Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tunesday #1 - 4 Cartoons, 1 Director, 2 Good Ones: Part One

Eh...what's up, Doc? Welcome to the first installment of Tunesday, my special series of Tuesday blog posts. These will all be about the great Warner Bros. cartoons, and their many highlights and lowlights.

Ah, good ol' Chuck Jones. Indisputably one of the  greatest animation directors of all time, his track record includes wonderful shorts like What's Opera, Doc?, Duck Amuck, Bully for Bugs, and the Hunting Trilogy. However, Jones was more art-inclined than humor-inclined. Granted, his shorts are most certainly funny, but as time wore on he became more focused on making them look good than on making them funny. As such, by the end of his career, he made shorts like Superior Duck and From Hare to Eternity that looked great but were, in terms of humor, terrible. Also, like most directors, he liked using premises more than once if they worked. This was the thinking that turned characters like Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, and Pepe Le Pew from one-shot standouts to recurring players. However, like other directors, he tended to do premises better the first time than the second. For the first ever Tunesday post, I'm going to look at 4 Chuck Jones cartoons, all starring Daffy Duck. 2 of them share one premise, 2 share another, but in both cases, we'll see how the earlier, slightly more humor-inclined Jones made it work better than later, when his humor became more subtle.
First, let's see the before-and-after of how Chuck handled Space Age cartoons. At one end of the spectrum is 1953's highly-praised Duck Dodgers in the 24.5th Century. What's to be said about this cartoon that hasn't already been said? It was named the 4th-greatest cartoon of all time, and stands out as one of the finest Daffy Duck shorts ever made. The story is creative, both as a spoof of '50s space serials and on its own: Duck Dodgers, hero of the 24th and half century, is sent to Planet X in order to claim it for the Earth, as the planet contains Illudium Fozdex, "the shaving cream atom," which Earth is running low on. Dodgers goes on with his Eager Young Space Cadet (Porky Pig), but encounters trouble when Marvin the Martian tries to claim it for Mars. The duo engage in a battle of wits ultimately leaving the planet a football-size chunk after an explosion. This short is brilliant; the writing is excellent, provided by Chuck's long-standing writing partner Michael Maltese, who is responsible for writing most of Jones's best work. The short features gags that connect to the story in some way, but stand alone as gut-bustingly funny moments, such as Daffy's long-winded plan of action to get to Planet X (and Porky's simple alternative, which Daffy takes credit for) to Daffy's lame supply of Acme products (a disentegrating gun that..well, disentegrates.)
Watch it and enjoy:

Of course, Jones decided to return to the space cartoon formula. However, he had a different writing partner this time: Tedd Pierce. Although a great writer when working with Jones in his earlier shorts, by this point Pierce had spent most of the '50s making topical TV show spoofs with Bob McKimson, such as Wideo Wabbit (1956) and The Honey-mousers ('57). None of these were very funny as they were dated the day they came out. Jones shouldn't have trusted Pierce to help with this next spoof, 1956's Rocket Squad. It somehow becomes a spoof of Dragnet...in space. I'd like to see how the gag session for this went.

Chuck never leaned toward topical spoofs; that's what makes his best shorts timeless. Here's a real clunker: Daffy and Porky are space detectives Joe Monday and his partner, Tuesday ("He always follows me"). This sets up a series of gags based off of Daffy the narrator messing up the facts (and Porky breaking the fourth wall to correct him), the many space age gags that tire out quickly (although one clever one manages to work in some WB crew members' names), and the eventual lame ending. You can tell Jones didn't like the material here, but had to just go with it. Were this just a lame McKimson outing, nobody would care. But this is Chuck Jones, one of the greatest animation directors of all time! Why would he make a stinker like this? The gags aren't funny and those who don't know Dragnet will be clueless to how they reference it. Watch it if you must, as it is on the 3rd Looney Tunes Golden Collection, but I warn you, it's a clunker.
Come back next week for the Chuck Jones Cowboy Double Feature. Yippe-ti-yi-yay.

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