My friends, the time has come for me to tell you the tale of the last Looney Tune, and I feel less like an animation blogger and more like Red from the Shawshank Redemption. I wish I could tell you that the Looney Tunes fought the good fight. That they brought Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc and Michael Maltese back for one last time and went out with a short that could stand up with the very best of them. That when that really was all folks, those folks knew that something wonderful had gone out on a high. But animation is no fairy tale.
What animation buffs call “The Dark Age of Animation” lasted from around the late fifties to the early to mid eighties (meaning the next few reviews will most likely just be me making sounds of pain and distress) and I don’t want to exaggerate it so I’ll just say that this was the worst period in human history where everything good and pure in the world was killed and hung from a gibbet. It was around this time that TV finally came into its own and starting muscling onto cinema’s turf in a big way. Facing increasing financial pressure, cinemas had to cut back on luxuries like lavishly animated cartoon shorts of pure loveliness. Cartoons in this period had to find a new home on television, where the appetite was there (boy, was it ever) but the budgets simply weren’t. The animation studios that survived in this era did so by being cheap, lean and mean. This was the age of Hanna Barbera and Filmation. A wolf age. An axe age. Hell, even the Disney movies in this era looked dog rough.
And what of the Looney Tunes? Bugs Bunny very wisely sat the sixties out after False Hare in 1964. I don’t actually know why Warners decided to retire the character after that, but in my mind he went to Italy to pursue a celebrated career as a director of independent film. It’s what he deserved.
The Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies in this decade, at least after Chuck Jones was fired in 1963 for moonlighting on UPA’s Gay-Puree, focused more on Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote as well as Speedy Gonzales, who was now paired with Daffy Duck, thereby capitalising on the well known and established hatred between mice and…
Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. So Warners were still using a lot of the classic Looney Tunes characters but they weren’t resting on their laurels (they were doing something else on their laurels but certainly not resting). As well as featuring older established characters, the new shorts studio under the management of Alex Lovy* introduced such timeless household names to the Looney Tunes Pantheon as Merlin Mouse, Bunny and Claude and Cool Cat. Truly a who’s who of “Huh? Who?” It was like the Itchy and Scratchy and Friends Hour except that Disgruntled Goat did not have his moments. I don’t want to rip on Lovy or Robert McKimson (who directed this short) because they were both seasoned professionals who worked on some great cartoons over the years. But at the same time, COOL CAT IS THE GODDAMNED DEVIL AND SHOULD BE ON FIRE ALWAYS.
Now, my problem is not that Cool Cat is utterly, completely, instantly dated as a concept and a character. The fact that he is a sixties pop culture creation to his very bones does not mean that he could not be a good character in his own right. Know who else is utterly a product of his time?
But there’s a key difference. Bugs comes by it honestly, he is a product of thirties pop culture created by young men who consumed, enjoyed and understood that pop culture. And Cool Cat was created by a bunch of old men desperately trying to relate to the youth of the time in the most cynical and pandering way possible.
Also, his cartoons suck and are not funny.
So let’s take a look at Injun Trouble.
So the first thing you notice, after the weird minimalist Warner Bros logo and the remixed version of The Merry Go Round Broke Down is that the music by William Lava sounds less like the opening of a cartoon short and more like the bit in the porno where the pizza guy arrives. We see a desert landscape that I have decided to place next to some Maurice Noble artwork from the Roadrunner cartoons because I like making myself feel very sad. I think I may have some issues.
And that is the last time I’m going to judge this cartoon against the classic era Looney Tunes shorts on its art or animation because obviously that’s monstrously unfair. By the time Injun Trouble was made cinemas weren’t paying for shorts any more and the budgets just weren’t there. I know this. I accept this. Nobody’s fault. Quality costs money. But plenty of cheap cartoons still manage to be charming, or inventive or funny. But Injun Trouble’s…trouble is that is that it is completely, utterly devoid of wit or inspiration. So Cool Cat (Larry Storch) is driving his dune buggy through the desert while snapping his fingers because he is cool (is that the word? Is that what the kids call it?). Honestly, I don’t know why he even needs to snap his fingers. It seems redundant. I mean, he has the word “cool” in his name so he must be cool, right? He’s watched by some Native Americans who look at each other and say “Ug.” which is pretty much my reaction whenever I see Cool Cat too.
Cool Cat gets chased by a brave on horseback shooting arrows and whooping, who then turns to the camera and says “Injuns always yell like that when they mad.” Mad. Written by racist fuckwits. Tomayto, tomato. Funny story, this is actually the second Looney Tune/Merry Melody called Injun Trouble. The first one was a Porky Pig short from all the way back in 1938 and it is, no lie, far less racist than this one. Seriously. Think of a stereotype about Native Americans and they worked it in somewhere. This is how the cartoon goes:
- Cool Cat is driving through the desert snapping his fingers because he is cool, understand? He is a cool cat.
- He gets flagged down by a still drawing of an Indian that they just zoomed in on to give the illusion of animation.
- Cool Cat talks to the Indian which leads to some Indian based-pun that is either lazy, racist, stupid, lazily racist, stupidly racist, lazily stupid, racistly lazy or lazily stupid racist.
- Repeat FOUR GODDAMN TIMES.
And even aside from the racism it’s just a bad cartoon. A Looney Tunes short needs a central conflict and each of the non-descript Indian characters just appears, does their schtick and vanishes never to be seen again. Can you imagine Long Haired Hare if instead of one opera singer, Bugs was fucking with a different opera singer for each gag? The fact that it’s the same guy that he’s heaping torment after torment on is what gives that short its comedic escalation. You could cut out the middle four minutes of Injun Trouble and reassemble them in any order and the cartoon would make just as much sense and that is not a good thing. And the short can’t even sustain its pathetic premise for its full run time. Having apparently come to the end of your racist uncle’s Bumper Indian Joke Book the writers have Cool Cat come to an Old West frontier town and go to a “Topless Saloon”. Yeah. You know, sex was always a more prevalent presence in Looney Tunes than you might think.
But there was always a, I dunno, classiness to it? Here it’s just, Cool Cat thought he was going to see some titties. Turns out the topless bartender is a dude. Men do not have breasts. That is the joke, you see. The cat has failed in his quest to see boobs. And I need a shower.
So after six of the longest minutes of my life, even Cool Cat apparently has had enough of this shit and cuts himself clean out of the cartoon with a pair of scissors. You may ask yourself, when has he demonstrated this ability previously? What does this have to do with Indians? Can we go home now?
And then Cool Cat pokes his head through the gaping white void he has cut in the fabric of the world and says to the audience “So cool it now, y’hear?”
And those were the Looney Tunes’ last words.
There’s going out with a bang. There’s going out with a whimper. And there’s going out with Injun Trouble.
Goddamn I hate this short.
*This post originally stated that Injun Trouble was crated be DePatie Freleng studios. While DePatie Freleng did do some outsourced Looney Tunes shorts for Warners in the sixties, they had moved on by 1967 and this short was created in the brief period when Warners reopened their studio in ’67 and before they closed it again in 1969. Thanks to Devin for pointing out the error.