Chuck Jones Gets One Froggy Evening

one-froggy-eveningTuesday night (March 24) you’ll want to lock grandma in the attic, send the kids to bed early, and see the significant other off to their card night. Actually, you won’t have to do any of those things, because any human being with a beating heart and at least one brain cell is gonna get a kick out of what’s going down. TCM is devoting a night to the great animator Chuck Jones, beginning at 8 PM EST. The centerpiece is Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, a half-hour documentary which features the late, great Bugs Bunny/Road Runner animator recounting in his signature style in 1997.

According to Cartoon Brew, the film features clips from his work and new animations made out of Jones’ sketches by John Canemaker (The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation). The doc and interview portions appear to focus specifically on Jones’ childhood, which should give the Freudian scholars out there a little something to play with. The real meat will be what follows: 11 classic shorts dating from 1938 to 1967 and Jones’ feature take on kids’ classic The Phantom Tollbooth.

Jones could be considered the D.W. Griffith of animation (but without the racism). He understood that cartoons had to be more than mere narrative, and he labored to make characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck characters rather than mere talking animals. The breadth of his work for Warner Bros. is staggering. What’s Opera Doc? (9:50 PM EST) is a parody of high art that reveals the comic intelligence that lurked in Wagner’s brain with all the other mucky stuff. Duck Amuck (9:30 PM EST) is a deconstruction of the animated form which is like Godard if he could draw. The lean, mean Road Runner cartoons are the wind-bitten Westerns of his career. They take place in a gritty and absurd desert where Budd Boetticher meets Samuel Beckett. Add in One Froggy Evening (9:40 PM EST) and Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century and you’re looking at a genius.

At MGM in the 1960s, Jones created the definitive Dr. Seuss adaptation with How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and made the rarely seen Phantom Tollbooth, based on Norton Juster’s book. MGM shuttered its animation division around the same time the film was released and it has never been issued on DVD. While Mark Evanier reminds us that Jones himself was aware of the film’s limitations, it still includes the voices of Mel Blanc, Daws Butler and June Foray, to which you have to ask … how bad can it be?

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