The Zany Brilliance of an Underappreciated Animation Master

Posted on | October 8, 2014 | 1 Comment

What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones now at the Museum of the Modern Image

Generations have enjoyed the inventive, endlessly entertaining cartoon creations of Chuck Jones, the man behind Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. But the saying “You don’t know the name but you’ll know the work” unfortunately rings true about him. “What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones”, a new exhibition that opened at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image July 19 and ends January 19, finds the skill behind the slapstick. 

I recently got a chance to visit the exhibit, and can say it’s an illuminating, absorbing, and comprehensive must-visit that all animation fans will love.  Through a predictable but extensive collection of artifacts, writing, clips, quotes, and interactive touch screens, visitors learn Jones’ story starting with his groundbreaking work during Warner Bros.’ golden era of Saturday morning animation, onto his later work on How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Phantom Toolbooth, and, finally, his influence today. Prolific certainly describes the man; he directed over 300 films (most of them shorts, admittedly.)

Those who perceive Looney Tunes as a childish diversion (like I did) will reconsider after they’ve seen this show, which rightly heralds Jones as a true artist. The exhibit’s highpoint comes with a darkened screening room that shows some of Jones’ greatest work, with introductions from Pixar mastermind John Lasseter. The selected shorts, a kind of greatest hits collections, show impressive range, true skill, and infinite invention. It’s fun to see the advancements in his career by watching these films. Vintage Looney Tunes displays his knack for creating iconic characters (in Wagner spoof “What’s Opera Doc?” and Broadway comedy “One Froggy Evening”), while “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” shows his tender side, while remaining delightfully rewatchable. He was also a witty storyteller capable of clever, intellectual brilliance, as proved by the surprisingly sophisticated Oscar-winning geometrical love story “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics”.

Walking away from the show, you’ll be left with a deeper understanding of the painstaking work that goes into a 5-minute animated short, and discover one of foremost masters of the trade. Chuck Jones’ skill for creating layered plots and stunning visuals may be often mimicked today, but his hand-drawn style and simple comic timing may remains wholly unique.

For more info on the show, click here.


One Response to “The Zany Brilliance of an Underappreciated Animation Master”

  1. Steve Itkin
    October 20th, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

    Growing up…Looney Tunes and particularly Daffy Duck were always my favorite. Always more “sophisticated” than Mickey & Minnie, etc. Slanted toward the grown-ups!

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