Tex Avery rides again

New syndie toons take inspiration from Tex himself

HOLLYWOOD — In 1980, current DIC Entertainment president, Andy Heyward, was an apprentice at Hanna-Barbera, working under legendary cartoon director, Tex Avery, who was then nearing the end of his career. The experience had a profound impact on Heyward, and now, less than two decades later, he is doing his best to revive not only Avery’s name, but also his unique style of cartooning.

Within animation circles, the buzz about “The Wacky World of Tex Avery,” a syndicated collection of 195 new, six-minute shorts created by Heyward and produced by France’s Les Studios Tex (of which Disney-owned DIC is a shareholder), in association with Telcima and M6, has been humming for some time. Some toon buffs are anxious to see the results, while others frankly view the prospect of following in the footsteps of Avery, the creator of Droopy Dog and Red Hot Riding Hood and a major force in the creation of Bugs Bunny, with trepidation.

But the fact is, most of the master’s trademarks are well-represented in the new cartoons. The full-throttle pacing is there, as well as the exaggerated eyeball takes; the subtle throw-away gags (for instance, a lengthy pan of the Great Wall of China is interrupted just long enough to focus on a sign that reads: “Great wall, huh?”); the split-second timing,; and the sparing use of music and sound effects (including Avery’s beloved “arrruuuuga!”) to punctuate the action.

Indeed, the series, which debuts this fall worldwide (and which will have a major sendoff at Buena Vista Intl.’s annual blowout at Mipcom), comes with an impressive toon pedigree, including the involvement of Avery’s daughter, Nancy Arkley, and directors Eddie Fitzgerald and Michael Fontinelli, both of whom are Avery aficionados. What’s more, the lion’s share of production is being carried out in France, where Avery and his work is, well, lionized.

“We’ve got people that we wouldn’t normally be able to get to work in Saturday-morning television,” notes Heyward. “When we said the name Tex Avery, that was a magnet for absolutely incredible talent.” In the case of Fitzgerald and Fontinelli, both left their home studios of DreamWorks and Disney, respectively, to work on the shorts.

“The Wacky World of Tex Avery,” which is syndicated in the U.S. through Program Exchange, features new (non-derivative) characters, such as Freddy the Fly, Pompeii Pete, Genghis and Connie, and Power Pooch, as well as a toon version of Avery himself, who is teamed with the Jessica Rabbitish Chastity Knott to re-create Avery’s special brand of hormonal humor.

“The idea was to do something with maybe the spirit of a Looney Tunes for the ’90s,” Heyward explains.