Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan, William Roberts, Bea Benaderet, Nicolai Shutorev, Paul Julian
Written by: Michael Maltese, Ben Washam
Directed by: Chuck Jones
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 71
Date: 02/28/1953
IMDB

Ten Great Looney Tunes Shorts by Chuck Jones (1953)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Wabbit Season

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Several DVD and Blu-ray releases have showcased the work of animators like Tex Avery, or devoted entire collections to specific characters (Droopy, Betty Boop, Popeye, Porky Pig, Tom and Jerry, etc.). But Chuck Jones's cartoons have always been dispersed randomly in big, catch-all Looney Tunes box sets, the "Golden" collection on DVD and the "Platinum" collection on Blu-ray. I wanted to pay tribute to this most singular of animators, who, along with writer Michael Maltese, voice actor Mel Blanc, composer Carl W. Stalling, and the other artists of "Termite Terrace," created a string of incredible cartoons. Jones had an easily identifiable visual style, and an incredible sense of rhythm and timing, in addition to a willingness to push the form in new directions (while still adhering to the rules and regulations of the characters and running times). This top ten runs about the same length as a short feature film, and packs enough laughter, tears, art, and genius to match up to any other feature film in existence. (If you need the show to be a little longer, my #11 pick would have been The Scarlet Pumpernickel, from 1950, and my #12 would have been Water, Water Every Hare, from 1952.)

Ali Baba Bunny (1957)
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, and instead of going to Pismo Beach, they wind up somewhere in the Arabian Desert, inside a cave filled with treasure. The "Hasan chop!" stuff doesn't really pass muster in today's world, but this one really shows off Jones's looser lines in his later period, and it's one of the flat-out funniest of all the Looney Tunes shorts, with tons of great dialogue. ("Open Septuagenarian? Open Saddle-Soap?" or "Consequences, schmonsequences... as long as I'm rich.")

Duck Amuck (1953)
This one seems to have overtaken What's Opera, Doc? in critics' polls as the greatest animated short of all time, and it's hard to disagree. It's a masterpiece. It shows Jones at the pinnacle of his powers, mashing up the surreal and the silly, as Daffy tangles, in an early meta-way, with an unseen animator that keeps changing things around, switching the scenery, changing costumes, and, finally messing with the animated frames themselves.

Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)
Jones outdid himself in terms of backgrounds here, going all out with shapes, angles, and perspectives, and proving his genius. It all has a strange, otherworldly feel that enhances the humor. In it, Duck Dodgers and his "Eager Young Space Cadet" (Porky) go looking for the shaving cream atom on Planet X, but cross paths with Marvin the Martian.

Fast and Furry-ous (1949)
If Jones had done nothing but the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, he still would have been near the top of the list of the greatest animators that ever lived. With no dialogue, wide open spaces, clever uses of perspective, close-ups, wide shots, and visual gags, they were deceptively inventive. The repeated theme of coyote trying to catch and eat bird and failing, was itself almost a gleeful, existential parody of life itself. Fast and Furry-ous was the first, but almost any of them will do.

Feed the Kitty (1952)
Breaking away from Bugs and Daffy, Jones made this wonderful little cartoon that actually has you laughing through your tears. A bulldog, Marc Antony, finds a tiny kitten. He barks at her, but she climbs onto his back, kneads for a bit, and falls asleep. Marc Antony falls in love and wants to keep her, but receives a scolding from his person. Then the kitten gets lost, and Marc Antony fears that she may have fallen into a bowl of cookie batter. This gets me every time.

Long-Haired Hare (1949)
This one's not necessarily one of Jones's very best, but it's among his funniest. Bugs runs afoul of a pompous opera singer, singing popular songs and interrupting rehearsal. Its genius lies in Bugs shrugging off the singer's first two attacks before leaping to revenge after the third ("Of course you know, this means war!"). Bugs poses as a conductor and torments the living daylights out of the panicky singer, and the timing is just delicious, especially when Bugs mail-orders a pair of earmuffs while the singer holds and impossibly long high note.

One Froggy Evening (1955)
Like the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, this one has no spoken dialogue... only a song. It's a classic story with an O. Henry-style arc, and it's a little spooky as well as funny and potent. A construction worker finds a frog (later named "Michigan J. Frog") that sings. The man tries to make a fortune from the little miracle, but the frog will not sing for anyone else. Again, the timing on this one is just brilliant, and the unexpected ending is somewhat disquieting.

Rabbit of Seville (1950)
Perhaps a forerunner to What's Opera, Doc?, and another jab at high art, Elmer Fudd chases Bugs into a theater where an audience is waiting to see a performance of The Barber of Seville. Bugs quickly switches to stage costuming, and proceeds to humiliate Elmer to the tune of the music, even inventing clever lyrics for it: "Welcome to my shop/Let me cut your mop/Let me shave your crop/Daintily, daintily..."

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)
This is the middle cartoon in a series of three, in which Bugs and Daffy each try to convince Elmer to shoot the other, with Bugs getting the upper hand each time. This one isn't necessarily a visual marvel, but it's so exceedingly clever, really showcasing Jones and Maltese's sheer mastery of timing and dialogue. The line "pronoun trouble" may carry an unwanted double-meaning in 2021, but it's still hilarious in context.

What's Opera, Doc? (1957)
Finally, the granddaddy. In Jerry Beck's 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons, this one was selected as the greatest cartoon of all time. It's a marvel, with Jones going to new heights in his landscapes and visual patterns. Once again, Jones cleverly mashes up high and low art forms, and invariably creates a work of art all his own. Even the ending is perfect.

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