Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 16, 1949
Stars: Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote
Rating: ★★★★

Fast and Furry-ous © Warner Brothers‘Fast and Furry-ous’ is the very first Road Runner cartoon.

The short lays out the plan for all other Road Runner shorts, introducing the Road Runner, and the coyote, and their habitat: a desert canyon landscape covered by freeways. Like all following Road Runner cartoons it consists of blackout gags, involving mail orders, strange inventions, explosives, trucks, boulders and cliffs. It differs from the other Road Runner cartoons, however, in that only one of the products the Coyote purchases (the Superman suit) is made by ACME. It also features quite elaborate designs of Wile E. Coyote. In later cartoon his looks would become more streamlined.

Fast and Furry-ous is an excellent debut. It already contains a classic gag with the one in which the coyote constructs a ludicrous machine from a refrigerator, which produces snow to ski on. Unfortunately he runs out of snow when he’s skiing above a huge ravine…

‘Fast and Furry-ous’ introduces the excellent silent comedy of the Road Runner cartoons, second only to the Tom & Jerry series, and very welcome in an age in which animated shorts became more and more dialogue-driven.

Although we would call the series after the Road Runner, the speedy bird is essentially a one-dimensional character: being invincible, the Road Runner knows only one cheerful expression, and doesn’t do much more than running really, really fast and going ‘beep beep’.

The Coyote, on the other hand, is the best character ever conceived by Chuck Jones. Although he is the predator, in several shorts Jones goes at lengths to show he’s starving and desperate for food, making him more sympathetic. Moreover, the Coyote is an optimist, ever believing he will once triumph. He’s also a fanatic, not giving up despite all his mishaps. And he is an inventor, thinking of countless ways to catch the Road Runner. It is however his unfortunate doom to be confronted with bad luck no matter what he does. In Chuck Jones’s own words:

“In the Road Runner cartoons, we hoped to evoke sympathy for the Coyote. It is the basis of the series: the Coyote tries by any means to capture the Road Runner, ostensibly and at first to eat him, but this motive has become beclouded, and it has become, in my mind at least, a question of loss of dignity that forces him to continue. And who is the Coyote’s enemy? Why, the Coyote. The Road Runner has never touched him, never even startled him intentionally beyond coming up behind the Coyote occasionally and going “Beep-Beep!”. No, the only enemy the Coyote has is his overwhelming stubborness. Like all of us, at least some of the time, he persists in a course of action long after he has forgotten his original reasons for embarking on it.”
(from ‘Chuck Amuck’, page 219)

So when this wonderfully enthusiastic character looks to us for sympathy, when confronted by boulders, trucks, explosions or one of the immensely deep canyons of his homeland, he gains it, for we understand his frustrations and sympathize with him wholeheartedly.

These Oliver Hardy-like looks into the camera belong to the highlights of the series, and it is the silent comedy of the Coyote’s facial expressions that makes the Road Runner cartoons such fun to watch. Indeed, when given a voice, as in the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Operation Rabbit‘ (1952), the character becomes much less interesting; too pompous, too self-aware to gain the sympathy he would silently get. The four Bugs Bunny-Coyote combination shorts therefore never reach the comic success of the best of the Road Runner cartoons.

Watch ‘Fast and Furry-ous’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fast and Furry-ous’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’