Bart Simpson: You invented Itchy? The Itchy & Scratchy Itchy? Chester Lampwick: Sure. In fact, I invented the whole concept of cartoon violence. Before I came along, all cartoon animals did was play the ukulele. I changed all that. — The Simpsons, "The Day the Violence Died" (1996)
Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery is widely considered the original cartoon gag-man, famous for wild takes, Breaking the Fourth Wall and medium conventions, and stretching every joke to its comedic limit. Sure, there were gags in cartoons before Tex, if you are particularly tickled by a fox in Black Face being smacked on the ass by stuff; but it was Tex's arrival at Warner Bros., and his hand-picked staff of animators and directors, that defined what we now call The Golden Age of Animation.Tex's attitude was that cartoons could and should do anything: Avery and his crew were among the first in Hollywood to realize cartoons (and movies) were just old enough to have established expectations in its audience, which could be played with, teased out, or simply destroyed.For this wiki's purposes, his cartoons are the first of their medium to recognize tropes and gleefully subvert them: radioland had probably beaten him to Happily Ever After, but visual tropes like the Spinning Paper, the Idea Bulb, the Rebus Bubble and Chained to a Railway were still alive and well before Avery's boys at Termite Terrace got their hands on them. "I wanted the audience to know I knew they were out there," he later said, referring to some of his earliest gags, like animated hairs in the projector or silhouetted audience members disrupting the action (and occasionally being shot dead).While Avery's career in theatrical animation began and ended at the Walter Lantz studio, it's his six years at Warners and twelve-year tenure with MGM that made him a revered figure to animation buffs. His filmography produced several milestones: Tex directed the first Daffy Duck short, "Porky's Duck Hunt" (1937) and the first "true" Bugs Bunny cartoon "A Wild Hare" in 1940, creating with them The Karmic Trickster and Screwball character tropes; his MGM variations of these characters, Droopy and Screwy Squirrel respectively, have had similar longevity, as has the risqué "Red Hot Riding Hood" series.Understudy Bob Clampett in many ways continued his mentor's work (not surprisingly, to a similar undoing). If Tex modernized the cartoon gag, it was Clampett who modernized the old "squash and stretch" animation techniques, shaping and accelerating them to the limits of abstraction. Clampett directed the first Tweety short, "A Tale of Two Kitties" in 1942.Oh, and did we mention he has his own theme song?See Tex Avery MGM Cartoons for information on the short subjects he made there.NOT to be confused with The Wacky World of Tex Avery, which was a "Homage" to the original cartoons. And the less said about it, the better. Too late for that; The Wacky World of Tex Avery has already been said!
The Legend of Rockabye Point. Third Chilly Willy short.
His cartoons provide examples of:
Absurdly Long Limousine: Done in a lot of shorts. Often the gag would be further reinforced with a secretary or a 1940s female switchboard operator at the halfway point of the limousine. Another favorite gag would be the limo bending around corners to conform to the street.
Born in the Theatre: Definitely a favorite of Tex's, from characters running off of the film they're printed on, to yelling at members of the movie theater audience, to pulling stray hairs out of the theater projectors, to passing the boundary of the Toon universe where Technicolor ends.
Tex virtually created this trope and changed cartoon comedy period in the scene of Porky's Duck Hunt where Daffy throws Porky's dog onto the ground (when it was supposed to be the dog fetching Daffy), after which Porky takes out a notepad and stammers "Hey! That wasn't in the script!"
Executive Meddling: Avery left Warner Bros. for MGM after Leon Schlesinger forced him to cut the ending of the Bugs Bunny short "The Heckling Hare," which contained an Overly-Long Gag of Bugs Bunny and Willoughby the dog falling off cliffs. No one knows exactly why the second fall was cut. Some sources say it was to censor Bugs' line, "Hold on to your hats, folks! Here we go again!", which was, at the time, the punchline to an obscene joke. Others say that Leon Schlesinger did not want audience members to think that they killed off Bugs Bunny.
His shorts suffered less Executive Meddling at MGM; however, he was forced to change a lot of scenes from Red Hot Riding Hood as per the Hays Code, who balked at a lot of the gags that were deemed too racy for the general public at the time (The Wolf's sexual reactions to Red were toned down [and one scene of The Wolf having body heat steam escape his collar was considered too risque to be shown in the 1940s] and the end with the horny grandmother forcing the Wolf into marrying her and the Wolf taking his half-human, half-lupine children to the nightclub to see Red were the scenes that gave the censors the most grief and the scenes said to still be around, thanks to a special version that was seen by American soldiers overseas during World War II).
Fur Is Clothing: Many of his cartoons employ this. One famous example, though it isn't fur, was a cartoon he did at Warner Bros. which was a parody of a nature documentary, in which a lizard shedding its skin gets on its hind legs and does a striptease dance while removing it, rotoscoped off a real stripper.
