Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner are a duo of cartoon characters appearing in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Like all the other Looney Tunes icons, the duo stars in a long-running series of theatrical film-shorts (the first 16 of which were written by Michael Maltese) and occasional direct-to-Television cartoons (as can be seen on The Looney Tunes Show).
In each cartoon, Wile E. Coyote, instead of using animal senses and guile, utilizes absurdly complex gizmos (often from ACME, a mail-order company and recurring gimmick in Looney Tunes) and elaborate plans to try to catch his prey, but fails every time. Wile E. appears separately as an adversary of Bugs Bunny in five cartoons from 1952 to 1963: Operation: Rabbit, To Hare Is Human, Rabbit's Feat, Compressed Hare, and Hare-breadth Hurry. While he is usually silent in the regular Coyote/Road-Runner shorts, he speaks with a refined, ego-maniacal, almost English-sounding accent in these solo outings, provided by Mel Blanc. The Roadrunner speaks only with a signature "meep meep" noise (provided by Paul Julian) and an occasional "popping-cork" tongue noise.
To date, 48 cartoons have been made featuring these cartoons (including the computer-animated shorts), most of which were directed by Chuck Jones.
Chuck Jones based Wile E. Coyote on Samuel Clemens' book Roughing It, in which Samuel describes the coyote as "a long, slim, sick, sorry-looking skeleton" and "a living, breathing allegory of the desire to want. He's always hungry." Chuck Jones added that he created the Coyote/Road-Runner series as a means of parodying traditional "cat-and-mouse" cartoons like Tom & Jerry (which the director was to work on later in his career, ironically enough).
Wile E. Coyote's name is an obvious pun on the word "wily." His middle initial, "E," is said to stand for "Ethelbert" in one issue of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies Comics, but its cartoonist did not intend to make it part of the official continuity, making his middle name non-canon to the show. Early model sheets for the character prior to his debut in the 1949 cartoon Fast & Furry-ous identify him as "Don Coyote," a pun on Don Quixote.
The desert scenery in the first two Roadrunner cartoons was designed by Robert Gribbroek and was quite realistic. In most later cartoons, the scenery was designed by Maurice Noble, who made it far more abstract.
From 1951 to 1954, the scenery was semi-realistic, with off-white skies (possibly implying overcast/cloudy weather conditions). Gravity-defying rock formations appear in Ready, Set, Zoom!. A bright yellow sky made its debut in the 1955 cartoon Gee Whizzzz, but was not used consistently until There They Go-Go-Go was released later that same year.
Zoom and Bored introduced a major change in background style. Sharp, top-heavy rock formations became more prominent, and warm colors (yellow, orange, and red) were favored. Bushes were crescent-shaped. Except for Whoa, Be-Gone!, whose scenery design harked back to Guided Muscle in certain aspects (such as off-white sky), this style of scenery was retained as far as Fastest with the Mostest. The short, titled, Hopalong Casualty changed the color scheme, with the sky reverting to blue, and some rocks becoming off-white, while the bright yellow desert sand color is retained, along with the 'sharp' style of rock formations pioneered by Zoom & Bored. The crescent shapes used for bushes starting with Zoom & Bored were retained, and also applied to clouds. In the last scene of War & Pieces,Wile E. Coyote's rocket blasts him through the center of the Earth to China, which is portrayed with abstract Oriental backgrounds.
The Format Films cartoons used a style of scenery similar to Hopalong Casualty'', and its successors, albeit less detailed and with small puffy clouds rather than crescent-shaped ones.
Freeze Frame, a direct-to-Television cartoon originally shown as part of the 1979 CBS special Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales, depicts the Road Runner taking a turn that leads the chase into mountains and across a wintry landscape of ice and snow.
Wile E. Coyote often obtains complex, ludicrous gizmos from a mail-order company, the fictional ACME, which he hopes will help him catch The Road-Runner. The devices invariably fail in improbable and spectacular ways. Whether this is result of operator error or faulty merchandise is debatable. Unfortunately, Wile E. Coyote usually ends up burnt to a crisp, squashed flat, or at the bottom of a canyon (some shorts show him suffering a combination of these fates). Occasionally, ACME products do work quite well (e.g. the Dehydrated Boulders, Bat-Man Outfit, Rocket Sled, Jet Powered Roller Skates, or Earthquake Pills). In this case, their success often works against Wile E. Coyote. For example, The Dehydrated Boulder, upon hydration, becomes so large when it crushes him, or upon Wile E. Coyote finding out that the fine print on the warning label for the Earthquake Pills states that they are not effective on road runners, right after he swallows the whole bottle, thinking they're ineffective. Other times he uses items that are implausible, such as a superhero outfit, thinking he could fly wearing it (he cannot).
How the coyote acquires these products without money is not explained until the 2003 Comedy/Adventure film Looney Tunes: Back In Action, in which he is shown to be an employee of ACME. In a Tiny Toon Adventures episode, Wile E. Coyote makes mention of his protégé Calamity Coyote possessing an unlimited ACME credit-card account, which might serve as another possible explanation. Another suggestion is that Wile E. Coyote is a "beta tester" for ACME. Wile E. Coyote also utilizes war equipment such as cannons, rocket launchers, grenades, and bayonets which are "generic," non-ACME products. In a Cartoon Network commercial advertising Looney Tunes,they ask Wile E. Coyote why he insists on purchasing products from the ACME when all previous contraptions have backfired on him, to which the he responds with a wooden sign (right after another item blows up in his face): "Good line of credit."
The company name was most likely chosen for its irony ("acme" means the highest point, as of achievement or development). Also, a company named "ACME" would have shown up in the first part of a telephone directory. Some people have said ACME comes from the common expansion "American Company Making Everything," an acronym for the word. The origin of the name might also be related to the ACME company that built a fine line of animation stands and optical printers; however, the most likely explanation is the Sears house brand called "ACME" that appeared in their ubiquitous early 1900s mail-order catalogs.
In one Road-Runner & Wile E. Coyote short, "Ajax" was used instead of ACME. In another short, the names "A-1" and "Ace" are used.
Laws & Rules
As in other cartoons, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote must follow the laws of cartoon physics. For example, The Road-Runner has the ability to enter the painted image of a cave, while the Wile E. Coyote cannot (unless there is an opening through which he can fall). Sometimes, however, this is reversed, and The Road Runner can burst through a painting of a broken bridge and continue on his way, while the Wile E. Coyote will instead enter the mirage painting and fall down the precipice of the cliff where the bridge is out. Sometimes Wile E. Coyote is allowed to hang in midair until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm (a process occasionally referred to elsewhere as "Road-Runnering", or a "Wile E. Coyote" moment). Wile E. Coyote can also overtake rocks (or cannons) which fall earlier than he does, and end up being squashed by them. If a chase sequence happens upon a cliff; The Road Runner is not affected by gravity, whereas Wile E. Coyote will unfortunately realize his error eventually and fall to the ground below. A chase sequence that happens upon railroad tracks will always result in Wile E. Coyote being hit by a train. If Wile E. Coyote uses an explosive (for instance, dynamite) that is triggered by a mechanism that is supposed to force the explosive in a forward motion toward its target, the actual mechanism itself will always shoot forward, leaving the explosive behind to detonate in Wile E. Coyote's face. Similarly, a complex apparatus that is supposed to propel an object like a boulder or steel ball forward, or trigger a trap, will not work on The Road Runner, but unfortunately, always will on Wile E. Coyote. For instance, The Road Runner can jump up and down on the trigger of a large animal trap and eat bird seed off from it, going completely unharmed and not setting off the trap; but when Wile E. Coyote places the tiniest droplet of oil on the trigger, the trap snaps shut on him without fail. At certain times, Wile E. Coyote may don an exquisite ACME costume or propulsion device that briefly allows him to catch up to The Road Runner. This will always result in him losing track of his proximity to large cliffs or walls, and The Road Runner will dart around an extremely sharp turn on a cliff, but Wile E. Coyote will rocket right over the edge and fall to the ground.
In his book Chuck Amuck: The Life & Times Of An Animated Cartoonist, Chuck Jones claimed that he and the animators behind the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons adhered to some simple but strict rules:
1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep."
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of ACME products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime — if he wasn't a fanatic.
4. No dialogue ever, except beeping and yowling in pain.
5. The Road Runner must stay on the road — for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner. This rule is broken in Beep, Beep, in a sequence where Wile E. Coyote chases the Road Runner into a cactus mine. This also occurs in Fastest with the Mostest, when Wile E. Coyote lures The Road Runner to the edge of a cliff.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert.
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from ACME. There were sometimes exceptions when the Coyote obtained other items from the desert such as boulders to use in his attempts.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy (e.g., falling off a cliff).
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
10. The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
11. The Coyote is not allowed to capture or eat the Road Runner. (The robot that the Coyote created in The Solid Tin Coyote caught the Road Runner so this does not break this rule. The Coyote does catch the Road Runner in Soup or Sonic but is too small to eat him. There is also two CGI shorts on The Looney Tunes Show were he caught the bird, but was not able to eat him because the Road Runner got away in both shorts.)
In an interview years after the series was made, screenwriter Michael Maltese said he had never heard of the "Rules."
The original Chuck Jones productions ended in 1963 after Jack Warner closed the Warner Bros. Animation studio. War and Pieces, the last Road Runner short directed by Chuck, was released in mid-1964. By that time, producer David H. DePatie and veteran director Friz Freleng, who had formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, moved into the facility just emptied by Warner, and signed a license with Warner Bros. to produce cartoons for the big studio to distribute.
Their first cartoon to feature the Road Runner was The Wild Chase, directed by Friz in 1965. The premise was a race between the bird and "the fastest mouse in all of Mexico," Speedy Gonzales, with the Coyote and Sylvester The Cat each trying to make a meal out of his usual target. Much of the material was animation rotoscoped from earlier Runner and Gonzales shorts, with the other characters added in.
In total, DePatie-Freleng produced 14 Road-Runner cartoons, two of which were directed by Robert McKimson (Rushing Roulette and Sugar and Spies). Due to cuts in the number of frames used per second in animated features, many of these final Road Runner features were cheap looking and jerky. Also, the music was very different and of poorer quality than the older features. That was disappointing to fans of the original shorts, and many felt it was the final death knell for animation.
The remaining eleven were subcontracted to Format Films and directed under ex-Warner Bros. animator Rudy Larriva. "The Larriva 11," as the series was later called, lacked the fast-paced action of the Chuck Jones originals and was poorly received by critics. In Of Mice & Magic, Leonard Maltin calls the series "witless in every sense of the word." In addition, except for the planet Earth scene at the tail end of Highway Runnery, there was only one clip of the Coyote's fall to the ground, used over and over again. These cartoons can easily be distinguished from Chuck Jones' cartoons, because they feature the modern "Abstract WB" Looney Tunes opening and closing sequences, and they use the same music cues over and over again in the cartoons, composed by William Lava. Only 1 of those 11 cartoons — Run, Run, Sweet Road Runner — had music that was actually scored instead of the same music cues. Another clear clue is that Chuck's previously described "Laws" for the characters were not followed with any significant fidelity, nor were there Latin phrases used when introducing the characters.
Wile E. Coyote & Bugs Bunny
Wile E. Coyote has also unsuccessfully attempted to capture and eat Bugs Bunny in another series of cartoons. In these cartoons, the coyote takes on the guise of a self-described "super genius" and speaks with a smooth, generic upper-class accent provided by Mel Blanc. While he is incredibly intelligent, he is limited by technology and his own short-sighted arrogance, and is thus often easily outsmarted, a somewhat physical symbolism of "street smarts" besting "book smarts."
