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Early Chuck Jones Looney Tunes Cartoons (1938-1942)

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Chuck Jones was an animator who was often considered one of the greatest Looney Tunes directors of all time; however, Jones didn’t start as a good director in his first few years (1938-1942, which are the cartoons he directed from "The Night Watchman" up to "Fox Pop").

They featured characters such as Sniffles the Mouse, the Two Curious Puppies, Inki, Conrad Cat, Henery Hawk, and several one-offs.

Shorts

1938

  • "The Night Watchman" (November 19; one-off)

1939

  • "Dog Gone Modern" (January 14; first Two Curious Puppies short)
  • "Robin Hood Makes Good" (February 11; one-off)
  • "Prest-O Change-O" (March 25; with the Two Curious Puppies and Happy Rabbit)
  • "Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur" (April 22; with Daffy Duck)
  • "Naughty but Mice" (May 20; with Sniffles; also his first appearance)
  • "Old Glory" (July 1; with Porky Pig)
  • "Snowman's Land" (July 29; one-off)
  • "Little Brother Rat" (September 2; with Sniffles)
  • "The Little Lion Hunter" (October 7; with Inki and the Minah Bird; also the first appearance of both)
  • "The Good Egg" (October 21; one-off)
  • "Sniffles and the Bookworm" (December 2; with Sniffles; first appearance of the Bookworm)
  • "The Curious Puppy" (December 30; with the Two Curious Puppies)

1940

  • "Mighty Hunters" (January 27; one-off)
  • "Elmer's Candid Camera" (March 2; with Elmer Fudd)
  • "Sniffles Takes a Trip" (May 11; with Sniffles)
  • "Tom Thumb in Trouble" (June 8; one-off)
  • "The Egg Collector" (July 20; with Sniffles and the Bookworm)
  • "Ghost Wanted" (August 10; one-off)
  • "Stage Fright" (September 28; with the Two Curious Puppies)
  • "Good Night Elmer" (October 26; with Elmer Fudd)
  • "Bedtime for Sniffles" (November 23; with Sniffles)

1941

  • "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" (January 4; with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd)
  • "Sniffles Bells the Cat" (February 1; with Sniffles)
  • "Joe Glow, the Firefly" (March 8; one-off)
  • "Toy Trouble" (April 12; with Sniffles; the final appearance of the Bookworm)
  • "Porky's Ant" (May 10; with Porky Pig)
  • "Porky's Prize Pony" (June 21; with Porky Pig)
  • "Inki and the Lion" (July 19; with Inki and the Minah Bird; last Inki short of this era)
  • "Snowtime for Comedy" (August 30; with the Two Curious Puppies)
  • "The Brave Little Bat" (September 27; with Sniffles; last Sniffles short of this era)
  • "Saddle Silly" (November 8; one-off)
  • "Porky's Midnight Matinee" (November 22; with Porky Pig)

1942

  • "The Bird Came C.O.D." (January 17; first appearance of Conrad Cat)
  • "Porky's Café" (February 21; with Porky Pig and Conrad Cat)
  • "Conrad the Sailor" (February 28; with Daffy Duck and Conrad Cat; the final appearance of Conrad Cat)
  • "Dog Tired" (April 25; with Two Curious Puppies; final appearance of the Two Curious Puppies)
  • "The Draft Horse" (May 9; one-off)
  • "Hold the Lion, Please" (June 6; with Bugs Bunny)
  • "The Squawkin' Hawk" (August 8; first appearance of Henery Hawk)
  • "Fox Pop" (September 5; one-off; final short in this era)

