Warner cartoon no. 404.
Release date: June 12, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Giant).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Jack Bradbury.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny is confronted with a dim-witted giant, when he attempts to invade his "victory garden".
Michael Maltese conceives a great opponent for Bugs by having the giant with the persona of Lennie Small - and extending his opportunities for gag values and comedy. Maltese would, again, use the formula twice, in Lumber Jack-Rabbit and Beanstalk Bunny.
Although the fairy-tale parody is apparent, there's no hiding that the cartoon also contains a WW2 theme. The giant claims to be more powerful and potent than Bugs Bunny due to his size and intimidating appearance, while Bugs uses his wits to have the last laugh. The opening scene of Bugs trespassing the giant's "victory garden" is also a subtle giveaway.
The giant is an allegory on Nazi Germany and their Allies, who were also arrogant about their power - and by the time of the short's release: they were already beginning to lose the war. The giant's portrayal as dim-witted and arrogant is also a reflection on the theme, whereas Bugs Bunny lives up to the "Scientia potentia est" aphorism.
|Animation by Phil Monroe|
Then, the giant looks at his watch (in the form of a grandfather clock) where the hands on the clock fade to fifteen minutes later - the fade in manipulates time emphasising time passing on, and Bugs not intending to return in five minutes. The giant responds in perhaps the funniest quote in the entire short, "Wait a minute! He tried to pull a fast one on me, eh? Duhh, well he can't outsmart me, because I'm a moron!". It's a classic example of Maltese's genius in writing dialogue that deliberately contradicts the said statement. On a plus note, Mel Blanc's voice delivery on the giant feels so natural and effortless that the ignorance feels very human.
Bugs tricks the giant as he pretends to walk twenty paces - he chuckles ("So long, joiky! Send me a postcard from Alburqoique!" and comments on his own intelligence and success: "Y'know, I'm so smart, sometimes, it almost frightens me!".
Bugs is prepared to eat those words as the giant returns from the other side - indicating he has walked the entire planet in less than twenty steps. The gag is brilliantly executed with strong emphasis of the giant's size - which is proving to become a potential threat to Bugs Bunny. It's a masterful sequence not only from Maltese's genius; but also Fitzgerald's complex layout planning to achieve such a feat.
|Animation by Gil Turner|
Bugs adds more believability to his stunt, with the help of advertisement signs complete with attention grabbing headlines that are fetching enough in taking advantage on the giant's naiveness. And so, Bugs cuts out a perfect outline of his body, and then walks freely out of the glass. The "Back in 5 minutes" sign adds the touch.
Bugs' demonstration of palm-reading to the giant also presents a good case in Bugs' quicks wits outmanoeuvring the giant's beefiness. The giant has grabbed Bugs and intends to crush him with his bare hands. Spontaneously, Bugs deceives the giant into thinking he's got an absorbing palm with hidden personality qualities of the giant.
Bugs showers the giant with compliments, like, "I'll bet you're a regular Don Juan with the ladies!" - making the giant bashful and coy. Bugs masquerades his sympathies with a flair as he whisper's into the giant's ears with some tips and advice.
The shot of the giant's ear blushing as Bugs whispers inside it is a subtle innuendo where Bugs' few pointers can be left open to interpretation.
|Animation by Gerry Chiniquy|
Gerry Chiniquy, the animator on the scene, captures the crispness of Freleng's timing, as well as the accentuation and emphasis of the beat beautifully.
As the giant places the hat on top of his head - the atmosphere definitely has a dark vibe towards it. The war-related gags seem like an appropriate touch as Bugs walks around the dark scalp, startled: "Hey! What is this, a blackout? I didn't hear no si-reen!".
So, Bugs strikes a match inside the scalp to observe a way out. A POV shot reveals the hat size to be "107 1/2". An off-screen voice yelling: "Put out that light!" is spontaneous and charming in its delivery. Bugs reacts to the yelling and accidentally releases the match - creating a cloud of smoke underneath the giant's hat.
Bugs finds a way out as he approaches a beanstalk complete with an elevator; which he acknowledges as "modern design". He disguises himself as a bellboy and tricks the giant from entering the elevator by ordering to: "take stairway to the left".
The giant's fall is a possible homage to the cinematic experience of the iconic falling sequence in Tex Avery's The Heckling Hare. While it's certainly not as long - there are several dynamic shots used to emphasise the fall.
Bugs reaches to the bottom of the beanstalk where he witnesses the giant's crash. From the outlook of Bugs' take - the crash is interpreted as somewhat horrific. The camera pan reveals the giant has created a large hole in the form of a canyon, based on the impact of his fall. He gets up and warns Bugs, "Look out for that foist step! It's a lu-lu!" - ending the cartoon with a laugh.
Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk is primarily an underrated Bugs Bunny entry, which is usually overlooked amongst fans. This needs to change. The short features an excellent representation of strength vs. wits turned into an enjoyable viewing experience. Although the short has war themes - it's kept really subtle, and blending it as a fairy tale parody works effectively to the point where the cartoon hasn't dated much. It also adds some insight into Bugs' character as he occasionally becomes vulnerable against the giant's strength, and his quick wits and spontaneity are portrayed believably. Michael Maltese has a strong flair for character development and gag sense which blend together wonderfully - and his take on the giant is perhaps one of the funniest characters, with a dim-witted persona, ever! Friz Freleng shines at the opportunity by utilising his knowledge of music that are put to effective use on gags like the giant's eardrums.