Warner cartoon no. 370.
Release date: June 6, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodeies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Various voices), Ted Pierce (Leo the Lion), Bob C. Bruce (Hippo) (?)
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A worthless lion king, mocked by his kingdom, attempts to prove he can kill a rabbit, but has no luck when he targets Bugs Bunny.
As Chuck has decided to turn more comedic in his approach to directing, he would wound up directing cartoons of the main stars from the Warner studio, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck. Being his 2nd Bugs Bunny cartoon, you can see that not only does Freleng interpret Bugs' design differently, but Jones, too. Chuck's early take on Bugs Bunny is off model (smaller cheeks and circular eyes), compared to Bob McKimson's design. Of course, the McKimson design has a lot more appeal, but Jones' design still has life and personality.
Not to mention, the background work by John McGrew and background paintings by Gene Fleury really do stand out compared to the other fine layout artists at Schlesinger's. McGrew's designs of a jungle look has a very surreal and yet provincial look to it, that you can identify with a jungle look towards it.
Fleury has the creative freedom to choose unusual colours to match the scenery, particularly painting the ground with a pinkish colour, and giving a jungle atmosphere a different world of its own.
The opening sequence of the animal kingdom mocking their king is a great way to establish the cartoon. The opening is all exposition of the lion's reign. The hippo criticises the lion as being "all washed up", whereas the giraffe mocks his appearance: "A has-been. Nothing but a has-been." The giraffe's dial, suggests he had once been the King of Beasts.
Chuck's design on Leo (as Bugs calls him) is very appealing and accurate in giving him a meek personality. His poses on the lion's sheepish smile is solid, and Chuck gives the lion a pathetic mane to emphasise his weakness as a king. In the close-up of the lion, he nods and misinterprets the animals' sarcastic comments: "The mighty hunter...the killer of the Congo, boy that palooka couldn't kill a rabbit." Not only does he double-takes at the comment, but the cartoon plot has been set up.
Ken Harris animated most of the Leo shots, who has a lot of energy in his animation, and understands Chuck's masterful timing. He gives the character some great personality, as the king is tenacious, but fails every time.
Leo attempting to roar and intimidate his kingdom is greatly executed in drawing. Not only is Ken Harris confident in changing the character's axis at complex angles, but his animation pays off from following Chuck's layouts. Leo's teeth are wonderfully designed as they're hardly threatening.
As he attempts to roar, he immediately coughs, as he is also proven to be fragile. The animals stepping back pretending to be scared, is very funny. At this point, Leo attempts to prove he is worthy as he leaves to go on a quest to find and kill a rabbit, evident in the line: "Just let me find a bunny. I'll show ya!" The scene of the animals laughing cross-dissolving to different foliage shapes is rather effective, as the "overlapping graphics" was an early trait of Chuck. Would've been nice if it were experimented a little more.
Bobe Cannon animates much of the sequence (minus the claw scene, I'd expect), and does a solid job at it. Bugs wriggling his ears is masterfully timed, as well as the great posing of Leo attempting to mimic Bugs' ear action by clenching his face too hard.
The close-up of the lion pressing his hands to produce a claw features some effective sound effects by Treg Brown, and the faulty claw at the end has a nice touch. Chuck's expressions of the lion's embarrassed grin adds to the touch.
The pantomime breaks as Leo confronts Bugs, revealing his motives: "I'm a lion, see? King of this here jungle, and I'm huntin' a rabbit to show who's king of this here jungle, see?". (Pierce creates some nice touches to Leo's dial, as the lion has grammar issues). As Bugs double-takes during his conversation with Leo, he begins to build the tensity of his "fear" of Leo. He breaks down: "I am scared. I'm terrified. I'm panic-stricken!", before screaming around like a maniac. Mid-way he breaks into sarcasm as he speaks mockingly, "Shriek, shriek. Scream, scream!" until he pretends to act scared. I've written a post about that scene on a different blog some years ago, and I'll say it again. It's a brilliant showcase for character animation: done wonderfully by Bobe Cannon. It has energy, his poses are solid, and his timing is spot-on.
With this, Leo attempts to improvise his movement as he swims in soil, in sync to Strauss' Blue Danube. He swims backstroke on the soil and squirts water out of his mouth to mimic a swimming action. I'm not so keen on the staging, and the gag doesn't have the comedic values which you'd associate with Chuck.
It was a good attempt by Chuck, but the gag itself didn't work out. Leo then makes a run for it, chasing Bugs away from the garden, leaving the hat floating in mid-air. Leo zips through the scene, with the hat following him. A lot of the short's actions are nicely paced, and the energy is right down to the frame. Inventive run cycles take form, particularly in Leo's run where all legs move simultaneously.
At this moment, Leo has reached the height of his dominance and powers: cornering Bugs. Chuck's timing is solid where Leo strikes Bugs, ready to break him. As he anticipates a strike pose, the telephone rings; interrupting the perfect moment.
The telephone is a great as well as bizarre plot device that becomes Leo's defeat. Bugs crawls over to the phone, interrupting the scene: "Hold it, doc. Don't go away." He answers the phone, "Hello. Yeah? Oh, just a moment. It's for you, Leo", and he passes the phone towards the lion.
It's a great way to end the character's defeat comedically, as his wife is his own weakness. He then begins to part with Bugs as he prepares to leave, "Gee, I gotta go home, see. I'm sorry I can't stay here and kill ya. I'll see ya again, sometime. So long", and dashes away.
Ted Pierce finishes the cartoon on a good note, and the irony is awesome. Bugs Bunny mocks Leo's submissiveness to his wife, "The guy wants to be the king of the jungle, and he ain't even master in his own home. As for me, I wear the pants in my family."
At that moment, we get a special, one-off appearance of Mrs. Bugs Bunny, who stands by him. It's revealed that Bugs is just as submissive, as he quietly and swiftly returns to his hole. Pierce ends the gag with a metaphor, as Mrs. Bugs Bunny asks, "Who wears the pants in this family?". She reveals her blouse, where she "literally" wears pants.
Compared to Chuck's previous attempt of directing Bugs Bunny in Elmer's Pet Rabbit, this short is milestones ahead. He has already given Bugs a tamer and more cunning personality, compared to the wackier personality seen in Wabbit Twouble or The Wacky Wabbit. It's a wonderful cartoon to watch when analysing character personality. Leo is a wonderful showcase for Bugs to bully, and the concept of a weak lion ruling a kingdom is great conception. Fleury and McGrew's surreal backgrounds gives the environment a world of its own, and its overall a great short with funny characterisation. Admittedly, some scenes fall rather flat: particularly in the garden scene but otherwise its a solid entry for Chuck Jones, who now shows confidence in using the Warner Bros. as well as his crisp timing.