Bad Qualities

  1. Chuck Jones tried way too hard to be like Disney but without including any of the cleverness Disney's animated output had in favor of being overly sickly-sweet and saccharine around the time these shorts were made, which was odd by Looney Tunes' 1938-1942 standards (and especially during 1940-1942) since by that time many of the Warners directors started moving away from trying to copy Disney's style.
    • While not direct remakes/rip-offs of pre-existing Disney cartoons of the time, some of his early cartoons go so far as to rehash certain scenes from Disney's animated output, for example:
      • "Dog Gone Modern" bears plot similarities to that of the Donald Duck cartoon "Modern Inventions".
      • "Naughty But Mice" bears plot similarities to that of the Silly Symphonies cartoon "The Country Cousin".
      • "The Good Egg" bears plot similarities to that of the Silly Symphonies cartoon "Elmer Elephant".
      • The scene near the end of "Sniffles Takes a Trip" where Sniffles is fearful of the surrounding dark forest rehashes the scene where Snow White is terrified of the spooky forest from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
      • All of Chuck Jones' Inki cartoons bear similarities to that of the 1937 Silly Symphonies short "Little Hiawatha", since both cartoon involve a native child protagonist hunting jungle animals.
  2. The stories are just not good and frequently lack humor, most notably the Sniffles cartoons, "The Bird Came C.O.D." and "Fox Pop"
    • Most of the cartoons suffer from lethargic pacing with loads of filler and can get boring very quickly.
      • Some of the jokes and humor are very dull, even by 1938-42 standards, especially considering the other Warner units like Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng had significantly improved their comedic timing by then.
      • Between the years 1941-1942, though Jones started slowly moving out of his "cute" phase beginning with "Inki and the Lion", many of the later cartoons of this era from "Inki and the Lion" up until "Fox Pop" overall often can't decide if they want to be Disney cartoon knock-offs or zany-wacky Looney Tunes cartoons at heart, mainly due to Jones at the time still struggling on trying to incorporate the Tex Avery-inspired zany-wacky humor the Looney Tunes series is best known for into his cartoons, often with mixed-to-poor results, with "The Bird Came C.O.D." and "Fox Pop" being the worst offenders of such.
  3. While they aren't mean-spirited jerks or loathsome characters, Sniffles, the Two Curious Puppies, Inki, Minah Bird, Conrad Cat, Henery Hawk, and the other one-off characters are just bland and some of the hideously one-note characters that come close to giving even Buddy a run for his money.
    • The Two Curious Puppies are bland rip-offs of Pluto from the Disney cartoons.
    • Conrad Cat is a lazy clone of Goofy from the Disney cartoons.
    • Inki is a race-swapped version of Little Hiawatha from the 1937 Silly Symphonies short of the same name, except that he's an African native boy drawn in blackface style rather than a Native American boy.
    • Almost all of Jones' cutesy Disney-inspired protagonist characters such as Sniffles tend to be overly weak and passive.
    • Henery Hawk, on the other hand, isn't any better as he just a bratty, half pint-sized chicken hawk, making him even worse then any character that Chuck Jones made.
      • Despite how bland and boring Jones' early characters are, Sniffles appears to the overused of all of Jones' earliest characters, having appeared in a total of 12 cartoons between the years 1939-1946, with him appearing in a total of 9 cartoons during this era with three Sniffles cartoons produced each year between 1939-1941.
