Mel Brooks himself is something of a living cartoon, full of boundless energy and a capacity to snatch humor from the jaws of defeat in nearly every situation. To see him at his manic best is to watch Wile E. Coyote running on air before he looks down. Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that Brooks’ first major Academy Award was given to him for an animated short, The Critic.
Allegedly based on a real incident in which Brooks sat behind a grouchy old Jewish man mumbling his dissatisfaction through an abstract animated art flick, Animator Ernest Pintoff with charged creating something equally esoteric without sharing any advance warning of the plot or imagery with Mel, to ensure that the dialogue was 100% improvised during the recording process.
The result is three-and-a-half minutes of Brooks griping, grouching and kvetching his way through the mitosis and mitosis of the colorful shapes before him.
The Critic remains one of the most subversively insightful takes on film criticism, and audience expectations. It gave (an eastern-Eurpoean) voice to those who pay good money to see a movie, only to realize (too late!) that it’s…well.. lousy. It’s easy to see MST3k’s robots as exploring the space for audience heckling carved by The Critic over half-a-decade earlier.
Ironically (or not) critics themselves rallied behind Brooks’ animated outing, awarding it the 1964 Academy Award for “Best Animated Short.” Brooks would go on to win a second Oscar for writing The Producers, as well as two Emmys, three Tonys and three Grammies, making him just one of twelve people to have run the EGOT table.