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MOMI Salutes a Master: ‘What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones’

AWN’s The Miscweant attends the opening reception for ‘What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones’ at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image.

'What's Opera, Doc?' Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Characters © & TM Warner Bros.

As New York City tourist attractions go, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens is a bit off the beaten track. It takes a subway ride and a 4 block walk to reach its front door, adjacent to the Kaufman-Astoria Studios where the Marx Bros filmed The Cocoanuts and Bill Cosby played sitcom dad Cliff Huxtable.

Right now, and for the rest of 2014 it’s most definitely worth the trip. MOMI’s newly opened What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones show isn’t just a salute to the most celebrated of the Looney Tunes directors, but a must-see for any animation fan.

Artwork, behind the scenes production materials and quotes from Chuck fill the walls of the maze-like gallery space to the bursting point. Actual cartoons? Oh yeah, they’re on display too, including What’s Opera, Doc? running non-stop in one corner of the gallery (can you believe this most famous of all Looney Tunes never even got an Oscar nomination?), a cozy mini-theater where you can chill on beanbag chairs and watch a Greatest Hits show featuring One Froggy Evening, Duck Amuck and Chuck’s Grinch TV special, classic excerpts match-framed with Chuck’s original pencil drawings, clips from his lesser-known films and hands-on interactive computer stations. (There’ll be a few screenings too… like Saturday and Sunday matinees every weekend for the entire run of the show.)

Thursday night, July 17, saw the show’s opening reception. Attendees filled the museum’s plush auditorium to see a long-lost, restored work of Chuck’s, 1949’s So Much for So Little. Produced for the U.S. Public Health Service, the film extolled the benefits of community health care, Looney Tunes-style.

The cartoon was preceded by opening remarks from MOMI Executive Director Carl Goodman as well as the show’s creators (scheduled to visit 13 cities between now and 2019, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service), Chuck’s daughter Linda and his grandson Craig Kausen.

Goodman apologized for Bugs’ absence, saying the Oscar-winning rabbit was “away fending off a hostile takeover bid by the Acme Corporation,” or as it’s known in real life, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (The previous day the Australian mogul’s company admitted it had offered Time Warner $80 billion to acquire the rival media empire.)

Chuck’s sole offspring Linda spoke of working with her father in the 1980’s and ‘90s, where she got into the habit of calling him “‘Chuck’ because ‘dad’ didn’t sound right in business meetings.” She recounted a childhood movie theater incident, telling the kid next to her “that’s my dad” when his name appeared at the start of one of his cartoons. “My father’s Clark Gable,” the kid responded. “It wasn’t until years later I realized he might’ve been telling the truth.”

Craig Kausen, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity revealed that it took three and a half years to put the show together, an outgrowth of a much smaller show that debuted in Los Angeles in 2010, and shared what his grandfather had told him: “I don’t want a legacy. Please don’t follow in my footsteps; find passion in whatever you do.”

Sorry Chuck, but when you’ve created cartoons and characters that have become part of the national consciousness, helped shape the personalities of some of the most famous animated characters of all time -- and have a “Center for Creativity” named after you -- it’s kind of hard not to leave a legacy.

Linda Jones

Chuck's grandson Craig Kausen

(from left) Wendell Walker (Deputy Director for Operations, Exhibitions, and Design), Craig Kausen (Chairman of Board of Directors, Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, and Chuck Jones's grandson), Deborah Macanic (Project Director, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service), and Linda Jones (Chuck Jones's daughter).

From left: Barbara Miller (Curator of the Collection and Exhibitions, Museum of the Moving Image), Ellen Harrington (Director of Exhibitions and Collections for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures), David Schwartz (Chief Curator, Museum of the Moving Image), Wendell Walker (Deputy Director for Operations, Exhibitions, and Design), Tomoko Kawamoto (Public Information Manager, Museum of the Moving Image). In front: Craig Kausen (Chairman of Board of Directors, Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, and Chuck Jones's grandson). Photo by Cynthia Lugo.

Installation view ('What's Opera, Doc?'). Image: Julie Cunnah/Museum of the Moving Image.

Installation view ('One Froggy Evening'). Image: Julie Cunnah/Museum of the Moving Image.

Installation view ('Termite Terrace'). Image: Julie Cunnah/Museum of the Moving Image.

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.