Charles Martin "Chuck" Jones (September 21, 1912–February 22, 2002) was an American artist and director of animated films, most memorably for the Warner Brothers movie studio. He directed many of the classic short cartoons starring Bugs Bunny and the other WB characters, including the memorable What's Opera, Doc? (1957) and Duck Amuck (1952) (both later inducted into the National Film Registry), establishing himself as a talented innovator and storyteller.
In his autobiography, Chuck Amuck, Jones credits his artistic bent to circumstances surrounding his father, who was an unsuccessful businessman in California in the 1920s. His father, Jones recounts, would start every new business venture by purchasing new stationery and new pencils with the company name on them. When the business failed, his father would turn the useless stationery and pencils over to his children. Armed with an endless supply of high-quality paper and pencils, the children drew constantly. Jones and several of his siblings went on to artistic careers. After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, Jones held a number of low-ranking jobs in the animation industry, including washing cels at the Ub Iwerks studio and assistant animating at the Walter Lantz studio. While at Iwerks, he met a cel painter named Dorothy Webster, who would later become his wife.
Jones joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, the independent studio that produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros, in 1933 as an assistant animator. During the late 1930s, he worked under directors Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, becoming a director (or "supervisor", the original title for an animation director in the studio) himself in 1938 when Frank Tashlin left the studio. his first cartoon was The Night Watchman , which featured a cute kitten who would later evolve into Sniffles the mouse.
Many of Jones' cartoons of the 1930s and early 1940s were lavishly animated, but lacking in genuine humor. Often slow-moving and overbearing with "cuteness," Jones' cartoons seemed to be an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Walt Disney (especially with such cartoons as Tom Thumb in Trouble and the Sniffles cartoons), until he broke new ground with the cartoon The Dover Boys in 1942. Jones credits this cartoon as the film where he "learned how to be funny." The cartoon is also seen as one of the first major attempts in animation to break away from the style of ultra-"realism" in animation. This was also the period where Jones created many of his lesser-known characters, including Charlie Dog, Hubie and Bertie, and The Three Bears. Despite their relative obscurity today, the shorts starring these characters represent some of Jones' earliest work that was strictly intended to be funny.
Jones hit his stride in the late 1940s, and continued to make his best-regarded works through the 1950s. Jones-created characters from this period includes Claude Cat, Marc Antony and Pussyfoot, and his three most popular creations, Pepe LePew, and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. The Road Runner cartoons, in addition to the cartoons that are considered his masterpieces, Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, and What's Opera, Doc? are today hailed by critics as some of the best cartoons ever made.
The staff of the Jones unit was as important to the success of these cartoons as Jones himself. Key members included layout artist/background designer/co-director Maurice Noble, writer Michael Maltese, animator and co-director Abe Levitow , and animator Ken Harris .
According to his own views, Jones' major contribution to the cartoon genre was a profound emphasis on character and personality. His reinventions of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck, when compared with other director's work, support his claim: He remakes the characters into personality archetypes, most notably in the trilogy of cartoons Rabbit Fire (1951), Rabbit Seasoning (1952), and Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (1953).
Jones and his wife Dorothy were the writers of the animated feature Gay Purr-ee, featuring the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet and Red Buttons as cats in Paris. The feature was produced by UPA, and Jones moonlit to work on the film, since he had an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. When UPA completed the film and made it available for distribution...and it was picked up by Warner Bros., who, upon finding out Jones had violated his contract, fired him from the company.
With business partner Les Goldman , Jones started an independent animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions, bringing on most of his unit from Warner Bros, including Maurice Noble and Michael Maltese. In 1963, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contracted with Sib Tower 12 to have Jones and his staff produce new Tom and Jerry cartoons. Sib Tower 12 made 34 Tom and Jerry shorts, which met with uneven success. Critics complained that, while lavishly produced, the characters were not any more suitable for his style than the characters' creators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, would have been working on the Road Runner cartoon series. His animated short film The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Higher Mathematics won the 1965 Oscar for Best Animated Short.
As the Tom and Jerry series wound down (it would be discontinued in 1967), Jones moved on to television. In 1966, produced and directed the TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, featuring the voice (and facial features) of Boris Karloff. In 1967, Sib Tower 12 was absorbed by MGM and was renamed MGM Animation Visual Arts. Jones continued to work on TV specials such as Horton Hears A Who! (1970), but his main focus during this time was the feature film The Phantom Tollbooth, which did lukewarm business when MGM released it in 1970.
In the 1970s, Jones left MGM started a new production company, Chuck Jones Productions. His most notable work during this period was three animated TV adaptations of short stories from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Brothers, The White Seal and Rikki Tiki Tavi.
Like many modern cartoon legends, Chuck Jones never retired: he was an active artist and cartoonist up until his last weeks. Through the 1980s and 1990s (and until 2002) Jones was painting cartoon and parody art, sold through animation galleries by his daughter's company, Linda Jones Enterprises. He was also creating new cartoons for the Internet based on his new character, "Thomas Timberwolf". Jones was not a fan of much contemporary animation, terming most of it, especially television cartoons such as those of Hanna-Barbera, "illustrated radio."
Jones' intellectualism, writing ability, and capacity for self-analysis made him an historical authority as well as a major contributor to the development of the animation genre throughout the 20th century.
Notable Animated Films directed by Chuck Jones
- The Dover Boys (1942)
- Hell-Bent For Re-Election (Franklin Roosevelt campaign film, 1944)
- The Rabbit of Seville (1950)
- Duck Amuck (1952)
- Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)
- One Froggy Evening (1955)
- What's Opera, Doc? (1957)
- The Dot and the Line (1965)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (TV special, 1966)
- The Phantom Tollbooth (feature film, 1970)
- Chuck Amuck : The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, ISBN 0374123489
- Chuck Reducks : Drawing from the Fun Side of Life by Chuck Jones, published by Warner Books, ISBN 044651893X
- Chuck Jones web site
- Joseph Barbera at the Internet Movie Database