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.
Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery (February 26, 1908 August 26, 1980) is widely considered the original animated cartoon gag-man, famous for employing wild takes, Breaking the Fourth Wall, lampshading 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, Screwy Squirrel, and George and Junior 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?
On a side note, Tex has sometimes been given the dubious honor of being the inventor of (or at least making an early precursor of) the parody remix video style of filmmaking that would be become known as Youtube Poop, with the "Gold is Where You Find It" segment of Daffy Duck in Hollywood being considered one of the earliest, if not the first, forerunners to the comedic dada remix video style.
See Tex Avery MGM Cartoons for information on the short subjects he made there.
Finally, despite the name, he had no involvement in The Wacky World of Tex Avery, and was in fact long dead when that show was made. The show was produced as a "tribute" to the man himself, and was endorsed by his daughter Nancy Avery but...well, see that show's trope page for more.
- The Singing Sap: An Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short. First cartoon where he is credited as an animator.
- Confidence: Another Oswald Rabbit short where he is credited as an animator.
- Chris Columbus Jr: Mentioned working on the lengthy cannon scene; possibly directed it.
- Towne Hall Follies: Directed it, but was uncredited.
- The Quail Hunt: Directed it, but was uncredited.
- Gold Diggers of '49: First credited director work.
- The Blow Out
- Plane Dippy
- Id Love To Take Orders From You
- Page Miss Glory
- I Love to Singa
- Porky The Rain Maker
- The Village Smithy
- Milk And Money
- Dont Look Now
- Porky The Wrestler
- Picador Porky
- I Only Have Eyes For You
- Porky's Duck Hunt
- Uncle Tom's Bungalow: One of the Censored Eleven.
- Aint We Got Fun
- Daffy Duck and Egghead
- Egghead Rides Again
- A Sunbonnet Blue
- Porkys Garden
- I Wanna Be A Sailor Public Domain.
- The Sneezing Weasel
- Little Red Walking Hood
- The Penguin Parade
- The Isle Of Pingo Pongo: One of the Censored Eleven.
- A Feud There Was
- Johnny Smith And Poker Huntas
- Daffy Duck in Hollywood
- Cinderella Meets Fella
- Hamateur Night
- The Mice Will Play
- A Day At The Zoo Public Domain.
- Thugs With Dirty Mugs
- Believe It Or Else
- Dangerous Dan Mcfoo
- Detouring America
- Land Of The Midnight Fun
- Fresh Fish
- Screwball Football
- The Early Worm Gets The Bird Public Domain.
- Cross Country Detours
- The Bears Tale
- A Gander At Mother Goose
- Circus Today
- A Wild Hare
- Ceiling Hero
- Wacky Wild Life
- Of Fox And Hounds
- Holiday Highlights
- The Crackpot Quail
- The Haunted Mouse Public Domain.
- Tortoise Beats Hare
- Hollywood Steps Out Public Domain.
- Porkys Preview Public Domain.
- The Heckling Hare
- Aviation Vacation
- All This and Rabbit Stew: One of the Censored Eleven, and the only one featuring a major Looney Tunes character (Bugs Bunny). Public Domain.
- The Bug Parade
- The Cagey Canary
1942 (Speaking of Animals series, that he made for Paramount)
- Speaking of Animals Down on the Farm
- Speaking of Animals in a Pet Shop
- Speaking of Animals in the Zoo
1942-1955: Filmography for these cartoons can be found on Tex Avery MGM Cartoons page.
- Crazy Mixed Up Pup
- The Legend of Rockabye Point. Third Chilly Willy short.
- Shhhhhh (1955). Avery's last animated short.
- Casper's First Christmas: Sequence director.
- The Flintstone Comedy Show: Story editor for the Dino and Cavemouse segments.
- The Kwicky Koala Show: His last creation before his death.
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.
- Acceptable Targets: Obnoxious In-Laws, almost always "the mother-in-law" (invoked and parodied).
- And Call Him "George"!: The line "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?" is used a lot in "Of Fox and Hounds", "Lonesome Lenny" and various George and Junior cartoons.
- Amusing Injuries: His characters get injured all the time, but they always survive it unharmed the next scene.
- Animation Bump: Tex's later years on Looney Tunes got a significant upgrade in animation from his earlier shorts. Comparing shorts like Porky's Duck Hunt and A Wild Hare is a day and night experience. The cartoons he made at MGM were the best-looking ones he ever made, thanks to the studio's heftier budgets for their cartoon shorts.
- Anvil on Head: Invented and popularized this trope, then taken Up to Eleven in Bad Luck Blackie.
- Ash Face: Usually shown as a blackface caricature and usually edited when shown on American TV due to racist imagery.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: King Size Canary features a giant canary, dog, cat, and mouse (the latter two ending up planet-sized) who have consumed a miracle plant growth formula.
- Bad Humor Truck: A "Good Rumor" ice cream truck, often getting robbed or blown up is a common running gag.
