Dear Incoming Mayor West: If you want something to do when you get into office, can I suggest that you declare September 21 to be "Chuck Jones Day?" That's the birthday of the late, great co-father of Bugs Bunny, creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and Spokane native. As he put it in his autobiography, he was the "youngest child ever to be run out of Spokane, Washington, on a rail."
If you're still wondering why we should honor this maker of cartoons, may I suggest that you buy or rent The Looney Tunes Golden Collection right away? On four DVDs, you'll encounter 56 animated shorts that are some of the best American popular art produced in the 20th century.
Some fans will lament that gems like What's Opera, Doc, and One Froggy Evening are missing from the collection. But, everything that is included is a classic. Seeing the complete duck/rabbit hunting in Rabbit Seasoning, or the sophisticated slapstick of Duck Amuck will be a revelation to anyone who only knows the butchered television versions. They also look great. The colors are luminous, looking more like they've been enhanced than merely restored. Either way, they're perfectly in keeping with the cartoons' attitudes.
Never belligerent, the Looney Tunes are grown-up without being crude, and frenetic without being adolescent. In Long Haired Hare, we watch Bugs deflate the ego of an opera star while stealing the show himself. In Fast and Furry-ous, we meet that icon of indefatigability, Wile E. Coyote; anyone who has ever had trouble with technology knows his story. Jones used lines and color the way Mark Twain used words: to show us ourselves, and to help us learn to laugh at what we see.
Of course, Chuck Jones was only one artist who worked on the Looney Tunes. The contributions of voice-artist Mel Blanc (who gave us the timeless inflection of "What's up, doc?") and the squash-and-stretch attitude of Bob Clampett are both represented here. And it would be a shame to overlook the spot-on music of Carl Stalling and the surprising literacy of writer Michael Maltese (who gave us the punchline "Ah-ha! Pronoun trouble!" Try finding a joke like that today). But it was Jones, with his assured characterization and miraculous sense of timing, who showed the world what a cartoon could do. And he came from Spokane.
Publication date: 11/20/03