the Chocolate Moose

Too-loose the Chocolate Moose didn't start out as a book, or a story, or even as a character. "People told me 'that's a great character' when the poster came out," Stewart Moskowitz recalls, "and I  told them it's not a character, it's a painting". The painting was simply titled Chocolate Moose, and in the wake of its very popular poster released in 1981 (Dr. Suess requested a signed copy) the unnamed moose was swept into a four-book deal with Simon & Schuster.

Each book featured a Moskowitz painting on the cover, four of the artist's most popular works. And in each volume a story was constructed around the cover art, with three of the four stories written and drawn by Stewart, though he had no previously published work. The illustrations were completed and inked by the art staff at Chewie Newgett, the licensing and production company that had been started in 1977 by Moskowitz, brothers Paul and Steve Shiffman, and Bob Gillespe to work exclusively with Moskowitz artwork.

Cover of Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose, 30th Anniversary Edition

The book is now available in softcover and on the iBookstore. You can also see a few Too-loose items such as T-shirts and a poster.

Available in softcover on Amazon or choose the digital version

on the iBookstore 

Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose, A Patchwork Fish Tale, The American Rabbit, and Fred's Pyramid

Left: an early Moskowitz moose from 1977. Right:  The first four Moskowitz books (he did not write Fred's Pyramid). The American Rabbitâ„¢  had his own movie later, with Too-loose in a supporting role.

Two illustrations of Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose (these were not drawn by Stewart Moskowitz)

The baby Too-loose appeared with his "father" in some productions not drawn by Stewart. Left: a page from a Moskowitz coloring book published by Golden in 1984. Right: A Roy Wilson illustration from The Case of the Missing Moose, 1986.

Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose as he appeared in The Adventures of The American Rabbit

In The Adventures of the American Rabbit, Too-loose and son are rescued by the gorilla Ping Pong. Eight minutes later he has to rescue them again.

When he finished the story and Too-loose had a name, Stewart began work on the book illustrations. The original painting, like all of his paintings, had been the result of hundreds of sketches, and a similar flurry of work went into the book design. In the process, Too-loose took to walking upright, unlike the cover image, and his proportions changed. His eyes are the most obvious change. Too-loose became cuter, with a somewhat younger appearance and an impish, carefree grin.

At this point he had definitely become a character, and after the book was published, Too-loose plush toys were marketed by Dakin.

Two stuffed toys by Dakin of Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose

Two Too-looses made by Dakin. The larger one was first in 1983, the smaller one is from 1984.

Too-loose appeared in the 1985 movie The Adventures of the American Rabbit alongside a cast of Moskowitz creations. The baby version of Too-loose had been refined and re-proportioned in that time, and he appears in the movie contemporaneously with the older Too-loose as his father. Though Stewart himself intended the young and older versions to be the same moose, they also appeared together in a book released shortly after the movie, The American Rabbit in the Case of the Missing Moose. Neither this book or the movie was written by Stewart. The Case of the Missing Moose was produced without his supervision, while his involvement in the feature film was mostly limited to designing the characters' model sheets.

In the movie, neither moose is dripping or leaving chocolate footprints. They are simply driving a truck loaded with chocolate, though it is eventually stated that they are themselves made of chocolate. In The Missing Moose book, the elder moose drips chocolate and junior does not, and the difficulty of dealing with solid chocolate characters is evident, especially when they're continuously dripping. Such highly fanciful material is difficult to script, and the inclusion of villains (in both productions they are kidnappers obsessed with chocolate) pushed both of these stories outside of what might be called a true Moskowitz universe. The villainous bird and alligator in Missing Moose were designed by Stewart but never intended to be evildoers. The movie's cast was designed by Stewart, but the villains were drawn reluctantly. "I didn't enjoy drawing mean characters," he recalls. "It's just not what I do. I did have some limited influence on the script; at one point they were going to have The American Rabbit flying up into the sky with one of the bad guys and threatening to drop him, and I said that can't be in there. And they didn't do it."

Children's books written by Stewart have consistently gentle and unthreatening stories, and it is generally evident from the first page that nothing frightening is going to happen. Writers adapting his work to film have naturally had difficulty capturing that spirit in a storytelling medium that requires conflict, and cartoon conflict is often adversarial. Especially with a superhero rabbit in the leading role, a villain is almost inevitable. And the chocolate characters were apparently so vexing for the writers that casting them as victims may have seemed like the only practical solution. If the chocolate characters mix freely with the rest of the cast, we must be constantly distracted from their unlikely existence, since they are a level beyond talking animals, even superhero animals.

In the end, the best appearance of Too-loose is not hard to spot: the original book, written by a never-published author, who had also never illustrated a book other than The Legend of The American Rabbit, which was completed first.

Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose, a favorite among fans, is finally being reissued after thirty long years, with careful attention to detail as each illustration was re-rendered in clean vector lines for digital publication. The book is largely unaltered, but there are some small text changes (horns was replaced with antlers, and the word formidably was removed since it's a too-big word and wasn't really used correctly). The face of the baby moose has been matched to the newer design in the two pages where he appears, and many small flaws in the images were corrected.

As a perfectionist that drew hundreds of sketches and many paintings as he worked out the perfect Too-loose (young and old) these refinements are very satisfying for Stewart. One final touch is an explosion of color on the last page that he added to underscore Too-loose's epiphany.

See Too-loose merchandise

Too Loose the Chocolate Moose ceramic figure and model sheet
A variation on Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose, drawn by Stewart Moskowitz

Above left: a redesigned baby moose with a shorter snout was painted soon after the book was completed. Above center: a ceramic figure modeled closely on the painting. Above Right: a drawing from an early model sheet. Left: a sketch on canvas made many years after the books and movie.