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.

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

A 24-Hour Pee-wee's Playhouse Marathon is Coming to IFC on Thanksgiving Day

Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

Today's secret word is: AHHHH! If the thought of talking politics with your drunk uncle this Thanksgiving is too much for you to bear, might we suggest that you stay right there on the couch and watch 24 hours of Pee-wee's Playhouse instead?

In the spirit of holiday marathons, IFC has announced that it's bringing the not-just-for-kids cult classic Saturday morning TV series back to the small screen this Turkey Day—more than 30 years after it made its original debut.

Pee-wee, Chairry, Conky, Miss Yvonne, Jambi, Cowboy Curtis, Reba the Mail Lady, Clocky, The King of Cartoons, and the rest of the gang will all be there when the network kicks off a full 24 hours of all-Pee-wee programming.

"For over 30 years, the enormously popular Pee-wee Herman and innovative television series Pee-wee’s Playhouse—created by and starring Paul Reubens—has captured a special place in the hearts of millions of viewers, young and old," IFC wrote in a press release. "Since its initial premiere on CBS in 1986, this multiple Emmy-winning children’s program became Saturday morning appointment viewing for kids in the '80s and '90s and has been a staple in the pop culture zeitgeist ever since."

In addition to embedding itself in the hearts and minds of its viewers over its five-year run, Pee-wee's Playhouse garnered unprecedented critical acclaim, earning 15 Emmy Awards and the 1987 Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming. In 2010, Reubens brought the character back for a stage show that began in Los Angeles before migrating to Broadway (where it regularly sold out).

In addition to being a launching pad for soon-to-be-stars like Phil Hartman, Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Natasha Lyonne, Reubens hired some serious talent behind-the-scenes, too. Five years before he wrote and directed Boyz n the Hood—for which he earned two Oscar nominations—John Singleton was a P.A. on the Playhouse set. Around the same time he formed White Zombie, Rob Zombie held the same title.

The marathon, which will include a special screening of Christmas at Pee-wee’s Playhouse, will kick off at 6 a.m. on November 22 (Thanksgiving morning) and run for 24 hours straight. Beginning on November 24, IFC will be bringing Pee-wee's Playhouse back to "its rightful home on Saturday mornings" with weekly airings of the series.

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