Chuck Jones

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, Ben Washam and Chuck Jones)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has three rather distinct things going on throughout the twenty-six minute television special. It also some some indistinct things going on–the Whoville songs, while charming, are nowhere near as impressive as the big things.

First, but not foremost, is Washam and Jones’s direction. Although Grinch is a Dr. Seuss adaptation, as a cartoon, its possibilites are different. Jones and Washam make the Grinch (and Max, his dog) into familiar cartoon roles. The Grinch is the bad guy, Max is the reluctant accomplice. It’s familiar because the dog can’t talk, while the Grinch does. Though not to poor Max so much as at him.

And when the Grinch does talk, it’s Boris Karloff’s voice, which is the second distinct thing going on. Boris Karloff narrates The Grinch–reading the source book. When the Grinch speaks, it’s Karloff’s voice… just filtered a little. The effectiveness of the filtering is a tad questionable, but more because of the additional noise the filter adds. Karloff’s familiar but not exactly the same voice for the Grinch’s dialogue? It works. It just sounds too distant.

Karloff’s narration is always good, frequently awesome. For example, the times he has to list various silly-named Christmas items are delightful, as Karloff approaches each new and absurd word with the jovial–but still reserved–calm; it’s awesome. It’s great narration. It defines Grinch.

At least for the first half or so.

Because then in comes the third distinct thing. Thurl Ravenscroft, uncredited singer of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. When the Grinch is stealing Christmas, sure, there’s some narration from Karloff, but it’s all about Ravenscroft’s voice. There are some great lyrics too–the song is set aside from the narration and is more a musing on the poor character of the Grinch. It’s awesome.

The Karloff narration and, eventually, Ravenscroft’s singing never bump into each other. Throughout, the animation works with the narration–expression is important in Grinch, as the amount the Grinch can contort depends on how long it takes Karloff to get through a particular line. And it can seem like Karloff is dragging it out to encourage contortion. And a contorted Grinch is not a pretty sight.

Similarly, when Ravenscroft gets back to the chorus in each of the Mean One segments–there are at least three–it defines the moment, not the animation. Lovell Norman and John O. Young cut most every sequence just right. There are a couple long moments during the Whoville songs, but Jones and Washam have the charm baseline high enough to allow indulgences. And even enjoy them. The finale’s tensions work because Jones and Washam don’t rush things, because they do slow down the pace. They let the finale rhyme with the opening, back to relying on Karloff.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is fantastic. Jones and Washam pace it out just right for the narration and song. Except without Karloff or Ravenscroft, there’d be nothing to pace. Good thing everything works so well together. Or, so well, alongside each other.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Washam and Chuck Jones; teleplay by Irv Spector, Bob Ogle, and Dr. Seuss, based on the book by Seuss; animated by Ken Harris, Tom Ray, Phil Roman, Richard Thompson, and Don Towsley; edited by Lovell Norman and John O. Young; music by Eugene Poddany; production designer, Maurice Noble; produced by Jones and Seuss; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Narrated by Boris Karloff.


Baby Buggy Bunny (1954, Chuck Jones)

Baby Buggy Bunny opens with its weakest sequence–a bank robbery. The perpetrator is a baby-sized thug who gets away by throwing on a bonnet and hopping in a carriage. Clearly there are some Baby Herman connections, especially later on when the robber and Bugs Bunny start battling.

Bugs gets involved thanks to a runaway baby carriage carrying the loot–hence the title–but most of the cartoon has him caring for this thug, unaware of the true identity of the “baby.” There are some great bits; Jones has the comic pacing down here.

The arrival of Bugs also has a change (for the better) in the animation. The bank robbery sequence is erratic, maybe even intentionally, but the Bugs stuff is just good work. The writing is really strong too. The scene where Bugs finds out who he’s been caring for is fantastic.

Buggy is a great time.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Abe Levitow, Lloyd Vaughan and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Baby-Faced Finster).


Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Chuck Jones)

Robin Hood Daffy is an unappealing mix of pointless, dumb and bewildering. Besides Porky beating up Daffy (Porky’s Friar Tuck, Daffy’s apparently Robin–more on that one in a bit), Jones’s gags all seem recycled from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It’s Daffy swinging around to disastrous result.

It’s never clear if Daffy’s actually Robin Hood or just playing in the forest and pretending. One hopes the latter, as it makes Robin a little more interesting. Also interesting is Jones and writer Michael Maltese’s anti-welfare take on the redistribution of wealth. It’s just a line, but it gets the brain working more than the rest of the cartoon.

The animation’s not bad, with the grand finale somewhat impressive, but there’s no energy. Mel Blanc does exceedingly well with the voices. It’s a shame the cartoon doesn’t match his efforts.

Jones only had to fill six minutes; he fails miserably.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Abe Levitow and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / Porky Pig).


Hare Conditioned (1945, Chuck Jones)

Embarrassingly, I didn’t understand Hare Conditioned‘s title until I looked it up online. No, I won’t tell you.

The cartoon is an enthusiastic chase through a department store, with star window attraction Bugs Bunny about to be shipped off the to taxidermy department. Bugs is likable here, partially because he’s opposite a heinous villain, the store manager (voiced by Dick Nelson).

Jones and writer Tedd Pierce manage to get both characters in drag, with Bugs’s feminine persona wooing the manager. There’s just got to be a scholarly work about the use of cross-dressing as a seduction device in Warner Bros. cartoons. There’s just got to be….

Jones has some fun ideas and a lot of good gags. Occasionally his animators can’t realize them but, on a whole, Hare Conditioned is a lot more successful than not.

It’s pleasant and consistently amusing, but there’s nothing particularly distinctive about it overall.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Basil Davidovich, Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam and Robert Cannon; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny) and Dick Nelson (Store manager).


Martian Through Georgia (1962, Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble)

Martian Through Georgia has three directors and no ending. It also has nothing to do with Georgia.

It opens fairly well, with very expressionist mainstream cartooning showing life on Mars. A bored Martian then travels to Earth, which kicks off the majority of the run time. Even though the Martian’s only on Earth for a day or so.

There’s narration for the entire cartoon and the Martian never speaks. It’s sort of a character piece actually, just without a strong protagonist.

Still, it could be a lot worse. The opening is incredibly strong, it’s just the Martian’s adventures on Earth where Georgia lacks. There aren’t any gags–they’d be inappropriate–but the Martian’s experiences are simply boring. And the animation, while interestingly stylized, isn’t compelling enough to make them exciting.

The end is a complete disaster, as the narration doesn’t make any sense. The suggestion of celestial importance just confuses.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble; written by Carl Kohler and Jones; animated by Bob Bransford, Ken Harris, Tom Ray and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by William Lava; produced by John W. Burton and David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Warden / Businessman / Old Man / Little Boy / Taunting Voice / Scared Citizens) and Ed Prentiss (Narrator / Policeman).


Fresh Airedale (1945, Chuck Jones)

Fresh Airedale opens without titles and I’m a little surprised to see it’s Chuck Jones. The animation is rather weak for the most part and, while there’s inventiveness, it’s chaste.

The cartoon has either a mixed message or just a depressing one. It’s all about a sociopathic, Machiavellian airedale who does whatever he can to get all the attention in the world. Meanwhile, a nice cat suffers.

So it’s either about how people stupidly like dogs over cats or about how this particular dog is the Mussolini of terriers.

Sadly, there’s no point in deciding which one. Michael Maltese is all over the place with the plotting and it sort of kills any expectation for the cartoon.

Mel Blanc doesn’t have much to do with most the voices, but Frank Graham is excellent in his role as the dog’s stupid owner.

Knowing it’s Jones, I expected a whole lot more.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Cat / Prowler / Nightmare Voices / Shep) and Frank Graham (Narrator / Shep’s Master).


Duck Amuck (1953, Chuck Jones)

Duck Amuck is either very memorable or very predictable. If I have ever seen it, it was fifteen plus years ago. Yet I could guess a bunch of the plot twists, including the final one.

That final reveal, which might make Amuck memorable, also undoes a lot of the neat stuff the cartoon does otherwise.

The premise is simple–Daffy Duck battles a mischievous animator, losing his voice, his body, the backgrounds, the foregrounds and so on. The cartoon’s best when Jones is playing with how sound works in animation and it puts Amuck ahead.

There’s also the secondary thread–how cartoons abuse their characters. Here, Daffy gets to voice (to the animator and the audience) some of that outrage and indignity.

But then the final reveal comes along and undoes all that work. It’s just a gag, think about.

Blanc does great voice work here.

It should’ve been better.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / The Animator).


Baton Bunny (1959, Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow)

Baton Bunny casts Bugs as a perfectionist conductor who, during a performance, has to cope with wardrobe malfunctions and a bothersome fly.

The most interesting thing about the cartoon–and something I’ve never seen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon before–is how co-directors Jones and Levitow go out of their way to make Bugs cute. He’s not drawn cute–in fact, he’s quite ugly in some shots–but Jones and Levitow show his little fluff tail being cute as it dances to the music and his ears doing something. It’s odd, but at least it keeps one’s attention.

Sadly, even though Baton has good direction (sometimes great) and good animation, it’s boring. It’s not the best way to listen to the piece of music the orchestra plays and it’s not a good Bugs Bunny cartoon. Bugs is interchangeable with anyone in Baton.

At best, Baton‘s a tedious viewing experience.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Richard Thompson and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.


Now Hear This (1962, Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble)

Now Hear This is a fairly amazing cartoon. It’s even more amazing when one considers it’s a Warner Bros. cartoon under the “Looney Tunes” banner. Jones and co-director Noble play with the idea of sound as it relates to movies. I suppose cartoons specifically, but it’s really just moving images.

They strip away the background, the superfluous details and just leave their protagonist, a British guy with bad hearing, practically two dimensional in the void.

There’s a narrative–the British guy confuses the Devil’s ear for a hearing trumpet–but it’s really just about the crazy things Noble and Jones come up with. The images constantly change, transitioning via the sound. It’s a great exercise, but they also create an excellent cartoon.

The pacing’s also important–since nothing happens–the gentle gags move it along and they work beautifully.

I wish Now Hear This ran three times as long.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble; written by John W. Dunn and Jones; animated by Bob Bransford and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by William Lava; produced by David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.


Hook, Line and Stinker (1958, Chuck Jones)

I don’t get it.

I haven’t seen a Road Runner cartoon since I was a kid, but watching Hook, Line and Stinker, I couldn’t figure out the appeal.

Oh, Jones’s direction is outstanding and the animation is great, but it’s a long series of gags. They’re not laugh out loud funny, but some of them are amusing–especially in Stinker‘s case, this long complicated one at the end. But there’s no other point….

Stinker‘s an exercise in craftsmanship, a cartoon boiled down to the gags and those gags drawn out to extremes.

And, even though Wile E. Coyote would undoubtedly eat the Road Runner, one can’t help but feel sorry for him. The whole cartoon is centered around laughing at the poor coyote. At least the Road Runner isn’t stuck-up; he’s clearly a birdbrain.

Again, Jones and his animators do a great job. Just a pointless one.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Richard Thompson and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.


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