Wednesday, 30 December 2015

391. Case of the Missing Hare (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 390.
Release date: December 12, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Ala
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny vows revenge on magician Ala Bahma for invading his property by nailing show posters on his home.

One of the niceties of John McGrew's layout work is that he doesn't restrict himself to a certain style. In each Chuck Jones cartoon he's always experimenting new boundaries; whether certain styles work together or not - like trial and error. In this cartoon, he takes a completely different approach to the point where he has as little background as possible.

Animation by Ben Washam
The opening sequence is the only piece in the short which requires a little detail - like the multiple posters and the background scenery surrounding Bugs' home. Gene Fleury restraints the colour choices to three: yellow for the sky, pink for the soil, and blue for the shrubs and leaves; with different subtle shades for each colour evidently.

The interior shots of the stage however, limits the background work as much as possible - ranging from blank or crossover colours which vary from shot to shot. Only the hat on a prop table gives any indication that the scenery is on stage. Fleury has an excellent taste of color styling for certain shots where he wisely chooses particular colours for particular sequences to match the right atmosphere - without looking ugly and unfitting.

For the majority of Bugs' cartoons - he was typically portrayed as a menace who took pleasure at bullying his vulnerable opponents. Ted Pierce on the other hand, takes the formula to a different dimension.

The opening status quo establishes the first of a handful of Bugs Bunny cartoons where he vows revenge on the antagonist. As seen in the opening scene, magician Ala Bahma (pretty lame pun on the Southern state) is busy nailing show posters of his upcoming theatrical posters - and nails them at every nook and cranny, including Bugs' home.

Although an uncanny choice to feature Bugs' home in a tree; he responds angrily to the magician's vandalism on his own property: "Look doc, do I go round nailing signs over your house? Do I? There's still such a thing as private property, y'know!"

Not listening to Bugs, Ala Bahma entices him to a blackberry pie and tricks him with the commonplace pie-in-the-face act. Only Blanc could make the dialect sound hilarious at the delivery of: "What a dumb boonie!". Reacting to the pie-face, Bugs utters the infamous words: "Of course you realize, this means war!". This wasn't the first time Bugs said the memorable Groucho Marx quote as it traces back to the first proto-Bugs short, Porky's Hare Hunt. However, it has never been uttered to carry out an entire cartoon - giving Bugs a motive to get even with the magician.

The obstacle starts once the scenario changes to Ala Bahma starting his performance inside a theater. Starting with the old rabbit in hat trick , Bugs immediately sabotages the act by replacing his ears with a carrot which he unveils - much to the audience's laughter.

Then, Bugs crawls up the magician's sleeve and slides his head up to his neck collar. So, he glares right at his face, indicating a threat and breathing heavily with anger - while the magician reacts with slight embarrassment to his presence.

The line "Ya didn't expect to see me again, eh svengali?" which itself is a witty insult toward Ala Bahma. 'Svengali' meaning a person who deliberately controls and manipulates a person, like an actor - which itself is a metaphor on Bugs' career.

In what seems like a an act of threat - Bugs manipulates Ala Bahma into believing he will assist him with his acts. His revenge starts when he sabotages the rabbit trick again - diverting the attention from the magician to himself. He does so by performing the trick himself without any assistance whatsoever - creating an applause from the audience.

Bobe Cannon's masterful animation is put into great use when Bugs' bow to the audience and Ala Bahma paces quicker with an emphasis of smear animation. Reacting angrily to his sabotage; the magician attempts to grab Bugs and rid of him, but to no avail. In a hilarious Bugs Bunny characterization - he responds to that he kissing him on the lips and tying his mustache into a knot.

Frustrated at Bugs' upstaging - Ala Bahma is determined to get him out of the hat. Bugs places a sign on top of him, reading "Why not tempt me with a carrot?". In the following scene, the magician becomes completely distracted from his trick act, as he plants a carrot on the hat while hiding a mallet behind - sadistically intending to strike him.

A number of times the gag of Bugs locating the carrot of his fingers has been featured - and this time Chuck attempts to refresh the gag by making it surreal but believable. This feat is left to the animator whose job is to give Bugs' hand the mannerisms of a dog with the middle finger tracking the scent.

