Wednesday, 7 August 2013

295. A Wild Hare (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 294.
Release date: July 27, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) and Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny/Skunk).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: In Bugs' debut short, Elmer Fudd is hunting 'wabbits' in the middle of the forest, he targets a particular rabbit, but that rabbit proves to become too smart for Elmer.

The moment the followers of this blog have possibly been waiting for, in a long time: it's time to review the first 'official' debut of everyone's beloved WB star: Bugs Bunny. He would go on to become greatly appreciated and loved globally, and remains so today. At this point, Porky Pig was still the main star of the Warner Bros. cartoons, and at that point, the studio had already been knocking around with a few cartoons about a rabbit..who was considered to have potential as a star. His Brooklynese accent patterned after Frank McHugh's New York accent, his fast wits, and self-esteem would be just the perfect match for the rabbit character, which Tex Avery gave him in A Wild Hare. In contrast to the similar designs, Bugs has a much more appealing design by Robert Givens, as well as Bob McKimson; he is much more sleeker; and a more appealing than the Charlie Thorson rabbit.

Not to mention, Chuck Jones and Ben Hardaway had played around with the Bugs character, and had played a small part to the creation, but a contribution as big to what Tex Avery did for this cartoon. Tex Avery truly was the creator of Bugs Bunny to that effect. To any commenters, please, no exhaustive debates about 'who created Bugs?'. Originally, Tex had wanted to call the new-star character: Jack E. Rabbit, as he believed Bugs Bunny was too cutesy; even though the name got the popular vote, and a name we all love, whereas "Bugs Bunny" is too generic. Of course, being the hit it was in its day, and without doubt encouraged Schlesinger to produce more Bugs Bunny cartoons; and the short would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

The notorious opening begins; with such great suspense and foliage backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen. Elmer's established hunting pose is incredibly spot-on and full of suspense. He creeps through the woods, and the opening is all full of suspense, including Stalling's great use of synchronising the steps to the music, which creates good tension.

In close-up; Elmer then lets out the magic quotes, we all attribute to Elmer: "Be very, very quiet. I'm hunting wabbits!". Bob Givens has also redesigned Elmer to look a lot more Dopey-ish from Snow White; and makes Elmer the character everyone recognises from a design standpoint.

Previously, Elmer had the personality and the Bryan touch, but in terms of design resembled a lot more like Egghead. Elmer proceeds to hunt, and lo and behold: spots rabbit tracks.

"Oh boy, wabbit twacks!" and then we hear his infamous laughter..which is another key trademark to his personality. Just as Elmer is getting lucky; he follows the tracks to discover a rabbit hole; which he points out an laughs. "Wabbits love carrots!". He picks up a carrot from under his pocket and places it by the rabbit hole; before he proceeds to hide by a tree. The opening sequence of Elmer Fudd, alone, greatly establishes his character personality as a hunter, and a a great turning point where his hunting skills would turn to failure because of a particular witty rabbit.

A part of Bugs making his first screen appearance; his arm then reaches out of the rabbit hole; aware of the scent of a carrot placed by him. The hand movements of the animation, being animated very realistically and wonderfully, then moves around looking for the carrot's location. Obviously, not identifying itself completely, where the carrot was set up as bait by Elmer.

Bugs then feels the carrot with his middle finger, to measure and analyse the object. He grips his middle finger onto the carrot, sliding it up and down, analysing the texture and shape; knowing it is already a carrot.

Already knowing its a carrot; he quickly grabs the carrot into the hole. Elmer rushes towards the rabbit hole, at gunpoint, hoping to fire at Bugs' arms. Bugs' hand appears out of the rabbit hole; vaguely aware of another object near his residence.

He feels the texture and shape of the gun, knowing it is nothing shaped of a carrot, he flicks the gun with his finger three times: metal. His hand makes a take, and falls back down. He places a mostly-finished carrot on top; at gun point. Attempting to take it, but threatened at gunpoint; he makes finger-walks with his finger, and quickly snatches it away; with Elmer missing Bugs. The hand movement is incredibly well-animated, and it is all wonderfully acted, which is without doubt, a tough assignment.

