Pudgie Parakeet 03 Pudgie Parakeet 03

Revisiting the “Mrs. Doubtfire” Cartoon Directed by Chuck Jones

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Chris Columbus’ comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. In the opening of the film, Robin Williams plays a voice-over artist who is recording lines for a cartoon that has already been made. (Yes, that’s out of order for a standard cartoon production, but for entertainment’s sake, we’ll let it slide).

The cartoon was supervised by legendary Warner Bros. director Chuck Jones, and animated by a small team of A-list animators that included legends like Bill Littlejohn and Tom Ray, and younger animators like Eric Goldberg. Coincidentally, Goldberg was also animating to the voice of Robin Williams for another animated project around the same period—the Genie in Aladdin.

In the film, we see barely a minute’s worth of animation of the two main characters—Pudgy Parakeet and Grunge the Cat. But in reality, Chuck Jones and his crew animated five minutes of material. This was never publicly shown until it was included several years afterward as a bonus feature on the Mrs. Doubtfire DVD.

While the cartoon doesn’t break any new ground in terms of execution or gags, and doesn’t even have a proper ending (it ends with a repeating cycle of Pudgy enjoying a cigarette for thirty seconds), the short has its moments. Williams voices all three characters, and it’s enjoyable listening to his vocal delivery. The animation, being much more fluid than Jones’ typical output of the period, is lively and filled with the energy of his classic cartoons from the mid-1950s.

The story doesn’t end there, though. Apparently, Chuck Jones wasn’t too keen on the backgrounds, feeling that they were overly detailed. So Jones had the cartoon completely reshot with new backgrounds that reflected a more subdued graphic style. As an added bonus, here’s the alternate version:

And just for good measure, here is a two-minute pencil test:

  • I quite like the animation on the cat (He reminds a lot of Meowrice from Jone’s Gay Purr-ee for some reason). However, I failed to find the parakeet very funny. The bird just got on my nerves a lot…

  • I can’t believe they hired Chuck Jones to make a five minute cartoon, only to use a minute of it. Wouldn’t you expect Chris Columbus to have a better sense of the pacing he’s going for, especially for the start of a movie?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      You’d think so too. I recall when the film came out on DVD and listening to Chris commenting on the matter over not being able to decide how to use this as he originally wanted the cartoon to come on as it’s own thing before the movie but the studio said no or something and I guess this was the trade-off.

  • Super side note – I just googled “Doubtfire” and would you believe Columbus was talking about a sequel last month? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mf0WME4Ag7I Strange that he sounds so serious about it, even though it doesn’t sound like they have a story at all. Sequel madness….

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I don’t suppose this ‘sequel’ will have a cartoon to go with it, though I’m not holding my breath there.

  • Toonio

    They should certify voice actors for animated features in a Robin Williams scale.

    If you don’t reach an 8 you can’t lend your voice even if your name is Angelina Jolie.

  • Joel

    I personally find Robin Williams as the parakeet somewhat annoying, but the animation and visuals are great! I’d be curious to know how this cartoon-in-a-movie would’ve ended!

  • Mark Mayerson

    I might be in the minority on this, but the clip shows all of Jones’ affectations and very little of his wit.

  • popyea

    How did they know Meryl Streep would go on to play Julia Child?

  • Roberto Severino

    Jones may have been at his best in the late 1940s and 50s, but it doesn’t change the fact that the animation here is excellent and the layouts were very well done in both versions! I think Jones was too picky here, but his talent and style were still there at least.

  • Jen Hurler

    I love that such effort was put into this, even if it was only made with the intention of helping establish William’s character in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire.’ Kudos to the crew, this is adorable and well done, even if–as Michael says–it doesn’t necessarily break new ground. The alternate background version is quite interesting to compare and contrast as well. I do prefer it. And I love the cat’s voice. :)

    Great post, Michael!

  • Tony

    I think I recognized Littlejohn’s animation on the opening scenes of the parakeet. They remind me a lot of his work on Snoopy in the Peanuts specials.

