I recently saw a great film called I Know That Voice, which I highly, highly, HIGHLY, recommend to anyone who ever watched a cartoon. It’s about the men and women who voice our favorite animated characters. The one person that nearly every person in the film named as an influence was the inimitable Mel Blanc, who was so brilliant at creating signature voices for a variety of characters. It made me remember this post in which I wrote about my love of Looney Tunes cartoons and the characters — all voiced by Mel Blanc.
I’m no fan of Disney characters and I never have been. I know, that’s sacrilege in some parts of the country, but I’m willing to risk it.
(Full disclosure: My wife and I did take our kids to Disney World once when they were young because, well, parents are supposed to do that kind of thing and we bought into that. But our boys were never Disney fans either. In fact, when we were walking through Orlando airport after our flight we came upon the giant statue of Mickey Mouse dressed in Fantasia Wizard robes. My wife pointed and asked my younger son, “Who’s that, Alex?” He stared at it for a while before saying uncertainly, “I think I’ve seen him before…”
I laughed, but other parents around us reacted in shock and horror. Fathers glared at me like I was “some kinda anti-‘Murican,” while mothers covered precious Kaitlyn and Tyler’s ears for fear that they’d overhear this blasphemy. I was never so proud in my life.)
Disney characters and their cartoons/films are too saccharine-cutesy for my taste. In fact, they turn my stomach. Some of it doesn’t even makes sense. I mean what’s the deal with Goofy and Pluto? Goofy is a dog that dresses and talks and acts like a human, yet he owns a dog named Pluto who is… a dog. Huh? Seriously, did they think about this before they did it?
But this post isn’t about my dislike of Disney, it’s about my love for Looney Tunes.
Those are the cartoons I eagerly watched every afternoon after school and on Saturday mornings. They were funny, with a mixture of colorful characters, great story lines, sometimes biting sarcasm, cultural references, and catch phrases that Disney could never hope to approach. (I’ve heard rumors of rogue Disney animators who drew NSFW versions of the characters in, shall we say, compromising positions but I don’t know if there’s any truth to them. It wouldn’t surprise me. It would even score a few points in my book.)
Looney Tunes characters had depth and substance. Even more, they had unique vocal tics and accnets that made them instantly memorable. Here’s what I mean:
Bugs Bunny was wisecracking rabbit with a New York accent (think about that for a second) who was always aware that he was in a cartoon. He mugged for the camera and spoke to the audience. Bugs was Groucho Marx back in his day and, I would argue, a later prototype for Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye Pierce” character on M.A.S.H, and Bill Murray’s …well his whole shtick actually.
Porky Pig is a not-too-bright pig with a severe stutter (again, think about that for a second). He was a well meaning porker who rarely caught a break, but you could never not like him.
Daffy Duck is Bugs’ nemesis, a perpetual second fiddle who believes he is more deserving of the acclaim that his more famous colleague enjoys. (I can’t believe I just wrote that about a cartoon character, but there you go.)
Foghorn Leghorn, a rooster with a deep southern accent, was based on the Senator Claghorn character from the Fred Allen radio show (it’s probably a testament of some sort that the rooster is remembered by more people than the radio character, who was portrayed by Allen’s announcer, Kenny Delmar). He is constantly tormenting the farm dog, but his jokes often backfired, resulting in Foghorn losing his feathers. This lead to one of his more famous catchphrases, “I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.”
Elmer Fudd, one of the very few human characters (Yosemite Sam, and a minor character named Granny are two others) was a hunter, usually chasing Bugs or Daffy. Elmer suffered from a condition called rhotacism–difficulty pronouncing the letter R — “Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting Wabbits.”
Sylvester the Cat is a slobbering lisper — you really don’t want to get too close when he’s talking. He was mainly interested in getting to Tweety Bird, a canary with a grossly enlarged head whose tagline was, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat.”
Pepe Le Pue had to be the horniest skunk in the world, but he couldn’t get laid to save his life. When I think about it now, I’m surprised at the double entendre content of the cartoon. Extra points for Looney Tunes.
There is one thing should be clear to anyone who has had even the slightest exposure to Looney Tunes. That is, so much of what made these characters whole is tied to the peculiarities of their voices. In Elmer Fudd’s case it is rhotacism. In Daffy, Sylvester, and Tweety it’s a lisp. In Porky, it’s a stutter. And Pepe? Well, he’s French, so… you know. (Just kidding, I loves me some French peoples.) You didn’t see that in Disney characters, with the exception of Donald Duck who, in my opinion, was just unintelligible, cranky noise most of the time. Somehow these flaws made the Looney Tune characters more accessible. And the fact that nearly all of them were voiced by the incredible Mel Blanc was a testament to the man’s versatility as a voice artist.
Anyway… you can keep your Disney lightweights, and give me Looney Tunes any day.