After being outwitted by Bugs at this stage; Elmer makes a double take as he then places his gun straight towards the rabbit hole, ready to fire straight at him. Just as he is about to fire; he gets a jerky feeling where Bugs, off-screen, tugs at his rifle; and Elmer struggles to pull his shotgun. After he succeeds, his shotgun turns into a knot.

Tex's comic timing of the rifle turned into a knot could not have been timed better, for a 1940 cartoon at the Schlesinger studio. It's delivery is very wacky, and typical of his timing, which is a great satire towards poor Elmer, where it implies he is such an amateur.

Elmer tosses his shotgun out of the way, and doesn't give up on Bugs as he proceeds to dig his way through the rabbit hole; with a hope of luck. Over at the next rabbit hole, Bugs Bunny's head then spins around and is first laid eyes to the audience for the first time. He watches Elmer dig under the hole, and proceeds to take advantage of him.

He watches Elmer dig his way through; as he then knocks on Elmer's head, eating his carrot. Just then, his first line, is his most famous line, the line which this blog has been looking forward to: 'What's up, doc?'. Accoding to Tex, it was a catchphrase he used at high-school; as it was considered a popular phrase in Dallas. Elmer, already gullible, hushes Bugs as he whispers: 'There's a wabbit down there. And I'm twying to catch it'. For a audience watching the cartoon in 1940; it would've been a hilarious setup considering how Elmer is easily manipulated by Bugs' wits; not thinking of Bugs Bunny as a rabbit for one minute.

Just as Elmer proceeds to dig; Bugs kneels beside him, eating his carrot and not feeling threatened at all by a simple-minded hunter. He asks casually, 'What d'ya mean, wabbits?'. Elmer pauses and attempts to explain a rabbit to him: 'Wabbits, wabbits! Y'know, with big wong, ears!'.

The next shot, animated and acted wonderfully by Rod Scribner, features Elmer sign-languaging the rabbit's ears; with Bugs Bunny displaying the ears, 'Oh like this?'. Elmer continues to explain, 'Uh-huh. And a wittle, white, fwuffy tail'.

Bugs shows off his tail for Elmer, to help his hint. Elmer jumps up and down softly, 'And he hops awound and awound!'. Then Bugs demonstrates, as he hops around Elmer in circles, already making it too obvious he's a rabbit, with Elmer totally ignorant of his specie. Elmer, watching Bugs Bunny hopping around, then breaks it out to the audience, 'Y'know I bewieve this fewwa is a R-A-B-B-I-T'..the dialogue where he spells out 'rabbit' is a good little touch, as well as the wink, which is a funny forth-wall scene implying he has already figured out he is a rabbit, which took his time.

After hopping around; Elmer then stops Bugs and realises: 'Pardon me, but you know, you look just like a wabbit'. Just then as Bugs remarks calmly, he calls Elmer for attention. 'Listen doc, now don't spread this around, but confidentially..I AM A RABBIT!'. Great delivery in the dialogue as well as Mel Blanc's yell.

A deliberate Avery setup where he just points out the obvious towards Elmer, a little frustrated of his total ignorance. The deliberate setup and suspense in the dialogue makes just the funny result. Just then, Bugs then hides behind a tree and yells 'Last look!'.

Elmer creeps up behind the tree, to look for Bugs but then Bugs creeps from the other side of the tree covering his eyes, and playing 'Guess who?'. The first guess by Elmer, is Hedy LeMarr; as he just names off celebrities off his head; with Bugs shaking his head. He continues to list out: Carole Lombard, Rosemary Lane as well as Olivia de Havilland (for what its worth, still alive). At this point Bugs gives a hint: 'Uh-uh, but you're getting warmer'. Elmer, stumped then realises, 'Say, you wouldn't be that screwy wabbit would ya?'. Bugs responds, quoting Kitzel, 'Mmm, could be'. Kisses Elmer, and scampers off. A great little sequence where Bugs manipulates Elmer once more, into a children's game.

After he scampers off, Bugs Bunny jumps back into his rabbit home; and Elmer chases after him, as he cusses 'Doggone, you ol'mean wabbit!'. In a great close-up of Bugs under the rabbit hole; he grabs Elmer and kisses him on the lips.

