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TELEVISION REVIEW

Animator Chuck Jones's road to Looney Tunes

By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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You probably don't recognize Chuck Jones's name. You certainly recognize his handiwork. Jones, the creator of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, was the most celebrated of the Warner Bros. anarchist/animators behind the "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" cartoons.

"Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood," a documentary in which its subject recalls his upbringing, is short and a tad overly sweet. It was shot in 1996, six years before Jones's death, at 90. "In 84 years, I've never been bored," he says. One look at the consistent glint in the man's eyes, and you can believe it.

Jones titled his memoirs "Chuck Amuck." What we get here is more like "Chuck at Ease." The documentary shows Jones reminiscing in his studio (and drawing, too, which is a real treat). There are glimpses of old family photographs and home movies, snippets from classic Warners cartoons, and newly created animation segments that are a bit cutesy. The music's pretty sappy, too. Don't expect to hear Carl Stalling or Raymond Scott unplugged.

What may have been the determining moment for Jones's future career came when he was 2. He fell off a second-floor porch on to a patch of concrete. "I'm sure it jostled my brain cells out of any hope I'd be a very logical child," he recalls. If the jostling wasn't enough, the Joneses lived in Los Angeles two blocks from Charlie Chaplin's studio. With other neighborhood kids, Jones formed a knothole gang, sneaking peeks at the filming.

"School baffled me," Jones admits. He put his drawing skills to use forging his report cards. His father, figuring he could put his son's graphic abilities to better use, sent him to art school. Jones flourished there, and soon enough he began his animation career. He worked as a cel-washer for the legendary Ub Iwerks and joined Warners in 1933. But that lies beyond the documentary's brief.

All the more reason, then, to stick around after the conclusion of the show. TCM follows "Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood" with a marathon of Jones shorts, as well as his 1969 feature, "The Phantom Tollbooth." Chuck at ease is charming. Chuck amuck is where the action is.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

CHUCK JONES: Memories of Childhood

On: TCM

Time: Tonight, 8-9:30, 10:30-11

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