Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chuck Jones - early work
Robinhood Makes Good (1939)
"Who's gonna be Robin Hood?"

Here's a scene from Chuck Jones' Robin Hood Makes Good. It's animated by Bob McKimson. Note the difference between how Jones uses Clampett's favorite animator with how Bob did.

In this cartoon, you can begin to see Chuck's unique drawing style emerge, however the animation is pretty standard for the time. Within a few cartoons, the animation in Chuck's films took on a unique style of movement of its own. I'll talk about that in the next post about him.

Chuck Jones is my second favorite cartoon director. He is probably the most innovative of all of them. He experimented more than anybody.

A few innovations:
Stylized cartoons-Dover Boys (1942) was the first cartoon with a couple of graphic looking characters-Dan Backslide and the big chinned hero guy, and the girl. This cartoon influenced the founders of UPA.

Lummoxes- He created the funniest lummox characters, like the ones with the short fat fingers. Nasty Canasta is the apex of them.

Sitcom cartoons-1948-What's Brewin' Bruin introduces his 3 Bears characters in their first starring role. It's like a radio sitcom. The amazing thing is that sitcoms hadn't really been visualized at all so Jones had to invent ways to use visuals to enhance the already familiar family comedies from radio. He did it great and his 3 Bears cartoons to this day are the best sitcom cartoons ever done.
(Does anyone know if the 3 bears are based on a specific radio show of the time?)

Abstract expressions- He invented all kinds of funny expressions that people can't actually make and yet when you see them, you understand them completely.

Pose-to-pose acting. Chuck grew into a style that favored very strong, graphic poses. This style eventually was adopted by UPA and then televison cartoons. It then devolved into pose to pose with no poses at all which is what we have in cartoons today.

Angular, modern looking style- He used all the same principles that the other animators of the period used, but gave a more angular and contrasty appearance to the finished designs. His early coyote drawings are the epitome of this style.

I'll think of many more innovations as I write more posts about Chuck.

The most amazing thing about his career is that, as creative as he was, he seemed to be against entertaining the audience from the get go. He is known for making funny cartoons, but he never really wanted to and only did it for a few short years.

His career as a director started in 1938, right when Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin had established WB cartoons as being irreverent antidotes to Disney's sappy infantile sweet sissy cartoons that every other studio was copying.

Chuck started as an animator for Tex Avery, then graduated to Clampett where he did really funny animation in Bob's cartoons - so he sure had the capability and influence to carry on the wacky tradition of Looney Tunes.

Instead he chose to make cartoons like the one above.

In 1939 while Tex made Hamateur Night, Believe It Or Else, A Day At The Zoo, Thugs With Dirty Mugs and Bob made The Lone Stranger and Porky, Porky's Tire Trouble, Chicken Jitters, Polar Pals, Scalp Trouble, the hilarious Porky's Picnic and Naughty Neighbors, Chucks rebelled against all this rebellion and made pantywaist cartoons.

For the first 3 years of his cartoons he only made one comedy per year using an established Warner's star. The rest of the cartoons were slow and aimed at infants.
1939 Daffy Duck and The Dinosaur
1940 Elmer's Candid Camera
1941 Elmer's Pet Rabbit

In 1942, he started making a few more comedies but still made lots of sap. There is a rumor that Leon Schlesinger threatened to fire him if he didn't start making brash crazy comedies like Clampett. Friz corroborates this in an interview I did with him that will appear on the Asifa archives site.

Whether it's true or not, by the output of Jones' first few years, you can see that he obviously had little interest or ability in making funny cartoons.

It took till 1948 for him to finally switch exclusively to comedy and when he did he was great at it. 1948 has most of my favorite Chuck Jones cartoons, because they are still pretty fully animated and they concentrate on entertainment and his timing got good by then.

I'll trace his fascinating development over a few posts.

Chuck is a huge influence on me in many ways and I'll let you in on the influences along the way.