I'm fulfilling a recent request from one of our readers: "Screwball Squirrel" is Tex Avery's MGM cartoon released on 1st of April, 1944. At that point, Avery was working at MGM for two years, and already directed several amazing cartoons such as "Blitz Wolf" and "Red Hot Riding Hood". However, one thing was still missing - a popular and lasting character that could compete with WB superstars Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (after all, it was Tex who created them several years earlier). Under the increased pressure from producer Fred Quimby, Tex finally unleashed Screwy Squirrel, a new character that's going to win the sympathy of the millions of moviegoers around the world. Or maybe not...
The lovable Screwy Squirrel in action
Aggressive "smart-guy" and heckler type cartoon characters were at the peak of popularity during the WWII years. Early Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker perfectly epitomized that kind of spirit. However, Screwy Squirrel took these characteristics to the unreasonable (and hilarious) extreme. Screwy was completely unlikeable and obnoxious, probably the most amoral and aggressive personality that emerged from the classic cartoon era. His only mission in life was to inflict the pain and suffering to his opponents, often without any previous provocation. In that respect, Screwy was the ultimate heckler. That's enough to secure a lasting cult status, but not the mass popularity, so Screwy's career ended after only five cartoons. He literally died at the end of his last (and best) cartoon "Lonesome Lenny".
Despite all personal shortcomings, Screwy Squirrel left a respectable legacy of five wild, funny and inventive cartoons, in the best Tex Avery's tradition. His debut "Screwball Squirrel" has all typical elements that will grace the rest of the series. Many of the gags are involving the breaking of the fourth wall, various digressions, characters that are aware of being in the cartoon, etc. I hate that definition, but Screwy might be the first truly post-modern cartoon character.
The first 30 seconds of "Screwball Squirrel" can be easily mistaken for a Disney or Harman-Ising cartoon. However, several moments later, the nauseatingly cute Sammy Squirrel is brutally beaten up, and we know we're deep in the Avery-Land.
Few more curious facts about Screwy:
- Screwy Squirrel was voiced by radio actor Wally Maher.
- According to some sources, Tex Avery absolutely despised Screwy Squirrel. It was his least favorite character.
- Screwy Squirrel resurrected in 1993, appearing in Hanna-Barbera Saturday Morning series "Droopy the Master Detective". As expected, it was the watered down and highly sanitized version of the original character.
- A real modern attempt at creating the new Screwy Squirrel type character happened in mid-90s, with Pat Ventura's "Sledgehammer O'Possum". Two shorts were made as the part of Cartoon Network's "What a Cartoon" series, and like most of Pat Ventura's work, they are an acquired taste. Believe it or not, Sledgehammer makes Screwy Squirrel look like Mahatma Gandhi :-)
- On April Fools' Day 1997, Cartoon Network ran the Screwy Squirrel cartoon "Happy-Go-Nutty" repeatedly from 6 AM to 6 PM, as part of an April Fool's Joke that the cartoon character had taken over the network.
- The complete Screwy Squirrel filmography:
Screwball Squirrel (1944)
Big Heel-Watha (1944)
The Screwy Truant (1945)
Lonesome Lenny (1946)
Update: Check out these excellent Screwy Squirrel posts on Kevin Langley's blog ! You'll find the original animation drawings, model sheets and complete videos from Screwy Squirrel cartoons.
And finally, here are the screenshots from "Screwball Squirrel":
Labels: Tex Avery