Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
The Road Runner cartoons are a series of Looney Tunes cartoons created by Chuck Jones for Warner Brothers.
Chuck Jones once said of his most famous protagonist and antagonist that "Wile E. is my reality, Bugs Bunny is my goal." He originally created the Road Runner cartoons as a parody of traditional "cat and mouse" cartoons (such as Tom and Jerry) which were increasingly popular at the time.
The Road Runner shorts are very simple in their premise: the Road Runner, a flightless cartoon bird (loosely based on a real bird, the Greater Roadrunner), is chased down the highways of the Southwestern United States by a hungry coyote, named Wile E. Coyote (a pun on "wily coyote"). Despite numerous clever attempts, the coyote never catches or kills the Road Runner, and all of his elaborate schemes end up injuring himself in humorous instances of highly exaggerated cartoon slapstick violence.
There is never any dialogue save the Road Runner's "beep-beep" but the two characters do sometimes communicate by holding up signs to each other, the audience, or the cartoonist (though both these rules were broken later). Another key element is that while Wile E. is the aggressor in the series, he and his hopelessly futile efforts are the focus of the audience's sympathy as well as virtually all of the humor. Wile E. seems doomed, like Sisyphus, forever to try but never to succeed. The Road Runner lacks a developed personality and is largely just an object, not a character.
Wile E. Coyote later appeared in some Bugs Bunny shorts as well as the Little Beeper cartoons featured on Tiny Toon Adventures.
Typically at the start of each episode, during a chase sequence, the action pauses to show the audience the apparent Latin names of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, usually emphasising the former's speed and the latter's hunger. For example, in the episode "Lickety Splat" (1961) Road Runner and Wile E. have Latin names Fastius Tasty-us and Apetitius Giganticus, respectively. These names changed from episode to episode.
The Acme Corporation
Wile E. Coyote often obtains complex and ludicrous devices (Rube Goldberg machines) from a mail-order company, the fictitious Acme Corporation, which he hopes will help him catch the Road Runner. The devices invariably backfire in improbable and spectacular ways. The coyote usually ends up burnt to a crisp, squashed flat, or at the bottom of a ravine. How the coyote acquires these products without any money is not explained until the 2003 movie Looney Tunes: Back In Action, in which he is shown to be an employee of Acme.
The company name was likely chosen for its irony (acme means the highest point, as of achievement or development). The common expansion A Company that Makes Everything is a backronym.
Among the products by the Acme Corporation are:
Like in other cartoons, the Road Runner and the coyote follow the laws of cartoon physics. For example, the Road Runner has the ability to enter painted caves, which the coyote cannot. Sometimes the coyote is allowed to hang in midair until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm. The coyote can overtake rocks which fell before him, and end up being squashed by them.
In his book, Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones explains some of the rules the artists followed in making the coyote-Road Runner series:
- The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going "Beep-beep!"
- No outside force can harm the coyote -- only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.
- The coyote can stop any time -- if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." - George Santayana)
- There may be no dialogue ever, except "beep-beep!" The coyote may, however, speak to the audience through wooden signs that he holds up.
- The Road Runner must stay on the road -- otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.
- All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
- All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
- Whenever possible, gravity should be made the coyote's greatest enemy.
- The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
There was also a tenth and more unofficial rule:
- The sympathy of the audience must lie with the coyote.
The original Chuck Jones productions ended in 1963 with the closing of the Warner Bros. animation studio. Shortly thereafter, Pink Panther co-creator David DePatie and Road Runner co-director Friz Freleng formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and were commissioned to continue production of Road Runner.
The first cartoon of the DePatie-Freleng Road Runner series, "The Wild Chase", was directed by Freleng in 1965 and notably starred Speedy Gonzales and Sylvester the Cat alongside Wile E. and Road Runner. In total, DePatie-Freleng produced 14 Road Runner cartoons, two of which were directed by Robert McKimson ("Rushing Roulette," 1965, and "Sugar and Spies," 1966).
