While more than 1,000 Looney Tunes shorts were produced in the “classic era” of the characters, only a small handful of directors oversaw the vast majority of them. Guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and a few others brought forth nearly every classic Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig short. Each of the directors had their own style and sensibilities, but Clampett has become particularly celebrated in the past couple of decades for his surreal drawings and outrageous animation. As animation historian Jerry Beck once put it, Clampett put “the word ‘looney’ in Looney Tunes.”
Sadly, Clampett passed away in 1984 and didn’t live to see the recent revival of much of his work. However, his daughter, former Warner Bros. Gallery art director Ruth Clampett, has taken significant steps to keep her father’s legacy alive — e.g., by authoring the forthcoming book, Welcome to Wackyland: The Wonderful World of Bob Clampett.
To further celebrate her dad, I asked Clampett to choose five personal favorites of her father’s shorts. She actually did me one better, offering six of Clampett’s best shorts instead, starting with...
‘What’s Cookin’ Doc’ (1944)
“I love What’s Cookin’ Doc, where Bugs Bunny desperately tries to win an Academy Award,” Clampett tells me. “This one features several real-life images from the actual Academy Awards shows — dad had to get approval to do these scenes. This cartoon was dad’s statement that some Looney Tunes cartoons should be honored, too, which they hadn’t been until then. Of course, when he doesn’t win, he goes apeshit, and it’s hilarious.”
‘Kitty Kornered’ (1946)
“With Kitty Kornered, it’s crazy that the short opens with a group of cats emptying out all the liquor cabinets, then getting drunk out of their minds,” Clampett marvels. “Of course, cartoons at the time were focused on adults, not kids, as they were being shown in movie theaters. When Porky tries to throw all the cats out of his house, all hell breaks loose, including Porky being convinced that he’s being surrounded by aliens from another world, like what really happened with the War of the Worlds broadcast.”
‘A Corny Concerto’ (1943)
“This was included at number 47 in the book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals,” Clampett explains. “A Corny Concerto was a spoof of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Dad thought very highly of Walt Disney, actually working for Disney when he was 14. Throughout his work in animation, dad did several warmhearted takeoffs on classic Disney films, and A Corny Concerto is the best of them. The little black duck in the ‘Blue Danube’ segment saves the swan family, and I love Bugs in a tutu dancing around!”
‘Book Revue’ (1946)
“Dad loved putting current events into his cartoons,” Clampett says. “In Book Revue, he brings to life all the popular books of the era. The entire approach of having characters from each book come to life and interact is so unique. There’s also an awesome scene of Daffy telling the story of Red Riding Hood in scatman-style while wearing a Zoot suit.”
‘The Great Piggy Bank Robbery’ (1946)
“The Great Piggy Bank Robbery has nonstop exciting drama, and I love all the clever ways Daffy deals with the bad guys who have stolen his piggy bank,” Clampett explains. “It was inspired by Dick Tracy comics and even features a cameo by Sherlock Holmes.”
‘Porky in Wackyland’ (1938)
“Porky in Wackyland is my favorite of my dad’s shorts because it’s so unique. He’d become a director just a year before, and he was only using Porky Pig. He didn’t have the budget the color shorts had, but he didn’t mind — he was willing to do what he had to to work his way up,” Clampett tells me. “He’d gotten the idea to do this one from a Los Angeles Times article about an expedition in Africa searching for the dodo bird, which had been reported to be extinct for over 200 years.
“Dad got a kick out of that, and that started the idea. He was also influenced by a cartoonist named Milt Gross and surrealist artists like Salvador Dali, and he loved the original Alice in Wonderland books. All of that went into the craziness of Porky in Wackyland. The Los Angeles Times called it ‘a masterpiece of preposterous fantasy.’ The Nickelodeon character Catdog was inspired by a character in this short, and the Dodo would become a popular character on Tiny Toons.”