Sunday, 21 December 2014

366. The Wacky Wabbit (1942)

featuring Bugs Bunny
Warner cartoon no. 1942.
Release date: May 3, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Elmer Fudd goes in the American desert, in search for gold. He doesn't find much luck when he meets Bugs Bunny.

Although Bob Clampett had already started making cartoons of his own with Tex Avery's old unit, you get the impression that Bob's first colour cartoons have sequences which is almost parallel to Tex Avery, gag-wise or even timing-wise. Bob's 1942 cartoons were rather silly before he completely took a different route later in the year; with edgier-paced cartoons like The Hep Cat or A Tale of Two Kitties. The shorts still contain a lot of Clampett's style of humour, except that each short gradually builds up from the previous short.

The concept for the cartoon is well pulled-off. As this cartoon was produced during World War II, it was encouraged by all animation or film studios to produce patriotic cartoons to gain sympathy and hope from the general public. This cartoon relates to the war effort, except it's only referenced in many subtle ways that today's modern audience will overlook that.

Many today would be under the impression that Elmer is out hunting for gold. Reading between the lines, he is out digging gold for the war effort. You can catch a glimpse of a propaganda bond poster seen in the first shot of a pan shot exploring the American desert.

Warren Foster cleverly conceived that plot, so it can play like a typical animated short rather than making the patriotic aspects more obvious; which is why the American desert scenery adds to that effect. The close-up of Elmer doing the Winston Churchill "V for victory" symbol is more obvious giveaway. Elmer Fudd is singing alternate lyrics to the traditional folk song 'Oh Susanna', which cleverly links to the effort. Note the shot of Elmer carrying the enormous baggage is animated on different levels. His head and the luggage cycle are done on separate levels, which adds depth and weight towards the baggage.

When Bugs steps into the frame, his introduction is a great way in establishing his character. Most of the time, I don't like how Clampett interprets Bugs Bunny, especially in his later cartoons; but the opening scene is more faithful to the character's persona.

Whereas many Bugs Bunny shorts start off with him being a target from hunters or bullies; Bugs plays the bully role, with Elmer being a tamer personality; which works as well. Elmer has played the non-hunter role many times, so this wouldn't be anything new in the short.

Bugs hears Elmer's singing, and he pops out his head out from the skull which guards his rabbit hole. Note the design of the skull on Bugs' head has a very goofy feel towards it, but otherwise it's very appealing too, animated by the masterful Bob McKimson.

Bugs steps out from his hole, wearing the skull head as he joins in with Elmer's singing, with Bugs singing harmony and Elmer does melody. This makes a great showcase for Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan, who were both had brilliant vocals, without coercion. Bugs randomly finishing the act by impersonating Al Jolson is a pleasant touch, and Clampett's timing on Elmer looking eye-to-eye at Bugs before he collapses to the ground.

Bugs' characterisation in the cartoon is not much different compared to the other cartoons. He features his usual wits and motives, although compared to his previous appearances: you can see Clampett attempting to bring more energy to the character, which I will reflect a little while later.

A great Bugs Bunny scene which Clampett interprets wonderfully is the scene where Bugs stages a discovery of gold, in order to annoy Elmer: "Gold, gold! They found it! Eureka!" he cries to Elmer, who grabs his shotgun frantically searching for it. At this point, Bugs stops Elmer and reveals the gold: which is a gold tooth he possesses in his teeth.

Following that, Elmer sees that as worthless, comparing his own gold tooth to Bugs. Elmer jiggling his jaws at Bugs has a comedic touch to it, and not to mention Bugs' insult to Elmer following that: "You chubby little rascal". He dashes away, but only to return to kiss him on the lips.

Bugs' little dance number later on is a great showpiece by animator Bob McKimson, who had to animate Bugs' singing appealingly in his satire on the traditional song: The Dying Cowboy. Elmer had fallen underneath Bugs' hole, and Bugs digs up the soil to bury him--therefore making the satire of the song work. Bugs' belly sticks out, as he does a little lazy walk which is odd in proportions, but appealing to a tee.

For the few sequences where Clampett appears to explore Bugs a little differently from the rest, you can see it in the dynamite sequence. Warren Foster sets up the gag like any Bugs Bunny cartoon would be set up, but it's Clampett's take on the character which seems to stand out. To start off, Bugs Bunny casually shows a cowering Elmer the firecracker which causes him to climb on top of a cactus, cornered. The irony of Elmer clinging on top of the cactus without feeling pain, and yet so subtle. In a great close-up shot, Bugs Bunny slowly pressures the firecracker with his fingers, causing the firecracker to build up, and to burst with little to no effect.

At this point, Clampett gives Bugs a boisterous scene where he fakes the explosion by roaring: "BANG!", and he places Elmer's head under a tureen, striking it with a spoon vigorously, giving Elmer a vibrating effect. Clampett loved to give Bugs that vibrant persona, and although in later cartoons he overdoes it; it works in the right place in this cartoon.

