Wednesday, July 21, 2004

 

Of Course You Realize, This Means War

My recent musings on various cultural icons have given me the impetus to comment upon what I feel is the defining cultural works that have shaped my weltanschung, yes folks, Bugs Bunny cartoons. For whatever it's worth, these are my favorites, along with the inevitable pithy, trenchant analysis from your blogger. So in reverse order, here we go.... 

6. Herr Meets Hare (1945) - Other than "Bug Bunny Nips The Nips" which has been virtually banned because of its' portrayal of the Japanese (Mel Blanc does a really funny pidgin Japanese voice that  is decidedly un-PC), Bugs wasn't really enlisted in the war effort until this cartoon, which interestingly enough came out well after V-E Day. Bugs takes (for the first time) the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque, and ends up in the Black Forest, where he encounters none other Hermann Goering (invoke Godwin's Law in 5, 4, 3, 2....) . Bugs then proceeds to torment Fatso Hermann through various methods including masquerading as Hermann's very unlamented boss, and as Brunhilde, doing the exact shtick that naive critics lauded in the much later "What's Opera Doc" (it was far funnier in "Herr Meets Hare", even given the grimmer context). The cartoon features an interesting punchline that provides a very interesting insight into the political leanings of Hollywood. Does your tobacco taste different lately? 
 
5. Hair Raising Hare (1946) - An evil scientist who looks suspiciously like Peter Lorre invites Bugs to meet his little friend, the hairy monster with sneakers, Gossamer. So many great tag lines in this one, including "So it's mechanical!", "And so having disposed of the monster". Great sight gags, and of course the immortal manicurist bit ("Now lets dip our patties in the wa-ter"). Later remade as "Water, Water, Every Hare", with an even funnier beautician bit, but the rest of "Water" was fairly blah. 
 
4. Bugs And Thugs (1954) - A remake of the 1946 short "Racketeer Rabbit", which featured caricatures of Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre, this one has the immortal "Whoa ho, he's hiding in the stove!" bit. Both cartoons have a lot of merit, with the very dumb Mugsy adding a lot of laughs that the Lorre character didn't to "Racketeer". 

3. Long Haired Hare (1949) - The best of the opera cartoons. While "Rabbit Of Seville" had some of the most expressive facial expressions and a hilarious vocal, "What's Opera Doc" was basically an experiment that doesn't really work for me (and besides, as I pointed out earlier, the Brunhilde bit was done a dozen years before in "Herr Meets Hare"). This cartoon features the classic Bugs elements of the rabbit just doing his thing and being provoked by a pompous ass, then wreaking wonderful havoc. Score extra points for the bobby soxer and Leopold bits.

2. Rabbit Seasoning (1952) - The best of the three cartoons featuring Bugs, Daffy and Elmer in hilarious verbal sparring matches penned by Michael Maltese. Interestingly, "Rabbit Seasoning" is the cartoon with "Would you like to shoot him now or wait till you get home?", and "Rabbit Fire" is the cartoon with "Rabbit Season! Duck Season!". "Rabbit Seasoning" features the immortal "Pronoun trouble" line.  "Rabbit Fire"'s mainly memorable gag to me was the elephant gun gag, with a great Joe Besser-esque punch line, and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" had the bit with "I'm an fiddler crab! Why don't you shoot me? It's fiddler crab season!", but for some reason both of those don't really measure up to the manic level of "Rabbit Seasoning".
 
1. Bowery Bugs (1949) - One of the few cartoons that presents Bugs in his natural habitat, i.e. New York City. The other overtly New York cartoons out there are "Baseball Bugs", "Hurdy Gurdy Hare" and "A Hare Grows In Manhattan", however, while each of them has their moments, none have that consistently maniacal pace of Bowery Bugs. "Baseball" is of course much more about the eponymous sport, and merely has some New York scenery for effect. The Statue of Liberty gag at the end is incomprehensible, probably referring to some topical contemporaneous radio gag. "Hurdy Gurdy" is just another Bugs vs. bully chase, but it does have the great subway gag "Plenty of room in the center of the car, push in, push in!". "A Hare Grows" isn't really a favorite of mine, but I always liked the Egyptian Cigarette billboard gag. That one actually shows Carl Stalling's talent for finding just the right music, and I wish I could track down that piece of music, it's a great track. But I digress...

 
"Bowery Bugs" is the only Bugs cartoon directed by Art Davis, and as such is quite a rarity. Based on the New York legend of Steve Brodie, who allegedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and lived to tell about it (he very probably did no such thing in reality, but promoted himself quite well as having done so). The cartoon twists the legend, painting Brodie as a typical Bugs-ian villain, similar in spirit (if not execution) to "Hercules / Toodles" from "Homeless Hare". In the words of the cartoon Brodie had "a terrific run of luck, hehehehe, all bad". Of course, Brodie looks for a rabbit's foot to change his luck, and when he encounters Bugs (in the "forest primeval" -  Flatbush), he's convinced by our hero to consult "Swami Rabbitima" to change his luck. The entrance to the swami's salon is hilarious, as the curtains part, a voice intones, "Enter, o seeker of knowledge". A sandbag swings like a pendulum across the opening, smacks Brodie in the head, and you hear a classic Mel Blanc performance yelling "That's you, fathead!".
 
There are so many great gags in this cartoon it's hard to describe them all, but a personal favorite finds Brodie in a Bowery saloon on his face on the floor, and the proprietor intones in a mousy voice "At it again eh, Brodie? I'll have to call the bouncer. Heyyyyyy, Gorilla!", at which point the kitchen doors slam open and a large gorilla wearing a bow tie comes out and escorts Brodie off the premises. The gag with the puppy immediately afterwards is the icing on the cake. The New York feel of this cartoon is unsurpassed.
 
Honorable Mention: "Slick Hare", where Elmer is a hapless waiter in the Cafe Mocrumbo, trying to please a demanding Humphrey Bogart. The "Pick up pie!" bit is priceless, with Bogart coming in covered in a thrown pie asking Elmer totally deadpan "Why did you hit me in the face with a coconut custard pie with whipped cream?". Bugs impersonating Groucho is a good chuckle (he also did a Groucho impersonation in "People Are Bunny") 
  
"Homeless Hare", for the great ending gag where just as a massive pipe section is about to crash onto Toodles/Hercules, he says hopelessly, "Oh no", then after contact is made, a door swings open, and Toodles/Hercules says in one of the greatest defeat voices ever, "I'm feeling mighty low".
 
"Rabbit's Kin", for Pete Puma and the "How many lumps?" bit
 
"Hareway To The Stars", for the definitive Marvin The Martian bit ("Oh goody, the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator!" BOOM!). Visually impressive, but not a great cartoon other than the Space Modulator bits.
 
"Big House Bunny", for a great Mel Blanc performance as the screaming prison warden, and for being heavily censored (the cartoon is set in Sing Song Prison, and Yosemite Sam, as guard "Sam Schultz" manages to have several forms of capital punishment inflicted upon him).

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