In Hare-Breadth Hurry, Bugs Bunny — with the help of "speed pills" — even stands in for The Road-Runner, who has "sprained a giblet", and carries out the duties of outsmarting the hungry scavenger. This is the only Bugs Bunny/Wile E. Coyote short in which the coyote does not speak. As usual, Wile E. ends up falling down a canyon. In a later, direct-to-television short, which features a young Elmer Fudd chasing a young Bugs Bunny, Elmer also falls down a canyon. On the way down, he is overtaken by Wile E., who shows a sign telling Elmer to get out of the way for someone who is more experienced in falling.
In the 1962 pilot for a proposed Television series (but instead released as a theatrical short entitled "Adventures of the Road-Runner" — later edited and split into three short subjects called "To Beep or Not to Beep," "Zip Zip Hooray!," and "Road Runner a Go-Go"), Wile E. lectures two young T.V.-watching children about the edible parts of a roadrunner, attempting to explain his somewhat irrational obsession with catching it.
Chuck Jones' 1979 movie The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie features all of the director's characters, including Wile E. Coyote and The Road-Runner. However, whereas most of the featured cartoons are single cartoons or sometimes isolated clips, the footage of Wile E. Coyote and Road-Runner is taken from several different cartoons and compiled to run as one extended sequence.
Wile E. Coyote and The Road-Runner have cameo roles in Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit? during the final scene in Marvin Acme's factory with several other Looney Tunes characters. This is one of several anachronisms in the movie, which is set two years before Wile E. and The Road-Runner debuted.
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner appear as members of the Tune Squad team in Space Jam. There, Wile E. rigs one of the basketball hoops with dynamite to prevent Bupkus from scoring a slam dunk. And during practice before Lola Bunny shows up, Wile E. gets his hands on a basketball, but The Road-Runner steals the ball from him, and heads into a painted image. But Wile E. doesn't know it's a painted image, and he runs right into it.
Wile E. appears as an ACME employee in Looney Tunes: Back In Action. There, his role is similar to that of Mustafa from the Austin Powers movies.
Wile E. is an employee at Daffy Duck's store in the direct-to-video Christmas film Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas. He is seen staring hungrily at a vending machine but Daffy doesn't allow him to eat during work. The Road Runner also appeared as a delivery boy.
Wile E. Coyote makes a short appearance in What's New Scooby Doo? where he flies past the gang's van on a rocket heading after The Road-Runner. His looks are changed slightly (he has blue eyes and apparently no ears) in this scene, however, Road Runner's are the same.
In 2012, both Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner appeared in a GEICO commercial, in which the wandering gecko tries to make heads or tails of where he is. While he's doing so, he nearly gets crushed with a piano. Just after this happens, Road Runner runs up to him, says his trademark phrase, "Beep beep!" and goes on his way, leaving the gecko wondering what "beep beep" meant. Then, Wile E., chasing the Road Runner, runs up, sees the gecko and imagines him as his dinner, but while he's doing so, he gets driven into the ground by a falling ACME safe. The commercial ends with the gecko concluding, "What a strange place."
In another series of Looney Tunes cartoons, Chuck Jones used the character design (model sheets and personality) of Wile E. Coyote as "Ralph Wolf." In this series, Ralph continually attempts to steal sheep from a flock being guarded by the eternally vigilant Sam Sheepdog. Like Wile E., Ralph uses all sorts of wild inventions and schemes to steal the sheep, but he is continually foiled by Sam. In a move seen by many as a self-referential gag, Ralph continually tries to steal the sheep not because he is a fanatic (as Wile E. is), but because it is his job. In every cartoon, he and Sam punch a time-clock, exchange pleasantries, go to work, take a lunch break, and clock out to go home for the day, all according to a factory-like blowing whistle. The most prominent difference between the coyote and the wolf, aside from their locales, is that Wile E. has a black nose and Ralph has a red one.
