It was a sad day in Mudville — or at least Portland, Oregon — when I turned on the TV in the fall of 1997 to find The Disney Afternoon no longer existed. In its place were several slabs of cheaper-looking material, including a UPN-mandated teen drama about a high school on a cruise ship (“Breaker High”). There was also something called “The Wacky World of Tex Avery.”
If you’re a regular to this site, then the name Tex Avery needs no introduction to you, right? Think again.
One would ask why the silly Frenchmen at DEEK would even bother to name a show after an animation legend if they aren’t going to be honest about who he is. The producers’ stance is that it’s not about Tex the man so much as it’s a tribute to his groundbreaking style that defined the images people get in their heads when they hear the word “toon.” So the real question is, were they able to do Avery’s rubbery universe justice?
You be the judge. This is what the main title looks like:
As a stereotypical cowboy would say, that ain’t purty. An unconfirmed rumor has it Glen Kennedy animated this theme, and on the surface it looks like it, but he isn’t in the credits.
In a typical plotline, “Tex Avery” rides his mighty goat across the Western Prairie and tangles with his nemesis, the shifty Sagebrush Sid, for the affections of shapely Chastity, a Katherine Hepburn impression fifty years too late, re-e-ally she is. I get the impression from these shorts that the writers didn’t want to write Westerns, because very few of them play the genre straight. There is one cartoon where Sid’s horse suddenly stops the action one minute in, faces the camera and demands equal treatment. The rest of the cartoon is the usual, only with horses in the place of humans and vice-versa.
In another one, they lose their scripts and have to make up the rest of the cartoon by taking turns writing in what happens next. There’s yet another (seemingly stolen from Tiny Toons) where a group of Censor Ladies stop them and demand they “quit being funny.” You get the idea. “Tex Avery” is really about breaking the fourth wall, with the bare minimum of western material to qualify for the setting. But when you get tired of him, there are six other series of shorts to fill time.
POMPEII PETE: As depicted in the title sequence, Pete was once a Roman Centurion in the city of Pompeii until Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried him. 2000 years later, he hatched back out of his statue, now in a city museum. I could point out that the statues of Pompeii were actually made by filling in the holes left by the bodies that had long since disintegrated, but…it’s just a cartoon.
Every Pete episode also stars somebody named Dan, usually in a villainous role. No matter where Dan is or what he’s doing, Pete shows up and drives him crazy. After seven minutes of this he either turns himself in or runs away screaming. The first Pompeii Pete cartoon is about Dan faking an injury so he can live at the hospital, have the hot nurses rub his feet and dine on five-star meals. An actual stay at the hospital isn’t even close to that fun. Maybe France’s are like that?
FREDDY THE FLY: It’s the cartoon I just described, only with a fly instead of Pete and an overweight rich woman in place of Dan. The fly is in hobo clothes, possibly making this a deep commentary on the class system or a subliminal argument for Marxism. ….well, I’m struggling for things to mention here.
EINSTONE: Ughbert Einstone is a genius 12,000 years ahead of his time, and he can do things with common cave items that would make MacGyver or Michael Weston jealous. But his inventions go unappreciated because the cavemen around him are so dumb, they mess up everything!
This happens three or four times and then…iris out. Einstone cartoons have a tendency to just end, with no real climactic moment or witty closing quip. It’s just as well, as their beginnings and middles are equally forgettable.
MAURICE AND MOOCH: If we’re copying the habits of old cartoons, the age-old “predator chases prey” setup has to be done, and so here it is. This is the kind of short that could be scripted by a 1980’s computer.
10 Maurice = Chicken
20 Mooch = Fox
30 Mooch wants to eat Maurice
40 Mooch doesn’t get to eat him
50 GOTO 30
It’s the most banal of the “Tex Avery” shorts (and this show has Einstone, so that’s saying something). It doesn’t add anything new to the genre, with one exception: Maurice has a Swedish accent. We’ve never seen THAT before!
GENGHIS AND KHANNIE: Ouch, that’s quite a stretch, and it could’ve been avoided. “Connie” is a real name, and even spelled that way on the title card I would get the pun. What would the real Genghis Khan say to this mockery? You wouldn’t want to make that guy angry.
Genghis is a lion, who travels to one country every episode with the intent of conquering it — but he’s always stopped via pratfalls initiated by a big-eyed panda who sounds like Elmyra. The locales may differ, but it’s the same cartoon every time. This doesn’t have to be an evil device — formula cartoons can be done well, most recently proven by Phineas and Ferb. But not only is the setup the same in “Genghis and Khannie,” the same joke is repeated in every scene: Khannie will do something that looks innocent and sweet, Genghis will laugh, and then the thing will actually turn out to be deadly to him. After about two minutes, you’ve seen all that these shorts have to offer.
POWER POOCH: While flying through the atmosphere, a superhero loses his shoe. The loafer tumbles to the ground and lands in a dog’s food dish. When the dog licks the shoe, he gains superpowers and becomes POWER POOCH! With his sidekick Little Buddy, this mild-mannered (as well as mild-minded) mutt patrols the city for evildoers like a walking talking fire hydrant. (He and Power Pooch don’t have the most pleasant history.)
Power Pooch is…..not that bad, actually. It’s more unpredictable than the other six shorts, more of the jokes connect, and the formula is less fill-in-the-blank. Unfortunately, his cartoons are rarer than the others. Maurice and Mooch appear all the time, but you’re lucky if you get two Power Pooches in a week.
There were similar 1990s revivals of traditional cartoon sensibilities that had better luck than The Wacky World of Tex Avery. Trying to mimic Avery’s lawless drawing hand while strictly adhering to a sheet full of stock model expressions isn’t possible, and most of the jokes were bland copies of what had been done a half-century ago. Fortunately, at the same time this was on, Cartoon Network was airing “The Tex Avery Show,” a more proper tribute that consisted of most of his cartoons, plus facts about Fred Avery mixed between them. If you were a cartoon nut concerned with the impression your kids were getting about Tex, there was a better source of info — albeit not in a part of cable TV everyone could get at the time.
The Wacky World of Tex Avery currently airs on THIS TV at 7:30 AM Eastern.