From One Froggy Evening (1955).


Medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1955
Creators: Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese
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Not many characters achieve lasting fame just from having appeared in …

continued below

… a single six-minute cartoon. In fact, Michigan J. Frog may be the only one.

The Frog was not a star when Warner Bros.' One Froggy Evening (which was written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones) premiered on December 31, 1955. In fact, that was the point — his spectacular song and dance routines were seen by only one person.

And nobody expected him to become a star, either. Even his name was given to him only in retrospect — in the cartoon itself, neither he nor his tormented victim had names. His last name is from his body type, his first from "The Michigan Rag" (the one song that Maltese wrote especially for him), and his middle from the fact that unless evidence exists to the contrary, all cartoon characters are considered to have J. for a middle initial.

What's more, nobody even knows who did his voice — and no, despite the "certain knowledge" of many cartoon buffs, it was not Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"). Jones cast the part simply by asking Warner Bros. for a baritone, and they responded by sending over one of many singers working for them. By the time anyone realized people would someday be interested in credits for this sort of thing, everyone had forgotten the man's name.

Despite the instant popularity and definite appeal of the character, Warner Bros. made no additional cartoons with him. What would be the point? His story was told, and it required no sequels. But — no matter how little he needed one, any character that well remembered is bound to be revived by a new generation of cartoonists. Michigan appeared in two 1990 episodes of Tiny Toon AdventuresTurtle Hurdle and Class Cut-up. In 1995, Jones himself revived him in Another Froggy Evening. His first appearance remains his best — but Class Cut-up, where he played Hamton Pig's dissection frog, was a clever use of the character.

In more recent years, a look-alike masqueraded as Michigan J. Frog, acting as host of the Warner television network from its beginning until the broadcaster decided to change its image and dropped him — his "death" was announced on July 22, 2005. A look-alike also appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, hosting a tribute to Krusty the Clown. But of course, that couldn't be the real Michigan, who does not perform before an audience.

Michigan J. Frog has never appeared in comic books or on lunch boxes (tho he did grace the cover of Leon Redbone's first album, which came out in 1975). Despite modern attempts, there is really only the one cartoon. It says everything about the character that needs to be said.


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