Red on stage. Artist: Preston Blair.

“Red”

Original Medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: MGM
First Appeared: 1943
Creators: Tex Avery (director) and Preston Blair (animator)
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Tex Avery, considered by many to be animation's greatest director, had a "thing" for deconstructing classic children's stories, starting in his early Warner Bros. days when he starred Egghead in Little Red Walking Hood. Many others had done animated versions of fairy tales — in fact, one of Disney's

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… big successes of the early 1930s had been Three Little Pigs. But Avery did serious deconstruction, rearanging familiar elements into something wholly his own. Probably the best-known example was Red Hot Riding Hood.

Today, that cartoon would undoubtedly be decried as sexist by many feminists, who would protest, organize boycotts, and perhaps worse. It depicted the title character as a singer and dancer on stage, who had, as a major goal, the elicition of sexual attraction from male members of the audience — which, of course, included the Wolf. She succeeded beyond any possible dreams, the Wolf responding with such wildly exaggerated enthusiasm, it could make sense, if that's the proper word, only in a Tex Avery cartoon. That was half the story, right there, which may seem too thin to hold an audience for that big a portion of a seven-minute cartoon, but Avery's genius (which, by the way, also made Bugs and Daffy what they are) made it work. Afterward, he attempted a more personal interaction, and pursued her to Grandma's house, as per the story, etc. etc.

But while some of the more dedicated modern feminists may take exception, at the time (MGM, maker of Screwy Squirrel and Barney Bear, among others, released it May 8, 1943) moviegoers responded well enough to support sequels, such as Swing Shift Cinderella and Little Rural Riding Hood.

Inasmuch as she was never addressed by name, the audience wasn't told what to call her. But studio publicity called her "Red", and that's what cartoon fans, whether or not they saw the publicity, called her too — partly because it's easy to see that as a shortened form of "Red Riding Hood", but mostly because of her glorious red hair — which, one may be sure, wasn't hidden under any such thing as a riding hood.

Tex Avery's wasn't the only talent that went into creating Red. Her voice was provided by singer Colleen Collins, who is probably not the same Colleen Collins who voiced Jot decades later; but if not, has no other known credits in cartoons. And the animation that made her glide so gracefully across the stage was done by Preston Blair, who is also credited with Mickey Mouse in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Fantasia.

Blair's animation brought Red into an unusual spin-off. In the 1970s, Blair wrote two books on animation, which can still be found, in a combined version, in some art supply stores. In them, Red's original animation drawings were among those used to illustrate techniques. Today, the early editions of those books are highly-prized collectibles — partly because of Blair, but mostly because of Red.

A wolf similar to Red's admirer was also used as a foil for Droopy, also a Tex Avery creation. Years later, when new Droopy cartoons were made for TV, the wolf was naturally revived with him — and a supporting character who looked like the original Red, and was actually called Red on-screen, came along with him. The real Red can still be found in videotape and DVD compilations of old cartoons — and so, if you look hard enough, can this newer version.

— DDM

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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © MGM.