Chuck Jones Essay - Critical Essays

Hugh Kenner

Chuck Jones

The scene is familiar to anyone who has ever spent time before a television on Saturday morning: a strangely elongated, bulbous nosed creature (identified with the pseudo-Latin tag, Carnivorous vulgaris) confidently constructs an elaborate trapping device (purchased by mail from the Acme Co.) in the midst of a surrealistic desert landscape. In the distance, there is a small flurry of dust and the faint “beep beep” of an approaching figure (Accelerati incredibus) that whirs into view and halts, just long enough to allow the intricate mechanism to fall, with just the right touch of slow-motion inevitability, upon its constructor’s head.

The trapper is Wile E. Coyote stalking his erstwhile prey, the Road Runner. Their presence signals that viewers are watching a cartoon by Chuck Jones, one of the premier artists of the animated film. A FLURRY OF DRAWINGS is at once a celebration of Jones’s life and career and a perceptive, incisive examination of the art of the animated cartoon, which, like jazz and baseball, seems destined to be one of this nation’s enduring gifts. Louis Armstrong, Joe DiMaggio and Bugs Bunny—an interesting infield in any cultural league.

Kenner, best known for his studies of writers such as Ezra Pound and James Joyce, here turns his attention to a more popular art form, but one which, it turns out, has its own intricate and fascinating rules and rewards. Anyone who has watched a Warner Bros. cartoon will find A FLURRY OF DRAWINGS insights into both how those few minutes of drawn fun came to be so indisputably hilarious, and why they can legitimately claim to be works of art.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, August, 1994, p. 2012.

Kirkus Reviews. LXII, July 1, 1994, p. 926.

National Review. XLVI, October 24, 1994, p. 68.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, October 30, 1994, p. 38.

Sight and Sound. IV, December, 1994, p. 38.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, October 2, 1994, p. 13.