Sunday, 26 October 2014

361. The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 360.
Release date: March 28, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Various voices), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny begins to take advantage of Elmer Fudd, once he learns about Elmer's $3 million inheritance, which he must agree on condition he harms no animals--especially rabbits.

It seemed clear in Bugs Bunny's earliest cartoons, that much of them were being produced by Tex Avery, and in those cartoons: that was the standard Bugs Bunny in wit and design that was established. While other directors like Friz or Chuck were beginning to direct some Bugs Bunny cartoons of their own, their interpretation on Chuck's designs was still a mass of contradictions of the Bob McKimson model.

In this cartoon, Bugs is evidently off-model compared to other cartoons. His quick wits are interpreted correctly thanks to writer Mike Maltese, but design-wise he is pretty far off. In scenes by animators Gil Turner or Cal Dalton, Bugs looks grotesque in design. Since it's a Freleng short, it's inevitable.

This shows how McKimson's model hadn't yet fully evolved around the other directors directing Bugs Bunny cartoons; and for a few years Bugs' design would be inconsistent in each cartoon. Bugs' design didn't fully evolve until around 1944 when Bob McKimson oversaw the entire animation department, in keeping the work on-model. Not to mention, notice how Elmer's fat design became standard temporarily, as not only does he keep the fat design for a few cartoons, but other directors like Friz adapted to the change.

 From a story standpoint, this is a typical cartoon formula which can be expanded into many innovative, fun ideas: especially for a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mike Maltese is already of the relationship between Bugs and Elmer Fudd, and the idea of money manipulating Elmer to not harm any animals is a solid concept for a cartoon plot.

Setting up the cartoon; it starts with Bugs on the run by a group of hunting hounds. He pants and wheezes, "I'm trapped. Gotta get out of this. I gotta think fast. Trapped". After being spotted by Elmer, and his hounds, he attempts to disguise himself as a hound barking.

Spared from death, Mike Maltese uses a delivery boy travelling in the forest form out of nowhere as a plot device to set the cartoon. It's a fitting gag to just have the delivery boy to know where Elmer is located, especially in pivotal scenes.

Elmer opens up the telegram which reads he has inherited $3 million from his Uncle Louie. Not only is Elmer rich, but he will only inherit his fortune on condition he harms no animals..especially wabbits. In reaction to that, Elmer spares Bugs' life, letting him free: "You're fwee now, little wabbit, go and womb  and fwolic awound the fowest". As he continues to repeat: "Oh boy, I'm wich!". This is a great establishment in setting up the whole cartoon: Bugs can now test and manipulate Elmer Fudd without getting himself harmed. A unique turn for the relationship between Bugs and Elmer, for Bugs can still act and wind-up Elmer as he usually does, but Elmer naturally can't provoke, concerned he'll inherit nothing.

And so, Bugs' pestering and dominating manner starts from then on. He enters in Elmer's own home with the sense of entitlement that he lives there. It calls for some great sequences with conflict and character in Elmer's naive persona. Elmer walks into the house, and already listens to Bugs singing in the shower to An Angel in Disguise.

Bugs steps out of the shower covering himself with a towel as he plays some piano notes to catch the pitch in his singing voice. That little scene itself is just hilarious, adding emphasis to Bugs' irritating habits, and thus angering Elmer.

The bathroom scene is also great in controlling Elmer's motivations. Elmer brings out his shotgun, and prepares to fire at Bugs Bunny, threatening: "Come on out, or I'll blow your head off!".

Bugs responds by carrying a sign to Elmer reading: "What would Uncle Louie say?", forcing Elmer to retreat from his actions. The sign gag is also great as its the sort of communication that can intimidate or discourage anyone. Bugs then steps out of the shower, and proceeds over to the mirror. If I get any comments from fanboys saying 'Bugs Bunny's bollocks let slip from the towel' still believing such tosh, please don't bother reading further my review. The shaving scene is also fun to watch in how much of a slob Bugs can be presented. He starts out by shaving under normal areas such as his muzzle, but he becomes even more ill-mannered by shaving under his armpits.

The following sequences proceeding are scenes which now build up to an edge; making Bugs more dominant than previously. Elmer starts off begging Bugs to "go back to the fowest", and encourages him by patting him. Bugs considers the pat as a threat and acts provoked, "Hey, what are you tryin' to do, kill me? Hey, you'll fracture my skull. I'm gonna call Uncle Louie".

Another great dilemma for Elmer as not only is Bugs a blackmailer, but also deliberately obnoxious in these scenes, teasing Elmer's mind. He picks up the phone, demanding for the operator to place a call to Uncle Louie.

Note how Elmer gives Bugs the nickel when Bugs asks for one; its always fun watching poor Elmer being his naive self. Note the dated reference when Bugs breaks from dialogue into, "Oh, is dat you, Myrt?"; which was based on the popular radio show: Fibber McGee and Molly.

And so, after Bugs quits his phone call after Elmer's apology; he manipulates Bugs out of the house. This calls for another drastic measure for Bugs; in which he can entice Elmer into feeling guilt and shame, as well as the chance of losing his fortune. Bugs starts out by banging loudly at the door, demanding to be let in; until he realises his advantage and fakes his own death. Mel Blanc's delivery on Bugs' fake death is well interpreted, especially in Bugs' speech impediment on the line "I'll get pneumonia", which he mispronounces for comedic purposes. It's a scene that's been done several times in Bugs shorts, so its a predictable; knowing that Elmer will react and feel shame; which he does, but its a sequence that needs to be built up from the previous sequence.