        • The same can even be said for Two Curious Puppies though not as much as Sniffles, who appeared in 6 cartoons during this era, where the two originally appeared in 3 cartoons during their debut year in 1939 before their reappearances have been cut back to just one cartoon each year between 1940-1942.
  4. Most of the premises for the cartoons are very unoriginal and formulaic as they usually consist of a cutesy character struggling to accomplish something or getting tormented by an inanimate object.
    • Most of his early Disney-esque cartoons overall couldn't decide whether they want to be cheery and uplifting (like in "Sniffles and the Bookworm") or drab and dramatic (like in "The Good Egg").
    • Numerous bad/mediocre cartoons scattered throughout his early career, such as:
      • "The Curious Puppy"
      • "Stage Fright"
      • "Elmer's Candid Camera" (which started Elmer Fudd's career on a sour note)
      • "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" (which started Chuck Jones' career with Bugs Bunny on a sour note)
      • "The Good Egg"
      • "Sniffles Bells the Cat"
      • "Good Night Elmer"
      • "Porky's Ant"
      • "Porky's Midnight Matinee"
      • "Sniffles Takes a Trip"
      • "The Squawkin' Hawk" (which started Henery Hawk's career on a rather sour note)
      • "The Bird Came C.O.D." (which started Conrad Cat's career on a terrible note, which is also the worst cartoon this era has to offer)
      • "Fox Pop" (which ended this era on a sour note)
  5. There are some mean-spirited moments on characters that often don't deserve it or does nothing wrong in his early cartoons, mainly as a desperate attempt to get viewers to sympathize with his characters. Such as:
    • The younger squirrel getting bullied by his brothers in "Robin Hood Makes Good".
    • Elmer Fudd getting tortured by Happy Rabbit and Bugs Bunny in "Elmer's Candid Camera" and "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" respectively.
    • Sniffles gets thrown into a lot of scary and complicated situations in almost every cartoon he appears in, such as getting chased by a scary cat resembling a prototype Sylvester, with the worst offender being "Sniffles Takes a Trip" where he is fearful of almost every harmless woodland creature.
  6. Some moments from his early cartoons are very dark and depressing, mainly as a desperate attempt to get viewers to sympathize with his characters, such as:
    • "The Good Egg" has a very dark and depressing scene of Mother Hen trying to commit suicide when she can’t have a baby, and it's overall concept is mainly about a baby turtle getting bullied and ostracized by the baby chicks throughout the entire cartoon.
    • Daffy Duck's first death in "Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur".
    • The overall concept of "Fox Pop" which is about a fox, misinterpreting the meaning of a fox farm as a means to a life of luxury, finds out the hard way when he learns that in fox farms foxes are basically killed and skinned for their fur for capes.
  7. To make matters worse, Chuck Jones reuses some of his plots for his earlier cartoons such as "Inki and the Lion" reusing the same plot from "The Little Lion Hunter", "Porky's Midnight Matinee" reusing the same plot from "Porky's Ant", and "The Bird Came C.O.D." reusing the same plot from "Stage Fright".
  8. While the animation is usually good at times, it can be a little off and sloppy now and then.
    • The scene where Bugs begins to build the tensity of his "fear" of Leo in "Hold The Lion, Please" looks very off-model.
  9. Most of the designs for the characters are saccharine and generic. For example, the African pygmy in "Porky's Ant" looks suspiciously similar to Inki.