Wile E. is called "Kelsey Coyote" in his comic book debut in Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies #91 (May 1949). He only made a couple of other appearances at this time. The first appearance of The Road-Runner in a comic book was in Bugs Bunny Vacation Funnies #8 (August 1958) published by Dell Comics. The feature is entitled "Beep-Beep The Road-Runner" and the story "Desert Dessert." It presents itself as the first meeting between The Road-Runner and Wile E. (whose mailbox reads, "Wile E. Coyote, Inventor and Genius"), and introduces The Road-Runner's wife, Matilda, and their three newly hatched sons. This story establishes the convention that the Road Runner family talks in rhyme in the comics.
Dell initially published a dedicated Beep-Beep The Road-Runner comic as part of 4 Color Comics #918, 1,008, and 1,046 before launching a separate series for the character numbered #4–14 (1960–1962), with the three try-out issues counted as the first three numbers. After a hiatus, Gold Key Comics took over the character with issues #1–88 (1966–1984). During the 1960s, the artwork was done by Pete Alvarado and Phil DeLara; from 1966–1969, the Gold Key issues consisted of Dell reprints. Afterward, new stories began to appear, initially drawn by Alvarado and De Lara before Jack Manning became the main artist for the title. New and reprinted Beep-Beep stories also appeared in Golden Comics Digest and Gold Key's revival of Looney Tunes in the 1970s. During this period, Wile E.'s middle name was revealed to be "Ethelbert" in the story The Greatest of E's in issue #53 (cover-date September 1975) of Gold Key Comics' licensed comic book, Beep-Beep The Road-Runner.
The Road Runner and Wile E. also make appearances in the D.C. Comics Looney Tunes title.
The Road-Runner and Wile E. appeared on Saturday mornings as the stars of their own TV series, The Road Runner Show, from September 1966 to September 1968, on CBS. At this time, it was merged with The Bugs Bunny Show to become The Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Show, running from 1968 to 1985. The show was later seen on ABC until 2000, and on Global until 2001.
In the 1970s, Chuck Jones directed some Road-Runner short films for the educational children's TV series The Electric Company. These short cartoons used the Coyote and the Road Runner to display words for children to read, but the cartoons themselves are a refreshing return to Chuck's glory days.
Freeze Frame, in which Jones moved the chase from the desert to snow covered mountains, was seen as part of Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales.
At the end of Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Bunny (the initial sequence of Chuck Jones' TV special, Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out All Over), Bugs mentions to the audience that he and Elmer may have been the first pair of characters to have chase scenes in these cartoons, but then a pint-sized baby Wile E. Coyote (wearing a diaper and holding a small knife and fork) runs right in front of Bugs, chasing a gold-colored, mostly unhatched (except for the tail, which is sticking out) Road Runner egg, which is running rapidly while some high-pitched "beep, beep" noises can be heard. This was followed by the full-fledged Runner/Coyote short, Soup or Sonic. Earlier in that story, while kid Elmer was falling from a cliff, Wile E. Coyote's adult self tells him to move over and let falling to people who know how to do it and then he falls, followed by Elmer.
In the 1980s, ABC began showing many Warner Bros. shorts, but in highly edited form, because the unedited versions were supposedly too violent. Many scenes integral to the stories were taken out, including scenes in which Wile E. Coyote lands at the bottom of the canyon after having fallen from a cliff, or has a boulder or anvil actually make contact with him. In almost all W.B. animated features, scenes where a character's face is burnt and black, resembling black-face, were removed, as were animated characters smoking cigarettes, or even simulated cigarettes. Some cigar-smoking scenes were left in. The unedited versions of these shorts (with the exception of ones with blackface) were not seen again until Cartoon Network, and later Boomerang, began showing them again in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since the release of the W.B. archive of cartoons on DVD, Boomerang has stopped showing the cartoons, presumably to increase sales of the DVDs.
