Going faster miles an hour
January 19, 2016 12:55 PM   Subscribe

What holds Wile E. up in the air long enough to understand his mistake—what propelled that boulder back into the rock face, what blew up the detonator and left the dynamite unscathed—isn’t anarchy, but its exact opposite.
How Wile E. Coyote explains the world (slds)
posted by thecaddy (18 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Platum Beanivoria

posted by Mayor West at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2016 [14 favorites]

I was hoping this would be about the rules from Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones' autobiography, and it is. By the way, fantastic book. It's pretty far down in the linked article, so here's a summary of the rules (copied from the Wikipedia quote):

In his book Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist,[14] Chuck Jones claimed that he and the artists behind the Road Runner and Wile E. cartoons adhered to some simple but strict rules, years later dismissed as a 'post production observation' by principal original writer Michael Maltese who claimed no knowledge of them :

"The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep beep"." This rule was broken in Clippety Clobbered when the Road Runner drops a boulder on the Coyote after painting it with "invisible paint", and has been broken in several CGI shorts from The Looney Tunes Show.

"No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products." Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.

"The Coyote could stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." — George Santayana)."

"No dialogue ever, except "beep-beep!"" This rule was violated in some cartoons such as in Zoom at the Top where the Coyote says the word "ouch" after he gets hurt in a bear trap.

"The Road Runner must stay on the road — otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner." This rule was broken in several shorts including cactus mines, cliff edges, mountain tops and railways.

"All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert."

"All materials tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation." Although in Rushing Roulette, the Coyote uses Ajax Stix-All glue. In "Zip 'n' Snort", aside from the ACME Iron Pellets, Wile E. also had a box of AJAX Bird Seed. In Fast and Furry-Ous, even though one item, the Super Outfit, was from ACME, for some reason the Jet-Propelled Tennis Shoes was from "Fleet-Feet".

"Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy." For example, falling off a cliff.

"The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures."

posted by freecellwizard at 1:20 PM on January 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is some truly, truly magnificent beanplating, and a great excuse to rewatch some classic Chuck Jones cartoons as well.

I especially enjoyed all the dumping on Tom & Jerry. Because it's true, Tom & Jerry sucks.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:38 PM on January 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

🐓💨 🐺💨
🐓💨 🐺💣
🐓💨 💥
🐓 beep-beep
posted by oulipian at 1:48 PM on January 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

Then again, the Tom & Jerry cartoons directed by Chuck Jones are widely considered the worst of the lot, so who can say?
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:49 PM on January 19, 2016

Tom and Jerry is simple brutalist physical humor. It's the kind of thing that's only funny because the cat doesn't actually get murdered. Gene Deitch (who directed a bunch of Tom and Jerry cartoons in then-Czechoslovakia despite hating the shorts) understood and deconstructed it with The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit, which descends into all variety of sublimely wonderful violent nonsense, particularly when Tom's head turns into a cannon and starts shooting watermelon seed mortars. I actually find his shorts captivating, despite the animation being poor and the plots bizarre; Dicky Moe, which features his bizarre human at his weirdest as Captain Ahab, particularly fascinates me. (Gene Deitch's cartoons are widely hated by connoisseurs of Tom and Jerry – shows what they know.)

A lack of dialogue, by the way, drives both Tom and Jerry and the Road Runner cartoons into very different territory from other funny animal cartoons. The animators have to rely on what's happening on screen actually being funny; no quick joke is ever going to bail you out. It's why Tom and Jerry doesn't hold up for audiences over seven or eight; once it stops being inherently funny that the cat is getting beaten up, it doesn't have any other charm. (Well, mostly. The episodes where Tom speaks, and says "Don't you believe it" in a booming voice, entertain the hell out of me.)

But anyway. Wile E. Coyote. The reason it works is absolutely Rule 1. Whereas Jerry is a cute mouse who turns out to be a sadistic fiend whenever it involves Tom, the Road Runner doesn't actually inflict violence on the Coyote. That's important, and I think it's overlooked in this particular beanplating. He may be a bit playful about it, but – except when he's driving a truck – doesn't turn the violent weaponry on the Coyote. Over time this builds up the expectation that the Coyote's maneuvers are going to backfire, and the gag gets flipped by having them backfire in increasingly ridiculous ways. Having the detonator explode instead of the dynamite is simply the most extreme it can go - it makes no fucking sense but it has to backfire somehow. So reality itself backfires on the Coyote. The escalation is the whole dynamic of the film.

