Chuck Jones, the great cartoon artist, deserves much better than George Daugherty's The Magical World of Chuck Jones, the tiresome documentary made as a celebration of his 80th birthday. Docu's tedious structure and lack of concern with the context of Jones' work and his evolution as an artist are likely to please no one. Following a very brief theatrical release, docu is destined to land on TV, cable and video.
Chuck Jones has arguably created some of the best and most entertaining cartoons in the history of American cinema. His most renowned characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, reveal a uniquely comic sensibility and a devilish sense of humor, action, and movement. Jones' cartoons for Warners Bros. have delighted generations of viewers, first on the big screen, then on TV. Daugherty's docu applauds Jones's creative personality by showing clips from his wildest cartoons and interviews with actors and directors, whose personal lives and careers were influenced by Jones's rich oeuvre.
Unfortunately, Magical World suffers from a repetitive and clumsy organization, consisting of mostly cursory statements about Jones's cartoons interspersed with all too brief clips from his half-a-century career. Recalling his first meeting with Jones, in l978, Spielberg talks about the incompatibility of animated cartoons and live-action films. Ron Howard, who describes himself as a "TV kid," personalized the significance of Jones's creations in his childhood and later his career, reluctantly admitting that whenever he tried to emulate the artist, he failed. "We simply cannot pull it off," Howard concedes, "we can't do it as well as he's done it."
As could be expected, most of the comments are laudatory, praising Jones's genius, but they are also superficial, using time and again such assertions as "great timing," "impeccable style," "formidable taste." Singling out their favorable cartoons or moments, the informants don't explain Jones' work or creative process.
Some of the more illuminating remarks actually come from self-described "cartoon freak" Whoopi Goldberg. The actress-comedienne claims she has learned about classical music (heavily used in Jones's animations), propaganda, characterization, story-telling techniques, and timing of delivering punch lines from watching his cartoons.
Regrettably, some of the more revealing interviews, with Jones and his family, don't appear until the very end. Docu fails to provide any biographical information about Jones's background, training, and artistic career. Moreover, clips from his cartoons are presented without names or dates, thus failing to trace the evolution of his artistry. Worse yet, there is no specific discussion of what was great about Jones's cartoons, what sets them apart, what was his contribution to the art of animation. Finally, not much material is conveyed about the contexts in which these cartoons were made and viewed by audiences.
Magical World is a disappointing docu that might please Jones's fans but is unlikely to recruit new viewers to the genre.