Sunday, January 13, 2008

Looney Tunes: An Appreciation

The Looney Tunes shorts have been a major part of my childhood. Of most people's childhoods really. Every time I see one, I'm always reminded of those pleasant Saturday mornings where I would get up and watch those cartoons with my brother laughing hard even though we have seen it several times before. Now, as an adult and with the release of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box-set, I can relive those innocent days and at the same time see them with more grown-up eyes. It amazes how well many of these cartoons hold up. They're still as funny as I remember them but at the same time I can appreciate more, as a cineaste, the artistry that was put into them.

I love Disney animation. I think many of their animated feature films are superb but I think when it comes to shorts, I think Warner Bros. have them beat. Sure, the Goofy instructional shorts are terrific but the comedic geniuses of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, etc. all have them beat. That plus the impeccable voice acting of Mel Blanc and the groundbreaking musical work of Carl Stalling, really makes the Looney Tunes one of the zenith of animated cinema.

Thanks to the wonderful invention that is youtube, here are a few of the shorts I consider to be masterpieces and my thoughts about them:

Duck Amuck (1953)

I can remember laughing so hard, my tears were running down my eyes when I first saw this cartoon. Directed by Chuck Jones (and arguably one of his masterpieces), it's still freaking hilarious even with multiple viewings and I'm amazed at the artistry of the entire thing. Daffy Duck breaking the fourth wall, self-aware that he is a cartoon, interacting with an unseen sadistic animator hellbent on making Daffy lose his top with every animated conventions broken, playful and inventive use of sound, the list goes on and on. Just watch it and you'll agree. It's a riot.

Feed the Kitty (1951)

This is another Chuck Jones classic. This short is often cited as one of the most influential, groundbreaking and even subversive cartoons ever made. The film is also deceptively simple: A surly bulldog named Marc Antony adopts and befriends an ultra-cute kitten subsequently named Pussyfoot. It is funny but also features some of the best examples of character animation ever. A scene from the PIXAR film Monsters Inc. paid tribute to this film (the scene where Sully thought Boo was in the conveyor belt is similar to the one mixer scene in this one) and Gremlins director Joe Dante also spoofed the toy car scene in a scene in that film.

Rabbit of Seville (1950)

There's no denying that a lot of children get their classical music education from shorts with their inventive and masterful use of music courtesy of Carl Stalling. This cartoon is an excellent example of that. It's also quite simple: Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny walk into a performance of Barber of Seville, resulting in hilarity. Another great example of this is What's Opera, Doc?

Three Little Bops (1957)

This one's from Friz Freleng. It is the familiar story of Three Little Pigs but retold as a jazz musical. And it's fantastic. The animation, the music, the re-imagined story where the Big Bad Wolf just wants to be in the band. I remember loving this as a kid and loving it even more when I revisited it recently. This cartoon is guaranteed to put a smile in your face.

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