As far as getting existential about the whole thing, well, Grant Morrison already did it better. I enjoyed most of this long riff on cartoons I really like, but I felt let down by the ending. It needed to go out with a bang.
posted by graymouser at 2:14 PM on January 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Very Closely Related: Cartoon Physics
my favorite: "Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation."
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also related: the wonderful How To Read Nancy (pdf)
posted by oulipian at 2:45 PM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think the biggest flaw in the original Nine Rules is not so much that some of them are occasionally broken but that the list makes no distinction between Rules of the Universe -- which cannot be broken or altered without fundamentally changing the nature of the thing -- and Rules of Style -- which should not be broken or altered unless breaking the rule is part of the joke.

The ones about the Road Runner staying on the road and never hurting the Coyote are good examples, because both get broken in the boomerang sketch. Why? Because that's what makes the punchline work. You expect the boomerang to come back and hit the Coyote, because duh. So the Road Runner breaks two of his rules because it breaks your expectation of what the punchline will be. And then the breaks it again when it the punchline you were expecting at first arrives after you thought the scene was already over.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:59 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Tom & Jerry did have one redeeming feature. A cartoon best enjoyed with the TV in another room.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:06 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Really interesting. I'm on board with the T&J disdain and the WEC worship. I figured out the greatness of Chuck Jones in 4th grade or so, and have loved his work ever since. In fifth grade my friends and I sat in the back of the class and made fake firecrackers and the like with 'ACME' on them and threw them at each other. Good times.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:20 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Now I want to watch all the Jones Roadrunner shorts and see how well those rules apply. What works for one cartoon does not necessarily work for the sequel, after all; these are rules that were discussed after the entire series of shorts was completed.

And never forget that part of the reason there were many RR shorts was so Jones could steal budget from these simple ones to do stuff like "What's Opera, Doc?". I suspect the "rules" may have evolved in part to make it easier to gag out a RR cartoon in a few days, then get back to worrying over cramming an epic into seven minutes. Or worrying over something crazily reliant on dialogue humor like the Daffy/Bugs/Elmer three ways this article tangentially cites - syncing to dialogue takes a lot more effort.

Beanplating like this aside, this is a damn fine analysis of the first RR short!
posted by egypturnash at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by teponaztli at 7:33 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Shouldn't it be "the crows seem to be calling my name, thought Caw" ?
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:46 PM on January 19, 2016

Very Closely Related: Cartoon Physics
my favorite: "Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation."

I always think there should be a parallel set of rules covering Sitcom Economics.

For example:

Large, luxurious apartments are cheap and easy to obtain in the centre of every big US city. This is particularly true of New York, except in the Upper West Side's tiny Seinfeld district.

Any item, no matter how expensive, can be purchased by any character, no matter how poor, if its purchase drives the plot forward. No adverse financial consequences will follow from this.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:03 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The idea of tracking down Gene Deitch's directorial work had never occurred to me, great idea. That also leads to the tangential curiosity if anyone has ever made an Itchy and Scratchy supercut, and if The Simpsons has ever handed off that bit to people that had worked on Road Runner or Tom and Jerry.
posted by mwhybark at 6:28 AM on January 20, 2016

Everyone who worked on Road Runner or Tom and Jerry was pretty much dead or retired by the time Itchy and Scratchy was a thing. Although I wouldn't be surprised if there were people who were trained by Chuck or by Bill and Joe late in their lives who worked on the Simpsons, a huge percentage of people in the LA animation scene have worked on the Simpsons at one point or another in their career.

Also the Gene Deitch T&Js are my favorites, because they are so wrong. Everything about them is broken and strange and a little crudely made in a way that really makes me delighted. This may just be because I have seen so damn much animation that I am Ready For The Shags in that field, I dunno.
posted by egypturnash at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great article. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 12:13 PM on January 20, 2016

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