(Bear with me if I get any of this wrong, including casting. I only saw it once and that was nearly thirty years ago.)
Young married couple A (Bill Murray and Gilda Radner) have enjoyed a dull but pleasant evening on the town with young married couple B, (Harry Shearer and Larraine Newman) who are their new neighbors. They're back in couple A's apartment making awkward small talk over coffee but it is clear the two couples don't have much in common and they are winding down an evening they are not likely to repeat. Casually, couple B notice a souvenir ashtray with a Vegas hotel logo: they've stayed there too. Couple A mention they saw comedian Joey Bishop perform there recently. Couple B brighten noticeably: they're big fans of Joey Bishop. Couple A warm up in kind; they're big Joey Bishop fans too. They confess they don't just like Joey Bishop, they love him! Same with couple B--they worship him! Within a few exchanges it turns out they are clearly the four most Joey Bishop-obsessed human beings on earth. They are trading movie quotes, stand-up routines, even singing the theme tune from Bishop's short-lived sitcom. One of the husbands does a verbatim impression of Guy Marks, Bishop's erstwhile sidekick. No detail of Joey Bishop's career is too obscure or trivial for these four not to cherish. The two couples are now deeply bonding and the atmosphere has gone from tepid to frenzied mutual joy. They pledge to see his next live tour together and appear to be starting a long, beautiful friendship.
Catching their breath for a beat, couple B ask if couple A saw Bishop's most recent appearance and Couple A confirm they were there the same night. Did they see the late show or the early show? Both shows, say couple A, of course! Couple B admit they saw both shows too, they only asked because they thought Bishop gave a better performance in the late show. The mood suddenly chills: what do they mean, couple A wonder? Couple B reiterate that they thought the late show was superior and they felt Joey Bishop was generally sharper and more warmed up during the late shows. Frosty now: couple A go on the defensive: Joey Bishop is a professional, the consummate entertainer, he never goes on without being warmed up; he's always sharp! Couple B won't relent: for technical reasons that are no fault of his own, Joey Bishop is at his best in his late shows, period. Not so, couple A insist; he's never ever not at his best! Now there's a chasm of difference between them and the evening dissolves very quickly: excuses are made, coats are grabbed and couple B hurry home, permanently alienated from couple A. Couple A are non-plussed and shake off the bad mood by deciding to watch an old videotape of one of Joey Bishop's shows.
I bring this up because some of the comments regarding this flap involving my observations about Chuck Jones remind me of this skit: how details in the devotion to a particular figure (even someone as low-key as Joey Bishop) can become a source of contention that creates a schism between groups who fundamentally feel the same way, but not fundamentally enough to suit all parties. It somehow never ceases to amaze me.
I welcome all the comments and dissent but it appears that some have felt it near blasphemy to make critical comments about an such an icon and a few can't brook a sensible discussion of relative merit without hammering back with an unrelenting defense of every single pencil stroke the man ever made. That would be understandable to me if the point of my post was merely to state a provocatively critical opinion of mine strictly for it's own sake. For the most part, I think it's clear enough that wasn't my object, but just in case:
The idea of an artist improving is still a cherished one to me, and there are many of examples which have been cited in the comments. In the cases where a decline (or even a shift) occurs in an artist's signature process, I am curious about that. One individual on CARTOON BREW scoffs that this whole question is a waste of time. They're entitled to that opinion but I see they took at least 3 times the length of Amid's post to say so, which I find ironic. That aside, I do enjoy entertaining philosophical questions about drawing and art and I can't help it. If there's something we can learn from this and apply to our own art, then that's no small value, in my opinion. I chose Chuck Jones as an example not to single him out, but because unlike other cases I could site, he was still around and active when I began my career and I even had some minor first-hand experience of him. Since he inspired me a great deal, I remain curious about his artistic process and because I believe in being self-critical, I also can't help but want to understand merits and flaws in the works of even my heroes, in my own quest to improve. I think I am not alone in this.
I've been told, (among other things), that I need to understand the difference between a rough sketch and a finished drawing but with all due respect, I think I can actually grasp that, having done a few myself, even though I am well aware I am no Chuck Jones. Even the later artwork I don't like by Jones still displays a sense of his impeccable rhythm and spontaneity, which I can plainly see and appreciate. The mystery remains however: why an artist with an almost unrivaled arsenal of varied and ever-expanding character design and posing abilities would settle into a pattern of routine (and frankly bland) formulas, based on a single and repetitive armature of fairly even and uninteresting (to me anyway) proportions? Especially when he was not only not prone to do that before, but was capable of otherwise even in contemporary situations? I offer that the circumstances of production affected the output and I remain convinced of it, which doesn't seem that objectionable a view to hold. Rather, it suggests to me that an artist who remains in love with his process, (and I suspect Chuck Jones was still passionately more in love with animation than any other process) can remain vital as long as time and physical health permit.