by Rachel Newstead
When I was first introduced to the cartoons of Chuck Jones as an impressionable pre-adolescent, I knew him mainly for two things: the measured, Disneyesque cartoons of his early years, and the stylized, mannered-nearly-to-the-point-of abstraction work of his later years. Little did I know then of the riches that lay in the middle.
In that shakedown middle period, running more or less from the release of the groundbreaking Dover Boys in 1942 to the first of the Bugs/Daffy/Elmer trilogy (Rabbit Fire) in 1951, Jones was perhaps at his freest and most innovative: when Eugene Fleury, then Robert Gribbroek, were his background designers, when he was reading up on the filmmaking techniques of Eisenstein, and when the stranglehold he’d one day have on his animators hadn’t quite taken effect.
This week’s freakish Freeze Frame comes from Often An Orphan, the second in Jones’ series of cartoons featuring Charlie Dog. Released in 1949, it would come toward the end of Jones’ “middle period”, but the relative liveliness of that time was still in evidence.
In this scene, con man–er, dog Charlie is trying to sucker gullible Farmer Porky into adopting him as a pet, tearfully relating the horrors that await him should Porky send him back to…the city!! As he loudly and histrionically imitates the raucous taxi horns and cringes at imaginary towers, he momentarily becomes a blur, splitting into multiple images of himself–and throwing Porky into the maelstrom with him.
This scene, the work of the ever-versatile Ken Harris, is a masterful use of the smear animation, the best since Dover Boys, and the best use of a multiple-image flurry since Dave Tendlar’s distinctive sequences in Fleischer’s Popeye and “Grampy” cartoons. It perfectly plays out the overwrought melodramatics Charlie is going through as he attempts to reel in his “pigeon.”
It goes to prove that left to their own devices and freed of Jones’ restraining hand, his artists could produce a bit of animation every bit as wild as Clampett’s.