It wasn't fair that Rudy Larriva's very name would become a joke among animation fans, but that's what happened. Larriva, who passed away last week at the age of 94, had the misfortune to direct a series of Road Runner cartoons sub-contracted by Warner Bros. for theatrical release in the sixties. These are a far cry from Chuck Jones' original creations; these were low-rent time-killers, rightly regarded as some of the worst dreck ever distributed to theaters.
Larriva did absolutely nothing to distinguish these efforts, but really, how could he? The scripts were terrible, the budgets non-existent; there was no time, money or talent to emulate Jones' exquisite timing and characterization. Besides, it's not like Larriva was alone in turning out this crap. At the same time, Warners released a series of Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales cartoons directed by WB veteran Robert McKimson. No one uses this series as representative of McKimson's work, mostly because he'd done better things once. But then again, so had Larriva.
He started in the business as an animator for Jones himself, toiling away on several Sniffles The Mouse outings as well as the proto-Bugs Bunny entry Elmer's Pet Rabbit. He jumped ship to Disney, where he would be one of the army of animators credited on Song Of The South, the animated sequences of which remain some of the finest things the studio ever did.
His time there was short, but he was fortunate to find himself at the storied United Productions Of America, where he landed an animating gig on their first theatrical shorts, Robin Hoodlum and The Magic Fluke, both directed by the great John Hubley. Larriva served as an animator on Hubley's Ragtime Bear, the first Mr. Magoo cartoon, and would become a mainstay at the studio for several years, earning his first directing credits on later (and sadly, far less distinguished) Magoo cartoons.
This, then, was a fine career. Larriva had worked with some of the best, and they had relied on his solid professionalism. He wasn't a great animator, in the Ken Harris/Bill Tytla/Frank Thomas sense, but he could get the job done, and many great directors obviously respected him. How many people could say they worked with Chuck Jones and John Hubley? Rudy Larriva could!
So, as far as those Road Runner cartoons go, yeah, they're every bit as bad as their reputation. But work was hard to find for old studio hands in the sixties, when even Disney laid off many of its second-stringers. Larriva did the best he could under incredibly dire circumstances. And in any event, far worse was yet to come: In the seventies and eighties, he'd find himself employed by the likes of Filmation, Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears, helping to crank out the likes of The New Adventures Of Gilligan, The Scooby And Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour, Rubik The Amazing Cube and It's Punky Brewster. Nothing to be proud of, artistically, but at least he kept working in the medium to which he'd devoted his life.
Of course he did. Rudy Larriva was, above all, a professional.