentialism.
It's a far cry from the general 'Was it funny?' type of question
that animation usually brings about but it's precisely these opposites
that make the film the studied and admired work it is today.
If you had
to single out one Jones cartoon to represent the director, this
would be a solid choice for it works off of two of his strong
point, split second timing and a strong sense of character, to
relay it's comedy. Like a good live action comedy, you don't necessarily
laugh at the action on screen, you laugh at the characters reactions
is Jones' most theorized about film and it alone would warrant
him a place in animation history but in a testament to Jones'
talent, creativity and energy there are literally dozens of other
shorts in his cannon that can be looked to for inspiration or
a simple smile.
(1952) - Even people who claim not to know cartoons, know this
one. Elmer is hunting rabbits and then ducks and then rabbits
again as Daffy and Bugs continually spin the world around turning
each other into the target. The short's famous 'Rabbit season,
Duck season' argument is not just a classic moment in animation,
it's a classic piece of film.
Evening' (1953) - A construction worker finds a singing frog who
will sing for no one but him. Proving Jones' mastery of timing
and character, this is essentially a silent picture (minus the
Any of the
early Road Runner/Coyote shorts - Start with their first outing
'Fast and Furry-Ous' (1949) and watch from there. These characters
(created by Jones and Michael Maltese) eventually drifted into
a sort of banal repetition but their early appearances feature
wrapped around some unique ACME-sponsored innovation.
'How The Grinch
Stole Christmas' (1966) - For many, this half-hour television
special is the Christmas program. Jones himself directed the piece
and animated a number of the sequences.
'From A to
Z-Z-Z-Z' (1954)- This Academy Award nominated short tells the
story of a daydreaming schoolboy (sort of a junior Walter Mitty)
in a uniquely stylized manner. At the time, design was being looked
at in a whole new light in the field of animation; Jones created
this picture and raised the mark.
in the 24 ½ Century' (1953) - Daffy Duck at his blowhearted
finest. You needent be a science fiction fan to appreciate his
It must be
noted that Jones' official title for much of his career was that
of 'Director' and he was fortunate enough to direct some amazing
talents including design artist Maurice Noble and writer Michael
Maltese. Jones' credit as a director was that he allowed each
member of his team to display their talents. Granted as Director,
his 'stamp' can be seen on each and every one of the animations
that he oversaw but his imprint was not so overpowering so as
to block out the contributions of the other members. Jones didn't
direct as much as he orchestrated, enabling each team member to
create and express their ideas while still keeping them within
the framework of the story and characters. It should not be taken
that all Jones did was sit back and point, on the contrary he
was an accomplished artist who broke into animation as a cel washer;
it's important because it shows that he indeed knew the business
from the bottom up. He spent time in all facets of the job and
was willing to dive into any of them when the time arose.
that Chuck oversaw, perhaps none were more influential than the
Dover Boys. The Dover Boys (Tom, Dick and Larry) appeared in Jones'
1942 short 'The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals
of Roquefort Hall'. A send up of late-19th century melodrama,
the short told the story of Dainty Dora, her kidnapping by Dan
Backslide and eventual rescue by The Dover
Boys. What made this picture stand out was its unique stylization
and design. It's use of wipes and 'limited animation' was light
years ahead of its time and proved to be a major influence on
the UPA revolution that occurred in animation in the 1950s. Jones
would further lay influence on the artists who would form UPA
when he directed 'Hellbent for Election' in 1944 for the Industrial
Film and Poster Service, a collection of artists who would morph
the company into UPA.
just UPA that felt the effect of this film though, modern animators
continue to turn to it as a benchmark. In an interview with Animato
in the spring of 1988, Ren and Stimpy creator John Kricfaluski
cited the Dover Boys as a strong influence in the design of much
of his work in through its innovation in the 'Strong Pose' theory.
It's a theory that states that limited animation can be effective
if the characters maintain and react to action with strong poses
as a 'stance' can tell almost as much about who or what a person
is as a walk can. Kricfaluski: "It (the strong pose) was
all invented by Chuck Jones in The Dover Boys."
Over the course
of his life Chuck Jones received 3 competitive Academy Awards
as well as an honorary Oscar in 1996. He won a MacDowell Award,
several Peabody Awards, saw 'What's Opera, Doc?' named to the
National Film registry and received numerous other accolades.
One of the
ultimate testaments to Jones' career and talents came in the early
1990's when Warner Brothers decided to resurrect their animation
division. One of the people that they turned to for help was Chuck
Jones. When the Coyote and Road Runner appeared in a brand new
short, 'Chariots of Fur', in 1994 in theaters, a whole new generation
was able to experience the magic of Chuck Jones on the silver
screen. Jones continued to work for Warner Brothers, moving into
the digital world through the creation of an all-new animation
series, called 'Timber Wolf', that could be found exclusively
on-line. He ended his life as he lived it, animating, innovating
Evans is a freelance writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. He has
written for the Internet, print and had several plays produced.
He enjoys the study of animation and laughs over cartoons with
his wife and daughter.
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