Road Runner.


Medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1949
Creator: Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese
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Perhaps the best word to describe the Warner Bros. "Road Runner" series of cartoons — aside from "hilarious", of course — is "sparse". Their setting issparse — a semi-abstract version of …

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… the American Southwestern desert. Their cast is sparse — there is a Road Runner and there is a Coyote, and we don't even know if they have names. Their dialog is sparse — it consists entirely of an occasional "Beep beep" (or is it "Meep meep"?). And their story structure is sparse — there is no beginning and no end, only an eternal middle. We see neither the origin of the conflict, nor any true resolution, but just one farcical incident after another.

In Fast and Furry-ous, the first of what would eventually be several dozen collections of such incidents, animation director Chuck Jones (who was also responsible for the Ralph Phillips and Pepe LePew cartoons, among many others) explored new depths of meaning in the word "structured". This cartoon is virtually nothing but structure, with devastatingly funny gags hanging in a framework of rigid conventions. It is all chase, with no motivation supplied — or needed. Episodes (averaging about 30-40 seconds each) always end with the Coyote falling into a trap of his own making. And the Road Runner never loses his infuriating smirk, or his habit of uttering his characteristic cry at the most inopportune possible times.

At first, Jones didn't see his Road Runner as series material. But audiences responded enthusiastically, and the second, Beep Beep, was released in 1952. After that, Jones turned them out at a rate of about two or three per year until he left the Warner Bros. studio, in 1963. One of them, Beep Prepared (1961) was nominated for an Academy Award. He became such a famous character, his name was added to the title of Bugs Bunny's Saturday morning show through most of the 1970s.

After Jones's departure, the series didn't just continue — it accelerated. But the post-Jones efforts, most of which were directed by either Rudy Larriva (who had been Jones's assistant for years) or Robert McKimson (Foghorn Leghorn, Goofy Gophers), lacked the spark of the Jones version. The last Road Runner cartoon was McKimson's Sugar and Spies (1966) — although he did make a cameo in 1988, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

There was a comic book version, but it was so different from the cartoons, there scarcely seems any relation between the two. There, the Road Runner had a name, "Beep Beep". He could speak intelligibly — in fact, his dialog was rendered in meter and rhyme. Strangest of all, he had a family. This series ran under the Dell Comics imprint from 1958-62, and under Gold Key from 1966-83.

Today, the Road Runner appears in televised reruns, and occasionally in DC Comics' Looney Tunes comic book — where he is a little more recognizably himself than he was in those old Dells. He also appeared in Space Jam, along with the other Looney Tunes characters. But little else is left of him.


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