Saturday, 24 May 2014

330. Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 329.
Release date: June 7, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Hiawatha).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Gil Turner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Little Hiawatha is on the hunt for a rabbit, but upon discovering Bugs Bunny, Hiawatha's wits never succeed, in sequence after sequence.

Another team up with Friz Freleng and Michael Maltese, in which both of them work for the first time on Bugs Bunny: a character both men would become closely associated with. This time, Mike Maltese is satirising the legendary Hiawatha, a Mohawk who is said to have existed in the 12th and 13th century of the Americas.

Instead of how the legend tells about the figure, Maltese mocks the character with the simple-minded, Elmer Fudd-like personality. From the beginning of the short, you can see that Maltese and Freleng establish the opening shorts very carefully and delicately in order to achieve comedic purposes that would carry on the short.

Starting off with Bugs' narration, the scenery is rather beautiful where an audience member would get the impression the short is being influenced like the previous Silly Symphony short.

The waterfall effects are rather stunning, and Hiawatha zig-zagging through the steepy river is rather cute. Bugs Bunny, who happens to be sitting by a tree reading about the Hiawatha story, reads about Hiawatha's adventures, such as "slaying the forest rabbit". Bugs, realising he is the victim of the story, then immediately begins with a strategic plan to fool Little Hiawatha. By the way, does anybody else agree that Hiawatha ISN'T a caricature of Disney animator Ward Kimball? He resembles a much more Elmer Fuad than any of Kimball's distinctive features.

The simple-minded satire of Hiawatha is well broadly-handled by Friz's comic timing, as well as with Maltese's humiliation and ignorance displayed on the character. Mel Blanc himself provides the dumb voice for Hiawatha rather realistically, beginning with the first line: "I'm gonna catch me a rabbit, and I'm a-gonna cook him in this pot right here, right here"--already putting emphasis on "right here".

And as for Freleng's comic timing, he certainly adds depth to his ignorance and clumsiness as he giving him a characteristic trait to carry out through the entire short. When Hiawatha is chasing after Bugs, or following his tracks; he has his bow and arrow ready, but each run he makes, he consistently trips clumsily.

Carl Stalling also puts emphasis on the clumsiness to great execution, as Hiawatha's run is heard through the sound of drums, but each trip interrupts the suspense with a cymbal crash. This is excellent satire from Friz's timing where it is just excellent mockery on the legendary, brave warrior.

From watching this short and being the first directed Bugs Bunny by Friz Freleng: you'll notice that Bugs goes through several different crude-designs in the short. The model of Bugs resembles little to what was seen previously in Tex's cartoons, and Bugs' design would come to settlements with Friz, (as well as Chuck's unit) for at least a couple more years.

Without doubt, Bob McKimson was known for giving Bugs's standard design, but it appears to be in the earliest shorts by Freleng that Bugs' design would range from passable to just crude, very off-model drawing.

Two very striking examples of the different crudeness in drawing is evident in Bugs' rain dance over Hiawatha (animated by Cal Dalton), and Bugs relaxing inside the cauldron pot (animated by Gil Turner). The rain dance sequence, with Bugs looking quite possibly the crudest, shows how low-brow the sloppiness of drawing could get.

Whilst they are rather amusing gags and wits coming from Bugs, one would feel rather disturbed of the evident designs that change throughout the course of the short. Whereas this is mostly just my opinion, the clearest answers of why Friz did not appear to follow the standard McKimson model for Bugs appears to be explained in the Phil Monroe interview, who mentioned the settlements on design "couldn't have any consistency". This evidently must have occurred at a time before Bob McKimson was in charge of keeping the characters looking on-model from all units.

One of the greatest sequences where Bugs is at the top of his game appear in two sequences that come to mind. The first shown is Bugs relaxing in the cauldron pot sequence. From a 1941 audience viewpoint, one would feel sympathy for Bugs to not get captured and stewed by Hiawatha, but watching him bathe and hum When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.

Watching this short chronologically in line of many of Bugs' shorts; this is rather hilarious in the sequence, as the boiling cauldron does no harm or threat to Bugs, and instead just sits in the cauldron like he's taking a hot bath.

Some excellent character personality of Bugs stepping into the cauldron, as he responds "Easy does it" before sinking his body in.

And so, as Hiawatha is cutting carrot slices--the great delivery sense of that gag is that Bugs chews on them anyway, which is just excellent delivery. And so, Bugs responds: "Hey, what's cookin', chief?", when asking Hiawatha what's for dinner (the answer being rabbit), Bugs double-takes on the word "Rabbit?!" before attempting to escape.

Another great sequence shows Hiawatha carrying a piece of rope in hope to tie up Bugs. Much like Bugs' manipulating ways of tricking slow-witted antagonists, he speaks to Hiawatha normally who declares, "I'm gonna tie you up!.

Bugs responds to this by laughing at Hiawatha in a ridicule manner ("Oh, that's a pip. Gonna tie me up!"). Bugs' laughter then leads into Hiawatha's attempted outburst in capturing Bugs, only to have Hiawatha tied to a pole where Bugs performs a small rain dance surrounding him. This is a rather great little sequence where the the audience would question Bugs' strategy, such as laughing what what would be considered a dangerous threat: but the delivery and karma pays off.

Some great uses of comic timing from the master, Friz Freleng himself comes to great use. Bugs attempts to distract Hiawatha once more by challenging him into a jump challenge. Freleng's comic timing is certainly very slick and appealing, with a lot of appealing brushwork. Bugs them lands, leaning on a stick hanging onto the edge of a cliff.

Hiawatha then repeats these actions, with the same speed and pacing that were repeated by Bugs only to find himself standing at the edge of the cliff, where a lollipop labelled 'sucker' is shown as an overlay opaquing him, to show emphasis on what a loser he is.

Standing in mid-air, in quite possibly one of animation's oldest gags, meets his fall.

And so, after Hiawatha's then appears to be that Hiawatha has already made his last attempt at capturing Bugs Bunny. He gets sail onto his wooden canoe and begins to sail through the river, much like the opening of the short. This is a rather unusual sense of closure for the short's ending, at least how Mike Maltese is depicting it. Like the opening, the short concludes with rather rich-looking backgrounds and staging of Hiawatha's departure, especially the last shot with the sunset which is parallel to the Silly Symphony short. Bugs Bunny finishes off the narration of Hiawatha who then begins to set sail through the shores. Responding, "Fairly well" to Hiawatha's departure in the horizon, Hiawatha quickly rides back to give justice to Bugs. Hiawatha ends with the last laugh by kissing Bugs in the lips before setting sail before, perplexing him. A rather unusual choice of closure for the short, but only Maltese could have created a better idea of payback for Bugs.

All in all, this is a rather decent introduction for Friz Freleng, being his first Bugs Bunny short, as well as for Mike Maltese. They both adapt to the character very faithfully to Tex's previous shorts, and Friz continues to direct some of the best Bugs Bunny shorts ever made. The satire on Hiawatha in this short has been nailed by Maltese, for his clever use of dumbing-down a heroic figure, and Friz has certainly nailed his own interpretation of Bugs in this short. The comic timing and use of scenery is certainly rich and entertaining at the same time, especially giving Hiawatha a personality of consistently tripping. Bugs' interpreted design, however, is still a major problem from Friz's unit, and this would continue to be a problem for a couple more years in his years, as Bugs had not yet been given a consistent design. Despite the creative and design issues the studios was facing with Bugs, this didn't stop Bugs from his great antics and entertaining scenes that is scattered throughout the short.

Rating: 3/5.

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