"Deconstructing" Bugs: The Bugs Bunny Cartoons of 1955

By Kevin McCorry




Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies released in 1955.
Directed by I. (Friz) Freleng and Charles M. (Chuck) Jones.
Stories by Warren Foster, Michael Maltese, and Tedd Pierce.
Animation by Gerry Chiniquy, Ted Bonnicksen, Arthur Davis, Virgil Ross, Ken Harris, Richard Thompson, Abe Levitow, Keith Darling, and Ben Washam.
Layouts by Hawley Pratt, Robert Givens, and Ernest Nordli.
Backgrounds by Irv Wyner, Philip DeGuard, and Richard H. Thomas.
Voice Characterisation by Mel Blanc.
Music by Carl W. Stalling and Milt Franklyn.

1955 was strange, difficult, even harrowing for Bugs Bunny. In his fifteenth year of existence as a beloved cartoon character, Bugs was intended bread flour for a giant Elmer Fudd, astray in the middle of the Sahara Desert, selected in Rome, 54 A.D. to be fed to lions, switched of identity with hapless hunter Fudd, agonised by a prankster animator, and chemically transformed into a beastly, green rabbit. Though Bugs' ingenuity and winning ways prevail in the first three mentioned predicaments, in the latter stated trio of adventures, Bugs is anything but triumphant.

1955 was, of course, the middle of a decade. A decade in which Bugs' "doin's" in a wide variety of places and times were under the stewardship of Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Robert McKimson, the only tenured cartoon directors employed at Warner Brothers' animation studio since the closure of the Arthur Davis unit in 1949. 1955 was a fascinating year for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. It marked the first occasions that Jones and Freleng were credited by nicknames Chuck and Friz rather than by the proper Charles M. and I.. McKimson directed and by himself animated a cartoon, "The Hole Idea", in which a scientist's invention facilitates the dastardly deeds of a criminal and opens a route to hell. Granny, the protector of Tweety Bird, had a change of physiognomy. Freleng directed his first Speedy Gonzales cartoon, which would be an Oscar winner. 1955 was most noteworthy for Bugs, though. McKimson directed not a single Bugs Bunny film released in 1955. This oddity necessarily meant that Bugs' 1955 adventures were only in the domain of Jones and Freleng, who, intentionally or not, charted a quite drastic change of course for the principal star of their animation studio's product. A non-beneficent, dark path was forged for- or by- Bugs, granting nemesis to Bugs' earliest adversary, questioning the rabbit's entitlement to the acclaim that he has received, and revealing an abasing facet to the bunny's psyche.

Before and after 1955, there were cartoons in which Bugs was assailed by mishap, like by a train tunnel arch in 1956's "Half-Fare Hare" or by surprisingly volatile talcum powder in 1954's "Captain Hareblower". However, such unpleasant occurrences did not negate Bugs' deserved victories in those cases. In "Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare" (1964), an exploding cigar and a Frankenstein monster inflict some bodily damage upon Bugs, but most of that cartoon's violence befalls Bugs' enemy, the Tasmanian Devil. And in some scattered cartoons of the early 1950s, Bugs' best intentioned missions go awry due to mistaken assumption on his part, e.g. that the home of all penguins must be at the South Pole, or that a fox-hunting hound, who, Bugs believes, must, like all hunters, be taught a lesson, would not divest a rabbit of his tail. Yet, such errors would appear not to stem from a substantial character flaw in Bugs. They seem innocent, and Bugs does not decline very much- if at all- in esteem in those cartoons.

As for the rather changeable early Bugs Bunny films, the ones of the 1940s to which as many as 7 directors contributed their talents and diverse versions of heckling hare humour, those have been convincingly described in hindsight by Jones through Bugs Bunny biographer Joe Adamson, and somewhat also by Freleng, as an experimental and cognitive period analogous to childhood and adolescence. By 1950, Bugs had "come of age" and "found his way", his direction in the sum of his cartoons of a given year being toward a fun-loving though moral, savvy, sophisticated, and privileged figure. Some cartoons of the 1950s may hint at a Bugs persona of less lofty proportions, but was there ever in Bugs' "adulthood" if not in his whole life a year besides 1955 when a succession of cartoons completely cast the bunny in a role other than charmed champion of all that is magnanimous and right?

