Tuesday July 27, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Bugs Bunny
On this Day:
In 1940, Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros. cartoon character created by Tex Avery, Bob Givens (Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series), first debuted in “Wild Hare”.
Bugs Bunny is an animated cartoon character, created in the late 1930s by Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons) and voiced originally by Mel Blanc. Bugs is best known for his starring roles in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short films, produced by Warner Bros. Though a similar character first appeared in the WB cartoon Porky’s Hare Hunt (1938) and a few subsequent shorts, the definitive characterization of Bugs Bunny is widely credited to have debuted in director Tex Avery’s Oscar-nominated film A Wild Hare (1940).
Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray and white rabbit or hare who is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality. He is also characterized by a Brooklyn accent, his portrayal as a trickster, and his catch phrase “Eh…What’s up, doc?”. Due to Bugs’ popularity during the golden age of American animation, he became not only an American cultural icon and the official mascot of Warner Bros. Entertainment, but also one of the most recognizable characters in the world. He can thus be seen in the older Warner Bros. company logos.
Bugs starred in more than 160 cartoon shorts produced between 1940 and 1964. He has since appeared in feature films, compilation films, TV series, music records, comics, video games, award shows, amusement park rides, and commercials. He has also appeared in more films than any other cartoon character, is the 9th most-portrayed film personality in the world, and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Bugs Bunny is characterized as being clever and capable of outsmarting almost anyone who antagonizes him, including Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, Gossamer, Witch Hazel, Rocky and Mugsy, The Crusher, Beaky Buzzard, Willoughby, Count Bloodcount, Daffy Duck and a host of others. The only one to consistently beat Bugs is Cecil Turtle, who defeats Bugs in three consecutive shorts based on the premise of the Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare. In a rare villain turn, Bugs turns to a life of crime in 1949’s Rebel Rabbit, taking on the entire United States government by vandalizing monuments in an effort to prove he is worth more than the two-cent bounty on his head; while he succeeds in raising the bounty to $1,000,000, the full force of the military ends up capturing Bugs and sending him to Alcatraz.
Bugs almost always wins these conflicts, a plot pattern which recurs in Looney Tunes films directed by Chuck Jones. Concerned that viewers would lose sympathy for an aggressive protagonist who always won, Jones arranged for Bugs to be bullied, cheated, or threatened by the antagonists while minding his own business, justifying his subsequent antics as retaliation or self-defense. He’s also been known to break the fourth wall by “communicating” with the audience, either by explaining the situation (e.g. “Be with you in a minute, folks!”), describing someone to the audience (e.g. “Feisty, ain’t they?”), clueing in on the story (e.g. “That happens to him all during the picture, folks.”), explaining that one of his antagonists’ actions have pushed him to the breaking point (“Of course you realize, this means war.” – a line borrowed from Groucho Marx in Duck Soup and used again in the next Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera (1935) ), admitting his own deviousness toward his antagonists (“Ain’t I a stinker?” – a line borrowed from Lou Costello), etc. This style was used and established by Tex Avery.
Bugs usually tries to placate his antagonist and avoid conflict but, when an antagonist pushes him too far, Bugs may address the audience and invoke his catchphrase “Of course you realize this means war!” before he retaliates in a devastating manner. As mentioned earlier, this line was taken from Groucho Marx. Bugs paid homage to Groucho in other ways, such as occasionally adopting his stooped walk or leering eyebrow-raising (in Hair-Raising Hare, for example) or sometimes with a direct impersonation (as in Slick Hare). Other directors, such as Friz Freleng, characterized Bugs as altruistic. When Bugs meets other successful characters (such as Cecil Turtle in Tortoise Beats Hare, or the Gremlin in Falling Hare), his overconfidence becomes a disadvantage.
Bugs’ nonchalant carrot-chewing standing position, as explained by Freleng, Jones and Bob Clampett, originated in a scene from the film It Happened One Night (1934), in which Clark Gable’s character Peter Warne leans against a fence, eating carrots rapidly and talking with his mouth full to Claudette Colbert’s character. This scene was well known while the film was popular, and viewers at the time likely recognized Bugs Bunny’s behavior as satire. Coincidentally, the film also features a minor character, Oscar Shapely, who addresses Peter Warne as “Doc”, and Warne mentions an imaginary person named “Bugs Dooley” to frighten Shapely.
“‘What’s up Doc?’ is a very simple thing. It’s only funny because it’s in a situation. It was an all Bugs Bunny line. It wasn’t funny. If you put it in human terms; you come home late one night from work, you walk up to the gate in the yard, you walk through the gate and up into the front room, the door is partly open and there’s some guy shooting under your living room. So what do you do? You run if you have any sense, the least you can do is call the cops. But what if you come up and tap him on the shoulder and look over and say ‘What’s up Doc?’ You’re interested in what he’s doing. That’s ridiculous. That’s not what you say at a time like that. So that’s why it’s funny, I think. In other words it’s asking a perfectly legitimate question in a perfectly illogical situation.”
—Chuck Jones on Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase “What’s up Doc?”
The carrot-chewing scenes are generally followed by Bugs’ most well-known catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?”, which was written by director Tex Avery for his first Bugs Bunny film, A Wild Hare (1940). Avery explained later that it was a common expression in his native Texas and that he did not think much of the phrase. When the cartoon was first screened in theaters, the “What’s up, Doc?” scene generated a tremendously positive audience reaction. As a result, the scene became a recurring element in subsequent cartoons. The phrase was sometimes modified for a situation. For example, Bugs says “What’s up, dogs?” to the antagonists in A Hare Grows in Manhattan, “What’s up, Duke?” to the knight in Knight-mare Hare, and “What’s up, prune-face?” to the aged Elmer in The Old Grey Hare. He might also greet Daffy with “What’s up, Duck?” He used one variation, “What’s all the hub-bub, bub?” only once, in Falling Hare. Another variation is used in Looney Tunes: Back in Action when he greets a blaster-wielding Marvin the Martian saying “What’s up, Darth?”
