The Great Cartoon Directors: Friz Freleng

I have selected some passages from Jeff Lenberg’s book The Great Cartoon Directors to share here.  I chose them for their practical examples of creating funny cartoons, or if they support the idea of being inspired by live comedians.

No matter what Friz directed, he always made the most of it, especially when he supervised the  Melodies cartoons.  He gave gags his maximum precision by timing his films on musical bar sheets.  Other directors preferred to time scenes on exposure sheets, but Freleng  believed he got a much better feel of the movement by using musical bar sheets.  Timing the action this way made the problem of doing the musical score to the picture much easier for Carl Stallings, who scored most of the Warners cartoons.


Explains Freleng, “I found Yosemite Sam to be the perfect opponent for Bugs, as there are so subtleties in Sam’s character.  The moment he appeared on the scree, there was no doubt about his character, or motives.  He was an absolute villain.  When another adversary appeared, we would have to build a motive for the unknown character.  I really thought Elmer was the wrong guy to oppose Bugs, because he was weak and stupid.  He could have been outwitted by a chicken.  But who am I to argue with success?”


…The basic structure of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons was much like Metro’s Tom and Jerry series.  Each character tried to outwit (or destroy) the other.  It was also similar to Chuck Jones’ later Roadrunner/Coyote series for Warners; the unending conflict between the two characters sustained the series.

As Freleng stated in an interview with the author: “When I made Sylvester cartoons, the only restriction I had was to be sure to keep him as an alley cat with vicious intent.  I think that he was really responsible for the success of the Tweety cartoons.  Tweety was used in a very minor role.  If you analyze the cartoons, he only served as a foil.


Speedy had all the physical elements for comedy; his innocent, impish grin and naive remarks in times of trouble provoked laughter.  The trouble was mainly caused by Sylvester the Cat, Speedys’ costar and adversary in the series.  Casting Sylvester opposite Speedy provided a firm foundation for comedy situations.  Without a strong personality like Sylvester,  Speedy’s characterization was weak, almost lifeless.  Not that Speedy wasn’t lovable on the screen; he just couldn’t carry a cartoon without having someone to antagonize.


Though the character didn’t talk, he provided laughs by reenacting sight gags that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton first made famous in the 1920’s.  Who said the silents were dead?  The Panther Cartoons were just that, purely visual cartoons accompanied by a lively ragtime musical soundtrack.


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