Behind the ‘Looney Tunes’: A look at Chuck Jones’ life

March 24, 2009 | 10:00 p.m.

Chuck Jones
Most people can recall sitting in front of a television watching Bugs Bunny slyly outwit his would-be captors. Or perhaps, as a child, you were a fan of the trials and tribulations of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote as they chased each other endlessly. (And maybe you still are.)

Whoever your favorite Looney Tunes is, without the direction of the late Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones, the characters as we know them would never have made it into our living rooms. In what seems to be a timeless testament to the longevity of the animated medium, the Looney Tunes characters have been enjoyed by generations of people decades apart.

“When I was little, I completely remember loving the ones that were even without dialogue. It was so incredibly communicative with just Michigan J. Froggesture,” said Peggy Stern, director of “Chuck Jones: Memory of a 
Childhood,” a documentary about the Warner Bros. animator who introduced the world to shorts such as “Duck Amuck,” “One Froggy Evening” and “What’s Opera, Doc?” -– all three of which have made it onto the National Film Registry.

Airing at 8 tonight on Turner Classic Movies (and followed by a cornucopia of Jones’ work), the documentary chronicles Jones’ upbringing and experiences, offering insight into what influenced the director’s vision for Warner Bros. Cartoons and his other animated works.

“Working at Warner Bros. and making cartoons was not what it was like today,” Stern said. “They were making shorts in front of features, and they weren’t being made for children. They were being made to just appeal to everybody, in terms of story line and the use of music, which is actually quite sophisticated.”

Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
Heavily influenced by Mark Twain, Jones saw his cartoons far surpass the realm of anyone’s expectations for animation. His childhood, however, was not all sunshine and play. Jones’ abusive father made growing up difficult, a subject touched upon in the film. Despite everything, he kept an upbeat outlook on life and focused on the positive points in his past, a worldview that was transported into his work.

Stern, who won an Academy Award for the short “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” was drawn to Jones because of the idea that animation can emphasize emotional content through whimsical means. She was thrilled when Jones, who had already been the subject of multiple documentaries, said he would sit for an interview. Not only did he agree with her vision for the documentary, but Jones also had a lifelong commitment to encouraging youth to use their imaginations for creative means. (Jones died in 2002 at age 89.)

“I think it is just like Chuck said, ‘If we can make ourselves laugh, we can make other people laugh. We weren’t trying to focus on a demographic. We weren’t being told we had to make something for 3- to 5-year-olds, ” Stern said. “They were really trying to make human stories. Failure, success, human flaws, embarrassment: things that are universal for children through the ages.”

— Michelle Castillo

Top: Chuck Jones with Bugs Bunny; credit: TCM. Middle: Michigan J. Frog; credit: © 2000 Warner Bros. Bottom: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote; credit: © Warner Bros.

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11 Responses to Behind the ‘Looney Tunes’: A look at Chuck Jones’ life

  1. Griff says:

    Peggy Stern shared the Oscar for THE MOON AND THE SON with animator John Canemaker, who directed and co-produced the film.

  2. Chuck Jones was a genius. He had a gift for storytelling that stands tall to this day.

  3. Page says:

    I remember many a Saturday morning sitting in front of my T.V. watching Warner Bros. cartoons. My favorite ones were with Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. Today, I still laugh and grin like a child when I see these cartoons, although it's rare to see them on T.V. anymore. These cartoons remain a bright and cherished memory for me. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for bringing so much joy and laughter to so many.

  4. J. Inez says:

    I love Chuck Jones' work and Looney Tunes in general. I've every cartoon memorized (seemingly)! However, I'd love to hear his take on some of the racist Bugs Bunny cartoons that were created under his direction.

  5. conejito says:

    Ideally this would be on the front page *before* the showing on TCM, not the day after.

  6. David says:

    Bugs Bunny has been 'my hero' since I was a kid and will always remain so. Thanks Chuck.

  7. Raul Garcia says:

    Watch my IFC Short Film of the Month winning mini documentary:

  8. Bee says:

    I really enjoyed the tribute to Chuck Jones. What a wonderful talent he was.

  9. Joe says:

    The amazing thing is that Chuck Jones' cartoons are funnier to me now at 43 than they were when I was a kid.
    What a great, rare talent!

  10. Robin in LB says:

    One of the greatest thrills in my life was meeting Mr. Jones in person and shaking his hand at a gallery that was displaying animation cells from many of his cartoons. He was very gracious and very much a gentleman.

  11. Blockhead says:

    I never knew Chuck Jones' dad was such a badass moron to his own son like that – But now he's a animator making his best cartoons up till his death in 2002, I think today's animators do not have the same soul as Jones' work and there will never be another Chuck Jones no they won't, God rest our souls amen.

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