Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner are fictional characters from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series.
In a series of animated short films, the fleet-footed Road Runner races along the highways of the American Southwest, his legs and feet moving so fast that they form a wheel-like blur, with Wile E. Coyote in hot pursuit.
In each episode, the coyote sets an elaborate trap for the bird, usually with the aid of some product—such as a giant rubber band or a “portable outboard steamroller”—ordered from the fictitious Acme company. The scheme always backfires as a result of either the products’ chronic unreliability or Coyote’s own ineptitude. Road Runner, never captured or damaged, responds with a characteristic “Beep! Beep!” (his only communication) and runs off.
Animator Chuck Jones introduced the comedic pair in the 1949 short film Fast and Furry-ous, produced by Warner Bros. for its Looney Tunes cartoon series.
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, to try to catch his prey, rather than his natural guile, Wile E. Coyote utilizes elaborate plans and absurdly complex gadgets, often from ACME, but he 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, in these solo outings he speaks with a refined, ego-maniacal, almost English-sounding accent provided by Mel Blanc.
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 and Furry-ous” identify him as “Don Coyote,” a pun on Don Quixote.
The Road Runner’s “beep, beep sound” was inspired by background artist Paul Julian’s imitation of a car horn. Julian voiced the various recordings of the phrase used throughout the Road Runner cartoons, although on-screen he was uncredited for his work. According to animation historian Michael Barrier, Julian’s preferred spelling of the sound effect was either “hmeep hmeep” or “mweep, mweep”.
The desert scenery in the first three Road Runner cartoons, Fast and Furry-ous (1949), Beep, Beep (1952), and Going! Going! Gosh! (also 1952), was designed by Robert Gribbroek and was quite realistic. In most later cartoons, the scenery was designed by Maurice Noble and was far more abstract.
As explained by Jones in his autobiography, the success of the Road Runner shorts was rooted in their adherence to a set of rules, among them that the audience should retain equal sympathy for both the hapless coyote and his speedy prey and that Road Runner would humiliate, but never harm, the coyote.
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner have been frequently referenced in popular culture.
There are two scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining where Danny Torrance and his mother, Wendy Torrance, are watching the cartoons.
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner appeared in the 1988 Touchstone/Amblin film Who Framed Roger Rabbit – they are seen silhouetted by the elevator doors, and in full in the final scene with other characters.
Wile E. Coyote has appeared twice in Family Guy: his first episode, “I Never Met the Dead Man”, depicts him riding in a car with Peter Griffin – when Peter runs over the Road Runner and asks if he hit “that ostrich”, Wile E. tells him to keep going. His second appearance was in “PTV”, in which Wile E. attempts to get a refund for a giant-sized slingshot at an ACME retailer where Peter works.
TV Guide included Wile E. Coyote in its 2013 list of “The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time”.
The Coyote and the Road Runner were in a number of video games on Atari, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the PlayStation.