I’ve been a huge fan of Tex Avery since I was a small child. I spent most of my childhood cutting my teeth on animation from masters like Bob McKimson, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and the Fleischer Brothers, and Avery always had his own unusual style. For years he worked at Warner producing the Looney Tunes shorts, and produced some of his best work at MGM Studios. Avery’s work is bizarre, innovative, and so absolutely funny that they still manage to produce laughter just as much as the classic Looney Tunes.
This year, Warner released two whole (long overdue) volumes of uncut, unedited Tex Avery shorts on Blu-Ray for animation fans and collectors alike. In celebration of that release, I thought I’d list five of my all time favorite Tex Avery shorts, most of which were produced with MGM Studios.
Are there any shorts from Tex Avery that you love that I didn’t list? Let us know in the comments!
Screwball Squirrel (1951)
It’s a shame that Screwy Squirrel has only been in six shorts, as he is one of my favorite animated foils. He’s fallen in to obscurity and oddly never caught on like Tom and Jerry, or even Droopy. He’s a funny kind of cartoon hero with a great sadistic bent who pretty much defies the fourth wall in every short he’s in. He’s basically Bugs Bunny but if he was a squirrel and looked like Karl Malden. I mean his catchphrase (“Hel-lo!” *sniffs*) isn’t exactly “What’s Up Doc?” but damnit, he’s funny! In his first outing, he takes on a goofy dog and delights in tormenting him as the dog attempts to hunt him. Screwy Squirrel is such a bizarre creation by MGM and Avery and I wish we’d have seen so much more from him.
T.V. of Tomorrow (1953)
It’s funny and horrifying how prophetic this short was. Centered on the newfangled technology called Television and how much it would change in the future. “TV of Tomorrow” is about the many ways we’ll watch television and help feed our obsession for the tube. The short is heavy social satire meant to be taken as completely comedic and ridiculous. Then you hear the narrator say: “In the future, homes will be built around the television” and you realize just how much this short predicted the future. It also predicted portable TV’s, interactive TV, cable TV, and even TV that can skip commercials. Like many Tex Avery shorts, the humor is over the top, mixes live action with the animation, and is still absolutely hysterical. It’s also filled to the brim with sight gags.
Magical Maestro (1952)
Taking this short in to the context of its time period is best when approaching it. It’s an absolutely hilarious and zany Avery short, but one sadly packed with horrible racial stereotypes. That said, the short involves an opera singer named The Great Poochini who crosses an out of work magician named Mysto when he refuses to hire him. Getting revenge, Mysto uses his magic wand to sabotage the opera performance, transforming the singer in to various characters like a hula dancer, and can can dancer. Save for some uncomfortable detours (including a minstrel show gag often censored on cable TV for years), “Magical Maestro” is hysterical and includes so much of Avery’s crack comic timing and brilliant animation. It’s a childhood favorite that I never tire of.
Symphony in Slang (1951)
“Symphony in Slang” is my introduction to Tex Avery. It’s the short I first watched when my cousin brought over his VHS of Tex Avery MGM shorts. Suffice to say I’d never seen anything like “Symphony in Slang” before, and I recall sitting through it just dumbfounded but laughing almost non-stop. If you’re a fan of sight gags, “Symphony in Slang” has it in spades. Focusing on a young man named John Brown who arrives at the gates of heaven, he recalls his life before dying to St. Peter, but his use of slang forces St. Peter to interprets his story in a very, very literal sense. Stuff like “Combing a beach” and “The Cat Had her Tongue” results in asides that’ll leave you in stitches.
Who Killed Who? (1943)
“Who Killed Who?” is the ultimate Tex Avery cartoon for me. It’s a brilliant parody of whodunit thrillers, packed with sight gags and double entendres, and even mixes live action with animation as he had a habit of doing. “Who Killed Who?” involves an old wealthy man who is mysteriously “bumped off” in his mansion. When an inspector comes to investigate who did it, he begins chasing the hooded killer and runs in to all sorts of traps and obstacles. Some of my favorite include the closet of skeletons, a rapid firing gun that pants, and a great fourth wall breaking gag where the inspector smashes a theater goer attempting to go to the bathroom. Book ended with a hilarious final scene, this is easily the quintessential Tex Avery short.