An example of Bugs kissing Yosemite
For what its worth, and to any fanboys wanting to start stupid threads about 'Is Bugs gay?'. No, it was derived from Charlie Chaplin films where a person would kiss their enemy to confuse or embarrass them. Friz Freleng even quoted:

"It got laughs every time. That was a characteristic of Bugs. Bugs was an aggressive character and he embarrassed the little guy, Elmer Fudd, by kissing him. I don't remember how the gag started, but we thought it was funny. At that time, it was comedy. That's all I ever thought about it. Whoever thought of a 'homosexual' context at the time? It never even 
entered our minds."

Elmer then wipes his lips, and vows to outwit Bugs, 'I'll get that wabbit, I'll set my wabbit trap!'. A while later, Elmer then finishes up setting up his rabbit trap; where he places a carrot with a box on stands, all set up to trap Bugs; as well as pointing out a sign reading 
'Carrots' to persuade Bugs.

Elmer then whispers towards Bugs to catch his attenion, 'Here wabbit, wabbit!' he calls out. Bugs pops out of the rabbit hole with his attention caught on the whispers, as well as a joyful face when he spots carrots nearby a rabbit hole. 

Elmer hides behind a tree, as he believes Bugs has caught the trap once he listens to the bell ringing of a trap alert. Elmer rushes over to the box, and he picks up what he believe is the rabbit. Elmer pulls out a skunk, fooled by Bugs but hasn't overcome or realised the prank. 

He believes he has outwitted Bugs, where he speaks to him, standing by a tree very casually. Bugs nods every time Elmer believes he states, such as 'Too smart for you, wasn't I? I finally caught ya didn't I?'. Noticing Bugs standing by the tree, he makes a double take; in which he looks at the skunk. Smugly, the skunk responds; 'Confidentially, you know...?'. The character acting of Elmer carefully lifting the skunk's tail done is brilliantly acted by Virgil Ross; as Elmer then turns his gun towards as he threatens to shoot him at gunpoint. Bugs then drops the gun, and agrees to make a deal with Elmer: 'Okay doc, I had my fun, see. To show ya I'm a sport, I'll give ya a good shot at me'.

Bugs then puts Elmer in a position to shoot Bugs, and Bugs walks over towards a tree where he then gives a signal wave towards Elmer, 'Okay, let it go'. Just then, as Elmer then positions himself with his gun, ready to fire at Bugs. Bugs is holding his ears with his fingers, from the sound of fire guns. Stalling creates some good build-up in the music as the shooting is about to occur.

Bugs looks upwards; hearing the sound of birds chirping merrily, above in a point-of-view shot. It would've worked funnier as a gag without the incredible detail used in decorum as well as the suspense. 

Anyhow, it is a very typical Avery gag which is presented as very subtle, and the self-awareness of Bugs having bird droppings land on his head is particularly amusing. After hearing the sounds of birds dropping; Bugs then halts the intense buildup; with his hands: 'Woah hold it!' which creates a lot of appeal as his hands move towards the camera in perspective. He moves himself away from the tree at a good angle, as it he gives the 'Okay' signal towards Elmer, and already knowing that Elmer would miss a shot at Bugs. 'Okay, let it go' signals Bugs. Elmer positions his shotgun, and he fires his gun where he jerks from the reaction, which is some very funny comic timing.

Just then, Bugs then goes into a fake death sequence where he covers his chest with his arms, being melodramatic of his 'supposed death'. He collapses to the ground where he then coughs up, losing his consciousness to keep breathing. Wonderful character animation by Bo McKimson, who makes Bugs' supposed death rather believable as well as bringing in emotions towards Elmer and Bugs.

He coughs, 'This looks like the end. Ohh, I can't hand out much longer. I'm all washed up. Ooh, everything's getting dark, etc!' Elmer holds onto Bugs, where he immediately is saddened by Bugs' performance that he feels rather sorry and spiteful of himself for 'shooting' Bugs. 