  10. Two particular well-known Looney Tunes characters, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd didn't have a good start to their respective cartoon careers under Chuck Jones' early direction via cartoons such as "Elmer's Candid Camera" and "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" respectively, due to both cartoons featuring Elmer getting routinely abused by Bugs (or in the case of "Elmer's Candid Camera", a prototype version of Bugs known as Happy Rabbit) for no reason whatsoever, which always ends badly for Elmer and Bugs/Happy Rabbit getting away scot-free, as well as the lack of hilarious humor in both cartoons.
    • Speaking of Happy Rabbit, under Chuck Jones' direction Happy Rabbit is depicted as a much more annoying sadistic jerk who tortures other characters for no reason whatsoever compared to the Ben Hardaway-directed cartoons such as "Porky's Hare Hunt" and "Hare-Um Scare-Um", as reflected in both "Prest-O Change-O" and "Elmer's Candid Camera".
    • Speaking of Bugs Bunny, under Chuck Jones' direction Bugs is depicted as extremely out-of-character in "Elmer's Pet Rabbit", instead of the funny, fun-loving karmic trickster we all know and love, here he is instead depicted as mean, unfunny, angry, rude, malicious, ungrateful, aggressive and arrogant with an almost thuggish personality, and is a huge Karma Houdini as well.
      • While it's nice to see that he's recasting Bugs Bunny as a likable and more sympathetic protagonist in "Hold The Lion, Please", however he went from an energetic prankster to being more calmer and reserved.
    • Speaking of Elmer Fudd, his earliest cartoons seem to have Elmer get constantly tortured for no reason whatsoever (in the case of "Good Night Elmer", getting tormented by a mere candle) and it always ends badly for him every time as well, such as him crying over his entire predicament due that he had all night the next morning in the ending of "Good Night Elmer".
    • Most of the side characters in these shorts are either underdeveloped to the point where they're very forgettable, mostly annoying as ever, or a mixture of both. A good example would be the blabbermouth bat Batty from "The Brave Little Bat", the stupid ant from "Porky's Ant" and "Porky's Midnight Matinee" or the Henery Hawk-esque little bird from "Stage Fright" and "The Bird Came C.O.D.".
  11. Subpar voice acting, except Mel Blanc and Bernice Hansen. For example, the voice given to Bugs in "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" sounds nothing like the other cartoons he appears in, making him sound like an old man (even though Bugs' voice in a said cartoon is said to be an imitation of Jimmy Stewart's voice).
  12. Some of his early cartoons have titles that tend to be confusing or misleading. For example:
    • "Stage Fright" gives the assumption to audiences that The Two Curious Puppies would suffer from stage fright when performing onstage to a wide audience, but in the short, the The Two Curious Puppies never had any actual stage fright during the entire cartoon; instead it's all about the two dogs going backstage and running afoul with the backstage animals, including a Henery Hawk-esque little bird from a magician's hat.
    • "Snowtime for Comedy" gives the assumption to audiences that it would be a funny and comedic snow-themed cartoon involving The Two Curious Puppies, but the actual short turns out to be barely even funny.
  13. More unfortunately enough, some of the shorts have outdated offensive stereotypes of characters, most particularly African Americans or Native Americans. This is prominently seen in shorts such as the Inki cartoons, "Mighty Hunters", "Porky's Ant", and "Saddle Silly", or brief scenes in shorts such as "Porky's Prize Pony" and "Porky's Midnight Matinee".
  14. Many of these cartoons (especially "The Bird Came C.O.D.") almost caused Chuck Jones to get fired from the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio by producer Leon Schlesinger who was not satisfied with the quality of the cartoons he made when they came out.

