Tuesday, 26 August 2014

351. Wabbit Twouble (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 350.
Release date: December 20, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett. (Tex Avery uncredited).
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Bear), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Elmer Fudd goes off to Jellostone National Park for "peace and wewexation", but finds he'll finds he'll not get any, not when Bugs Bunny's on the loose.

A great Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by none other than Bob Clampett. Oooh, no, Tex Avery-errr...no, it was both, er..there's no easy answers. As the credits suggest, a lot of people would accept that the cartoon was directed by Clampett. Enthusiasts and historians would suggest otherwise. Based with some historical evidence, as well as the cartoon itself, you can't deny but believe that Tex Avery himself had some involvement in the cartoon.

According to Bob Clampett, as well as Tim Cohea (a.k.a. Sogturtle), it was Tex Avery himself who redesigned Elmer Fudd as fat to make him a more accurate caricature of his voice actor: Arthur Q. Bryan.

The animation and look of the cartoon LOOKS like it was directed by Tex Avery, but some sequences or scenes suggest that Clampett directed portions of that, and in some cases both of the directors' styles clash in the entire cartoon. How much Tex worked on the cartoon before his departure of the studio, as well as how much did Clampett direct the cartoon, and who was the overall director of the short: we'll never know. On the other side, I'd thought I'd take a look at the cartoon to decide which scenes appear to represent which director, as well as reflect on the cartoon itself, and not just debates on who was the director.

As for what would appear to be Clampett's direction, I can take a theory. Though Tex's style does appear in pieces throughout the cartoon: I can't help but theorise that Clampett directed his interpretation of Bugs Bunny's characteristics in the cartoon.

He doesn't act much different compared to his previous cartoons, but the opening scene of Bugs at least appears to suggest so. Elmer Fudd has arrived at "Jellostone National Park" (as you know, the "Yellowstone" pun predates Yogi Bear, though with a slightly different spelling).

As soon as Bugs catches his eye on Elmer, he immediately chooses him as a victim for pranks and chaos. This sort of characteristics was very much what Clampett used for later Bugs Bunny cartoons, making him an even more rebellious character.

Though, compared to how Clampett's treatment of the character, Bugs is less cynical in the cartoon. I suppose its an unfair observation. For one, this is still an early Bugs Bunny cartoon, and Tex Avery only directed four Bugs Bunny cartoons: making this a difficult theory to accept, for Tex could have likely experimented with a characteristic like that, he definitely explored different personalities for Bugs: like in Tortoise Beats Hare. Not to mention, Tex's typical line-ups are all over the cartoon too, and in the scene of Bugs tricking Elmer from walking off the canyon in a close-up saying "I do this kind of stuff to him all through the picture", is pure Tex.

This will be the last time I will reflect on a sequence or scene, that I feel was possibly directed in Clampett's style. Most of the scenes that surround around Elmer and the bear feel a lot like Clampett's work: not just timing-wise, but gag-wise, too. When Elmer confronts the bear, he pulls out his survival guide book on how to survive face-to-face with a bear.

Following the rules, he lies flat on the ground, "remaining absowutewy motionless". The bear sniffs Elmer's body, but as soon as he sniffs Elmer's groin, he cringes away from his body and mutters "Pee-ew", and walks away.

Only Clampett would use such a suggestive gag, and thus making the gag feel innocent at the same time. Following forward, Elmer confronts the bear once more leading him in mortal danger.

This results in a little comedic chase scene where they hide from tree-to-tree in sync to William Tell. The scene that follows afterwards, feels also a lot like Clampett. Both Elmer and the bear, unknowingly are hiding at a single tree. The gag shows Elmer and the bear sticking out from different body parts, and popping out at different poses bizarrely. The timing and animation, by Rod Scribner is pretty rapid and it's at Clampett's level. It gets so when Elmer finds the bear chewing on his hat and he rushes out with the bear sitting on Elmer's shoulders, but gets knocked out by a tree branch.