The sequence involving Elmer Fudd digging the ground with his pickaxe has some Tex Avery influence over it; such as the gag itself. The timing of Elmer digging the earth while singing I've Been Working on the Railroad, has the dynamic feel of a Avery sequence as Elmer is digging in rhythm to the song, though bare in mind it's a trademark for any cartoon director. It goes to show Clampett is taking his time to explore further opportunities, timing-wise.

The dynamite gag doesn't look too much like Clampett's work, as it's the sort of gag that has elements of Elmer and Bugs having a tug of war battle with Elmer's shotgun in A Wild Hare. 

This scene, Elmer has dug up a hole on the ground, where he places the dynamite under the ground to locate gold. However, Bugs' offscreen antics lead to trouble when he consistently tosses the dynamite back to Elmer everything he attempts to throw it back in the hole. Although it's a gag that's nothing new, the beautiful dry brush effects make the gag worthwhile and fresh, giving Elmer a lot of energy. The zip which Elmer closes on the rabbit hole is also a charming addition to the gag.

On the other hand, Clampett experiments with takes and timing to another level..even  on par with some of Tex Avery's inventive takes. It's notable in the scene where Elmer is peeping down the rabbit-hole, Bugs turns up at the scene, casually leaning against Elmer. Just as Elmer begins to double-take, Bugs lets out a calm 'Boo'.
Elmer's reaction is wild and phenomenal in a lot of ways. The colour tones on Elmer exit before his body lines do. This isn't easy to pull off, as not only does this have to be worked out with Clampett's direction, and Scribner's animation; but the gag relies largely on Ink & Paint department to pull it off successfully, and they do! Bugs' reaction on Elmer pointing his shotgun at him is also nicely executed too.

Another marvellous scene which relies on a lot of dry-brushing is seen in the second to last shot of the cartoon. At this point, Elmer had discovered about Bugs' golden tooth, and is determined to get himself gold by force. This leads into a fight between Bugs and Elmer which is distorted with some superb drybrush effects done not only one of Clampett's animators, but pulled off brilliantly by the the Ink & Paint team, too. Because it was a top-notch job, you can watch the action smoothly, as both characters are still identifiable in the action happening.

Only Clampett could get away with the funniest and most inappropriate gag in the cartoon: Elmer's corset. The sheer unpredictability of the gag is what makes the scene gold. Elmer is chasing after Bugs, but he struggles to remove his pickaxe from the cavern. At this opportune moment for Bugs, he cuts the braces off Elmer's pants, where it is revealed that Elmer is wearing a corset. Bugs' perverted whistle at Elmer really adds to the humour.

Elmer, looking embarrassed, breaks the forth wall commenting: "Don't waugh. I bet pwenty of you men wear one these!". The forth wall remark also adds to the contemporary Warner humour, making the characters feel human.

As the cartoon begins to draw to a close, Elmer returns from having been dug up from the earth: staring threateningly at Bugs. They look at one another face-to-face, with Elmer threatening Bugs: "Wabbit, I came here for gold, and I'm gonna get it!". At this point, Bugs goes into a little dramatic pose where he cries: "No, not that; anything but that!". The last shots that feature Bugs' golden tooth which was seen earlier, was an important feature to not only add to the dangerous situation Bugs placed himself to be in, but to also fit a funny closure on the short. 

After Elmer and Bugs fight over the golden tooth, Elmer finds he's in possession of the golden tooth. In the final scene, Elmer cries: "Eureka! Gold at wast!", and his grin reveals his golden tooth as missing. Bugs steps into the scene, mimicking Elmer's words; before revealing smugly that he still maintains his golden tooth. 

In all, The Wacky Wabbit is without doubt, wacky. The idea of the cartoon being war-related and yet a typical Bugs Bunny short is cleverly executed by Warren Foster, who doesn't waste an opportunity for gags in the cartoon. Bugs Bunny is becoming more developed and vibrant as his stardom increases, and Clampett works well with the character here. This isn't anything as outrageous or energetic of Clampett's cartoons in the mid-1940s, but you can still see elements of it in gags here and there: like the corset gag, as well as aspects of timing which require careful work from inking and painting. In all, it's an enjoyable cartoon, and I can't wait to review more Clampett shorts in the near future. 

Rating: 3.5/5.


  1. Great cartoon. I don't mind, though only 54, the WWII refs this time and era, with al;l due respect to your painstaking work.

    Anyhow, thanks for the post on this. Carl Stalling did an odd thing with the familiar music at the end, it's slightly outta tune (and was attached to the end of these blue Ribbon reissues: "The Merry Old Soul"(1935),"Tick Tock Tuckered", "Peck up your Troubles","Trap-Happy Porky" and "Booby hatched"(World War II mid years, 1943-44), and a few others.

    1. Huh? It's not on the BR reissue of Booby Hatched, IIRC.

    2. The Dubbed Version of that short you mention does not. Neither does the DVD version.

  2. A música de Carl Stalling de 1935 á 1948 foi o seu auge, acho que seus instrumentos eram mais grandiosos, e a orquestra maior. Um grande curta, Parabéns! Visite o meu blog também:

  3. Both American and European Turner prints keep special ending cue seen in said shorts.