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The Top 15 Best Chuck Jones Cartoons Ever

Few filmmakers could ever claim to have brought as much joy into our lives as Charles M. Jones, better known to many as Chuck Jones, who worked for Warner Bros. on their classic Looney Tunes shorts for 30 years. Afterwards, he directed shorts for MGM, co-directed the family classic The Phantom Tollbooth, and also directed one of the best Christmas specials ever produced, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

His career was varied – he won four Oscars, including a lifetime achievement award in 1966 – but Chuck Jones was and still is best known as one of the comic and cinematic geniuses who made Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepé Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner the pop culture staples they are today. Along with his team of skilled animators, writers and fellow directors, Chuck Jones brought biting wit and visual wonders to the cartoon medium, and most – if not all – of the cartoons we love today owe him a direct debt of gratitude, in one form or another.

We’ll take just about any excuse to share our love of the legendary Chuck Jones, but since it would have been his 105th birthday this week, on September 21, we decided to the time was nigh. Take a look back with us at fifteen animated shorts (and one feature) that continue to reign supreme as the pinnacle of Chuck Jones’s career, keeping in mind that even Jones’s lesser shorts are still funny as hell.

The Top 15 Best Chuck Jones Cartoons Ever:

The Phantom Tollbooth is a feature film, based on Norton Juster's children's classic, about a bored little boy who enters a fantastical world full of faulty logic. Memorable characters and great music abound, but Chuck Jones co-directed the movie with two other filmmakers - Abe Levitow and Dave Monahan - so we don't want to give him ALL the credit. Technically it's an honorable mention, but The Phantom Tollbooth is still a classic.

Photo: MGM

Daffy Duck is tired of being typecast in comedic roles, so he pitches the studio head an action epic swashbuckler that, as the executive gets increasingly interested, balloons into a nearly biblical apocalypse and an impromptu suicide. The Scarlet Pumpernickel builds and builds and builds and it keeps getting funnier every minute.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Daffy Duck tries to clean up a one-horse town in Chuck Jones's spot-on western parody Drip-Along Daffy, which ambitious sight gags and hilarious scenes of cowboys fighting each other, and their horses getting in on the action. With this short you get the sense that Chuck Jones doesn't just love the genre he's mocking, he's studying it frame-by-frame.

Photo: Warner Bros.

A mad scientist (who looks and sounds just like screen legend Peter Lorre) wants to feed Bugs Bunny to his monster in Hair-Raising Hare, arguably the best horror-themed Looney Tunes short. Bugs is at a disadvantage for once, and has to work overtime to keep the giant, red and furry creature from eating him. Weird imagery and wonderful gags.

Photo: Warner Bros.

In Rabbit of Seville, Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny on-stage, where they act out their usual rivalry against an up-tempo version of The Barber of Seville. The enormity of the music clashes beautifully with the silliness of the gags, and Bugs finds wonderfully absurd things to do to Elmer as soon as he's in the actual barber's seat. Chuck Jones would eventually send these two back to the opera, but we'll get to that classic further down the list.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Just about any Coyote & Road Runner cartoon is a comedy classic, and picking one is mostly a matter of taste. But it would be hard to argue that Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z isn't, at least, a candidate for the best. As always the coyote wants to eat that road runner, and as always, all his Acme inventions fail him in spectacular ways. But the timing has never been better, and the unexpected disasters that befall poor Wile E. are a wonder to behold.

Photo: Warner Bros.

If you're a jerk to Bugs Bunny, even once, he has absolute permission to destroy you. That gag never worked better than in Long-Haired Hare, another opera-themed animated short, in which the star of the show breaks Bugs's musical instruments, and is brought low before the audience in a series of mishaps, misdeeds and - ultimately - an extended gag in which Bugs, playing the conductor, forces the singer to hold a single note for an eternity. "Of course you realize this means war," Bugs intones. And when Bugs Bunny goes to war, he fights to win.

Photo: Warner Bros.

A tough dog named Marc Anthony just can't resist the cuddly charms of a kitten named Pussyfoot. But in Feed the Kitty, his owners won't let him bring anything into the house, so he has to hide his new friend/pet from his owners at all costs. Chuck Jones brings this story to the brink of genuine, terrifying tragedy, but that just makes the ending all the more perfect and satisfying.

Photo: Warner Bros.

In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Chuck Jones blasts the sci-fi genre with a disintegration gun ("Well what do you know? It disintegrated.") Daffy Duck plays the blowhard hero, Porky Pig plays his more capable sidekick, and Marvin the Martian keeps trying to claim the planet Duck Dodgers just discovered. Jones fills this classic cartoon with gorgeous and ambitious imagery, and seems freed by the massive scale on which tales like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers are told. Looney Tunes cartoons rarely felt bigger than this, and they weren't always this funny either.

Photo: Warner Bros.

You don't have to know that The Dover Boys is a parody of a once-popular, now largely forgotten kids book series The Rover Boys to appreciate how wonderfully funny it is. Just know that Tom, Dick and Larry have the same fiancée, she's been kidnapped by Dan Backslide. There is a proper way that this story is supposed to be told, and it won't turn out that way at all. The animation jumps from still to blisteringly fast, and the constant undercutting of the clichéd tale's dramatic tension is just as hilarious as ever. (Also, the short's full title somehow feels longer than the short itself: "The Dover Boys at Pimento University" or "The Rivals of Roquefort Hall").

Photo: Warner Bros.

Chuck Jones was also responsible for one of the best Christmas specials in TV history. Everyone knows the tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (hint: the Grinch steals Christmas), and thanks in large part to Jones' imaginative realization of the twisted worlds and characters of Dr. Seuss, we'll never forget it. And of course, that theme song is perfect.

Photo: CBS

Chuck Jones won an Academy Award for The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, an inventive short film, in which a stuffy line falls in love with a perfect dot, who is already dating an immature squiggle. Jones uses basic geometry to tell an emotional story about self-confidence and self-improvement, and prove once and for all that "To the vector go the spoils."

Photo: MGM

It's hunting season, and Elmer Fudd is going to shoot someone. So Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny try to trick the hunter into shooting the other one in three classic shorts: Rabbit Fire (1951), Rabbit Seasoning (1952) and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (1953). Funnily enough, these classic shorts aren't build around Jones's usually ambitious sight gags. They rely heavily on dialogue, and that dialogue is some of the best in Looney Tunes history. "Would you like to shoot him here or wait till you get home?"

Photo: Warner Bros.

A construction worker finds a frog who does show tunes, but is perpetually stymied when the little creature refuses to perform for anyone but him. It's a simple and absurd little gag, but Chuck Jones lets the frustration grow to increasingly epic proportions in One Froggy Evening, one of the funniest damned films ever made.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Chuck Jones brought Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd back to the Opera in What's Opera, Doc?, a short film that is often (rightfully) considered a high water mark in American animation. The dramatic enormity of Richard Wagner's classic operas is slyly undercut by the absurdity of the protagonists, and as usual, Jones seems to revel in the scale of his backdrops. You get the impression that, if Bugs and Elmer weren't involved, Chuck Jones could have directed a genuinely great opera. This short works on every level, and deserves all of its renown.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Not just the best Chuck Jones cartoon, but arguably the best Looney Tune of them all. Duck Amuck finds hapless Daffy Duck at war with his own animator, who seems eager to drive Daffy... well, "daffy." The safety is off in this cartoon, anything is possible and everything that could happen, does happen. And although it's one of the funniest things ever captured on film, it's also a kind of horrifying existential nightmare, with a twist ending that's equal parts satisfying and cruel.

Photo: Warner Bros.
Top Photo: Warner Bros.

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.