Looking at the cartoon technically, you'll notice that the camera department do an effective job at giving the cartoon a breath of fresh air: the feeling that the canyon looks believable. The opening establishing shot from the title credits to Elmer driving his car in rhythm to the Conga is all done by overlays. The backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen, for the opening scene was painted at three separate levels, so: during the pan each level moves each at a different pace to give the opening shot an environmental look. It goes to show how the camera department filming the shot at separate levels, were not reliant on the device used at Disney: such as the Multiplane camera. The following scene in a close-up of Elmer shows the camera shaking in rhythm to the Conga, is one of the nicest, and most subtle touches to this short.

Another scene of Elmer washing his face (from a prank schemed by Bugs) also features a decent camera pan to give the national park a rich sense of scenery. As for the gag, Elmer has washed his face from "waking up". He reaches for the towel but doesn't realise Bugs has it attached to a long pole. This reaches him further from the edge of the canyon, and stands in mid-air, unknowingly. He looks at the scenic view, admiringly: "What a gwand view of the canyon from up here..Up here?!", and he rushes back to land realising he was conned by Bugs.

 The opening scenes of Elmer and Bugs are a great piece of interaction as Bugs is immediately established as a trickster, and Elmer Fudd being a more vulnerable 'non-hunting' character...who is looking for a relaxing vacation. After Elmer begins to set up the tent and campsite, his tent happens to be planted on top of Bugs' home, after Bugs tricked Elmer with the "Camp here" sign.

This leads to a tug-of-war gag where Elmer attempts to tug his tent out of Bugs' hole, but after a struggle he pulls it out but finds Bugs tied the tent into knots. Bugs reaches out and puts on another persona by greeting him, "Welcome to Jellostone, doc...a restful retreat".

There is a great little subtle giveaway from Bugs who smirks to the audience, "Oh brother", which is a great way to establish what the entire cartoon will be (and plus the "all through the picture" line, too).

Then, Bugs compresses Elmer's bowler hat to his head. Elmer, seeking revenge, grabs his arms down the rabbit hole, but afterwards finds Bugs tied his hands in a knot, too, which is a great followup from the tent gag. And so, after fixing his hands, he blocks Bugs' door with a board and nails as he hammers it to the ground, "That'll hold him alright, (chuckles)". Bugs, opening the board open like an attic door steps out mocking Elmer's voice and transforming to his physical form. The gag of Bugs' transform to Elmer's body is very comical, surreal but somewhat very unsettling to watch, too.

For one of Bugs' schemes, and not so belonging to a specific directorial style, would be the sequence of Bugs' confusing Elmer's sense of time during his nap. As he is napping in his hammock, Bugs walks over to Elmer's hammock and begins to paint a pair of specs black. Virgil Ross animates some very decent axis movement on Bugs' heads in the scene. He places the glasses on Elmer, and sets the alarm clock to an earlier time.

As the alarm rings momentarily, Elmer looks up the sky and to his belief, "Night, alweady". Tex (or Bob) paces the scenes a little slower in order to build up the whole gag: e.g. we get a whole scene of Elmer undressing and getting ready to bed, and this is all paced slowly to make the next build-up unpredictable.

As soon as Elmer goes to sleep in his bed, Bugs removes the glasses off his face, and motions a morning rooster call. Elmer wakes up, once again fooled: "Well I'll be doggonned, morning alweady. How time fwies." As explained earlier, Elmer walks over to get ready for a morning wash, with Bugs tricking Elmer to almost fall off the canyon. Though this shows Bugs being a trickster to a vulnerable character, its a lot more tamer and innocent compared to the sadistic gags Bugs would pull, at least in cartoons directed by Clampett.

One of the highlights of the cartoon would be the scene of Bugs Bunny masquerading as the black bear Elmer previously encountered. As he is still lying down motionless, Bugs does his dirty work by pretending to be the bear bouncing on top of him. The sequence, animated mainly by Rod Scribner and Virgil Ross both show what character animation really is about, and its advantages.

