Warner cartoon no. 311.
Release date: January 4, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Rudy Larriva.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Elmer purchases a domestic rabbit, who happens to be Bugs Bunny. Bugs, unimpressed with the lifestyle as a pet, decides to teach Elmer a lesson.
Bugs was already an established star by that point, as proven by the opening titles as he is christened the name we all cherish.
Whereas Tex Avery was largely responsible for developing the trademark Bugs that appears in A Wild Hare; his second cartoon is handed over to Chuck Jones, which is quite outlandish for a character handed over to a director who previously had worked on cartoons which were mimicking the Disney style with Pluto-fetish, and cutesy characters. Despite already becoming an established character, Jones interpreted Bugs only slightly, and yet for the rest of his career took Bugs to different levels. Whereas Jones treats Bugs with the personality of a Tex Avery character, the viewer obviously notices his voice difference. Jones had asked Mel Blanc to impersonate Jimmy Stewart, just to stand out differently, even though Tex has already installed the Bugs voice heard in A Wild Hare permanently. Not to mention, Bugs has no front-buck teeth at all in this short, due to Chuck's dislike of buck-tooth characters, according to Greg Duffell.
He makes an attempt again where the story of the cartoon is in the format of what a Tex or a Freleng cartoon would have been for the time it was written.
Though, Tex probably would have interpreted different gags, and Friz's comic timing would've have come to advantage, the overall product feels suitable as a Jones short.
Though Bugs' voice may me a little erratic to the audience who are used to hearing his trademark voice, for his first time Jones nails Bugs' performance in how it's executed, not how its timed. Some great examples appear during the opening sequence where Elmer strolls around town singing Strolling Through The Park One Day, and Bugs joins in harmony, killing the moment (probably animated by Ken Harris). Then asks Elmer who he has in the basket, but responds slightly offended: "Listen, bub. Be a little more careful about who you call a 'wittle gwey wabbit. See!". Another great example appears when Bugs grumbles over his new rabbit hutch, as well as the diet he is given for dinner. The animator, as well as Blanc completely nail the performance and it's as good as it could get. Bugs is seen berating about how unfairly treated he is: "I'll starve before I eat this stuff!"; and yet eats the carrots and vegetables whilst he complains!
Anyway, the use of moaning and grumpiness affect my interpretation that the story appears to focus on the cruelty of leaving pets outside in the coal, and how pets could be really feeling when left outside. You feel empathy for the character, even though you would sympathise with Elmer more, considering how Elmer is a harmless character portrayed in the cartoon. Notice Chuck still interprets Elmer Fudd as a civilised harmless human-being, who even purchases Bugs as a pet, whereas in A Wild Hare, he was out in an attempt to hunt rabbits.
Nevertheless, Bugs' personality appears to be his mischievous self as he breaks into Elmer's home and disturbs his peace in the lounge. The music on the radio is on, and then Bugs and Elmer both have a moment together where they dance (Song anyone?).
A great little scene shows Bugs impersonating Hepburn, "You dance divinely, rarely you do!". That shot in terms of its delivery and speech would have worked for any Bugs cartoon that was made 2 or 3 years later.
Towards the climax of the cartoon, Jones also appears to interpret some comedy and speed which shows how he has not yet mastered the technique or force. The airbrush effects of Bugs and Elmer rushing out of the bedroom and all through the house shows a very decent effect in term of speed, and it always works off very well in cartoons generally. The explosions and firework effects were also very decent, as well as homage to the Tex short: Dangerous Dan McFoo. However, the supposedly wild-chase sequence with the objects gripping magnetically to the speed of Bugs and Elmer lacks gravity and force, and this shows how Chuck's timing hasn't been mastered, and how his 'molasses timing' have still struck him.
Some of the dialogue of Bugs pacing around the bathtub, shows some very great dialogue, with some timing and delivery that could've been produced far much better. "After all, he is responsible for my welf--", and menacingly, his idea then turns into a fake-drowning sequence.
The character animation of Bugs faking his performance shows very weak and unconvincing animation acting where the arms lack weight, and you don't communicate with Bugs well in the sequence.
This then results in Elmer almost breaking down pitying himself and blaming himself over the supposed 'death' of Bugs. Then, this results in Bugs apologising for his actions, and gives Elmer access to kick him in the rear end. Conned by his complex and faked apology; Bugs stares at Elmer quoting Groucho Marx: "Of course you know, this means war!". This results in Elmer being abused by Bugs as he smacks Elmer with his glove, confusing the poor man. The whole sequence, again, could have been a whole lot better, with the pacing and timing being more affective and active. Instead, it's bombarded with poor acting, stiff animation, as well as a slow-paced sequence itself.
Also worth mentioning, is how according to Thad Komorowski, the copyright synopsis indicates that the cartoon's ending had been extended, where Elmer snaps and leaves the house to Bugs. Sort of another alternate ending of what you see in Hare-Um Scare Um, or Elmer's Candid Camera.
Though, watching the cartoon's ending, it probably does work better. Elmer walks back into his room, after what seems like a furious battle between Bugs and Elmer. Just as Elmer walks to his room, Bugs, asleep, bellows: "Turn off that light!", and then it goes straight to black-out; Elmer turning off the light o.s. It works out a lot better, the spontaneity of the timing is wackier and it says all you need to know. Just a great sense of energy.
To conclude the review, Elmer's Pet Rabbit is a short I like and dislike at the same time. What I like for the short is how Chuck Jones transits into a comical director for one short, and does a pretty neat interpretation of Bugs Bunny in terms of his personality. Of course, the Jimmy Stewart voice doesn't match with the rabbit's design, and he can be presented as a grouch; but I believe for his first attempt he follows Tex's footsteps rather faithfully. Certain elements of the short, like Bugs eating his vegetables and complaining show how Chuck is more than a director who is a victim of molasses timing, or cartoons full of incoherent ambiguities. On the other hand, Chuck's own comic timing is still incredibly weak and poorly paced, though I suppose the short was enough to have impressed an audience, who wanted more Bugs Bunny cartoons. On the other hand, the Warner directors still experimented with the character even after A Wild Hare, including Tex himself who tried out several animals like a fox and a quail. Elmer is tamed down greatly in this short, but is a fool all the same--falling for Bugs' sly tactics, and there couldn't have been a better performance in terms of caricature and comedy when Elmer sings I Was Strolling Through The Park.