Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Honor Of Road Runner Anniversary Day

This is the 60th anniversary of "Fast and Furry-ous," and while the Chuck Jones site has the early Road Runner/Coyote model sheet posted today, I'm more interested in this November 1952 Chuck Jones letter they posted a few days ago, where he talks about working on a Road Runner cartoon -- which given the chronology is probably either "Stop, Look and Hasten!" or "Ready, Set, Zoom!" -- and the process of making these story-less, rigidly-formatted gag cartoons:

Heigh-ho or rather ho-hum. I’m a little sleepy. Been slamming through another Coyote and Roadrunner, as I may have mentioned. These are sort of money-in-the-bank type pictures. We don’t have to worry about establishing a premise or continuity or character development much or trick backgrounds. Everything’s pretty open. Just sit down and start drawing and when all the gags are roughed out, arrange them according to pace, so’s the picture will build in tempo, find myself a strong gag to end on and I’m in business. Timing is a snap because no dialogue and there’s no worry about making it too long, because I can time the gags as I go along and use just as many as I need. All in all, life could be very simple and maybe a little bit dull if all I had to do was direct coyote and r.r.s.

Even if the cartoon he was working on isn't "Stop, Look and Hasten," this is a good one to post, because I've noticed that a lot of people increasingly are picking that one as a favorite. Because it has a few things that give it kind of a story-like structure, if not an actual story -- the first of a few opening sequences where Jones and Maltese show the Coyote alone and hungry (Jones decided this wasn't necessary and soon gave up on it, but it worked well when he used it, and he brought back a variant of it in "To Beep Or Not To Beep"), and the gag that doesn't pay off the first time but pays off at the very end -- it feels like it holds together as a cartoon. Whereas some of the other cartoons, which may have better individual gags, could easily fit any of those gags into any other picture. The one big reservation I have about it is that ever since I was a child, I've been disappointed in any Road Runner cartoon that doesn't have the overhead shot of the Coyote falling into the canyon. That just is the Road Runner series to me.

One thing about the early Road Runner cartoons that slightly differentiates them from the later (post-shutdown) cartoons is that the early ones tended to have at least one genuine "chase" sequence: instead of just the Coyote trying to trap the Road Runner, there would be one scene where they were actually running, like the "clover" sequence in "Fast and Furry-Ous" or the tunnel bit in "Beep Beep." And here we get the scene on the train tracks, plus a sort of abbreviated chase scene at the end.


Thad said...

All 24 of the Jones Coyote/Road Runner pictures are great in my book. I would of course think this because these shorts are the reason I got interested in animation in the first place. (I used to draw them constantly, and I mean CONSTANTLY, in grade school. Teachers would often send notes home telling mom and dad they should find me help. They were probably right.

After "Fast and Furry-Ous" and "Beep Beep", though, I think all of my absolute favorite RRs are post-shutdowns. Or at least the ones that make me laugh hardest. "Gee Whiz-z-z-z", "Zoom and Bored", "Lickety Splat"... The hell with all the bashers! Beep Beep 4evr!

Anonymous said...

The expertise of Chuck Jones timing in the classic Road Runners is fully appreciated when run on a theater screen before an audience. The man really knew what he was doing. No one working exclusively in TV animation has that level of timing chops. I'm just sayin'.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

In honor if this grand day I declare that I will continue my regular non-existent viewing of Road Runner and Coyote cartoons !

John V. said...

In agreement with Thad's point, I actually think that the simpler post-shutdown look is more appropriate for Coyote/RR. That could be because the first Warner Bros cartoon I ever saw was "To Beep Or Not To Beep".