Road Runner debuted with his frequent adversary Wile E. Coyote in 1949's "Fast and Furry-ous". To date, 48 cartoons have been made featuring these characters (including the computer-animated shorts), most of which were directed by Chuck Jones. In each cartoon, Wile E. Coyote 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, rather than his natural guile, but fails every time.
Road Runner speaks only with a signature "beep beep" (sometimes misheard as "meep-meep") noise (provided by Paul Julian) and an occasional "popping-cork" tongue noise.
The desert scenery in the first two Road Runner 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 Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z", 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". "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 Road Runner taking a turn that leads the chase into mountains and across a wintry landscape of ice and snow.
Laws & Rules
As in other cartoons, 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." This rule was broken in "Clippety Clobbered", "Chaser on the Rocks", "Tired and Feathered", "Sugar and Spies", and in several CGI shorts of The Looney Tunes Show.
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. This rule was broken at the end of "Ready, Set, Zoom!" when a pack of hungry coyotes go after Wile E. in the female roadrunner suit.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime — if he wasn't a fanatic.
4. No dialogue ever, except beeping and yowling in pain. Through this rule, the only way either the Coyote or Road Runner communicate to each other or the audience is by holding up picket signs. This rule was broken in "Zoom at the Top" where Wile E. says "ouch".
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. Another occurrence was in "Freeze Frame", where Wile E. lures the Road Runner to a snowy mountaintop, where most of the short takes place.
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. Other product brands have also been used by Wile E., such as in "Fast and Furry-ous" where he uses "Fleet-Foot" brand super-powered running shoes, and in "Rushing Roulette", where he uses "Ajax" brand glue.
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 allowed to catch the Road Runner but is not allowed to eat him. For instance, Wile E. Coyote does catch the Road Runner in "Soup or Sonic", but is too small to eat him. There were also two CGI shorts on The Looney Tunes Show, where he caught the bird, but was not able to eat him because the Road Runner got away in both shorts.
In a 1971 interview with Michael Barrier 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 Road Runner was "The Wild Chase", directed by Friz Freleng 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 each trying to make a meal out of his usual target. Much of the material was animation rotoscoped from earlier Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales shorts, with the other characters added in.
In total, DePatie-Freleng produced fourteen 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 (a by-product of composer William Lava, who replaced the late Milt Franklyn and the retired Carl Stalling, and his music style different from his two predecessors).
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 of the following features:
- They feature the modern "Abstract WB" Looney Tunes opening and closing sequences.
- They use the same music cues over and over again in the cartoons, composed by William Lava. Only one of those eleven 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 (most notably when Road Runner maliciously harms the Coyote without going "Beep, Beep!" in cartoons such as "Tired and Feathered" and "Clippety Clobbered", nor were there Latin phrases used when introducing the characters.
- The animation quality is noticeably more simplistic than that of the Road Runner cartoons by Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson from the same period (almost on par to television cartoons of the time), with extensive use of recycled animation in numerous shorts such as the Road Runner emerging into the scene, Coyote chasing the Road Runner in a slower pace, Coyote falling scenes, and explosions.
- While these cartoons often utilize the new idea of a linear gag instead of blackout interchanging gags (examples being "Just Plane Beep" and "The Solid Tin Coyote"), because of the generally longer length of these gags, each of these cartoons have much fewer gags than the Chuck Jones originals; while Jones' (and even McKimson's) tend to utilize seven to twelve gags, Larriva's cartoons can have as many as six total gags and as few as three ("Run, Run, Sweet Road Runner" and "Tired and Feathered" both only use three gags).
- Another clear clue is that Chuck Jones' cartoons do give Wile E. a reason to chase the Road Runner, which is to catch and eat the Road Runner to satisfy his unending hunger, however these cartoons barely ever give Wile E. a reason to chase the Road Runner other than to bring slapstick to the audience, as Wile E. only starts chasing the Road Runner once it goes past him.
