CHARLOTTE, N.C., September 20, 2017 – One of the former joys of the movie-going experience that today’s kids are totally unfamiliar with was the appearance of one or more animated cartoons that precede the feature film. Two classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters that captured youthful imaginations better than any others, were Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Unfortunately, they and their madcap misadventures seem to have disappeared entirely from modern film and television.
Created on September 17, 1949, Wile E. and his speedy nemesis appeared in 48 seven-minute shorts that are each classics in their own right. The first appearance of this dynamic duo was a silent cartoon entitled “Fast and Furry-ous,” which debuted in May, 1952.
It would three years before the pair would hit the screen again in “Beep-Beep,” a title referring, of course, to the Road Runner’s famously familiar sound, generally emitted as he routinely foiled his four-legged enemy’s exotic attempts to turn him into a tasty dinner.
While the Coyote was usually busy chasing his fleet feathered friend, he also managed to appear in five Bugs Bunny cartoons between 1952 and 1963.
Oddly enough, although Wile E. Coyote is typically silent in those slyly dialogue-free Road Runner cartoons, he does speak with a refined upper class accent in the animated Bugs Bunny shorts when he appears as a guest star. Voiced by Mel Blanc, as were so many classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters, Wile E. introduces himself in 1952’s “Operation: Rabbit” as “Wile E. Coyote: Super Genius.”
Inspired by animation director Chuck Jones, the Road Runner/Coyote series of cartoons was originally intended to be a parody of MGM’s Tom and Jerry (cat and mouse) comedy chase animations created by Joseph Hannah and William Barbera. It didn’t take long however, for the Warner Brothers animated duet to become popular in their own right.
Obviously the Coyote’s name “Wile E.” is a play on the word “wily.” But interestingly enough, the letter “E” does stand for the coyote’s middle name, which appeared in an issue of a Looney Tunes comic book. Let it never be said that our Wednesday trivia column does not offer an opportunity for you to win some beers at your favorite watering hole. The “E” actually stands for “Ethelbert.”
Chuck Jones used material from Mark Twain’s book “Roughing It” for his model of the Coyote, whom Twain described as “a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton” that is “a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry.”
Another trivial fact: The actual physical appearance of the character of Wile E. Coyote was patterned after Ken Harris, one of Jones fellow animators.
Among the numerous conventions that were consistent in every Road Runner cartoon are the following:
- The setting for each cartoon must always be the American Southwest.
- The ACME Corporation is always the coyote’s source for any contraption or gizmo he purchases.
- No outside force (except the occasional truck or train) could deter the coyote from perpetually repeating his own inability to succeed.
- Gravity has opposite effects on the two characters.
- The coyote strictly adheres to Warner Brothers Rules of Cartoon Physics; namely that, having stepped off a towering cliff, he cannot plummet to the canyon floor until and unless he looks down and realizes he is walking on air.
- The coyote’s elaborate schemes to catch the bird inevitably backfire.
- Delayed reactions are standard for Wile E. Coyote.
- Road Runner was usually confined to staying on the road.
- The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures – even the catastrophic ones.
One little known trivia fact is that Wile E. Coyote actually does catch the Road Runner in one of the cartoons. In the episode entitled “Soup or Sonic” (1980), we see the Coyote single-mindedly pursuing the Road Runner into a series of pipelines.
Though the characters are not seen running through the ductwork, the diameter of the pipe maze gradually become smaller as the camera pans from one end to the other. When Road Runner and the Coyote emerge from the pipes, they, too have been reduced in size.
The Coyote then signals to Road Runner who turns and runs back through the pipes with Coyote close behind. This time when they exit however, the Road Runner has returned to his normal size while the Coyote remains small.
Now faced with the Lilliputian idea that he can attack the Road Runner from a miniaturized state, Coyote goes back and grabs his arch rival by the ankle as he looks upward to his now giant-sized foe.
At this point, Coyote sheepishly looks up at the bird and then toward the camera whereupon he holds up a sign which reads, “OK Wise guys. You always wanted me to catch him.” Seconds later another sign appears, with the question, “Now what do I do?”
One final bit of noteworthy information is that in reality, a road runner’s top speed is about 20 mph, while that of a coyote is actually more than 40 mph.
All of which means that more often than not our friend the Road Runner would be a ready-made meal for his fiendish stalker. Then again, the series would have been considerably shorter had the animators not taken poetic license with Mother Nature.
By the way, in 2013, “TV Guide” listed Wile E. Coyote as one of the “60 Nastiest Villains of All Time.”
“Beep Beep! That’s All Folks!”
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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