Hubie and Bertie
Hubie and Bertie are animated cartoon characters in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Though largely forgotten today, Hubie and Bertie represent some of animator Chuck Jones' earliest work that was intended to be funny rather than cute.
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Jones introduced Hubie and Bertie in the 1943 short The Aristo-cat. The plot of the cartoon would serve as the template for most future Hubie/Bertie outings: A character with some mental illness or degree of naïveté, here, a cat who doesn't know what a mouse looks like, is psychologically tormented by the pair. In this cartoon, they tell the mouse-hungry cat that a bulldog is a mouse, leading, of course, to several painful encounters for the cat. Hubie is voiced by Michael Maltese and Bertie by Ted Pierce.
Hubie and Bertie as designed by Jones are nearly identical mice with long snouts, large ears, and big, black noses. The two are somewhat anthropomorphic, walking on their stubby hind legs and using their forelimbs as arms. The character are distinguished by their color; one is brown with a lighter-colored belly and face, while the other is gray (which mouse is which color changes from film to film). Also, Bertie has large buck teeth, while Hubie does not. Bertie also has a habit of responding to Hubie with: "Yeah-Yeah, Sure-sure!"
Beginning with The Aristo-cat, Jones quickly established differing personalities for his mice. Hubie, here in gray, is the thinker. He comes up with the plans, and he is the mouse with the chutzpah to fast-talk anyone into doing almost anything. Bertie, on the other hand, brown in this cartoon, is the doer. He performs the gruntwork to accomplish Hubie's schemes. Hubie makes it clear who is subservient to whom, slapping the simpler Bertie around whenever his natural goofiness interferes with the task at hand.
Jones would repeat the theme of mind-games several more times in his Hubie and Bertie shorts, as in their second cartoon, Roughly Squeaking in 1946. This time, Jones has the mice exploit a cat's stupidity by convincing him that he's a lion and that a dog is a moose he wants to eat. By the short's end, the cat think's he's a lion, the dog thinks he's a pelican, and a bystanding bird thinks he's a Thanksgiving turkey. The mice are here voiced by Stan Freberg and Dick Nelson. The short was followed by House Hunting Mice in 1948, where Hubie and Bertie run afoul of a housekeeping robot. In this cartoon and all subsequent Hubie/Bertie films, Stan Freberg voices Hubie and Mel Blanc plays Bertie.
Cat and mouse
Jones introduced a permanent "antagonist" of sorts for the mice in 1949's Mouse Wreckers (the first in which they are officially called "Hubie" and "Bertie"). In the cartoon, the duo moves into a new home, only to discover that it is protected by champion mouser Claude Cat (the character's debut). The mice, of course, torment the poor puss both physically and mentally. The short was nominated for an Academy Award. The mice would go on to agonize Claude in two more films: The Hypo-condri-cat in 1950 and Cheese Chasers in 1951.
After these six cartoons, Jones retired Hubie and Bertie. He was moving on to other characters, such as Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, as well as his Marc Antony and Pussyfoot shorts. Jones would continue to use the mice in cameo roles, however (or mice designed just like them) whenever he needed a generic mouse for a gag (for instance, see the unnamed mouse in Chow Hound).
In recent years, Hubie and Bertie have made several cameos in Warner Bros. productions. For example, they play the sports announcers in the 1996 movie Space Jam. They have also appeared in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries and Tweety's High-Flying Adventure (2000).
Impact on Jones
Despite their short run of films, Hubie and Bertie are significant in that they symbolize Chuck Jones as he had reinvented himself in the late 1940s. Before then, his films were mostly sweet, Disney-esque fluff starring ultra-cute characters such as Sniffles. The Hubie and Bertie shorts, in contrast, are intensely humor-driven and full of over-the-top gags and jokes.
In addition, Hubie and Bertie's penchant for playing to their foes' neuroses hints at Jones later work with Looney Tunes characters such as Daffy Duck. Jones is the one largely responsible for turning Daffy from a bouncing screwball to a neurotic narcissist, and it is Jones who introduced several characters who are driven by believable impulses rather than just revenge, such as Wile E. Coyote with his obsessive pursuit of the Roadrunner and Pepe Le Pew with his outsize labido. Jones' Hubie and Bertie shorts show that the director was already thinking about characters in terms of their personalities.