With the creative liberties that the staff got at Schlesinger, the background artists didn't mind an occasional cheeky image that could go unnoticed on the screen. Note how unusual Elmer's house is: he has a women's powder room, and not to mention nude female portraits. I suppose its safe to say the nude portraits were painted sneakily so it would go unnoticed, which is my interpretation. According to Graham Webb's Animated Film Encyclopedia, the backgrounds were painted by a Lenard Kester, who appeared to have worked in Freleng's unit before Paul Julian. His use of backgrounds have an appealing dynamic look towards them.

The sequences surrounding from after Bugs' fake death sequence finally has the cartoon building up to a quicker pace. The first half of the cartoon was very much dominated by Mike Maltese's storytelling, whereas Freleng's timing and speed is more evident in the latter half of the cartoon.

After Elmer rocks Bugs' supposedly dead body, Elmer received another special delivery at his door. This is where Mike begins to stir up the cartoon a little. We already explored enough aspects of Bugs' blackmailing, and this time there needs to be a new edge in the plot, by being given bad news.

Instead, Elmer is informed from Uncle Louie's lawyer that he's died. The irony of that bad news is that the letter shows that after taxes and fees, that he hasn't enough money to spend or keep to himself. It declares that he owes $1.98 to Uncle Louie's attorney. This is another dilemma built up, as Elmer realises even if he fulfills the will, he won't receive any spending money anyway. Not only does Elmer fulfil the money, but feels he can restore himself to harming rabbits again.

Scenes which are up to Freleng's standards would be the urn scene seen following on. Elmer now has an excuse to get rid of Bugs for good, and this leads to a chase around the house. Bugs Bunny finds three urns sitting in a corner and hides in one. Elmer proceeds over, and climbs in the urn climbs in. This calls for Friz to exaggerate the scene as much as he could in making it perceptible and comical.

Both of Bugs' ears appear separately in each urn, with one of Bugs' ears communicating to one another, with one ear slapping Elmer inside the urn before he zips out. This is a complex scene to stage and animate, especially when it needs to be presented in a gag approach similar to Tex Avery. Friz was great in making such technically complex gags flow nicely.

The sequence following shows a lot of energy in the characters; especially on Bugs Bunny. His improvisation on the clock chiming midnight during a frantic night is really well executed, not just in animation but story too. The gag and improvisation comes out of nowhere, including the confetti. Mike Maltese creates a cleverly conceived gag where Bugs cons Elmer into believing it's New Years Day. After throwing confetti in the air, chanting "Happy New Year", and enticing Elmer into singing Auld Lang Syne, until he double-takes looking at the calendar realising it's only July. Not to mention it's a beautifully paced scene too, it lasts long enough for Elmer to realise he's been tricked and then the short proceeds to more fun action.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre gags to be ever created amongst Bugs Bunny would be Bugs Bunny dressed in drags. This sort of attitude and behaviour was unheard of with cartoon characters, and this shows how Warners were venturesome in making their characters feel almost human, like they don't always act like cartoons.

Not only is it a hilarious scene, but one would question why Elmer has a woman's powder room in his house. As the chase continues, Bugs finally exits the house where Elmer slams the door, wiping his hands with dignity: "Good widdance to bad wubbish!". Then the door buzzes which Elmer anticipates to open.

Another postman walks by and greets Elmer, "Easter Greetings" by handing him a giant Easter Egg. Ending as the final gag in the short, the Easter Egg opens and reveals a bunch of multiple, baby Bugs Bunnies who all cry in unison, "Eh, what's up doc?". Not only is it a funny scene on Elmer's burden, but it's quite possibly one of the most cutest, sentimental scenes in a Warner Bros. cartoon. The bunnies scrambling out of the Easter Egg, with one scrambling over Elmer's face, is every definition of the word 'cute'.

With design issues on Bugs Bunny aside, this is alone an entertaining Bugs Bunny to watch. Mike Maltese writes up a clever formula where Bugs and Elmer's relationship meet at a unlikely situation. This is one of the story formulas, which itself is cliched and overused, but this uses the formula well, as Mike is create in pacing his scenes smoothly; and knows when to add another edge to the plot in making the short more innovative along the way. Though it has some great scenes, some of Freleng's input feels its missing in the first half of the cartoon. I suppose because that with the story sequences constructed by Maltese, there wasn't much left for Freleng to create anything special timing-wise, and the first-half was paced like a Tex Avery short. The latter half on the other hand is a lot more appealing in pace and energy.

Rating: 3.5/5.


  1. Bugs Bunny's bollocks let slip from the towel

  2. That is an urban myth...:) [I always thought that the "no more money" climax came a bit early, just like Christmas in that one [:)]). Tom and Jerry had a similiar cartoon titled "The Million Dollar Cat" an Friz Freleng worked the above short reviewed, in part, into one of the very last of the last of the real good WB cartoons, 1960's "From Hare to heir", with Yosemite Sam (as a spoilt Little Lord Faunt Leroy) in the Fudd role. Freleng wrote that remake,too.][SJ

  3. "In this cartoon, Bugs is evidently off-model compared to other cartoons. His quick wits are interpreted correctly thanks to writer Mike Maltese, but design-wise he is pretty far off. In scenes by animators Gil Turner or Cal Dalton, Bugs looks grotesque in design. Since it's a Freleng short, it's inevitable."

    It's actually Cal Dalton