Getting Crap Past the Radar and Censor Decoy: Avery and his animators would occasionally put some risqué jokes in their cartoons. In order to get this stuff passed the censors they combined it with some outrageously risqué stuff that would never get passed. As they expected the outrageously risqué stuff was never used, but some of the milder stuff now DID get greenlighted, simply because it looked more innocent in comparison.
The little duck in "Lucky Ducky" gets out of his egg shell by performing a parody of a striptease act.
The lizard in "Cross Country Detours" also sheds her skin like a stripper. A Censor Box was put in just before things got interesting.
Helping Granny Cross the Street: In Droopy's Good Deed, rival Spike tries to thwart Boy Scout Droopy by dressing in old-lady drag, pulling this trope, and kicking Droopy into the path of a trolley. It backfires, of course.
Homage: The 1997 syndicated show The Wacky World of Tex Avery, a DIC series which was allegedly patterned after Tex's classic cartoon style. It stars a cowboy named "Tex Avery." It wasn't well-received.
I Fell for Hours: Tex pulled this off in the Bugs Bunny short "The Heckling Hare", though the ending he originally wanted to do (having Bugs and his canine foil fall off yet another cliff) was cut short, prompting him to leave Warner Bros. for MGM.
Instant Roast: In the short "One Cab's Family", a speeding car hits a pig and a chicken, which land back as a plate of ham and eggs.
Interactive Narrator: "Red Hot Riding Hood" begins this way, with the Wolf, Red Riding Hood and Granny complaining about doing the same story the same way every time. Tex created this trope in the 1937 WB cartoon The Village Smithy, and conversely, the character talking back at the narrator.
Blacksmith: Listen, chief! Take it easy. We got plenty o' time...this cartoon ain't half over yet!
Land in the Saddle: One cartoon has a cowboy try to jump onto his horse repeatedly, only to miss every time. Eventually he moves the horse to the place where he keeps landing and tries again, only to land where the horse originally was.
Long Neck: Certain characters have an expandable neck.
Love Can Make You Gonk: Men would often bug out and even literally turn into wolves at the sight of an attractive woman.
Love Makes You Crazy: In one short even Droopy, who generally is not known to do this sort of thing, begins whistling, slamming his head against the table and taking bites out of a nearby wooden post after receiving a kiss from Red.
Medium Awareness: Many times the cartoons characters in Avery's shorts knew they were in a cartoon. This exchange from "The Early Bird Dood It," as the worm and bird pass by a movie billboard with the lobby card of the very cartoon they're in:
Bird: Hey! I hear that's a pretty funny cartoon.
Worm: Well, I sure hope it's funnier than this one!
The book the old coot is reading in Who Killed Who? is titled "Who Killed Who (From the cartoon of the same name)."
In "Big Heel-Watha" the title character while walking on his toes says to the audience "Heh heh, in a cartoon you can do anything!"
Nameless Narrative: Many Tex Avery cartoons feature one-time characters whom Avery never bothered to give a name. This includes many anonymous cats, dogs and mice and even the infamous wolf character who, despite being a recurring character, always remained The Nameless.
Narrator: Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The next scene is quite gruesome, so for the benefit of the children in the audience, we'll split the screen — the left side for grown ups, the right for the children. For the grown ups, a hideous Gila monster. For the children, a presentation.
The Mask had several direct shout outs to Tex Avery's cartoons, including several Wild Takes, the main character morphing into a wolf and howling at a female performer, and early in the movie the main character can even be seen watching "Red Hot Riding Hood."
1939's WB short Thugs With Dirty Mugs: Eddie G. Robbemsome stops counting his money long enough to do an impersonation of radio personality Fred Allen for us.
In Screwy Squirrel's first cartoon where he beats up a cute little Disney-esque squirrel after asking him what the cartoon the cute squirrel was starring in was going to be about, afterwards breaking the fourth wall to say, "You wouldn't have liked the cartoon anyway." One can assume it's a Take That at the cutesy cartoons coming out in the 1930's by Disney and at MGM's own Happy Harmonies series.
Some of the final theatrical shorts also took shots at competing mediums. In one Droopy cartoon, the villainous cattleman can't get any of the other cowboys in town to help him chase Droopy (a rival sheepherder) because they're all at the saloon watching a western on a TV set, causing the villain to curse, "Lousy Television!" Another short ended with the antagonist declaring that if his latest plan to catch Droopy failed, he'd quit the cartoon and "Go on television!".
Tex would zigzag this, doing a Take That to himself in "The Car Of Tomorrow," deliberately putting out an extremely corny visual gag (the "seal-beam headlights" with two seals coming out of the headlight domes) and letting the narrator feel the pain for us—his hand comes in, scribbles the scene out with a pencil and groans "Oh, no!"