Good Qualities

  1. Chuck Jones eventually learned "to be funny" and started to direct much funnier and better cartoons starting with "The Dover Boys" in 1942 and continued to direct much funnier cartoons later this year and so forth such as "My Favorite Duck", "Case of the Missing Hare" and course, "The Unbearable Bear" though at rare times between 1943-1944 he still directed some slow-paced cartoons such as "Angel Puss".
    • While "The Dover Boys" is said to be the first cartoon Jones learned "to be funny", however "The Draft Horse" marked the first time Jones directed fast-paced and funny cartoons after directing a large number of slow-paced cartoons throughout the years 1938-1942, though this directing style wouldn't officially be the norm for Jones until at least when "The Dover Boys" came out.
    • Sniffles started getting funny by this point too, with his character wildly retooled from a slow, wuss dimwit to a cunning, fast-talking trickster akin to Bugs or early Daffy. The same can be said with Inki (depending on your view).
      • By that time, Sniffles has been drastically recast as an incessant chatterbox (in the vein similar to Friz Freleng's Blabbermouse character from "Little Blabbermouse" and "Shop, Look and Listen" and the Batty character from Chuck Jones' "The Brave Little Bat") which serves more of a nuisance than a cute protagonist.
        • While Sniffles being a chatterbox could be annoying at times, at least he is funny and not cringy unlike his brother, Batty from "The Brave Little Bat".
  2. Decent animation and music by Carl Stalling, along with gorgeous and lavish backgrounds.
    • Rod Scribner, Ken Harris, Rudy Larriva, Robert Cannon and Phil Monroe also occasionally provide quality animation.
  3. Some of his earlier works during this time are decent, such as:
    • "The Night Watchman" (his directorial debut)
    • "Robin Hood Makes Good"
    • "Prest-O Change-O" (Jones' first Happy Rabbit cartoon)
    • "Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur" (his very first Daffy Duck cartoon)
    • "Old Glory" (the very first short to feature the current design of Porky Pig in color)
    • "Snowman's Land"
    • "The Little Lion Hunter"
    • "Tom Thumb in Trouble"
    • "Ghost Wanted" (thankfully to Tex Avery's voice-over performance as the jolly laughing ghost)
    • "Bedtime for Sniffles"
    • "Joe Glow, the Firefly" (his first Looney Tunes short)
    • "Inki and the Lion"
    • "Porky's Prize Pony"
    • "Dog Tired"
    • "Conrad the Sailor"
    • "The Draft Horse" (the first time Jones started directing fast-paced cartoons)
    • "Hold the Lion, Please" (Jones' first Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs is likable)
      • Likewise, while they are not the better shorts "The Good Egg", "Naughty But Mice" and "Saddle Silly" are still passable at best, even if some of those are forgettable shorts.
      • Jones' final four cartoons of this era from "The Draft Horse" up until "Fox Pop", while still far from perfect, were somewhat better than the rest of his older cartoons, though that isn't saying much.
  4. Unlike Bugs Bunny and Henery Hawk, the characters Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Happy Rabbit (in Prest-O Change-O), and Elmer Fudd remained likable under Chuck Jones' early direction, despite the latter character being treated like a Butt-Monkey way too much.
    • Chuck Jones eventually learned from his mistakes and started recasting Bugs Bunny as a likable and more sympathetic protagonist beginning with "Hold the Lion, Please", and made Elmer Fudd less of an Butt-Monkey than his first three shorts in "To Duck or Not to Duck".
    • Speaking of Henery Hawk, his creation in 1942 marked director Chuck Jones' first ever attempt at breaking away from creating Disney-inspired characters, even though Jones would have much better luck at doing so when creating Hubie and Bertie the following year in The Aristo-Cat.
      • He did get slightly funnier once Robert McKimson started pairing and retooled him with Foghorn Leghorn beginning with Walky Talky Hawky unlike Jones did.
        • Jones returned to using Henery Hawk only once in You Were Never Duckier in 1948 and uses McKimson's retooled version of the character despite that Jones flanderized Daffy.
    • The only character that did work right from the start is The Minah Bird, from the Inki shorts.
    • While Tex Avery and Bob Clampett had depicted Daffy as completely insane, irrational, and uncontrollable in their previous cartoons with the character, Jones depicted Daffy here as somewhat more thoughtful and calculating, which is nice.
  5. Even the weaker shorts have their funny moments like Conrad's fall from a stepladder in "The Bird Came C.O.D.", the "TURN OUT THAT LIGHT!!" running gag in "Elmer's Pet Rabbit", Joe's "GOOD NIGHT!!" in "Joe Glow, The Firefly", "WAITER!! WAITER!!" in "Porky's Cafe", "That I did, but I didn't tell you to say, AHHHH!" in "The Draft Horse", and the entire running gag involving the lovebirds in "Dog Tired".
  6. To be fair, Chuck Jones can't be blamed for the bad qualities of his early cartoons as he didn't even write them, he just directed them.
  7. While the voice acting are subpar, Mel Blanc does a pretty good job voicing Daffy and Porky in this era since he will voice Bugs Bunny and those two aforementioned characters in later years.

Reception

While Chuck Jones himself was a good and iconic cartoon director, and most of his Looney Tunes work received positive critical and audience acclaim, however most of his earliest Looney Tunes work from 1938 to mid-1942 on the other hand aren't remembered fondly by fans, critics or animation buffs, with criticism being targeted at they trying too hard to copy Disney's cutesy formula of the time and severely lacked the hilarious humor and zany wackiness of all the other cartoons produced by other directors of the time such as Tex Avery and Bob Clampett (and to some extent, Friz Freleng when he returned to Warner Bros. from MGM in 1940 after working on the unsuccessful The Captain and the Kids cartoon series for two years from 1938-1939), his bland, boring characters and cartoons which are almost comparable to those of Buddy and Beans and the rest of the Warners studio's poorly-received Disney-inspired musical Looney Tunes cartoons and its characters of the late-1933 to 1935 era, though the animation quality of Jones' early cartoons garnered mixed-to-positive reviews (at least, for the most part).

