Playful, fun, mischievous, irreverent and intelligent: or, in other words, simply « cool ». Because of his animal nature (and troublemaker), he must have been the underdog, but his cunning, creativity, and intellect always trumped his predators. Of a rich diversity of characters in the Warner Bros. animations, Bugs Bunny, who turns 80 this month, is the undisputed icon and a must-see reference for animation cinema.
In the collective imagination there remain numerous scenes from the classic cartoons of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes: carefree Bugs, nibbling on their carrot and asking for the umpteenth time « what’s new, old man? »; his discussion and verbal game about whether it is « duck season or rabbit season » with Lucas Duck, before Elmer’s impending shotgun; the eternal altercations with Sam Whiskers; the involuntary intrusion into the Hansel and Gretel story; or as an opera conductor, taking the singer’s vocal abilities to the extreme, among many others.
Despite the fact that previous versions of Bugs Bunny can be considered to have appeared in some Warner short films more than 80 years ago, in the late 1930s, the character formally appeared for the first time in cinema at the short A Wild Hare by Merrie Melodies, released on July 27, 1940. It would also be the first time that the public would hear the phrase-question that would immortalize him.
Bugs Bunny forever
Bugs Bunny is the result of the collaborative work of several creatives from a Warner Bros animation team. Animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway was the one who conceived that first sketch for the rabbit, but it was one of his coworkers who named that drawing. like « the Bugs Bunny ». The first « model sheet » of the character (the graphic document to standardize appearance, poses and gestures) was produced by Robert McKimson. The legendary Friz Freleng was responsible for developing his personality, which was refined by Tex Avery and the brilliant Chuck Jones, while Mel Blanc not only gave him a voice, but also his peculiar Brooklyn accent.
The popularity of Bugs Bunny increased during World War II, through a series of short films of eminent propaganda character. During the warlike conflict, Warner’s characters confronted Adolfo Hitler, Benito Mussolini and the Japanese. Short films like Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, from 1944, were withdrawn from circulation for their obvious use of stereotypes against Japanese culture.
During the so-called golden age of American animation, a period between 1928 – with the first sound shorts – and the early 1960s, Bugs Bunny appeared in more than 150 productions, most of them directed by Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson or Chuck Jones. His last appearance from that time was recorded in False Hare, from 1964.
Later, its notoriety was consolidated for new generations through television, either with the repetitions of the short films or in special programs. In 1988, Bugs briefly appeared in Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Film, sharing exactly the same screen time as Mickey Mouse, under the strict agreement between Disney and Warner. This was one of the last occasions when Mel Blanc (1908-1989) gave his voice to the character.
Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes troop rose in popularity in 1996 with the premiere of Space Jam, a film that (like Roger Rabbit) managed to get live-action actors to interact with the animated protagonists. The presence of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan was a deciding factor in the film’s box office success.
The 21st century has brought various versions of Bugs Bunny to the television screen, with lesser degrees of impact, but which have given it force. Among others: Baby Looney Tunes (2001-2006) and The Looney Tunes Show (2011-2014). In 2020, HBO Max’s Looney Tunes Cartoons focuses on bringing back the traditional style of animated characters.
Whether in the movies, on television, in the Six Flags amusement parks, in video games, commercials or countless other products, the Bugs Bunny celebrity has endured for 80 years thanks to his light-hearted personality and powerful charisma. What’s new? The old. The old understood as timeless classic.
A version of this article first appeared in Cinema PREMIERE # 310 on July 2020.
Carlos Del Río Cinéfilo incorrigible. Movie toy collector. Founder and host of @CinemaNET. Collaborator in Efekto Noticias and Filmmen. Writes in PREMIERE Cinema since 2002.