Chuck Jones is the soulful genius of Hollywood studio animation, but when people think about "cartoon gags," they're most often thinking about Tex Avery. Avery's rowdy shorts for Warner Brothers and MGM introduced animated comic standbys like jaws dropping to the floor, eyes bugging out, objects exploding willy-nilly, and characters holding up tiny signs to cue the audience. Avery's cartoons—particularly the Droopy series that he helmed for MGM—are rocket-paced and gleefully surreal, made for wisenheimers already hip to animation's conventions. Avery liked to say "In a cartoon, you can do anything," and he dedicated his career to testing the limits of cartoon logic.
The 18 Tex Avery-directed Droopy shorts—plus five by Michael Lah—on the two-disc Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection DVD keep to more or less the same routine. Some wolf or burly dog tries to do something untoward, and the diminutive, saggy-voiced Droopy stops him, often inadvertently. While other mischief-making characters like Woody Woodpecker or Bugs Bunny take a proactive approach, Droopy is presented more as an unbeatable force of nature, so passively successful that he has to look into the camera regularly and remind the audience, "I'm the hero." With Droopy, Avery ran riot with rapid-fire gags, working variations on a theme until his time ran out. The 1956 short "Deputy Droopy" may be his finest seven minutes, as Avery begins with the old cartoon standby of a sneaky person stubbing his toe and running outside to scream, then repeats it in every possible way, making it increasingly funny. Not "amusing." Not merely "clever." Funny.
Key features: A dry featurette and a pointless best-of reel.