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Of Exploding Pianos and Clockwork Roadrunners

December 19, 2009

I got to thinking last night about my all time favorite gags from the world of Warner Brothers cartoons.  It dawned on me that there are two favorites of mine from two different eras.

The first is the “Endearing Charms” gag.  This one slays me every time.  for the uninitiated, here’s how it works.  The villain wires a piano (or in at least one case a xylophone) with enough explosives to destroy an ocean liner.  The explosives, however, will only detonate when the intended victim (usually Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner) plays the last notes in the opening bars of that old standard “Those Endearing Young Charms”.  I don’t know WHY Carl Stalling or Chuck Jones, or whoever it was decided on this song, but it is a genius move by any standard.

The payoff, though is what sells the joke.  Bugs or Road Runner gets the melody right until he hits the critical last note.  Invariably they hit the note to the immediate right , then the immediate left of the trigger.  The villain waits for the hero to try again, with the same result.  Now the villain is getting mad.  When the note is missed AGAIN, the villain is so mad, he forgets what will happen, and plays the melody the right way, with the resulting explosion.  Sometimes the keys fall to the ground and finish the musical phrase.

I love this bit.  Partly because hearing an old song played incorrectly is always funny.  Partly because the hero isn’t trying to miss the trigger note.  But I think it’s mostly because the villain losing his temper, and forgetting his own trap is classic comedy and poetic justice.

While the above bit isn’t unique to one Warner Bros. cartoon, my other favorite bit is unique to one cartoon.  This bit came from the Depatie/Freleng era (after Chuck Jones’s departure) of Road Runner cartoons.  The cartoon in question is HIGHWAY RUNNERY.  In this cartoon, Wile E. Coyote sets what in my mind is the perfect trap.  He places a home made time bomb, complete with alarm clock (important for the payoff) into a phony egg, and places the egg on the nest right in front of Road Runner’s path.  Road Runner comes along, sees the egg on the nest, and its nesting instincts kick in.

Wile E . is thrilled, it’s going PERFECTLY.  Perfectly that is, until the egg rumbles, hatches, and out pops this little wind up baby Road Runner, complete with alarm clock belly, and head on a mainspring.  This wind up Road Runner starts walking towards Wile E (complete with the mechanical machine percussion Jay Ward used to use in the Clyde Crashcup series-must be a sound effects library package, because Treg Brown isn’t listed in the credits for sound effects.  In fact, there is no sound effects credit).  Wile E. can’t believe what he’s seeing, as he maneuvers around his rock hiding place., trying to get away from it, as it seems to be following him  You can guess what happens when the mechanical Road Runner reaches poor Wile E, and he’s foolish enough to reach down to try to pick the thing up.  But that’s not the end of it.  After the first explosion, which lands Wile E. in a crater bigger than himself, the alarm clock (the only surviving part of the explosion) rings normally.  Wile E. takes a rock, and smashes it, causing a SECOND explosion, adding injury to insult.

And that second explosion is one reason why I love this bit.  You almost feel bad for Wile E. that this perfect plan went so badly, when it should have worked perfectly.  But face it, you gotta love that baby wind up Road Runner, and the proud look on the real Road Runner’s face when it hatches.  It’s priceless.

So go ahead and laugh, it’s good for you!  You can watch HIGHWAY RUNNERY online at dailymotion.com.  Put the title into Google search, and you’ll get there a lot faster.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the informative information – I enjoyed reading it! I always enjoy this blog. 🙂

    EDIT: site link removed.



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