Chuck Jones wasn’t fond of his earlier cartoons and gave them harsh criticism, especially "Elmer's Candid Camera", even saying that he would've burned their negatives if given permission.

He even regretted having produced "Elmer's Candid Camera", which Jones himself referred that cartoon as "a textbook example of how not to create a cartoon".: "In (that) cartoon we find Bugs stumbling, fumbling, and mumbling around, vainly seeking a personality on which to hang his dialogue and action, or— in better words than mine—"walking around with his umbilical in his hand, looking for someplace to plug it in." It is obvious when one views this cartoon, which I recommend only if you are going to die of ennui, that my conception of timing and dialogue was formed by watching the action in the La Brea tar pits. It would be complimentary to call it sluggish. Not only Bugs suffer at my hands, but difficult as it is to make an unassertive character like Elmer Fudd into a flat, complete shmuck, I managed. Perhaps the kindest thing to say about “Elmer's Candid Camera” is that it taught everyone what not to do and how not to do it."

While his early shorts were mostly disapproved by most fans, not all of them disapproved of his early shorts. Chuck Jones' early shorts were shown with great feedback by cartoon critic, Anthony's Animation Talk as his favorite shorts is "The Night Watchman", "Snowman's Land", "Bedtime for Sniffles", "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" and "Inki and the Lion".

Trivia

  • Only five of the shorts from this era were produced in black and white for the Looney Tunes series. Every other short are in the Merrie Melodies series.
  • All the Inki shorts, "Mighty Hunters", "Porky's Ant", and "Saddle Silly" no longer air on US networks due to racial stereotypes of the characters, although some of these shorts still air on international feeds.
  • Before the release of the HBO Max streaming service in 2020 and MeTV airing cartoons on their network in 2021, all Sniffles cartoons, his cartoons during 1939-mid 40, his Porky Pig cartoons, "Conrad the Sailor" and "The Draft Horse" were the only cartoons restored from Chuck Jones' early directional years.
    • After the release of the HBO Max streaming service, the rest of the Curious Puppies cartoons, "Robin Hood Makes Good", "Snowman's Land", "Good Night Elmer", "Elmer's Pet Rabbit", "Saddle Silly" (albeit removed), "The Bird Came C.O.D.", "Hold the Lion, Please", "The Squawkin' Hawk" and "Fox Pop" were restored for HBO Max, with restored versions of "The Good Egg", "Joe Glow, the Firefly" and "Porky's Prize Pony" also airing on MeTV.
    • As of 2021, the Inki shorts, "Mighty Hunters" and "Ghost Wanted" are the only shorts from Chuck Jones' early works that remain to be restored ("Ghost Wanted" can appear on HBO Max, while it is unknown what will be of the Inki shorts and "Mighty Hunters" due to the prominence of offensive stereotypes).
  • The short "The Good Egg" shares its name with a 1945 Mr. Hook cartoon, which is even worse then the 1939 version.
  • Most of the cartoons from this era (mostly the color Merrie Melodies) were sold to Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.) package for television distribution in 1956, while the very few black-and-white Looney Tunes cartoons of this era "Joe Glow, the Firefly", "Porky's Prize Pony", "Porky's Ant", "Porky's Midnight Matinee" and "Porky's Café" were instead sold to Sunset Productions/Guild Films for television distribution the previous year. Co-incidentally, all of Chuck Jones' early cartoons from both TV packages are later reunited under the same ownership of Warner Bros. following the Time Warner-Turner Entertainment merger in 1996.
  • According to the ToonHeads episode "The Early Works of Chuck Jones", the main reason why his early cartoons tend to follow Disney's footsteps very closely was that he felt very intimidated with the idea of directing an animated cartoon, as explained by Jones himself in later years, and therefore this is heavily reflected in the storylines of his early cartoons. [1]

References

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