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Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
Chuck Jones Museum

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

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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.

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Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
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10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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IFC Films

In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

IFC Films

Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

IFC Films

In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow
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Play the Sneakers Computer Press Kit from 1992
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Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

In September 1992, the computer hacking movie Sneakers hit theaters. To correspond with its launch, members of the press received a floppy disk containing a mysterious DOS program that, when launched, asked for a password. Once the reporters "hacked" their way in, they found the Sneakers Computer Press Kit. Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can play at being the film press of 1992.

It's hard to characterize exactly what this electronic press kit is. Is it a game? Sort of. It's essentially a very gentle computer hacking simulator, in which the "hacking" consists entirely of guessing passwords (complete with helpful prompts from the program itself), and the payload you discover is silly stuff like mini-biographies of Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, and Sidney Poitier. Still, it's a good match for the film itself, which helped set the template for Hollywood depictions of computer hacking.

A paper folder lies open on a wooden floor, with a black floppy disk on top. The folder is labeled SNEAKERS in giant red letters, as is the floppy. Inside the folder is printed material. On the right flap of the folder are instructions on how to load it.
Inside the Sneakers Computer Press Kit's paper folder. (The right flap contains installation instructions, along with a note that the studio will FedEx printed material if the user doesn't have access to a printer.)
Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

Always remember: "My voice is my passport. Verify me." Now, get cracking on this press kit and don't be flummoxed—if you can't figure out a password right away, just wait a moment.

(Incidentally, Sneakers did also include printed materials for the press, in case they lacked a computer and/or the patience to deal with this approach. But who in the world would look at that, when they could play with this? There's also a method in the Computer Press Kit that allows the user to print out more detailed materials—provided they have a printer, and it's attached to a particular printer port on the computer.)

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