1955 commenced by what would appear to be the normal and exotic Bugs Bunny cartoon clashes of that time period, at the top of a beanstalk and in driest Africa, with Bugs tripping enormous Elmer and escaping Fudd's colossal castle, to be the more-than-a-little-self-indulgent consumer of a giant carrot patch presumably owned by Fudd, and Bugs next outwitting ornery desert territory guardian Yosemite Sam by some clever explosives triggering with multiple doors to a fortress. However, there are perhaps indications in these Bugs Bunny films that this was to be a different year for him. His belly-enlarging forage of the giant carrots is followed by a Saharan sojourn wherein events for awhile do not proceed to his advantage. Bugs is beset with a shallow, dirty water puddle in an oasis and by an automobile mirage at an inopportune time. Only after his opponent starts erring do Bugs' fortunes begin to rebound.

The fertile land that gave growth to the giant carrots at the close to "Beanstalk Bunny" is replaced by the sands of the Sahara, one of the areas on Earth least amenable to foliage. A coincidence? Perhaps. Meaningless? Maybe. Conversely, there could be an implied lesson in such juxtaposed settings.

Then, there are three cartoons, one might call them a trilogy, in which Bugs' winner status is subverted, interspersed with an "economy" cartoon recalling Bugs' past. The trilogy of cartoons in which Bugs is removed from or falls from the position for which he is selected for honour in the same year's "This is a Life?", consists of Friz Freleng's "Hare Brush", Chuck Jones' "Rabbit Rampage", and Freleng's "Hyde and Hare".

   

"Hyde and Hare", the third and most salient film in the trilogy, has received special attention in "Hyde and Hare": An Overlooked Masterpiece. "Hyde and Hare" is examined there at length, and it is best to read that article first before going further into this one.

Could the time have come for Bugs to have a "taste of his own medicine"? In "Hare Brush", Bugs is the victim of what he has been doing against Elmer Fudd since his cartoon debut in 1940. Due to what may be described as the most bizarre reversal of roles ever put on film, Elmer becomes Bugs, and Bugs becomes Elmer, with the consequences of their confrontation inversely incurred.

Elmer supplants Bugs as the charmed hero, by assuming the rabbit's identity, as a result, it would seem, of a mental illness brought about by years of failure in his rifle-toting pursuit of "the wabbit". Fudd is revealed to be a millionaire tycoon who owns a mansion and a yacht, material holdings that have been of no help in his quest for gratification as a sportsman. He is consigned by his business subordinates to the Fruit Cake Sanitarium- It's Full of Nuts, for treatment of his delusion that he is Bugs Bunny, dressed in grey with pointy ears, chomping carrots, and asking, "What's up, Doc?"

It should be noted that in his Bugs impersonation, Elmer hops "on all fours", something that Bugs will do in a regressive fashion in "Hyde and Hare". The movement is not regressive for Elmer, though, unless men evolved from wild rabbits. Elmer is mimicking ordinary rabbit behaviour as humans would perceive it- and as Dr. Jekyll will expect and regard it. The hopping humorously shows the extent of Elmer's psychosis, but apart from the curiosity of it occurring in a cartoon quite close to "Hyde and Hare", what is its relevance to a 1955 "deconstruction" of Bugs?

Fudd's mental health has probably deteriorated due to the inferiority that he feels at being overcome time and time again by a bunny. It could be that the hopping foretells untoward conduct for Bugs in an adventure to come, implying that Bugs has within him an inferiority that could be manifested by the same behaviour if he is in some way incited to waive his dignity. "Hare Brush" is, above all else, an instance of nemesis against Bugs, here in the brainwashed belief that he is Elmer, and any rabbit aping by Elmer could reflect the tenuousness in 1955 of Bugs' charmed standing.

While in the sanitarium, Elmer is in a bed and being fed carrots- exactly what will be Bugs' desire in his "pet" adoption by Dr. Jekyll in "Hyde and Hare". In "Hare Brush", as in "Hyde and Hare", this prospect, and the inducement of a carrot shown to him (by Elmer/"Bugs" in this case), brings Bugs into a self-depreciating scenario. He becomes the patient in Elmer's stead in the sanitarium, permitting Elmer, now at liberty, to hop out of the psychiatric hospital, to live his delusion in the woodland. The attending psychiatrist, Dr. Oro Myicin, thinks that the bona fide bunny in the hospital bed is Elmer in rabbit costume and has no problem in persuading Bugs to cooperate with therapy, for being a millionaire is, in this cartoon, sufficient incentive for Bugs to allow someone to tamper with him. Bugs is drugged and mentally conditioned by the doctor into believing himself to be Elmer, is soon released from the doctor's custody, enters the affluent lifestyle of Fudd, and eventually is in the wilderness, hunting Elmer/"Bugs", who outwits his pursuer with no difficulty.