He then coughs up and shouts out what are his supposed last magics, 'Goodbye, pal' before he plays dead. Motionless, Elmer then tries to shake Bugs to retrieve his consciousness but fails, 'Mr. Wabbit, say something! Speak to me!'. He tries over towards a tree blaming himself for shooting Bugs, as he cries: 'I'm a muwdewer!' and he continues on sobbing. Just then, as Elmer continues to cry; Bugs slowly opens up one eye, and looks at Elmer sobbing by a tree. He sees that Elmer behind a tree is another chance to prank him again, as he stands up and walks towards Elmer.

Whilst Elmer is crying by a tree; Bugs then gets prepared to get back at Elmer, big time. He takes a big swing of his foot where he plans to kick him in the rear end. The cycle of his foot swinging in a airbrush effect is so wonderfully cycled, and it has a lot of appeal, that it's worth to be shown as a animated GIF.

After he kicks him in the booty, the gag turns into a 'ring the bell' type gag; where Elmer hits on top of the tree, and drops back down. Treg Brown makes the gag evident as Elmer hits the branch with a bell sound, and then Bugs hands him a cigar, which would usually happen in carnival games. 

Bugs then tiptoes out of the way. Just then, Elmer then starts to snap and bellow 'Aww! Wabbits! Guns! Wabbit-twaps!' and then he walks out of the forest bellowing 'Wabbits!' as he screams. A much more wilder reaction for Elmer, in contrast to Elmer's Candid Camera. In the final shot, animated by Scribner, Bugs then chews on his carrot with some funny expressions drawn by the man himself. He then remarks the last line regarding Elmer, 'Can ya imagine anybody actin' like dat? Y'know, I think the poor guy's screwy'. For the last charming moment, he uses his carrot to play the flute to The Girl Who Left Behind Me as he walks back to his rabbit hole, as the cartoon ends.
Overall comments: A great new step and future for the Schlesinger Studio? Why am I writing out the obvious? Not only was the short very groundbreaking for being the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon, but it was also very groundbreaking in terms of character personalities, where Bugs picks on the foolish Elmer which he takes as an advantage. Tex would continue to play around with the dumb/smart persona; where he would use Bugs Bunny in a fox costume for Of Fox and Hounds, as well as the qual in The Crackpot Quail before Bugs was given that persona permanently. This is also a good, new establishment for Elmer Fudd, considering how previously he was seen as a harmless animal photographer, as well as playing historical characters in satires by Freleng. Here, Elmer is portrayed as a hunter for animals, which we all see Elmer for. 

Also, it feels a lot like Avery is going through a very different approach in terms of humour. Of course, you get a few gags here and there, particularly with the bird gag, although Tex really does play with character personality as gags so wonderful, that it makes the situations a lot more believable and hilarious. Not to mention from earlier, the character personalities and relationships between Elmer and Bugs have been completely well established, as its particular character acting that hasn't been explored from the Schlesinger writers before, which makes it a different level in some aspects. Of course, Bugs' instincts were used before; whereas in It Happened One Night; Clark Gable's character had a witty Bugs persona. Of course, Bugs would be experimented a few times afterwards; particularly with the following cartoon: Elmer's Pet Rabbit, where he would have a Jimmy Stewart impression, but this short definitely gives Bugs an established personality, and an appearance which would make him a huge star.


  1. First comment! Great cartoon, a true masterpiece.

  2. The moment that we've been waiting for and it's..."only the beginning".

  3. Looneytooneyfanpl12 August 2013 at 12:55

    Polish Dubbed Version replaces these stars as "Snow White", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Mr. President", etc...

  4. I've always complained about how "A Wild Hare" should've won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Short. Why? Because it would have permanently cemented Bugs Bunny's reputation at the studio because a) It would've been the first time a WB cartoon won an Oscar, b) It would've been the first time a cartoon studio other than Disney won the Oscar for Best Short, and c) After years of trying to establish Bugs as a solid cartoon character, the first cartoon that succeeded in perfecting the wascally wabbit's persona would've won an OSCAR for goodness' sake. But, no.... "The Milky Way", an incredibly bland and dull MGM short, had to win the Oscar for Best Short that year instead. Truly a darn shame.