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What’s Up, Doc? See the Animation of Chuck Jones

Image: Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner

Frame grab from "Beep Beep," showing Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner (1952, dir. Chuck Jones). Courtesy of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Characters © & TM Warner Bros.

The world of Chuck Jones — animation director and artist who brought to life iconic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner — is the subject of a new exhibition that will open Saturday in New York and later travel across the United States.

Called “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones,” the exhibition was created through a partnership among the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, a nonprofit in Costa Mesa, California, founded by Jones to inspire creativity through classes, lectures and other activities; and the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. Two curators from the museum curated the exhibition, which will travel on a 13-city tour through 2019.

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David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image and a co-curator of the exhibition, called Jones “one of the enduring geniuses of American comedy, as accomplished in the art of animation as his hero Mark Twain was in literature.” And John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and director of the first two “Toy Story” movies, said Jones’ cartoons are timeless, “as funny today as when they were made.”

In a career that spanned almost 70 years, Jones, who died in 2002 at the age of 89, made over 250 films and won numerous awards, working at the Warner Brothers animation studio from the early 1930s until it closed in 1962, then at MGM Studios and later at his own company.

Monitors and large wall projectors in the exhibition show six of his full-length films, including “What’s Opera, Doc?” and his Academy Award-winning short, “The Dot and the Line,” plus excerpts from 19 others and two new documentaries on him. The exhibit also features 136 original sketches and drawings, storyboards, production backgrounds, animation cels and photographs that illustrate how Jones and his collaborators worked and his creative legacy.

Visitors can hear behind-the-scenes audio of Jones directing Mel Blanc, who provided the voice of Bugs Bunny, and Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer Fudd; excerpts of interviews with Jones also are offered.

"Timing was everything to him. He thought of cartoons as pieces of music. His pacing and structure were unique."

In addition, an interactive experience lets visitors manipulate character movement to become an animation director.

The exhibition looks at the development of Jones’ characteristic style at Warner Bros.; the films he made after leaving there, some done in collaboration with Theodor Geisel, the children’s book author, Dr. Seuss; his mastery of comic timing and the influence of slapstick and vaudeville on his work; and his influence on contemporary animation. In addition to Lasseter, his many fans include directors Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard; the late science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury; and actors Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, who presented Jones with an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1996.

In an interview this week, Schwartz said that the “greatest aspect” of Jones’ art was “the personality of his characters. Like Keaton and Chaplin in silent films, he created universal, iconic characters. Timing was everything to him. He thought of cartoons as pieces of music. His pacing and structure were unique.”

Linda Jones, Jones’ only child and a trustee of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, who worked on the exhibition for three years, said she was surprised by how much people cared about her father. “He’s always been special to me, but he was my father. I didn’t know about his ability to engage people until after he died,” she said, adding she hoped the exhibition would provide “enjoyment, entertainment and inspiration to people to be themselves, to find genius in themselves."

After closing at the Museum of the Moving Image next January, the exhibition will travel to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and EMP Museum in Seattle, followed by stops at other institutions that have not yet been identified.