It is probable that at the time of its introduction, the first Bugs Bunny cartoon could have been regarded as something quite revolutionary. Perhaps the phenomenon could only be fully appreciated in America with its strong tradition of comic strips, although everyone can identify with the dynamic characterisation of that particular rabbit which so ably reflects the rebellious and anarchic side of human nature. With the notable exception of the Marx Brothers films, there were few live-action films then, to match Bugs’ self assurance and ebullience. Oscar does not advocate making more violent films, simply that we should concentrate on making them more energetic and more powerful, because they require strength in whatever they are trying to say, whether it be social comment or something more frivolous.
Critics must analyse a Bugs Bunny cartoon for his anarchic surreal values it is the closest Americans come to making subversive films. Bugs and his kind subvert every form of tyranny and oppression known to man. Americans, through their live-action films, went to great lengths to show their power and optimism, but not the film cartoonist who recognised the cruelties and injustices and mocked them, making his characters powerful against such pressures, which they ultimately overcome making us laugh in the process. That is what the public wants. It wants – nay! – it needs to laugh at bureaucracy, petty dictatorship and officialdom; and that is why ‘Spitting Image’ is so successful. Much may be banal and not a little infantile but it attracts a huge following.
Disney’s ‘9 Old Men’ spent a lifetime devoted to the production of ‘inoffensive~ films which we continue to celebrate and admire. We acknowledge it was done with charm, beauty and great technical skill, but in no way can you say that the best examples of their work are, in fact, works of self-expression. On the whole they only expressed banal ideas.
“I wonder if they ever considered making independent films like McLaren’s, Hubley’s, Lye’s or even Tex Avery’s? Tex Avery may never have been aware of his power but it was because he was freer in expression than all the great Disney animators, who were better artisans.
“You could be very refined and able to differentiate between a character drawn by Friz Freleng or Robert McKinson, but that is a very specialised form of recognition. The general public hasn’t the slightest idea whether Bugs Bunny has been drawn by either one of them or by Chuck Jones or Robert Clampett, but the more skilful they were, the more they made us laugh.”
Oscar Grillo was born in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. A very European, dynamic city as big as London. Argentina is as big as Western Europe and the rest of his country is as alien to him as France is to the English. For all that, he is curious about his country and has great respect for its culture, which has given rise to many fine writers and even more excellent artists. Although little credit has been accorded Argentinian animation we cannot forget it was responsible for the world’s first feature length cartoon El Apostol (The Apostle) in 1916 by Quirino Cristiani and “Mono” Taborda. Work even began on a second feature film over twenty years later in 1938, Upa en Apuros (Dante’s Infernoi The outbreak of World War II in 1939 put a stop to it when the Germans ceased to export Gevaert colour film.
Surprisingly, no less a person than Art Babbitt was in residence supervising the production. In conversation long afterwards, Oscar asked Art how he happened to be there, to which Art replied, ”Well, now I can tell you I was sent there by the Department of State to keep an eye on Nazi intentions in Argentina.”
Coming from a working class background Oscar fully expected to follow his friends into a factory; however his destiny was determined by a tie. In Argentina, they used to publish a magazine entitled Dibujante containing interviews with artists and animators, not devoted solely to domestic talent but including American notables, of whom Walt Disney was no exception. Little Oscar avidly perused its pages, the life stories, the drawings, and the personality portraits and studio shots, and was impressed by the sight of all the men be-sporting ties, an unlikely status symbol perhaps, but which acted as a driving force, an ambition to be wholeheartedly pursued.
He still possesses the pictures in the original fading editions of that magazine, although that is not so surprising, really, he is a self-confessed hoarder. Defensively he argues it is necessary to understand this world we live in, it is a very complex place. Some seek the key to the universe through religion, others science, or academic study, or sex. He believes the clues may be found in everyday living, a far gentler way of searching for the answer. That the elusive key may be lurking among Oscar’s dusty bygones, the bric-a-brac of his life, is an interesting thought.