    • Funkybat

      Ah, that’s it…. The parakeet’s dancing moves felt VERY familiar, but I just couldn’t place where I had seen it before. Never knew enough about the Peanuts cartoons to associate specific scenes with specific animators, but I would say you’re right in that whoever did that opening scene also did many of the dance sequences of Snoopy.

  • SR Das

    Chuck actually said that, initially, he thought Columbus’ idea of creating “a new bird and a new cat” was ‘like asking [Disney] to come up with a new mouse.”

    This makes me wonder what these characters would do if they crossed paths with Tweety & Sylvester.

    I always wanted these characters to make a comeback. If Robin Williams won’t return to voice them, get Rob Paulsen (Pudgie) and Maurice LaMarche (Grunge).

    • Funkybat

      It’s interesting seeing the complete cartoon. It’s almost like a weird hybrid of Tweety & Sylvester, Bugs & Elmer, and Tom & Jerry.

      One thing that I would say after seeing the whole standalone cartoon is that Robin’s delivery (especially for the cat) was sometimes too subtle. I had to rewind two or three times to distinguish what the dialogue was when he’d say something in this hushed voice. I get why he did it as part of the character, but for a cartoon short the enunciation needed to be sharper.

  • lddk

    Interesting, I can see a lot of fun ideas in the animation. At times though it felt a bit slow for what it was trying to convey and as a whole I think it could be faster and have more pop to the animations. Good stuff though.

  • Roberto González

    Very interesting stuff, I enjoyed the movie as a kid but now I think this cartoon is almost too good for it. It’s also nice to see a cartoon character smoking in this p.c. Times. I guess this is how Sylvester and Tweety would be if they were directed by Chuck Jones. I love both versions, and I’m undecided about the backgrounds, probably the second one is less distracting but the detalles backgrounds are very nicely done. I must say they don’t follow Jones’ advice in The Looney Tunes Show. The backgrounds, though well drawn, are really distracting.

    • Geoff

      If you recall, in the movie, as the bird smokes, Robin Williams’ character adlibs an anti smoking thoughts, which gets him fired.
      I think, tho, if the movie was made today, the bird wouldn’t smoke at all. Maybe a last meal where he’d expound the evil merits of bacon

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Whatever worked, it was a good start to the film in showing this guy simply trying to do a job but simply can’t quite do it under his convictions (of course we also get the shot of recording engineers in the booth chain smoking away).

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I noticed Rick Reinert is credited as a background artist on this film, knowing the kind of detailed work he’s done on his own productions like the O.G. Readmore specials, I’m sure those were his backgrounds in the first (and used) version.

  • Paul Badilla

    I feel that some scenes had to be treated with more rhythm, especially fast scenes. When the bird was on his skates, we should have felt the speed.

  • Arigator

    It’s great that we are able to watch the whole 5 minutes today although they only used part of it in the movie. Thanks for blogging about this!
    This year also marks the 20th anniversary of “Jurassic Park” and it has got a 2D animation sequence, too, so maybe this is worth revisiting as well? :)

  • lippy

    Gonna go out on a limb here:
    I call that the “boxing the cat’s nose” segment was animated by ERIC GOLDBERG. Eric — am I right?
    (and if NOT — which are your shots?)

  • tservo2049

    A question I’ve had for a while – two of the credited animators are “Ralph E. Newman” and “Duane Gretsky,” and they’re only credited on Chuck’s 90s stuff.

    I know that most of Chuck’s 90s stuff involved animators that were employed by Disney and thus used pseudonyms.

    • tservo2049

      Anyway, my question is: Anybody know who were the actual identities of Messrs. Newman and Gretsky?

      • Raul Garcia

        As far as I know… Ralph E. Newman was not other than… Raul Garcia

        • tservo2049

          Thanks so much!

          Now that just leaves Duane Gretsky. I think it might be Dave Burgess – Raul, do you remember Dave working on Mrs. Doubtfire and Another Froggy Evening?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    It does seem more in line with what Chuck would’ve wanted I’m sure, also the stylized, abstract-nature of it worked well for a cartoon set in ‘Frisco.