Bugs does not finish this cartoon on the winning side of an adversarial relationship. Having received the back-blast of a rifle, dived onto a rock, been buried by a bear, and fallen from a cliff, Bugs/"Elmer" is dragged to jail by the I.R.S. for tax evasion, while Elmer/"Bugs" scampers merrily into the deep forest. Bugs must "do the time" for the crime of his enemy, and he will be imprisoned not as Bugs Bunny but as Elmer Fudd; so, without his proper identity, what hope has Bugs of finessing and heckling his way out of this? Elmer is the undisputed victor, Bugs the undisputed victim- a situation continued in "Rabbit Rampage", the next Bugs Bunny cartoon of 1955.

"Rabbit Rampage" is essentially a reprise of the premise of the successful 1953 "Duck Amuck", the subjecting of a cartoon character to the mischief of an antic animator. "Duck Amuck" put Daffy Duck in this unenviable scenario, which for a character as vainglorious, irritable, and prone to outrage as Daffy seemed to elicit all of the expected responses from the mallard, with the audience laughing at Daffy's humiliation and indignation and simultaneously sympathising with him. "Rabbit Rampage" tried this mise-en-scene with Bugs, who is, like Daffy, tormented by the uncooperative cartoon animator who draws the cartoon character in a form other than that which is familiar, manoeuvres cartoon physics against the character's interests, and creates a double or doubles of him. Bugs is scarcely any more tolerant of this than was Daffy, and his angered garble is reminiscent of that often uttered by Yosemite Sam.

At the end of "Rabbit Rampage", as happens in "Duck Amuck", "the camera" pulls back to reveal who is at the cartoon animator's desk, but whereas Bugs is the culprit in "Duck Amuck", a choice that Jones has said was catch-as-cats-can and instantly accepted as the only one appropriate, the mischief-maker in "Rabbit Rampage" is Elmer, until the preceding 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon Bugs' longest-suffering foe. It is the second time, and a second consecutive outing for Bugs, that Fudd wins against the bunny. This time, moreover, he can sanely relish the triumph. "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Well, anyway, I finally got even with that screwy wabbit."

   

"Rabbit Rampage" is a beautiful cartoon. It opens with a script describing the establishing scene of what is ostensibly planned to be a standard Bugs Bunny adventure, followed by a glorious pan of "the camera" to the blank page on a cartoon animator's drawing board and the rapid but graceful movement of a brush to paint a desirable, lush backdrop, but Bugs' rabbit hole is high in the air, and when Bugs steps out of it, he falls. From grace, perhaps? True, Bugs has plummeted to Earth before, but the import of his fall here may be different from that of earlier such incidents, for "Rabbit Rampage" proceeds from an undermining of Bugs' established winner nature, in the wake of like event in "Hare Brush" and in disturbingly close proximity to "Hyde and Hare".

   

Thus unfolds a Looney Tune in which Bugs' body becomes larger than his head, in which he is given a pumpkin head, becomes a horse and a malformed version of himself, meets his double(s), and is nearly struck by a locomotive. The paintbrush-administered transformations here could almost have been intended to demonstrate that Bugs' appearance is not immutable. Bugs was shown as vulnerable- and maybe not only so in looks.

One cannot resist noting that the "tables" do "turn" for Bugs while the rabbit becomes the victim of what he perpetrated against Daffy. To place Daffy in the cartoon animator's chair would be the logical turnabout for vengeance, but Daffy, with his increasingly self-important and overweening manner, seems undeserving of it. No, Elmer was probably the best choice for it, and some of the element of surprise at the revealing of his identity remains- despite the watcher's preconditioning by "Duck Amuck" to expect an ending of this sort. Bugs is mortified- and by the character whom he has abashed for the longest time.

