Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tex Avery

I don't want to get into too much technical talk when it comes to Tex Avery. He is a legendary figure in the animation industry. Tex introduced and perfected a zany and exaggerated animation style that influenced a generation. Avery's roots take shape while working at Warner Brothers on several classic cartoons and his legend is shaped while working at MGM, doing cartoons that Warner Brothers tended to shy away from...the more outragous and bizarre, the more funnier they were...the comic timing was the key to the success.

During his Warner Brothers stay, which started in 1935, Avery created the studio's major early stars: Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. The character's visual designs/appearances have changed through the years and other directors and producers have added their visions to the characters but Tex is who created the actual characters. To confuse matters, there is an earlier version of what became known as Bugs Bunny. This rabbit was gray, with a wise-cracking demeanor, and out-smarted hunters. The character is known as Happy Rabbit and as Bugs's Bunny, given credit for it's creation to Ben "Bugs" Hardaway. Then, Tex Avery came up with a rabbit character with an almost exact personality but the voice characterization was different...Mel Blanc provided the voice for both rabbit characters. The original voice for Happy Rabbit used a similar laugh made famous by Woody Woodpecker...a character Mel voiced for a few years, creating that laugh that became synonymous with Woody, by the way.

Bob Clampett is given creator credit for Daffy Duck along with Tex Avery. I would assume it's because Clampett did the most character re-design/personality shifts with this character after Avery left Warner Brothers.

As a side-note: The other directors at Warner Brothers all had their versions of Daffy, too. The overall look remained the same, the personalities of the character are what changed. Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, and Art Davis each produced/directed their share of Daffy cartoons...in addition to Bugs Bunny. It is the Chuck Jones take on Daffy and Bugs that often gets singled out by animation experts and cartoon historians because he made the two characters rivals in show-business and this characterization continues to play out whenever the two are sharing the stage...Daffy wanting to have the fame and ruin the rabbit's career.

In addition to Bugs and Daffy, Avery is noted for being the one who made Porky Pig a star, even though the character was created by peer, Friz Freleng, with character designs by Bob Clampett. Avery's version of Porky was way more fatter than previously used...being cast as an adult, instead of a child-like character. His first cartoon short for Warner Brothers was "Gold Diggers of '49". The short was released in 1935 and it spoofed the Gold Rush in California during the middle 1800's. The Porky character was teamed up with a character named Beans. Porky and Beans, get it? The Beans character was intended as the star but Porky became the star in these cartoon shorts...and a star was born. Avery continued working at Warner Brothers until 1941 when he left the studio over creative control. His last cartoons had to be completed by other directors.

He left for MGM...

While at MGM he came up with a string of gag-filled cartoons mostly centered around Droopy and his associates. Also, a character named Red started to pop up in his cartoons. The character was created, at it's core, for sexual stimulation for the Wolf, who would go bonkers upon seeing her. His body would bend and twist into all kinds of shapes and he'd howl and bang his head on tables and against walls...whistling, clapping, howling some more. "Red Hot Riding Hood" was the first cartoon...followed by a string of other cartoons that would pop up periodically featuring the character: "Swing Shift Cinderella"; "The Shooting of Dan McGoo"; "Wild and Woolfy"; "Uncle Tom's Cabana"; and "Little Rural Riding Hood".

In addition to the Droopy and the Red cartoon shorts, Avery introduced George and Junior, a parody of Of Mice and Men using "Junior" in place of the character's actual name in the movie, Lenny. Avery also brought Screwy Squirrel to the animation world...I personally liked watching the squirrel cartoons but historically they're considered to not be too appealing given the star character's personality. Avery only produced five cartoons on the character.

"The Slap Happy Lion" and "Who Killed Who?" are two of the most laugh out loud funny cartoons from Tex Avery that i've ever seen. Each cartoon can be found on You Tube and both cartoons demonstrate the animation style Avery was famous for. "The House of Tomorrow", "The Car of Tomorrow", "The TV of Tomorrow", and "The Farm of Tomorrow" were Avery's other noted works for MGM. He also did work for Walter Lantz's studio...helming four cartoon shorts, 1954-1955. A salary dispute ended his stay at Lantz's studio.

Avery's out-put dried up after 1955 and for the next 20+ years he remained behind the scenes as a writer/gag-man for a variety of cartoon programs and TV commercials but he was never a director of any short subject cartoon again. He worked for Hanna-Barbera's company in the late 1970's.

Avery died in 1980 during production of "Kwicky Koala", a low-key but humorous series about a small koala who can disappear in split-second fashion. The disappearances were often necessary as Kwicky was constantly on the run from his nemesis, Wilford Wolf (John Stephenson mimicking Paul Lynde). Sharp eyed viewers will be able to tell that whenever Kwicky wiggles his ears that's the cue that he's about to disappear.

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