How Chuck Jones Animated the Mongoose in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
Original production cel from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on its key matching background.
© CJE. All rights reserved. Image courtesy Chuck Jones Museum.

When legendary animator Chuck Jones decided to make a short film out of Rudyard Kipling’s story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” he was faced with a challenge: How could he imbue the cobra-killing mongoose with a sense of personality and make it relatable, all without taking away from the fact that it was an animal?

Character concept sketches by Chuck Jones for Rikki Tikki Tavi showing the transition between what an actual mongoose looks like and what it might look like when it's animated. Image Credit: Chuck Jones Museum

“[His] first concern was always believability,” Robert Patrick of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity tells Mental Floss. “That informed all of his stylistic decisions.” So when creating the titular character, Jones decided to draw from real mongoose behavior: namely, how quickly they move (you can watch one mongoose evade a cobra strike here). He did some research—“there is at least one book on the mongoose in his library,” Patrick says—and came up with a method that Hugh Kenner describes in Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings as “an art based on the post-retinal image. You see a blur without feeling sure what you saw.”

Jones's note reads, in part, "When Rikki enters the scene let him fill an imaginary Rikki..."Image courtesy Chuck Jones Museum

Jones drew up a model sheet that described how the mongoose should enter the frame. “When Rikki enters the scene, let him fill an imaginary Rikki until his nose reaches the proper point,” he wrote. “[T]hen the rest expands and the last movement is when his whiskers pop out and vibrate.” He also noted how the mongoose should leave: “When Rikki leaves the scene, follow the angle of his pose. Hold tail until head is well out—the snap tail along path and out.” You can see it in action in the clip below:

According to Kenner, Jones described this method in 1977 as akin to a number of cars stopped at a light: “When the light changes, the 15 cars won’t move off en bloc,” Kenner writers. “No, car 1 must move ahead several feet before car 2 can even start moving, likewise car 3, car 4 … so the string lengthens as it gets into motion.” (He also used this analogy to describe how Wile E. Coyote fell.) This take on the character's movement made it one of the most fondly remembered things about the film.

Model drawing by Chuck Jones for Rikki. Image courtesy of Chuck Jones Museum

Jones wasn’t just concerned with Rikki’s movement; he also paid close attention to the character’s face, which was key in making the character relatable to humans. “Keep ears pointing forward so leading edge shows,” he wrote on the model sketch, dated May 21, 1974. “All parts of face move up and away from center. Flatten top of nose in front view—it works better. OK, it isn’t logical—it still works better.” He also asked for a “heavier line” in certain areas to “accent perkiness.”

Aerial view of the garden in Rikki Tikki Tavi, original background layout drawing.Image courtesy Chuck Jones Museum

Aerial view of a corner of the house in Rikki Tikki Tavi, original background layout drawing.Image courtesy Chuck Jones Museum

Production on Rikki-Tikki-Tavi began in late 1973 or early 1974, according to Patrick. “Chuck was an inveterate reader, and a huge fan of Rudyard Kipling,” he says. “I'm sure Kipling's Jungle Book stories was inspiring and a favorite of his; it appears on his essential reading list of books that every literate, English-speaking person should read at least once in their life.”

Original title card used in production of Rikki Tikki Tavi. Image courtesy of Chuck Jones Museum

The 25-minute TV special aired in 1975 and featured the vocal talents of June Foray (Mulan, Looney Toons) as Nagaina the Cobra, Wife of Nag, Teddy's Mother, and Darzee the Tailorbird’s Wife; Les Tremayne (Adventures of the Gummi Bears) as Father; Michael LeClair as Teddy; Lennie Weinrib (Voltron) as Darzee the Tailorbird; and Shepard Menken (The Phantom Tollbooth) as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, with Orson Welles performing the voices of Nag the Cobra and Chuchundra the muskrat. The actor also provided the film’s narration; hopefully it went a little more smoothly than the time he recorded voiceover for that frozen peas commercial.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.