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After quitting the Warner Bros. cartoon studio in 1941 after a squabble with Leon Schlesinger, director Tex Avery was hired by the MGM Cartoon studio to try giving the studio something to offer that wasn't Harman and Ising's cutesy oneshot short subjects.And to say he succeeded with flying colors would be an understatement.Free of the budget and creative constraints he faced at Warner Bros., and with a staff of skilled animators at his side (some of whom were even ex-Disney employees), Tex Avery went on to make some of the best cartoons of The Golden Age of Animation, or in some cases, some of the most acclaimed cartoons of all time. From 1942 to 1957, he cranked out dozens of classics, many of which would go on to codify the Zany Cartoon and thus serve as an influence to many animators, including master animator Richard Williams. The fact that they were constantly reaired in the early years of Cartoon Network (and, a generation earlier, syndicated and shown on UHF stations all over the U.S.) only contributed to making him a legend in animation pop culture.
Recurring Characters in Tex Avery's works at MGM include:
Droopy: A tiny, very modest Basset Hound that was apparently a master of Offscreen Teleportation and The Cat Came Back, capable of great strength when roused to anger. Is quite a good samaritan, constantly doing good deeds, especially when it comes to catching criminal wolves. His voice sounds similar to that of H. G. Wells of all people. Possibly his best short is Northwest Hounded Police. Droopy cartoons continued to be made after Tex's departure from MGM, with Michael Lah as director.
Screwy Squirrel: An insane squirrel that often picked on his antagonists for no reason other than because it was funny. He met his match with Lonesome Lenny in his final short, though, in which he was presumably crushed to death by the Of Mice And Men-inspired dog. His series was short lived because Avery never cared for the character much. There are stories of Tex's automatically throwing fan letters depicting Screwy Squirrel into the trash.
Red and Wolfie: Wolfie made his debut in "Blitz Wolf" as an Adolf Hitler caricature, but it was in "Red Hot Riding Hood" that he became the womanizer with off-the-wall wild takes he was famous for being. Red herself was based on pin-up girls of the 1940's, and often would sing and perform in her appearances. Both characters frequently co-starred in cartoons with Droopy, with Wolfie usually being the antagonist. In cartoons of The Fifties, he was replaced by a country bumpkin wolf who speaks with a Southern accent. In those cartoons with Droopy, he was still usually the antagonist, but without Droopy, he was a protagonist instead.
Butch: Originally named Spike, he had his name changed in order to avoid confusion with a bulldog from another MGM cartoon series with the same namenote though there is a recurring black cat named Butch in Tom and Jerry. He would often be the antagonist to Droopy, though he also starred in his own shorts as well. He was often tormented by a Small Annoying Creature with a Screwy Squirrel attitude in his solo shorts. Appearances of note include "Rock-A-Bye Bear," "Magical Maestro," "Millionaire Droopy," and "Cock-a-Doodle Dog."
One Cab's Family: A short that bears a remarkable resemblance to the 30's Friz Freleng Warner Bros. cartoon "Streamlined Greta Green". It also seems to be the design inspiration for Pixar's Cars. It also came out the same year as the Disney cartoon "Susie the Little Blue Coupe", which also featured anthropomorphic cars.
Little Johnny Jet: A follow-up/rehash of One Cab's Family, but WITH PLANES!
T.V. of Tomorrow: The third of Avery's "Tetralogy Of Tomorrow."
Abhorrent Admirer: Red's grandmother in "Red Hot Riding Hood," and her fairy godmother in "Swing Shift Cinderella," just to name a couple.
Accordion Man: Plenty of times. A literal one that hasn't been flattened appears in "The Cat That Hated People."
Anachronism Stew: Highly abundant and played for laughs in "Jerky Turkey," which alludes, among other things, to the Navy (1775); the Democrats (1830) and Republicans (1854); and cigarettes (the 1830's).
Any time it involved Spike and a tree (or in one case, a main pole in a circus tent), the following dialogue was obligatory:
Tree: *falls completely the wrong way and smashes down on Spike hard enough for him to go straight through it and not even move*
Art Evolution: Believe it or not, over time Droopy's face becomes less...droopy. Also, MGM cartoons as a whole leaned more and more towards Limited Animation as time went on.
Screwy had a slightly different, ironically more cute design in his first short, which was quickly replaced by his more goofy pinhead design.
Red kept a consistent appearance in her shorts, but she was slightly shorter in her initial appearance.
Ass in a Lion Skin: "Little 'Tinker," near the end when B.O. Skunk tries to woo a female by painting his fur like a fox. The girl fox he meets turns out, after they fall into a creek and their paint washes off, actually to be another skunk in disguise. Cue Crowning Moment of Heartwarming as they kiss.
George and Junior try this trick in their shorts many times, though it always backfires on them, usually either due to Junior becoming confused and forgetting that George is the one in disguise, or for example in the case of "Hound Hunters" in which they are dog catchers trying to attract dogs by dressing in a cat suit, the scheme works too well.