- Main article: Latin Names
In the 1962 pilot for a proposed television series, 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 "Roadrunner 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, firstly in silhouette form as the elevator goes up, and later 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. Coyote makes a short appearance in What's New Scooby Doo? where he flies past the gang's van on a rocket heading after 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 crushed by a falling ACME safe. The commercial ends with the gecko concluding, "What a strange place."
The first appearance of Road Runner in a comic book was in the story "Desert Dessert" in Bugs Bunny Vacation Funnies #8 (August 1958) published by Dell Comics. It presents itself as the first meeting between Road Runner, here named Beep Beep, and Wile E. (whose mailbox reads, "Wile E. Coyote, Inventor and Genius"), and introduces Road Runner's wife, Matilda, and their three newly hatched sons, who are never named. In this story, the Coyote at one point steals eggs to eat. It is later revealed that these Eggs belong to Beep Beep and his Wife. Beep Beep promises to get the eggs back. He was able to save his kids as they hatched, walking around still in their shells. At the end of the story, the whole family is seen running together (much to the Coyote's anger) with the kids fully hatched from their eggshells. This story establishes the convention that each member of the Road Runner family talks in rhyme in the comics. Matilda was soon phased out, but the kids remained.
Dell initially published a dedicated Beep-Beep The Road-Runner comic as part of Four 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.
Road Runner and Wile E. also make appearances in the DC Comics Looney Tunes title, though Matilda and her sons have not. These comics appearances are more similar to their cartoon shorts. Wile E., however, did speak in a few of these stories like he did when he appeared with Bugs.
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-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. These shorts were also different than the Looney Tunes shorts such as the Coyote suffered no physical violence since these shorts are geared towards a much younger target audience.
"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 and 1990s, ABC began showing many Warner Bros. cartoon 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 blackface, 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 and other racial stereotypes) were not seen again until Cartoon Network, and later Boomerang, began showing them again in the late-1990s, early-2000s, 2009, 2010, and from 2011-2016. Since the release of the W.B. archive of cartoons on DVD, Boomerang has stopped showing the cartoons in 2007, presumably to increase sales of the DVDs. Boomerang, however, began re-airing the shorts since 2013.
Wile E. and 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 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, Road-Runner finally gets a taste of humiliation by getting run over by a mail truck that "brakes for coyotes."
Road Runner appears in the Taz-Mania episode "Instant Replay", in which Taz grabs the bird by the leg and gets ready to eat him until Bull Gator and Axl Gator are ready to capture Taz so he lets Road Runner go.
The two also make cameos in Animaniacs. They are together in two 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 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 Road Runner'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, although extremely rapidly, and can fly without the use of jetpacks, which are used by other members of the Loonatics. He also has super speed, also a take off of Roadrunner. Ironically, the pair gets 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.
Road Runner and Wile E. are featured in computer-animated segments in the animated sitcom The Looney Tunes Show. These shorts were only included in the 1st season, but the duo still appeared throughout the series in 2D animation. Wile E. made cameo appearances in 2D format in only two episodes in Season 1; "Jailbird and Jailbunny" (only in the Merrie Melodies "Blow My Stack") and "Point, Laser Point". While in Season 2, the duo appears in the episodes "Rebel Without a Glove" and "Here Comes the Pig".
In Popular Culture
- 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 "Wawanakwa Gone Wild!", the duck Gwen parodies Road Runner, such as the running and the tongue sticking.
- The Steven Universe episode "Kindergarten Kid" pays homage to the character and Wile E with Peridot trying to chase down a creature known as the Tongue Monster.
- A Yu-Gi-Oh! Card is loosely based on this character in terms of name and design called "Sonic Chick".
- Main article: List of Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner cartoons
- Main article: Road Runner/Gallery
- Jones, Chuck. Chuck Amuck: The Life & Times of an Animated Cartoonist, pg. 225
- Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, pg. 496
- Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice & Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, pg. 276