- Bait-and-Switch: Avery's trade secret was opening his cartoons very sedated and normal, letting the tension build in the audience before pulling the rug out from under them with an overblown gag.
- 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!"
- The Bully: Screwy Squirrel.
- Butter Face: Several cartoons use this gag.
- The Cat Came Back: Droopy's stock and trade.
- "[Adjective], isn't it?" (usually "Screwy, Isn't It?", which was the tagline for Cartoon Network back when that channel was a 24/7 classic cartoon channel).
- "You know what? I'm happy!" - Droopy
- "You know what? That makes me mad." - Droopy (Doubles as a Pre Ass Kicking One Liner)
- "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?" (Borrowed from the film version of Of Mice & Men)
- "You know, if he does that one more time to me in this picture, I'll kill myself."
- Censor Decoy: Avery and his animators would occasionally put some risqué jokes in their cartoons. In order to get this stuff past the censors they combined it with some outrageously risqué stuff that would never get past. As they expected the outrageously risqué stuff was never used, but some of the milder stuff now DID get greenlit, 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.
- Denser and Wackier: As Avery's art style became more finetuned and streamlined, his humour became arguably much more manic and unruly by the time he moved to MGM, elevating his Rapid-Fire Comedy approach to dizzy new heights.
- Dripping Disturbance: Invoked by the rabbit in Doggone Tired, as one of the tactics to keep the hunting dog awake at night.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The early shorts by Tex Avery at Warner Bros. are very different from his later work at MGM—with the except of a brief period in the late 30's (where he had wilder shorts like his three Daffy Duck cartoons), the pacing of his Looney Tunes is a lot slower than those of Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin, and instead of off the wall animation, he experimented with slow, tight animation that emulated the approach and timing of live action comedies in his travelogue parodies. His earliest Warners shorts, particularly shorts like "Page Miss Glory", are barely recognizable as his work.
- Extreme Omnigoat: In Billy Boy, a goat eats a farmer out of house and home, so the goat is flown to the moon. Which he then eats.Farmer: That right there's one hungry little billy goat-goat-goat-goat-goat-goat.
- Eye Pop: Tex Avery invented this.
- Flat Character: This is commonly cited as a major weakness of Avery's cartoons—with few exceptions (such as the Looney Tunes stable), his main characters tended to have one-note personalities, or even no personality at all. This of course, was intentional on his part—Avery merely saw the characters as a means to an end for his gags and direction.
- Fractured Fairy Tale: Tex Avery is the undisputed king of fractured fairy tales. He did Little Red Riding Hood three times (an urban version, a sexy version and a hillbilly version), Cinderella twice (once at Warner Bros. and once at MGM), the Three Bears once, at Warner Bros. and the story of Mother Goose once, also at Warner Bros.. Besides the usual fairy tale motif, Tex also put twists to more modern literary material, like Uncle Tom's Cabin (also done twice, once at Warner Bros. and once with Droopy starring over at MGM - both are now banned and are unlikely to be shown publicly anytime soon).
- Fur Is Clothing: Many of his cartoons employ this. One famous example, though it isn't fur, was the 1940 Merrie Melodies cartoon Cross Country Detours. 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: The Shooting of Dan McGoo and Chilly Willy have towns named Coldernell Colder'nell, which sound almost exactly like "colder than Hell"; Section V of the Hays Code specifically forbade the word 'Hell'.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: Actually averted; Tex's cartoons, especially in his peak years, are very tightly structured and paced, and rarely if ever go off into these kind of tangents. The fact that he wasn't that interested in anything beyond basic characterization in the first place probably precluded using this anyway.
- Head-Turning Beauty Another trope Tex Avery helped codify.
- 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.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Wolves do, too.
- He Went That Way: "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?"
- 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.
- I Kiss Your Hand: Almost always led up to some sort of gag.
- 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!
- Iron Butt-Monkey: Most of the antagonists.
- Karmic Trickster: A core trope for Bugs Bunny, the most famous example.
- 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.
- Literal Ass-Kicking:George: "Junior...bend over."
- Long Neck: Certain characters have an expandable neck.
- Look Both Ways: A favorite gag of his was to have characters do this, see nothing coming for miles, take one step onto the pavement, and immediately get flattened by a speeding car.
- 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, was never identified by a name (thought he'd be retroactively named "Wolfie").
- No Fourth Wall: Fourth what? Never heard of it.Tex Avery: "I want the audience to know I know they're out there."
- Non-Fatal Explosions: Which more often than not would result in a blackface gag.
- Ostrich Head Hiding: Slap Happy Lion has a lion roaring so loud that it scares off an ostrich, who sticks his head in the sand, then lifts the piece of ground head and all and runs off with it.
- Overly Long Gag: The original ending for The Heckling Hare was supposed to be this; Bugs and Willoughby were supposed to fall off three separate cliffs. Thanks to Executive Meddling, it was trimmed down to just one.
- Overly Long Tongue: Several characters whenever they are surprised or excited.