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.
Broken Record: While Screwy Squirrel was being chased by Meathead.
By the Lights of Their Eyes: Parodied in "Who Killed Who?" — a pair of eyes peek through a slot on the door, and when spotted, the slot shuts... leaving the eyes on the other side of it. The eyes proceed to bang themselves on the slot to get it reopened.
Cartoon Conductor: In "The Magical Maestro", a magician switches places with a conductor so he can get revenge on a performer during a concert, who disallowed the magician as an opening act. Since the magician was using a magic wand for a baton, he not only had Cartoon Conductor power over the orchestra, he could also physically change the performer into whatever embarrassing form he wanted.
Cloud Cuckoo Land: "The Cat Who Hated People" is this especially but as "Half Pint Pygmy" goes on, the jungle animals become more and more surreal (like two giraffes connected by their necks with no head between them.
Cluster F-Bomb: Played with in "Screwball Squirrel," when Screwy is provoking Meathead into chasing him by insulting him through a payphone:
Screwy Squirrel: Why, you— (notices audience) Oh, pardon me. (closes door and... blows a raspberry into the speaker.)
This may also have been because at the time the Hays Code prohibited the sound of flatulence in film, even if it was made by blowing a raspberry.
Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: In "Cock-a-Doodle Dog", though instead of just crowing at dawn the pesky rooster crows all day long after Butch had no sleep the previous night.
Determinator : In "Magical Maestro", it looks like nothing can prevent Poochini from singing "The Barber of Seville", not even Presto's magical pranks.
In "Henpecked Hoboes", George and Junior send a rooster flying to the North Pole by rocket, and he spends the rest of the cartoon relentlessly trying to get back to the barn, and is clearly exhausted and worn out by the time he gets back there. Makes the revenge he gets on the hen worth it though.
Disguised in Drag: Spike in "Ventriloquist Cat" (female cat) and "The Garden Gopher" (female gopher).
Disproportionate Retribution: "Magic Maestro" is one big case of this. Presto sabotages the Great Poochini's opera performance solely because he wasn't hired as an opening act — not that opera is well known for opening with a magic show in the first place, mind you.
Dogs Love Fire Hydrants: In one of the starring George and Junior as dog catchers, they dress as fire hydrants to attract a dog they've been trying to catch. They end up being chased by every dog in town.
In the first Droopy cartoon, he walks behind a hydrant, and after a brief pause, walks out with a look of embarrassment on his face.
Dope Slap: The tall bandit delivers a few to his shorter partner in "Deputy Droopy". Spike gets one from his own tongue in "Rock-a-bye Bear".
Downer Ending: Though all of his cartoons are Played for Laughs, he wasn't afraid to end on something of a downer every once in a while. Lampshaded in at least three cartoons where the protagonist meets with a terrible fate ("Batty Baseball," "The Early Bird Dood It," and Screwy Squirrel's last short "Lonesome Lenny"), when a character holds up a sign that says "Sad ending, isn't it?"
The Faceless: Meathead the dog after Screwy Squirrel pulls his face off with flypaper.
Fake-Out Opening: "Screwball Squirrel" starts off with a tongue in cheek opening of a forest with cutesy animals and a squirrel going out for a stroll, complete with a Lemony Narrator complimenting the action as mawkishly as he can. Then Screwy shows up, beats the squirrel to a pulp, and the cartoon officially begins.
"Red Hot Riding Hood" and "Swing Shift Cinderella" likewise start out mocking the cliché fairy tale cartoons of the 1930's before getting to the real fun.
Fake Rabies: In the Droopy short "Wags to Riches," Spike puts shaving cream on a sleeping Droopy and phones in a report of a mad dog, but a fan blows the foam onto Spike's face just as the dog catcher arrives.
Finger Gun: Dinosaur Dan in "The First Bad Man" uses his own finger as a gun when his real gun runs out of bullets. Also used by Spike/Butch in "Wags to Riches" (but not in "Millionaire Droopy") after attempting to shoot Droopy.
A bunch of devils: (in unison) Eh... it's a possibility.
Flat Character: Droopy, depending on the short, tends to be vague and nondescript in personality, which is why the shorts tend to focus more on his adversaries than himself. And in general, Tex Avery's characters tend to be very one-dimensional in personality, and this was intentional on his part, as he was not interested in the character's personalities, so much as what gags they could carry out or what gags could happen to them.
Hospital Hottie: The chicken nurse from the end of "The Hick Chick". Really, she's basically Red if she was a chicken.
Hurricane of Puns: While a typical Avery cartoon contains plenty of puns, "Symphony in Slang" in particular is practically nothing but puns, since the angels interpret the life story of a recently-deceased man literally because this man is a hipster who uses a lot of incomprehensible slang terms.
