How Chuck Jones Animated the Mongoose in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
Chuck Jones Museum
Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background. © CJE. All rights reserved. Image courtesy Chuck Jones Museum.

When legendary animator Chuck Jones decided to make a short film out of Rudyard Kipling’s story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, he was faced with a challenge: How could he imbue the cobra-killing mongoose with a sense of personality and make it relatable, all without taking away from the fact that it was an animal?

Character concept sketches by Chuck Jones for Rikki Tikki Tavi showing the transition between what an actual mongoose looks like and what it might look like when it's animated.
Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum

“[His] first concern was always believability,” Robert Patrick of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity tells mental_floss. “That informed all of his stylistic decisions.” So when creating the titular character, Jones decided to draw from real mongoose behavior: namely, how quickly they move (you can watch one mongoose evade a cobra strike here). He did some research—“there is at least one book on the mongoose in his library,” Patrick says—and came up with a method that Hugh Kenner describes in Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings as “an art based on the post-retinal image. You see a blur without without feeling sure what you saw.”

Chuck Jones Museum

Jones drew up a model sheet that described how the mongoose should enter the frame. “When Rikki enters the scene, let him fill an imaginary Rikki until his nose reaches the proper point,” he wrote. “[T]hen the rest expands and the last movement is when his whiskers pop out and vibrate.” He also noted how the mongoose should leave: “When Rikki leaves the scene, follow the angle of his pose. Hold tail until head is well out—the snap tail along path and out.” You can see it in action in the clip below:

According to Kenner, Jones described this method in 1977 as akin to a number of cars stopped at a light: “When the light changes, the 15 cars won’t move off en bloc,” Kenner writers. “No, car 1 must move ahead several feet before car 2 can even start moving, likewise car 3, car 4 … so the string lengthens as it gets into motion.” (He also used this analogy to describe how Wile E. Coyote fell.) This take on the character's movement made it one of the most fondly remembered things about the film.

Model drawing by Chuck Jones for Rikki. Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum.

Jones wasn’t just concerned with Rikki’s movement; he also paid close attention to the character’s face, which was key in making the character relatable to humans. “Keep ears pointing forward so leading edge shows,” he wrote on the model sketch, dated May 21, 1974. “All parts of face move up and away from center. Flatten top of nose in front view—it works better. OK, it isn’t logical—it still works better.” He also asked for a “heavier line” in certain areas to “accent perkiness.”

Aerial view of the garden, original background layout drawing. Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum

Aerial view of a corner of the house, original background layout drawing. Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum

Production on Rikki-Tikki-Tavi began in late 1973 or early 1974, according to Patrick. “Chuck was an inveterate reader, and a huge fan of Rudyard Kipling,” he says. “I'm sure Kipling's Jungle Book stories was inspiring and a favorite of his; it appears on his essential reading list of books that every literate, English-speaking person should read at least once in their life.”

Original title card used in production. Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum

The 25-minute TV special aired in 1975 and featured the vocal talents of June Foray (Mulan, Looney Toons) as Nagaina the Cobra, Wife of Nag, Teddy's Mother, and Darzee the Tailorbird’s Wife; Les Tremayne (Adventures of the Gummi Bears) as Father; Michael LeClair as Teddy; Lennie Weinrib (Voltron) as Darzee the Tailorbird; and Shepard Menken (The Phantom Tollbooth) as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, with Orson Welles performing the voices of Nag the Cobra and Chuchundra the muskrat. The actor also provided the film’s narration; hopefully it went a little more smoothly than the time he recorded voiceover for that frozen peas commercial.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Aretha Franklin With Week-Long Exhibition

Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA
Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA

With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world has lost one of its most distinctive voices—and personalities. As celebrities and fans share their memories of the Queen of Soul and what her music meant to them, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will pay tribute to the legendary songstress's life with a week-long exhibition of her portrait.

Throughout her career, Franklin earned some of the music industry's highest accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly 30 years later, in 2015, the National Portrait Gallery fêted Franklin with the Portrait of a Nation Prize, which recognizes "the accomplishments of notable contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery collection." (Madeline Albright, Spike Lee, and Rita Moreno are among some of its recent recipients.)

Milton Glaser's lithograph of Aretha Franklin, which is displayed at The National Portrait Gallery
© Milton Glaser

Franklin's portrait was the creation of noted graphic designer Milton Glaser, who employed "his characteristic kaleidoscope palette and innovative geometric forms to convey the creative energy of Franklin's performances," according to the Gallery. The colorful lithographic was created in 1968, the very same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened.

Glaser's image will be installed in the "In Memoriam" section of the museum, which is located on the first floor, on Friday, August 17 and will remain on display to the public through August 22, 2018. The Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and admission is free.

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