The Looney Tunes cartoons represent the best animation of all time. How’s that for a sweeping statement?
When I think of what makes great art, for me it has to cause a visceral reaction of some sort. I want to be left having felt as strong an emotion as possible when I watch a set of credits roll. That’s not to say the emotion has to be sadness, or fear, or anger for the art-form to work. It can be extreme happiness. In fact to create unwavering and immense happiness in an audience is probably the most difficult thing to do.
This is where Looney Tunes excels beyond belief. I have never watched a Looney Tunes cartoon that didn’t have me laughing uncontrollably and feeling elated for hours afterwards. People talk today about how Pixar seem to have mastered the art of making one masterpiece after another (and that is pretty much true with some exceptions (I’m looking at you Cars 2)), but over 50 years before Pixar was even created, the Looney Tunes crew were mastering the exact same thing.
To me these cartoons have a totally timeless quality. The visuals, the absurdity, the universal comedy and the characters feel as fresh today as they must have done during the Hollywood golden age. I know for a fact that whenever the day comes for me to have a family, my children will be raised on a healthy diet of Daffy Duck!
It should have been obvious from the off that the crew behind these classics would do great things; after all they had great names. You’ll probably recognise the monikers Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Hugh Harman and Mel Blanc from numerous credits reels. But just think for a moment how cool it would be to take any of those names as your own? These guys were destined to be brilliant from birth!
But it’s Mel Blanc I want to focus on. This is the man who created the voices for Looney Tunes. That doesn’t mean he created just some of the voices, he did all of them!!! Just think about that. Think about the myriad players in all the Looney Tunes catalogue, think about the differences in vocal range, the interplay of subtlety and extreme anger, the sheer imagination and the wholly unique characterisation Blanc was able to imbue them with.
In case you’re struggling to remember all of Blanc’s creations I’ll list the main ones for you: Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweetie Pie, Wile. E. Coyote, Tasmanian Devil, Yosemite Sam, Pepe le Pew, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzalez, Marvin the Martian, Daffy Duck and of course Bugs Bunny! But this list only taps at the surface of the thousands (literally) of other voices he provided across the Looney Tunes world.
Never before had a voice artist given such breadth to characters. But Mel Blanc was a one off. Having spent his childhood learning all the dialects of the world and using them to entertain his classmates, he was obsessed with both performance and entertainment. It was this passion that led him to spend years knocking on doors in Hollywood to get a break.
It was this drive that meant when Mel finally got his big shot as Porky Pig he never let go. He worked tirelessly doing work not just for Warner Bros. but also for NBC, ABC and performing his own radio show. This meant literally running from one studio to another each day of the week and having to nail pretty much all of his performances in one take.
Despite this punishing schedule Mel always answered every piece of fan mail by hand (in some cases telephoning fans around the world), raising a family and spending any other free moments visiting children’s hospitals to perform to sick children as his most famous characters!!!
I doubt there is another person (actor or otherwise) who could have given more to the world. When you consider that just giving us the characters would have been more than incredible, it makes Mel Blanc stand out as a truly inspiring human being. The man himself has said that all he wanted to do was make people happy, and that is literally what he did…all the time….his entire life.
Whilst writing this article all I can think about are those indelible voices. I can hear Daffy and Bugs arguing about whether it’s Rabbit or Duck season. I can hear Marvin the Martian wondering “where’s the Earth shattering kaboom?” and I can hear Yosemite Sam getting angry about his camel refusing to “whoa”. In other words I can hear Mel Blanc. Sadly Mel is no longer with us, having died of complications that arose from a fall in hospital. But I can hear him.
We all have to battle with that internal voice in our heads that tells us not to do stupid things. The one that tells us not to leave the job we hate because we have bills to pay. The one that makes us feel guilty for eating a second helping of dessert. The one that makes us believe that our wildest dreams are too unrealistic. But just for now…just for today… tell that voice to shut the hell up, and replace it with Mel Blanc. Let the voices of all those characters come to life in your head and see how much happier you feel immediately!
Thanks for everything Mel – The Man of 1000 Voices.