There is only one way to begin this blog:
Variety reported earlier this week:
Happy Birthday, Bugs Bunny!
The world’s favorite rabbit turns 75 this month: July 27, 1940, saw the debut of the cotton-tailed character’s first cartoon short “Wild Hare,” directed by Tex Avery.
There won’t be much hoopla to celebrate, because Warner Bros. doesn’t observe the birthdays of animated characters. And there’s some logic to that, especially in Mr. Bunny’s case.
There had been earlier variations: A wisecracking rabbit, voiced by Mel Blanc, debuted in the 1938 “Porky’s Hare Hunt” but the speech patterns and look were very different. In the next few years, WB’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons featured other rabbits.
But the 1940 “Wild Hare” was the first one where Bugs looked like himself, sounded like himself and, significantly, it was the first time he uttered the immortal words “What’s up, Doc?”
Don’t be misled by those earlier rabbits. On Sept. 10, 1940, Variety ran a brief item about the “new character Bugs Bunny” that WB was booking into Fox West Coast theaters. Bugs’ name appeared onscreen for the first time the following year, in “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit,” directed by Chuck Jones. By 1946, WB took out an ad in Variety proclaiming that moviegoers named him their favorite cartoon character in a poll by Showmen’s Trade Review.
Photo Credit: Variety
Like all great stars, his popularity had creative peaks and valleys. Highlights include the 1949 “Long-Haired Hare,” directed by Jones, in which Bugs battles with a self-important singer who’s performing an aria from “The Barber of Seville” at the Hollywood Bowl; and Jones’ 1957 “What’s Opera, Doc?” with Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a Wagner spoof that was selected for National Film Registry in 1992. Only Bugs could bring opera to the masses. And then there is the 1955 “Rabbit Rampage,” a meta toon in which he feuds with an unseen animator. A few years later, “Knighty Knight Bugs,” co-starring Yosemite Sam, won the Oscar for best cartoon short.
In 1987, many decades after his debut, another Variety ad touted that “The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show” was ABC’s No. 1 kids show, under the headline “Wabbit Wins Watings Wace.”
Over the years, Bugs survived the bluster of Yosemite Sam, the gun of Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Daffy Duck’s competitive streak and dozens of other challenges. If you were in a scrape, Bugs is the cartoon character you’d want by your side — a combo of MacGyver and Groucho Marx, able to build any contraption in a moment’s notice, and throw off wisecracks to boot. And, as a bonus, he might get into drag and sing to you.
How universal is Bugs? When my age had one digit to it, my father would get my brother and me up to watch Bugs, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn — I say Foghorn — Leghorn, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and the rest of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters.
Those cartoons are art. The Verge explains:
Let’s start with the cartoons themselves. If you want a semi-formal study on why Bugs and his Looney Tunes brethren are so great, you should probably start with Chuck Jones. Jones was one of the most important animators of the last century (he won three Oscars for his work, not that that really matters) and understanding him is to better understand what made Bugs so irresistible:
Jones gave us the classic “Hunting Season Trilogy” along with what What’s Opera, Doc?, which is widely considered one of the finest cartoons ever made. But he was just one artist who touched on Bugs as a character. Others like Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson also directed classics like Knighty Knight Bugs and Devil May Hare, respectively, that expanded on Bugs’ character. Each one built on the myth. Bugs, minding his own business, would run into some adversary who wanted his hide. Faced with a challenge, Bugs would inevitably triumph with wit and grace.
And the myth is everything. As a character, Bugs Bunny is king, and he’s as close to an animated culture hero as we’re going to get. Think about it. He’s the person you want to be — the smartest one in the room who’s still effortlessly cool. He’s quick-witted, funny, and even a little cruel, but only to his tormenters. He could hang with Wagner and Rossini, but you never forgot he was from Brooklyn. And he’s the guy you want in your corner when the bullies come calling, because he didn’t need brawn to win. In effect, Bugs embodies a kind of American icon that’s simultaneously exceptional but still the underdog. You can’t help but root for him even if you know he’s going to win.
That you want to root for him is key. As a culture hero, Bugs punches up. He’s the hunted one, the one tending to his garden when the white guy with a gun or Confederate soldier comes along to ruin his day. He’s rarely ever in an empowered position. So often, he’s lost and disoriented when the bullets start flying. But he is uniquely able to take on the establishment and win. He even cut Florida away from the Union, just to show people he could. Do you really want to mess with him?
Well, as always, if you had a staff of writers working for you, you also could do the right thing and say the right thing at all times.
The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons entertain all ages because they weren’t written for kids. In the pre-TV days, they were often the first thing someone coming to a movie theater would watch. Warner Bros.’ orchestra, the same musicians who did music for its movies, did the cartoon music as well.
I once suggested back in my business magazine days that our theme music should have been “Powerhouse,” written in 1937 by Raymond Scott …
… for obvious reasons.
And you cannot mention Looney Tunes without mentioning its greatest voice, Mel Blanc:
Uproxx has a list of Bugs’ greatest moments that includes …
Believe it or not, there was once a time when baseball was the most popular sport in America. You know, back when people didn’t really have options. In “Baseball Bugs,” our favorite hare faces off against the over-sized Gas-house Gorillas when he takes his heckling a step too far. By breaking both the laws of physics and at least 15 baseball regulations, Bugs plays all nine positions and comes out at the end with a 96-95 victory and one hell of a catch.
Whenever I read old comic books, I usually hear the narration in the same, over-the-top delivery you’ll hear in the classic “Super Rabbit.” (To be honest, that’s mostly because I’m doing it myself; it’s more fun that way.) But if you thought that superhero storylines today were clichéd and campy (Clark really could’ve saved his dad from that tornado), you have no idea how far they’ve come. Even Bugs Bunny cracked a joke at the idea of a pair of glasses being a good way to hide a secret identity.
“Rabbit of Seville”
This classic cartoon predates every sitcom you’ve ever watched that decided to randomly throw in a musical episode to switch things up. In “Rabbit of Seville,” Bugs and Elmer Fudd take their never-ending chase to the next level in song.
“8 Ball Bunny”
Celebrity cameos aren’t a new concept, by any means. When “8 Ball Bunny” was released in 1950, Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. So everyone in the audience immediately recognized him when he showed up in the same outfit from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and asked Bugs for some spare change. If you want to see how much times have changed, bet a millennial to see if they even know who the guy in the fedora is. I’m calling dibs on 20 percent.
“Knighty Knight Bugs”
Out of the hundreds of appearances that Bugs Bunny has made in the past 75 years, his work has only gotten one Oscar. In 1959, “Knighty Knight Bugs” won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. Apparently, the Academy loved seeing Bugs take on Yosemite Sam and his pet dragon in medieval times. Who wants to start a petition for Game of Thrones to add magical rabbits to the story?
My two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons are “Hair Raising Hare,” in which Bugs first takes on Gossamer the seven-foot-tall monster with red fur and white sneakers …
… and “Operation: Rabbit,” in which Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius, figures that maybe rabbits are easier to capture and eat than road runners …
… and is proven wrong, prompting the headline of this blog. (You’d think after a while the Supergenius might figure out to switch providers from Acme, but apparently not.)
As for non-Bugs cartoons, my favorite is “Three Little Bops”:
There are too many things to be said about the rest of Looney Tunes, including such characters as Daffy Duck (whose lack of additional mention no doubt would make him proclaim “You’rrrrrre des-PIC-able!”) …
There is only one way to end this blog: