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McKimson, Robert Porter (“Bob”)

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

(1911-1977)

    Robert McKimson’s relatively early death probably robbed him of much of the fame that he deserved. No figure at Warner Brothers -- not Avery, not Clampett, not Jones, not even Freleng -- racked up the kind of service that Bob McKimson did. He joined the studio in 1930. His first screen credit is for Bosko’s Store in 1932, and he would continue to be in the credits continuously until the close of the studio in 1963.

    McKimson had an extremely rare combination of talents that made him a formidable animator: his art was stylish, and he worked extremely fast. First Avery’s unit, later Jones’ took advantage of his exquisite draftsmanship, which had few rivals at Warners -- indeed, anywhere outside of Disney. It was, however, in the Clampett unit, to which McKimson moved around 1942, that he reached his peak as an animator. It is no coincidence that Clampett started being able to fully achieve his manic vision at this point, having such a talented top animator working with him.

    It was McKimson who made the key model sheets for Bugs Bunny in October 1942 and in 1943. These played a pivotal role in shaping the definitive Bugs. He also drew the famous publicity pose of Bugs with a carrot, leaning on a tree, originally drawn for an Easter display at a Los Angeles department store.

    McKimson was the logical successor to Frank Tashlin’s unit when the latter left in 1944 to pursue a career in live action. His early work seemed to fulfill the great promise of his promotion. Walky Talky Hawky (1946) introduced Foghorn Leghorn and was one of McKimson’s two Oscar-nominated cartoons. McKimson directed the classic A-Lad-In His Lamp (1948) and Rebel Rabbit (1949), as well as two spectacularly funny cartoons: A Ham in a Role (1949) with the Goofy Gophers, and the classic Bugs outing Hillbilly Hare (1950). See the entry for Hillbilly Hare for the complete lyrics of the square dance sequence: a highlight of McKimson’s directorial career.

    Alas, McKimson’s unit would suffer more than any other with the changes that took place at Warner Brothers in the 1950s. The most significant change would be the loss of Warren Foster to the Freleng unit, and his subsequent replacement by Tedd Pierce. Sadly, this ushered in an age of highly formulaïc cartoons from McKimson’s unit. Gone was the anarchic spark that made his late 1940s Bugs Bunny cartoons so much fun. What developed over time was a string of repetetive Foghorn Leghorn, Hippety Hopper, and Speedy Gonzales cartoons that had little to distinguish themselves from each other, let alone from the contemporary efforts of other units.

    His spoofs of various television programs, while interesting as period pieces, are badly dated. In general, they have not held up very well against contemporary work by other directors. Not even the advantage, for example, of having Jack Benny and his supporting cast play rodent versions of themselves can help The Mouse That Jack Built (1958) achieve anything more than whimsy. Both Maltin and the Beck/Friedwald team seem to agree on one point: McKimson eventually settled in to a “square” style which left him behind the other directors.

    After the closure of the studio in 1963, McKimson continued to work with the DePatie-Freleng organization on the inferior Warner-released cartoons produced in the late 1960s, and later on various Pink Panther cartoons made in the 1970s. McKimson directed many of the cartoons starring Cool Cat in the late 1960s. The character and the cartoons are both dependably unimaginitive, and have, in recent years, received inexplicable amounts of airtime.

    McKimson should be remembered in his vital supporting role as lead animator in the 30s and 40s, without whom the work of men like Clampett would never have reached full fruition. He should also be remembered for his masterful directorial work of the late 1940s. Beck and Friedwald say in regards to his last real masterpiece, The Hole Idea (1955), which he both directed and animated, “it is not an insult to observe that he was a better animator than director.” Indeed, at his best, Robert McKimson was one of the greatest animators the studio ever had in its service.

    McKimson received story credit for Banty Raids (1963), which, in fact, he directed.

    McKimson is listed in the Library of Congress copyright records as having contributed to Walt Disney’s Pinocchio Coloring Book, No. A126787, dated January 15, 1954. This is roughly contemporaneous with the temporary closure of the WB cartoon studio in the summer and fall of 1953.

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• The Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion is © (copyright) 1996 E. O. Costello. All rights reserved.

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