Hypocritical Humor: In "Little Rural Riding Hood", when the country wolf is unable to control himself at the sight of Red and tries to rush the stage to join her, his cousin, the city wolf, has no choice but to return him home to the country — only to become equally crazily attracted to the country version of Red, thus prompting the country wolf to take him home to the city!
Also, Joe Bear ("Rock-a-bye Bear") HATES NOISE!! IF THERE'S ONE THING HE CAN'T STAND, IT'S NOISE!!
"SHUT UP! QUIET! DON'T KNOCK SO LOUD! THERE'S ONE THING I HATE, AND THAT'S NOISE! I SAY, I HATE NOISE!"
Incredibly Lame Pun: Lampshaded with the "reject" crossed animals at the end of "The Farm of Tomorrow". For example, crossing a goat with an owl creates a hootennanny.
In "The Car of Tomorrow", the narrator groans at a pun about a car with "seal-beam headlights".
The Insomniac: Butch in "Cock-A-Doodle Dog", because he's being kept awake by a noisy rooster.
Instant Gravestone: Little Tinker features this after an elderly rabbit, in a fit of mad lust for B.O. Skunk's Frank Sinatra impression, jumps out of her wheelchair, does cartwheels, jumps into the air and lands in the ground. A tombstone then appears that reads "Oh Frankie!".
Instant Waking Skills: In "Rock-a-Bye Bear," a dog is house-sitting for a bear that's going into hibernation; but this bear will instantly wake up at the sound of a pin drop and pummel the dog yelling "QUIET!! SHADDUP! QUIET!!"Hilarity Ensues as a rival dog attempts to wake the bear up and steal the watchdog's job.
Insult Backfire: In "Happy-Go-Nutty", Screwy Squirrel tells the dog to "go lay an egg". He does.
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.
Iris Out: Meathead concedes defeat and asks for "Screwball Squirrel" to end, but Screwy holds back the iris and convinces him to go for one last shot a la hide-and-seek.
Just Whistle: In Bad Luck Blackie a kitten being bullied by a dog makes a deal with a black cat that whenever he blows on a whistle the black cat will come and cross the dog's path, causing bad luck.
Karma Houdini: Screwy Squirrel, who had seemingly no motivation besides meanness for torturing the dog and who never got his comeuppance. Except, in his final cartoon, the ending suggests the dog killed him - see Downer Ending.
Mix-and-Match Critters: "The Farm of Tomorrow" consists of bizarre cross-breeding experiments such as an ostrich with a chicken (for bigger drumsticks), a duck with a banana (you peel the feathers off instead of plucking), a racehorse with a giraffe (this horse is a cinch to win by a neck) and a dove with a high chair (a stool pigeon).
Napoleon Delusion: Screwy Squirrel had one, and then gave it to his unfortunate antagonist Meathead.
No Indoor Voice: The bear in "Rock-a-Bye Bear," who ironically hates noise despite the fact that he's always shouting.
Not So Stoic: Whenever Droopy recieves a kiss from Red, he generally reacts the same way Wolfie would, even kidnapping her at the end of Wild and Woolfy.
Not the Fall That Kills You: The killer in "Dumb-Hounded" jumps off a tall building to his supposed death, but he has "good brakes" that he uses to screech himself to a halt just before hitting the pavement, on which he lands as gentle as a feather.
Obnoxious In-Laws: "House of Tomorrow" had a Running Gag about features "for the mother-in-law" that were clearly intended to show she's not welcome.
Screwy Squirrel: Uh, you people want in on a little secret? You wanna know how I tricked that guy all through the picture? (a second Screwy Squirrel appears) Both Screwy Squirrels: We was switched all the time! (they both laugh, but then two identical Meatheads walk over and pick them up) Both Meatheads: So was we! (they laugh à la Screwy Squirrel)
Also Droopy's modus operandi.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot: One of the literal gags in "Symphony in Slang," as the hipster explains that "every time [he] opened [his] mouth, [he] put [his] foot in it."
Panty Shot: The girl flea in "What Price Fleadom," Red at the end of "Wild And Woolfy."
Something Completely Different: "Flea Circus" is a Tex Avery short In Name Only, as it features a pathos story that, fleas being protagonists aside, is told without the slightest hint of irony; with virtually none of his breakneck pacing, timing, or post-modernistic quirks.
Take That: Tex loved making fun of Disney, as well as Harman and Ising's own "cutesy cartoons" they made for MGM. Just watch the opening of "Screwball Squirrel" for example.
Taps: In "The Cuckoo Clock", a cat tries to catch a cuckoo bird. When he finally catches it and eats it, he realizes the sadness of his death and tries to do a Moment of Silence. The bird - who just fooled the cat into believing he ate him, when it was actually a wind-up toy filled with TNT - starts playing Taps... and then the TNT explodes off-screen and the bird switches to a cheery tune.
A similar gag is used also in "The Early Bird Dood It".
That Makes Me Feel Angry: Droopy used to say this, almost word for word. Of course, he had to, due to his monotone way of speaking, you couldn't tell how he was feeling.