The remaining eleven were subcontracted to Format Films and directed under ex-Warner Bros. animator Rudy Larriva. The "Larriva Eleven", as they were later called, lacked the fast-paced action of the Chuck Jones originals and were poorly received by critics. In Of Mice and Magic, Leonard Maltin calls the series "witless in every sense of the word."
Post-Chuck Jones cartoons allowed the coyote to speak, and he once (in "Soup or Sonic", 1980) had the Road Runner in his grasp but thanks to a gag involving a tunnel that got smaller and narrower as he went through it, the coyote is only a few inches tall and can only grab the Road Runner's leg -- at which point he holds up a sign that reads "Okay, wise guys, you always wanted me to catch him. Now what do I do?".
Wile E. Coyote has also unsuccessfully attempted to catch and eat Bugs Bunny in another series of cartoons. In these cartoons, the coyote does speak with a smooth, generic upper-class accent provided by Mel Blanc.
In one short, Bugs Bunny -- with the help of amphetamines -- even sits in for Road Runner, who has "sprained a giblet", and carries out the duties of outsmarting the hungry scavenger.
In another, Wile E. lectures two young TV-watching children about the edible parts of a Road Runner, attempting to explain his somewhat irrational obsession with catching it. He does so with help from an illustrated chart showing each section of the bird and its flavor.
In another series of Warner Bros. cartoons, the character design of Wile E. Coyote was copied and renamed "Ralph Wolf". In this series, Ralph continually attempted to steal sheep from a flock being guarded by the eternally vigilant Sam Sheepdog. As with the Road Runner series, Ralph Wolf used all sorts of wild inventions and schemes to steal the sheep, but he was continually foiled by the sheepdog. In a move seen by many as a satirical gag, Ralph Wolf continually tried to steal the sheep not because he was a fanatic (as Wile E. Coyote was), but because it was his job. At the end of every cartoon, he and the sheepdog would stop what they were doing, punch a timeclock, and go home for the day. The most prominent difference between the coyote and the wolf, aside from their locales, was that Wile E. had a black nose and Ralph had a red nose.
There was a Soviet equivalent of the Road Runner, titled "Ну погоди! Зайчик-побегайчик" (Nu pagadi! Zajtchik pobegajchik!) which means "Stop! You running rabbit!". In the series, a big bad wolf tries unsuccessfully to capture a little hare. The hare is, however, incredibly annoying. The action is more like a silent gag movie style and lacks techno gadgets. Some of the episodes were drawn in black and white.
The Plymouth Road Runner was a performance car produced by the Plymouth division of Chrysler between 1968 and 1980. An official licensee of Warner Bros. (paying $50,000 for the privilege), the Road Runner used the image of the cartoon bird on the sides.
General Motors used the Road Runner on its marketing campaign in 1985 for its Holden Barina in Australia. Even in 2004, "Beep-beep Barina" is still known as a catch phrase by many Australians.
In the late 1990s the Road Runner was employed as a spokestoon for cable Internet service by Time Warner Cable, previously MediaOne. Balloon sculptor John Cassidy and his Road Runner balloon animal creation were featured on a commercial for this service.
In 2004, Wile E. appeared (along with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) in an AFLAC commercial, in which he is shown as being a prime candidate for the company's services. Before he plummets, taking the AFLAC duck with him, he holds up a sign reading "Ask About It At Work" (one of AFLAC's taglines).
- The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products (http://home.nc.rr.com/tuco/looney/acme/acme.html)
- Lawsuit filed by Wile E. Coyote against ACME (http://www.torinfo.com/justforlaughs/coyote_v_acme.html)
- Crew of starship Enterprise encounter the Road Runner (http://home.hawaii.rr.com/kingcharles/Humor/st-vs-rr.htm)
- That WASN'T All, Folks!: Warner Bros. Cartoons 1964-1969 (http://looney.goldenagecartoons.com/articles/1960article.html)