The wag

Tex Avery’s Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection

Both DVDs in Tex Avery’s Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection open with a disclaimer about “prejudices that were commonplace in American society” during the middle of the last century, when these two dozen animated shorts first played in theaters before or between feature films—and a pious assurance that such attitudes don’t represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society. There’s also an emphatically capitalized “May Not be Suitable for Children” warning on the box.

Sounds like someone’s a tad concerned that Avery and his under-sung underdog will be culturally influential. Well, too late. Sure, these spots are sometimes wince-inducingly insensitive and unabashedly violent, but, well, they’re also cartoons. Besides, they’ve endured for other, more important reasons—namely, the eloquence and economy of storytelling. You’ll recognize all the now-common gags and the clever engineering by which they’re arranged, and you’ll also probably marvel that they still seem so inventive and unpredictable more than half a century later. Even in today’s oh-so-sensitive society, great, witty shtick goes a long way.

As the narrator of the included Tex Avery career-retrospective documentary puts it, Avery was “the guy who decided that since anything can happen in a cartoon, maybe there are no rules.” But that shouldn’t imply a laxity of structure. It’s not just that Avery elaborated the swift, furious pacing that physics can only allow in cartoons; it’s that he so brilliantly understood how to punctuate it—in this case, with an affable little basset hound’s lethargy and deadpan jowly drawl.

Droopy conquers his adversaries by hounding them. Often he finds himself competing with spastic, variously characterized wolves and bulldogs, for loot and glory and female attention, and usually he comes away with replenished self-respect. His is an ongoing triumph of low-key tenacity, and that’s not such a bad cultural role model after all.