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A scene from Charlie Dog's first appearance in LITTLE ORPHAN AIREDALE (1947).
As the old axiom goes, a dog is man’s best friend – which is true in many respects. However, if a canine like Charlie Dog – the Warner Bros. animated cartoon character created by Chuck Jones – existed in the real world and acted like he did on-screen, there’s little question that he’d end up in the local dog pound. On the other hand, real dogs in the real world don’t walk and talk like Charlie – which might be, in many respects, a blessing in disguise.
As Jones pointed out in his 1990 published memoir Chuck Amuck (Simon & Schuster), Charlie Dog might be the most honest dog in the world – even if he’s only a fictional one – who wants nothing better than to find both a good home and an equally-good owner. Charlie’s biggest problem is sticking to the misguided belief that the end always justifies the means – which means that he’ll do everything to achieve his single-minded goal, no matter what the cost; obnoxiousness bordering on the divine. Still, we do feel sorry for Charlie, if only because his goal ends up beyond his reach (even though he never takes responsibility for his own actions).
Strangely enough, the inspiration for Charlie Dog was a similar canine character in director Bob Clampett’s Warners cartoon short Porky’s Pooch (1941), in which the pesky dog tries to gain Porky Pig as his owner – and actually does at the end of the short, which would make even Charlie himself green with envy. At the time that Porky’s Pooch was released in 1941, Chuck Jones was still finding his own voice as an animation director working at the Warners animation studio.
A scene with Porky Pig and Charlie Dog from OFTEN AN ORPHAN (1949).
By the time Little Orphan Airedale – which marked Charlie Dog’s first appearance – was released in 1947, Jones had already found his own creative style, which would serve him well for the rest of his animation career. The first three cartoons featuring Charlie Dog (voiced by Mel Blanc) – including not only Little Orphan Airedale, but also Awful Orphan and Often An Orphan (both released in 1949) – had the character trying to snag Porky Pig as his master, with less than successful results (while totally blind to the fact that he’s annoying).
The next two Warners animated shorts starring Charlie – Dog Gone South (1950) and A Hound For Trouble (1951) – had the character seeking out different people for dog owners. In the case of Dog Gone South, it was an elderly Southern gentleman (who already owned a bulldog as a pet) – while A Hound For Trouble found Charlie in Italy trying to woo a local restaurant owner; the latter cartoon marked Charlie’s last on-screen appearance for the next seven years, as Jones shelved him and the director’s other animation creations introduced in the 1940’s to focus in part on his newer creations, most notably the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, and Pepé Le Pew. Still, Charlie Dog wasn’t totally forgotten – Jones’s character designs for the character were also used for another short-lived character, Frisky Puppy, who appeared in several animated shorts directed by Jones during the late-1940’s and early-1950’s, usually opposite still another Jones creation, Claude Cat.
Charlie Dog’s final on-screen appearances courtesy of the classic Warners animation studio came in director Robert McKimson’s Dog Tales (1958), which featured re-used animation from Often An Orphan, as well as several animated framing sequences directed by Chuck Jones for The Bugs Bunny Show, which aired on ABC from 1960-62. In 1963, the classic Warners animation studio was shut down for various reasons (some economic) – though it would resume releasing animated shorts from 1964-69, when the changing dynamics of the motion picture industry made producing theatrical short subjects on a regular basis virtually obsolete.
Charlie Dog has made few appearances in both film and TV over the past 25-plus years – including not only the Warners-produced animated TV series Tiny Toon Adventures and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, but also the combination live-action/animated feature film Space Jam (1996). Whether or not Charlie Dog’ll be seen again in any future animated films and TV shows produced by Warner Bros. – but if that does happen, there’s little doubt that the character’ll continue to pursuit his goal of both a home and owner to call his own (and still blind to the fact that he’s anything but the perfect dog that he claims to be).
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