Several Chuck Jones films in the late 1940s and 1950s depict Bugs travelling via cross-country (and, in some cases, intercontinental) tunnel-digging, ending up in places as varied as Barcelona, Spain (Bully for Bugs), the Himalayas (The Abominable Snow Rabbit), and Antarctica (Frigid Hare) all because he “knew (he) shoulda taken that left toin at Albukoikee.” He first utters that phrase in Herr Meets Hare (1945), when he emerges in the Black Forest, a cartoon seldom seen today due to its blatantly topical subject matter. When Hermann Göring says to Bugs, “There is no Las Vegas in ‘Chermany'” and takes a potshot at Bugs, Bugs dives into his hole and says, “Joimany! Yipe!”, as Bugs realizes he is behind enemy lines. The confused response to his “left toin” comment also followed a pattern. For example, when he tunnels into Scotland in My Bunny Lies over the Sea (1948), while thinking he is heading for the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, it provides another chance for an ethnic joke: “Therrre arrre no La Brrrea Tarrr Pits in Scotland!” (to which Bugs responds, “Scotland!? Eh…what’s up, Mac-doc?”). A couple of late-1950s/early-1960s cartoons of this ilk also featured Daffy Duck travelling with Bugs (“Hey, wait a minute! Since when is Pismo Beach inside a cave?”).
Like Mickey Mouse for Disney, Bugs Bunny has served as the mascot for Warner Bros. and its various divisions. According to Guinness World Records, Bugs has appeared in more films (both short and feature-length) than any other cartoon character, and is the ninth most portrayed film personality in the world. On December 10, 1985, Bugs became the second cartoon character (after Mickey) to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He also has been a pitchman for companies including Kool-Aid and Nike. His Nike commercials with Michael Jordan as “Hare Jordan” for the Air Jordan VII and VIII became precursors to Space Jam. As a result, he has spent time as an honorary member of Jordan Brand, including having Jordan’s Jumpman logo done in his image. In 2015, as part of the 30th anniversary of Jordan Brand, Nike released a mid-top Bugs Bunny version of the Air Jordan I, named the “Air Jordan Mid 1 Hare”, along with a women’s equivalent inspired by Lola Bunny called the “Air Jordan Mid 1 Lola”, along with a commercial featuring Bugs and Ahmad Rashad.
In 2002, TV Guide compiled a list of the 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time as part of the magazine’s 50th anniversary. Bugs Bunny was given the honor of number 1. In a CNN broadcast on July 31, 2002, a TV Guide editor talked about the group that created the list. The editor also explained why Bugs pulled top billing: “His stock…has never gone down…Bugs is the best example…of the smart-aleck American comic. He not only is a great cartoon character, he’s a great comedian. He was written well. He was drawn beautifully. He has thrilled and made many generations laugh. He is tops.” Some have noted that comedian Eric Andre is the nearest contemporary comedic equivalent to Bugs. They attribute this to, “their ability to constantly flip the script on their unwitting counterparts.” (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What did Bugs Bunny say when the doctor asked him how he wanted to be contacted with his test results? “WhatsApp, Doc”
Second, a Song:
The Rabbit of Seville is a Warner Bros. Looney Tunes theatrical cartoon short released on December 16, 1950. It was directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese, and features Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
In a plotline reminiscent of Stage Door Cartoon, Rabbit of Seville features Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd into the stage door of the Hollywood Bowl, whereupon Bugs tricks Elmer into going onstage, and participating in a break-neck operatic production of their chase punctuated with gags and accompanied by musical arrangements by Carl Stalling, focusing on Rossini’s overture to the 1816 play The Barber of Seville.
In Stalling’s arrangement, the overture’s basic structure is kept relatively intact; some repeated passages are removed and the overall piece is conducted at a faster tempo to accommodate the cartoon’s standard running length. In a short sequence where Bugs’ scalp massage follows a piano solo, the character’s hands are shown with five fingers, instead of his usual four, so the character can believably follow the tune. In 1994 it was voted No. 12 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.
The “Barber of Seville” poster that appears at the start of the film features three names: Eduardo Selzeri, Michele Maltese, and Carlo Jonzi, which are Italianized versions of the names of the producer (Edward Selzer), writer (Michael Maltese), and director (Chuck Jones) of the film.
Animation historian Greg Ford writes, “Chuck Jones’ two most beloved operatic extravaganzas starring Bugs Bunny, What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) and Rabbit of Seville, veer down somewhat different paths stylistically. What’s Opera, Doc? relies on a more removed, high-concept graphic sense and the shock effect of Maurice Noble’s splendidly expressionistic set design. The humor of Rabbit of Seville, staged against Robert Gribbroek’s straightforward backgrounds, depends more exclusively on the cartoon’s intense synchronization whereby every bit of slapstick action, mini-movement by mini-movement, links to the accompanying Rossini score. In Seville, Jones was really harking back to an older Warner Bros. legacy: director Friz Freleng’s Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) and Pigs in a Polka (1943), perhaps the two most insistently “Mickey Moused” (perfectly synched) musical cartoons ever made.” (per Wikipedia).
Here is that Wascally Wabbit and Elmer Fudd in an excerpt from The Rabbit of Seville. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The thing I loved about the cartoons I grew up with is, to this day, I’m still just starting to get certain references from Bugs Bunny cartoons. I’ll see some film noir movie and go, ‘Wait, that’s what Bugs Bunny was quoting!’ I like the idea we made the unfolding fortune cookie for ten years from now.” – Christopher McCulloch
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky