That wascally wabbit, that scwewy wodent, that artist formerly known as Happy Rabbit is 75 years old. That’s amazing to think about. Though he’d appeared a few times in his prototype form — first turning up in 1938 as a foil to the always popular Porky Pig — it wasn’t until the 1940 cartoon A Wild Hare that the character we know as Bugs Bunny was truly born, sporting his signature white gloves and his catch phrase, “Ehhhh….what’s up doc?”
Have a look at the eight minutes of genius here:
Directed by Fred “Tex” Avery, A Wild Hare is like a perfectly formed example of a what a Bugs Bunny cartoon would be for the next several years. Still unnamed in this short, the name “Bugs Bunny” would finally be assigned to him in his next short, Elmer’s Pet Rabbit, directed by the great Chuck Jones. In total, between 1940 and 1964, the Golden Age of Warner Bros. short animation, Bugs appeared in over 160 cartoons and became the most popular of the Looney Tunes characters.
And why has he proven so popular? Why could they basically put him up against every other character and have it work? It’s because he’s sort of the perfect everyman who can overtake the enemy. He’s the underdog with the ability to fight back. He never starts the problems, but he’s the one who’ll finish them, usually with his trademark “this means war” mantra.
Even characters who were stars of their own cartoons became antagonists for Bugs, or, more accurately, he became their antagonist but was the hero. It made sense to make Elmer Fudd (voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan from 1938-1959, and not Mel Blanc as many might assume) a foil for him. He could be the hunter, the bigwig, the viking, anything big and imposing to make Bugs need to fight back. The same was true for Yosemite Sam, who was retrofitted into Bugs’ other de-facto archenemy for stories that took place in the old west or the south or anywhere an angry little prospector made sense.
Bugs Bunny was a tormentor, one who exacerbated and infuriated any rival out there. This made it a genius move on Chuck Jones’ part in 1951 when he first pitted Bugs and Daffy Duck against each other in the short Rabbit Fire. Their rivalry became one of the oldest and funniest in all of animation.
There are few cartoon characters as well-known or as beloved as Bugs Bunny, and he’s indelible because he’s so consistent. He’s got the carrot, he’s got the New York accent thanks to Mel Blanc, he’s got the mixture of victim and aggressor, and he almost always comes out ahead. He’s who we’d kind of all like to be, much more than Mickey Mouse or Tom & Jerry.
So, let us all eat a slice of carrot cake and listen to “Kill Da Wabbit” to celebrate the long, long career of easily the funniest lagomorph in existence.
What are your favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons or moments? List them below! And enjoy maybe his greatest cinematic outing…