“What’s Up Doc”?

By - CTL
July 1, 2016
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Recently CTL was privileged to attend what was billed as “The world’s most ‘Wascally Wabbit’ returns to Sydney! Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, celebrates the world’s favourite classic Looney Tunes, projected on the big screen, while the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs live on stage”!  We marveled at not just the music, not just the genius of the storytelling, not just the craft that it took to bring them to life, but also the insights into the human nature that each and every one of these funny 7-1/2 to 8 minute cartoons provided.

Also on display was the extraordinary dedication and patience it took to create them as they were produced in an era that knew nothing of computers. Only human genius, craftsmanship and longanimity were available. It took over 10,800 individual hand painted cells (drawings) to make just one of Bug’s epic adventures. The importance and genius of the voices (Mel Blanc), the score (Milt Franklin) along with the rest of the crew’s devotion all contributed dramatically to allow this magical process to take form.

I fear with the wizardry of today’s technology we have lost the craft that helped make these extraordinary films possible. Certainly without it, they would never have existed in the first place.

But why has this “Wascally Wabbit” so touched our hearts? Let’s face it; Bugs is cool, he is a relaxed, laid-back sort of fellow who rarely gets too excited. Even when threatened by various members of his unbalanced brethren, he usually handles the situation with aplomb and sang-froid.

In 1975 Dr. George Burden, on the 75th anniversary of the bunny, wrote in TIME magazine.

“On the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale in Axis 5 of the DSM-IV (revised), we could say he shows superior functioning in a wider range of activities, life’s problems never seem to get out of hand and he is sought out by others because of his many positive qualities”.
“My only qualm is his dependency problem with carrots. While it could be argued that this is not really an addiction, Bugs enters risky situations for these crunchy treats. I’ll leave this one at a questionable diagnosis DSM 304.9, “other substance abuse”. 

It would seem, given the great number of disordered cartoon characters in film and television, that normalcy is a condition which may be desirable, but makes for boring programming. As Pepe LePew would say: “Vive la difference!”

A brief history of the world’s most loved bunny provides some little known but none the less impressive stats. 

IMPRESSIVE FACTS

  • Since 1939, Bugs has starred in more than 175 films.
  • He’s been nominated for three Oscars, and won in 1958 for “Knighty Knight, Bugs” (with Yosemite Sam).

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Bugs first Oscar.

  • Every year from 1945 to 1961, he was voted “top animated character” by movie theater owners (when they still showed cartoons in theaters).

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  • In 1985 he became only the 2nd cartoon character to be given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Mickey Mouse was the first).
  • For almost 30 years, starting in 1960, he had one of the top-rated shows on Saturday morning TV.
  • In 1976, when researchers polled Americans on their favourite characters, real and imaginary, Bugs came in second …behind Abraham Lincoln.

THE INSPIRATIONS

Bugs was born in the 1930s, but cartoon historians say his ancestry goes further back. A few direct antecedents:

Zomo. You may not have heard of this African folk-rabbit, but he’s world famous. Joe Adamson writes in Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare: “Like jazz and rock’n’roll, Bugs has at least some of his roots in black culture. Zomo is the trickster rabbit from Central and Eastern Africa who gained audience sympathy by being  smaller than his oppressors and turning the tables on them through cleverness – thousands of years before Eastman invented film. A con artist, a masquerader, ruthless and suave, in control of the situation. Specialized in impersonating women”.

Charlie Chaplin. “It was Chaplin who established those gestures and actions expressing attitude give a screen character life. Joe Adamson further wrote in “Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare:” “The Looney Tunes directors, all fans of Chaplin, even stole many of his gags. For example: The abrupt and shocking kiss Charlie plants [on] someone who’s getting too close for comfort in The Floorwalker, went on to become one of Bugs’ favourite ways to upset his adversaries. [And] the walking broomstick in Bewitched Bunny does Chaplin’s trademark turn, with one foot in the air, at every corner. There are literally dozens of other Chaplin rip offs. Bugs also lifted bits from silent comedians Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

Groucho Marx. “Bugs uses his carrot as a prop, just as Groucho used his cigar,” points out Stefan Kanfer in Serious Business. “Eventually Bugs even stole Marx’s response to an insult: ‘Of course you know, this means war!'”

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BUT WHO REALLY CREATED THE WORLDS MOST LOVED RABBIT? 

The usual gestation period for a rabbit is a month. But Bugs Bunny, the iconic cartoon character who turns 76 on Wednesday July 27 2016, took a lot longer to come to life.

Looking into this vexing question CTL can now confidently relate that this is how the world’s favourite cartoon rabbit came to be. Animator Chuck Jones gave credit to Tex Avery for the character, but Warner Bros. had made several rabbit cartoons in the studios’ earlier years.

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Bugs Bunny first appeared on July 27, 1940

There were cutesy rabbits and wacky rabbits, but those rabbits aren’t Bugs. (One distinction, Jones explained, was that Bugs’ craziness always serves a purpose–in contrast to the unhinged Daffy Duck.)

The Wild Hare bunny a 1940 (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies animated short film. It was produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions) was originally un-credited, though that changed before the year was up. From that time forward Bugs was an instant star. By 1954, TIME MAGAZINE noted that he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. (Mel Blanc, who voiced the character, later claimed that the name was his idea, saying that they were going to call the character Happy Rabbit, but that Blanc suggested naming him after animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Alternatively, the name is sometimes traced to a sketch that designer Charles Thorson did on Hardaway’s request, with the caption “Bugs’ bunny” – as in, it was the bunny that Bugs had asked him to draw).

Though Virgil Ross was the animator on A Wild Hare, Chuck Jones became one of the more famous hands behind the Bugs Bunny magic. In 1979, when The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie came out, TIME critic Richard Schickel noted that “it is possible that some day Animator Chuck Jones may come to be regarded as the American Bunuel” for the fact that Jones and the groundbreaking surrealist filmmaker so well understood the psychological underpinnings of comedy.

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(Courtesy of Chuck Jones private library’s collection)

As these images from the late artist’s archives show, Bugs Bunny may have taken a long time to be born—but he sure has aged well.

(Background research courtesy of Time Magazine and Neatorama)

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