- Parody: This was a defining element of Tex's cartoons—he refused to allow Disney's idea of animation having to be believable dominate his cartoons as it had the rest of the cartoon industry in the 30's—he even made it his goal to have his cartoons do things that Disney would have never dared do. Many of his cartoons openly mocked Disney's mawkish content and subverted their idealistic characters and stories with street smart, sarcastic humor and characters, and poked holes in their naturalistic art style with realistically drawn characters doing completely ridiculous things (i.e. the animals and rotoscoped humans in his Travelogue parodies), and he used meta humor as a then-very unique way of remind the audience that they're just watching a fun cartoon. Even his less wild cartoons have a tongue-in-cheek tone to them.
- Pungeon Master: Pretty much popularized the Pun-Based Title in animation. Not to mention the numerous puns featured in each of his cartoons, ranging from the clever to the incredibly lame.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Avery both pioneered and set the benchmark for how this can be accomplished in animation.
- Relax-o-Vision: Parodied in "Cross Country Detours":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.
- Removable Animal Markings: In "Slap-Happy Lion", a lion's roar scares a zebra right out of its stripes, which stay in place. Another roar and the stripes themselves run off.
- Running Gag: Some of these cartoons have running gags that result in a surprising twist at the end. A recurring one is a sign that pops up saying, "[Adjective], isn't it?"
- And of course: "Hold on to your hats, folks, here we go again!"
- Self-Deprecation: Tex had a habit of lampshading his own corny gags as early as his first MGM cartoon, Blitz Wolf.
- Sexophone: Whenever an attractive woman struts onto the scene. Always the same riff too.
- She's Got Legs: Likely Red's most defining characteristic.
- 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.
- 1940's Holiday Highlights - which features scenes illustrating each of the major U.S. holidays - has the narrator playing a practical joke by not having any scene for April Fool's Day; while he laughs and keeps saying, "Fooled You!", a title card shows up on the screen that reads, "Tain't Funny, McGee! - The Management".
- Show, Don't Tell: Despite having a surface of anarchy, Avery was a master of visual storytelling, and far favored visual comedy over writing based gags (even his own Symphony in Slang relied purely on strong sight gags to carry over the deliberately lame puns). In his later years, he lamented about how dialogue-focused animation had become at the expense of visual comedy."What, all this junk, the yak-yak-yak? It would've broke my heart! Dialogue gags are a dime a dozen, but a good sight gag is hard to come by."
- Tall Tale: Many of Tex's cartoons have stories and structure that call to mind a contemporary tall tale. "King-Sized Canary" and "Bad Luck Blackie" are his most notable ones.
- Take That!:
- 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.
- Blitz Wolf is one large take that at Adolf Hitler.
- 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!".
- The glut of westerns in general in the 50's earned a satirization in TV of Tomorrow. About half of the live-action clips in this cartoon are of westerns, and one of the gags is a man frustrated with the fact that he gets a western on every channel. He goes to the movies, gets a film with a romantic comedy title, but it turns out to be a western. The clip from the theater is replayed in the final gag of the cartoon, with an attempted broadcast to/from Mars. A "For the kiddies" television ad in House of Tomorrow also pokes fun at the western with another clip. note
- 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!"
- The Twelve Principles of Animation: Avery is notable for his very direct, broad animation, as well as his razor sharp timing, streamlined and exaggerated design sense, and crystal-clear staging—he eschewed the more detailed Disney style characters and slick overlapping inbetweens (a flaw his early MGM shorts suffered from, since many of them were ex-Disney and ex-Harman and Ising animators unaccustomed to his approach to animation) in favor of animation that had exaggeration, rhythm and contrast, and thus the much faster timing and comedic impact he desired. Even when MGM began slashing cartoon budgets in the early '50s, Avery relied heavily on poses which made appealing silhouettes, a practice continued to this day in low-budget animation.
- That Makes Me Feel Angry: The basis for Droopy's Catchphrase. ("You know what, I'm happy" delivered in complete deadpan.)
- Torso with a View: One of the many Amusing Injuries applied many of Avery's shorts.
- Travelogue Show: Avery created the "travelogue/news parody" cartoon during his years at Warner Bros. He intended it to be a rather simple vehicle to cram in as many gags as possible into the confines of a 7-8 minute short. Sadly, these cartoons did not age well: besides their outdated cultural references, their Strictly Formula nature of a loose theme (travel, news, sports etc.) binding gags meant they got old quite quickly - and indeed, after Tex departed the Warner Bros. studio, the other former colleagues of his moved on to the character-based comedy that became a well known trademard of that studio.
- Verbal Tic: One of Tex Avery's wolves had a tendency to repeat the last syllable of his sentences a few times-times-times-times-times-times.
- Visual Pun: Taken to the extreme in Symphony in Slang.
- Wartime Cartoon: Many of his WWII-era cartoons qualify, The Blitz Wolf being the one that dealt with WWII directly.
- Your Head A-Splode: Happens to Spike in From Wags to Riches after rigging a camera with a mortar shell.