Wile E. and The Road-Runner later appeared in several episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures. In this series, Wile E. (voiced by Joe Alaskey) is the dean of ACME Looniversity and the mentor of Calamity Coyote, while The Road-Runner serves as mentor to Little Beeper. In the episode Piece Of Mind, Wile E. narrates the life story of Calamity while he is falling from the top of a tall skyscraper. In the direct-to-video film How I Spent My Vacation, The Road-Runner finally gets a taste of humiliation by getting run over by a mail truck that "brakes for coyotes."
The two also make cameos in Animaniacs. They are together in 2 Slappy Squirrel cartoons: Bumbie's Mom and Little Old Slappy From Pasadena. In the latter, The Road-Runner gets another taste of humiliation when he is outrun by Slappy's car, and holds up a sign saying "I quit" — immediately afterward, Buttons, who has been launched into the air during a previous gag, lands squarely on top of him. Wile E. appears without the bird in a Wizard Of Oz parody, dressed in his bat-suit from a previous short, in a twister (tornado) funnel in Buttons in Ows.
In a Cartoon Network TV ad about The ACME Hour, Wile E. Coyote utilizes a pair of jet roller skates to catch The Road-Runner and (quite surprisingly) doesn't fail. While he is cooking his prey, it is revealed that the roller-skates came from a generic brand. The ad said that other brand isn't the same thing.
Wile E. and Road-Runner appear in their toddler versions in Baby Looney Tunes, only in songs. However, they both had made a cameo in the episode, Are We There Yet?, where Road Runner was seen out the window of Floyd's car with Wile E. chasing him.
In Loonatics Unleashed, Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner's 28th century descendants are Tech E. Coyote and Rev Runner. Tech E. Coyote is the tech expert of the Loonatics (inspired by the past cartoons with many of the machines ordered by Wile E. from ACME), and has magnetic hands and the ability to molecularly regenerate himself (inspires by the many times in which Wile E. painfully failed to capture The Road-Runner). Tech E. Coyote speaks, but does not have a British accent as Wile E. Coyote does. Rev Runner is also able to talk, a;though extremely rapidly, and can fly without the use of jet packs, which are used by other members of the Loonatics. He also has super speed, also a take off of Roadrunner. Ironically, the pair get on rather well, despite the number of gadgets Tech designs in order to stop Rev talking. Also they have their moments where they don't get along. When friendship is shown it is often only from Rev to Tech, not the other way around; this could however be attributed to the fact that Tech has only the bare minimum of social skills. They are both depicted as being smart, but Tech is the better inventor and at times Rev is shown doing stupid things. References to ancestor's past are seen in the episode Family Business where the other Runners are wary of Tech and Tech relives the famous falling gags done in Coyote/Runner shorts.
In Popular Culture
In the Cartoon Network TV series Class Of 3000, Wile E. Coyote is seen constantly in one episode, using rocket shoes and howling like a real life coyote. His Latin name is "Jokis Callbackus."
In 2009, a group of EMRTC engineers attempt to re-create Wile E. Coyote's failed contraptions on a TruTV series Man Vs. Cartoon.
In the What's New, Scooby-Doo? episode New Mexico, Old Monster Scooby sees both Road-Runner and Wile E. within their usual desert speed chase out the window of the Mystery Machine. After the usual failure by Wile E., it left Scooby to be saying "beep-beep."
In the Total Drama Island episode Wawkanakwa Gone Wild the duck Gwen parodies Road-Runner, such as the running and the tongue sticking.
Road-Runner appears in an episode of the 1990 series Taz-Mania in which Taz grabs him by the leg and gets ready to eat him until the 2 gators are ready to capture Taz so he lets Road Runner go.
Road Runner and Wile E. are featured in computer-animated segments in the animated sitcom The Looney Tunes Show. They were only included in the 1st season, but the duo still appear throughout the series in 2D animation.
The characters have appeared in 7 3-D shorts. Three have been screened with features, while the rest serve as segments of the first season of The Looney Tunes Show.