Bluffing, Bugs unexpectedly grabs the mallet off Ala Bahma and strikes him with it - creating a remarkable effect. To give the smash more attention and prominence; the background shaped colours (yellow-and-blue) immediately reverse. Chuck couldn't go wrong when making an anticipation look comical and artistic together.

With Bugs Bunny nailed and trapped inside the rabbit hat - Ala Bahma can proceed with his performance without further ado - the basket trick act. Little does he realize that that Bugs Bunny is disguised as a little boy when the magician calls out for volunteers.

The sequence is an excellent showcase in ridiculing Ala Bahma at the expense of damaging his reputation and career - fooling the off screen audience that he enjoys murdering innocent children.

As he starts the basket trick act, he forces the knife inside the basket trick - with an unseen Bugs making gagging, agonizing noises. Chuck Jones' master use of expressions and posing on the magician reacting to the gagging noises is priceless; and yet very human. The poses alone speak for themselves. It's a top-rate piece of personality animation which captures the intensity and anxiety of Ala Bahma perfectly.

In what looks like a suspenseful, doomed moment for Bugs - the camera pans to the rabbit who is standing at the right corner of the stage making the noise. This builds up the rising action as Bugs can't escape inside the sealed magician's hat - calling for further strategies.

The magician has been humiliated to the point of insanity - where he takes his full drive in murdering Bugs Bunny as he advances towards him. At the climax of Bugs' dilemma - he quickly takes advantage of the situation with more trickery. As a direct parody of a popular school-game, he tricks the magician into playing "red-light".

Bugs quickens the pace of the game by counting faster - which adds even more intensity to the speed and energy of the magician's anticipation.

Chuck's direction and Bobe Cannon's animation work wonderfully to create such effect. Once again, Cannon uses smear animation for Bugs to hit the accent as he shouts "red-light". On one occasion Ala Bahma freezes in mid-air - making the scenario even more hilarious.

Manipulating him completely - Bugs disguises himself as a fencer as he attempts to participate in the activity. Ala Bahma frantically swings his sword around in a duel - where Jones creates an elaborate, distortion effect of the magician fighting on different levels - to make the duel panicky.

Bugs shouts on top of the balcony, "What a performance!" and laughing at him to the point where Ala Bahma is fuming red and ready to finish him  - by grabbing his shotgun and firing at him.

The final gag is a great pay-off and vengeance on Bugs' behalf. Engaging him with an explosive cigar, Bugs finally has the last laugh as he smacks him with a pie - echoing an earlier action by Ala Bahma. Bug' innocent pose, mimicking the Mean Widdle Kid features some hilarious posing animated masterfully by Ken Harris. At anticipation he  says, "If I dood it, I'd get a whippin'. I'll dood it!" - and henceforth striking him.

It's another decent change at giving Bugs more motive and reason to perform his mischievous antics which otherwise would make him brash and cocky. As a "This means war" story, it's an excellent bracer for what lies in store...such as the likes of Bully for Bugs and Hair-Raising Hare. McGrew and Fleury's background work as usual work right down to the frame. Their good judgement in colour styling and innovative ideas of scenery prevent the cartoon from being distracting, allowing the short to flow normally. Chuck keeps his timing and pace to the standard of a hilarious Warner Bros. short while getting away with his use of experimentation.

As this short wraps up 1942; and even though it has taken me almost forever to get there: the progress made throughout the entire from the Warner crew is extroadinary - especially in Chuck's case. From the start all directors turned out hit-and-miss entires - Clampett was filling in loose ends for unfinished Tex Avery shorts, Friz Freleng was still keeping to the standards of everyone else, and of course, Chuck went from green to professional. By the end of the year, they all proved themselves professional cartoon directors by pushing the boundaries further and further. 1943 should be off to an excellent start...

Rating: 4.5/5.

1 comment:

  1. The line: "Of course you know this means war" was also used in a "Taz-Mania" episode: "Ticket Taker Taz" quoted by Taz's sister, Molly and in the title and a line said in a Duck Dodgers 2-part episode.