The first half animated by Scribner, shows Bugs kissing Elmer on the lips, and Elmer blushes and grins. The animation and expression alone is perfectly well-executed in the foolishness of Elmer, and the expression alone is very human.

This leads to a piece of action of Bugs flicking Elmer's nose continuously like a speed ball. The scene afterwards, animated brilliantly by Virgil Ross, features Bugs Bunny's performance as a grizzly bear which is very well humanly animated, and the accents are spot on.

He impersonates the bear's mannerisms to a tee, and thus makes the gag enjoyable that way: such as chewing on Elmer's shoe, as well as his hand motions. In between his performance, he turns to the audience momentarily commentating: "Funny situation, ain't it?" which is a typical line-up of Tex Avery. This plan finishes when Elmer finds Bugs is the culprit, but at the wrong time slams his gun at the bear; off-screen: and hence more havoc for Elmer.

The last few scenes of the cartoon, Elmer begins to frantically pack his belongings from the camp site, and at one point accidentally taking a giant tree with him. He jumps back onto his car and rushes for his life, but just before he departs: he spots the sign to the national park, which he considers to be false advertising.

Elmer scoffs, "Bawoney!", and begins to damage the sign from the national park furiously, until he is caught by a sturdy, intimidating ranger who is tapping his foot looking at Elmer coldly. Just as Elmer begins to cool his temper, he realises he has been caught by the park's ranger and begins to realise his crime for damaging properly. He sheepishly responds, "Hewwo" and chuckles nervously.

The following scene after, Elmer ends up in prison, but looks on the brighter side: "Well, anyway: I've wid of that gwizzly bear and scwewy wabbit. West and wewaxation at wast!". That is, until the cartoon's last shot where Elmer discovers that isn't the case. For his cellmate happens to be Bugs Bunny who responds: "Ahh, pardon me but, uh, how long you in for doc?" and chews on his carrot. On top of the bunk is the same grizzly bear who responds in his dumb voice, "Uh, uh yeah yeah, pardon me doc, but uh, how long you in for doc?" and chews his carrot sloppily. A great conclusion for the cartoon, for this is a another dilemma for Elmer, but closes at the right moment.

Despite the controversy over who the real director of this cartoon was, Wabbit Twouble still holds up as an all-round entertaining cartoon. The carton wonderfully establishes the duelling duets of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and thus it would make a prime example of what a Bugs/Elmer cartoon is. The title card credits which is meant to be spelt in representing Elmer's speech impediment is some really good satire on Elmer, and thus making it a rare gag on the title credits themselves. The Fat Elmer design is a little unsettling, especially if you're used to watching a thinner Elmer Fudd. Personally, I don't mind the redesign; as I still think Elmer Fudd when I watch the character: even if he put on a few pounds. Overall, the cartoon has a lot of entertaining, charming moments: the gags are inventive, and the characterisations of Bugs Bunny is still as insightful as ever, with the cartoons becoming funnier from each new cartoon.

Rating: 4/5.


  1. Johnny Johnsen deserves some credit for his great backgrounds.

  2. LOVE YOUR WORK Steven.

    maybe you have a look at my Garbo Cartoon section and can help me?

  3. The main thing that bothered me about this cartoon was that Bugs Bunny was the one screwing with Elmer instead of the other way around. I've actually read in a couple cartoon books that the formula was completely fucked when they switched it around like that, and it made you have more sympathy for the person Bugs is messing with. The idea being that the person should do something to deserve the bad treatment, and I have to agree. Poor Fat Elmer just wants to chill out and relax but Bugs won't stop fucking with him, to the point were he's driving the guy insane.

    I can't find anyone who agrees with me on the issues of this episode though, so perhaps I'm being a tad too sensitive towards it.

  4. This is a transitional cartoon for Elmer, as we see him vacillating between the early "Egghead" design of Avery (note the big pink nose, which a lot of Tex's characters seemed to have) and Clampett and Freleng's short-lived "fat" Elmer, who vanished abruptly in 1945's "The Hare-Brained Hypnotist".