Historians and aficionados of cartoons tend to dismiss "Rabbit Rampage" as a mistake. What worked for Daffy in spite of- or because of- the duck's frantic protests, is abnormal for Bugs. They ask what Bugs did to deserve this punishment. Bettering Elmer in prior cartoons had been par-for-the-course for Bugs the hunted; the bunny ought not to have anything substantial for which to atone or endure in retribution in his relationship with Fudd. And most of- if not all of- Bugs' other enemies were in some way, too, morally unjustified- or at the very least erroneously selective- to have grappled with the rabbit or with the rabbit's friends or principles.

   

So, was "Rabbit Rampage" a mistake? It can be a difficult cartoon to accept, true, but it could merit appreciation in view of all of the Bugs Bunny films of 1955. As the immediate successor to the nemesis of Fudd against Bugs in "Hare Brush" and a precursor to what was to come in "Hyde and Hare", it appears to be an exquisite albeit probably unwitting work of reiterating and foreshadowing. One cannot dispute the correspondence between "Rabbit Rampage" and "Hare Brush" and the above discussed association between "Hare Brush" and "Hyde and Hare". There are also some cogent hints in "Rabbit Rampage" of the horror to come in "Hyde and Hare", they being Bugs' changes by cartoon animator paintbrush into forms to/at which Bugs and his audience are unaccustomed and repulsed. Freleng and now Jones have demonstrated that ivory towers do not an inviolable position make for Bugs. Bugs could sometimes go through a cartoon with scarcely an incident in his favour. Might he not be fallible in some major way?

It would seem that a "deconstruction" of Bugs the hero was occurring. "Hare Brush" posited a coherent basis for deserved downfall within the same cartoon. Carrot craving coupled with avarice, the carrot dangled in front of Bugs and the "advantages" of millions of greenbacks causing Bugs to allow himself to become an inmate at the Fruit Cake Sanitarium and a patient of Dr. Oro Myicin, with the result of Bugs' psychological "make-over" into the woebegone ways of his hunter. Subsequently, in "Rabbit Rampage", there is a manipulation of Looney Tune and Merrie Melodie convention contrary to Bugs and the bunny hereby again rendered a loser, through a series of unflattering physical "make-overs".

Why does being a millionaire have an appeal to Bugs in "Hare Brush"? Is Bugs no less greedy than Daffy? Or is his greed of a different nature? All of that money would fund a gargantuan carrot repast. In "Beanstalk Bunny", Daffy refused to flee from the castle of giant Fudd without "solid gold goodies", and Bugs had not completely escaped the property of the enormous Elmer before he chose to feast upon the carrots, thereby refusing to "make good" his liberty from this land of extraordinary temptation. Maybe, just maybe, Bugs' raid of the colossal carrots was excessive indulgence, no matter how apparent had been their presentation before him as "spoils" in his victory against the mammoth Elmer.

   

What the ending of "Beanstalk Bunny" would seem to convey is Bugs' inclination to dispense with moderation when seduced, and there appears to be a recurrence of it in "Hare Brush". Promise of carrots galore entices Bugs, forfeiting his virtues of caution and discretion, into a detrimental scenario, and the "advantages" of a millionaire are then sufficient to convince Bugs to stupidly allow the personality-processing to proceed, completing Bugs' faux pas in "Hare Brush". So, could Bugs have greedily warranted a "turn" as the victim, like Daffy, on the animator board?

"Piker's Peak" (1957) would, at first glance, appear to connect to "Hare Brush" and contradict this interpretation, as it involves inducement of a hefty sum of money toward a bountiful carrot supply prompting Bugs to race Yosemite Sam to a mountain summit- with Bugs seeming to be clear of any untoward shifts of circumstance. However, the contest is between Bugs and a sworn adversary of 12 years, and of the two, Sam, with his characteristic use of extremely violent deceit, is least worthy of achievement in any standard competition with the rabbit, and Bugs by default must be on the side of providence no matter how questionable his motives or actions may appear to be. Besides, neither Sam nor Bugs reach the desired goal when "Piker's Peak" finishes.

"Piker's Peak" nevertheless emphasises a danger that one faces when concentrating on a cartoon or number of cartoons within a large series and attempting to arrive at credible conclusions from observations of those particular cartoons. With a series as long and varied as the Bugs Bunny adventures, there are bound to be other films that cloud- or seem to cloud- a hypothesis about those of 1955. Credence of the hypothesis would depend apparently on the extent or degree of Bugs' dubious conduct and all of the circumstances surrounding it. Indeed, "deconstruction" seems special to 1955 in the criteria for it that are met there and not elsewhere.

Punishable regressiveness on Bugs' part tends to be evidenced only by a combination of the carrot (especially when shown), Bugs' lust for it, and any associated behaviours that could be construed as unbecoming of Bugs as he is on average at that point in his cartoon career, and when seen in a cartoon, or string of cartoons, of untraditional battle line(s). The discussed 1955 cartoons together as a unit not only appear, without rival elsewhere in the Bugs series, to meet these criteria, but to establish them. "In spades," as Bugs would say. Bugs relents too much to his "failing" in 1955 while NOT in the process of righteously forestalling or thwarting an unambivalent antagonist (e.g. Sam), and is punished for it like never before or after in his cartoon career.

Jekyll and Hyde, being opposite sides of a bipolar personality, constitute an ambivalent antagonist for Bugs, and if anyone is the antagonist in "Hare Brush", it is Bugs/"Elmer", the creation of which is Bugs' own fault. There can be no denying that Bugs declines in esteem in "Hare Brush" and "Rabbit Rampage", and opportunity for carrots aplenty is a factor in what Bugs allows to happen to him in "Hare Brush", to which "Rabbit Rampage" is pursuant. It is in "Hyde and Hare", however, that the notion of a downfall with discernible cause crystallises into full, exquisite, and horrible form. Motivation, clear condescension, and awful consequences.

First, though, comes "This is a Life?", whose position in original release order between "Rabbit Rampage" and "Hyde and Hare" is evidently incongruous, because in "This is a Life?", Bugs is once more a winner. More than that. He is an honoured winner, selected to be seated in a chair on a stage as his life is recounted by himself and by Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam while Daffy Duck frets in the audience about being denied what he maintains is his rightful place as the celebrated guest on the parodied television programme. Whatever relevance exists for this cartoon in the context of a "deconstruction" of Bugs could indeed be impossible to comprehend. Sandwiched between Bugs' comeuppances of "Rabbit Rampage" and "Hyde and Hare", "This is a Life?" can be regarded as the cartoon equivalent of a square peg in a round hole. Bucking a trend and maybe ironic.

It is a look backward upon Bugs' life, going as far into Bugs' past as his nippled-carrot-dependent infancy. A retrospective, as was done with recycled cartoon footage in an earlier Bugs film, "His Hare-Raising Tale" (1951). Here, though, Bugs' enemies are doing some of the reminiscing, which is a first.

The flashback cartoon is a cost-cutting gimmick that would be utilised several more times in later years at Warner Brothers, and "This is a Life?" could simply be understood for what it is. An "economy" cartoon whose production in the vicinity of Bugs' "deconstruction" in 1955 was probably dictated less by creative impulses and more by finances. Having said this, one can yet appreciate "This is a Life?" as it underscores 1955's tendency for Bugs to be "under the microscope", his life and its aspects examined and his cartoon dominance questioned. "This is a Life?" does have a question mark in its title. For a character as celebrated as Bugs, is that not ironic?

   

In the end, Bugs avoids being bombed by Elmer and Sam, who have objected to Bugs' delight in the recall of their embarrassing defeats. In this way, Bugs is in his customary winning mode, but Elmer and Sam may be justified in their anger with Bugs on this one occasion. "Rubbing it all in", as Bugs was doing while they were participating with reverence to him in a celebratory production, was unnecessary, and his displays of modesty elsewhere in this cartoon now have a false aspect to them.

Best perhaps to stop here with regard to "This is a Life?" Any relevance that it may have to what is happening to Bugs in the other cartoons of 1955 remains obscure, a subject for sparsely substantiated speculation. It is the cartoon threesome of "Hare Brush", "Rabbit Rampage", and "Hyde and Hare" that tends to "count" in this study of Bugs' seeming 1955 "deconstruction" by directors Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones.

   

"Hyde and Hare" opens in a city park where Bugs has, to his admitted shame, been reversing his behaviour as an evolved cartoon rabbit and hopping on his hands and legs in order to deceive a regular park bencher into supposing him to be a common bunny-rabbit for whom to be fed carrots. He proposes, with success, adoption as a "pet" to his "benefactor". The little man carries Bugs to the man's elegant domicile, where, unbeknown to Bugs, there is the chemical workshop yielding the notorious Hyde formula- and the man is Dr. Jekyll, a fact to which Bugs is also ignorant. Bugs has misdemeaned himself in being insincere because of his carrot desire and acting in a way undignified for him- and is uncharacteristically not in control of this cartoon short's appalling series of events, so that it, like "Hare Brush" and "Rabbit Rampage", has an un-traditional line of battle. Here, it is Bugs against a friend's split personality and correspondingly Bugs against himself, with Bugs not on the winning side. He is frightened, terrified by the axe-swinging, gun-firing alter-ego of his meek, mild host, and himself consumes the concoction of the duplicitous doctor and becomes a clawed, shaggy, and green variant of his proper image. A fall from grace, its underlying cause seeming to be Bugs' condescension to, for him, unbecoming conduct.

As previously said, thorough analysis and far more extensive interpretation of "Hyde and Hare" can be found in "Hyde and Hare": An Overlooked Masterpiece.

   

From the unnerving ending of "Hyde and Hare", Bugs had nowhere to go but up, but to do so he would have to fight the archetypal "battle for deliverance" against a dragon in his next cartoon, "Knight-Mare Hare".

   

"Knight-Mare Hare" presents itself as a romp for Bugs through the medieval world so that he may battle a knight, a dragon, and Merlin the Magician. If this cartoon did not immediately follow "Hyde and Hare" in the Bugs Bunny cartoon series as originally released, the frivolity of its premise could be accepted as is without extensive consideration of the story and its elements. However, the fire-breathing monster is cited by Dr. Carl Jung as a symbol in the unconscious for the forces of darkness and for regressive inclinations in the part of the psyche that Jung called "the shadow", which must be fought and conquered for the ego to move ahead to an improved position- and after Bugs' tumble from grace in "Hyde and Hare", such a battle could not be more timely. It is unclear at "Knight-Mare Hare"'s end whether the Middle Ages action has happened in actuality or was a figment of Bugs' imagination. In Jungian psychology, the "battle for deliverance" is a mental one, in the realm of dream. In a cartoon scheme of things, it need not always or ever be so, but just the possibility that it occurs in Bugs' dream in this particular Bugs cartoon is compellingly apt.

Jungian psychology is an academically accepted premise for examining duality and conflict in the human mind, and as Bugs has the intelligence and mental traits of a man in addition to his rabbit heritage, it is somewhat persuasive in proposing a linear-time connection between the events of "Hyde and Hare" and "Knight-Mare Hare". In Man and His Symbols, a book written by Jung and by others of his persuasion, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is mentioned in addition to mythological demons, e.g. dragons, in analysis of the innate human spiritual drama. If Jekyll and Hyde could connect to Bugs' vice as postulated by study of "Hyde and Hare", could not "battle for deliverance" be equally relevant to the rabbit?

   

The clashes for Bugs in "Knight-Mare Hare" are three. First, with the knight. Bugs bravely challenges the imposing armoured man to a duel but finds that he cannot lift the sword given to him by his opposition. Were it not for an extended foot, a tactic that Bugs uses often in 1955, to trip the charging horse upon whom the knight is seated, Bugs' grim expectation (blindfolded and with a last cigarette) of death might have become fact. As proven in the encounter with the giant Fudd in "Beanstalk Bunny", the most daunting of antagonists can be felled modestly and strategically. The tussle concludes in Bugs' favour. Now, the dragon, which Bugs has unwittingly though assuredly won the right to fight in the knight's stead.

   

Happily, Bugs prevails in this contest, also. He does not slay the beast, but he extinguishes its fire, which by cartoon measure should be an equally acceptable outcome. Following the confrontation with the dragon, Bugs meets a sorcerer of lore. The black magic of Merlin, which may be regarded as an echo of the heretical scientific work of Jekyll (and Merlin's laboratory a surrealistic representation perhaps of Jekyll's), fails to corrupt Bugs' restored virtue and winning nature, as the rabbit effortlessly and calmly steps out of the pig form foisted upon him by the magician and with a flick of his magic powder-bearing finger, converts Merlin into a horse. Was not a horse a form that Bugs was forced to endure in "Rabbit Rampage"? It would seem that Bugs' rapport with the virtuous order of the universe is restored, and it is again his enemies who are the humiliated failures.

After "Knight-Mare Hare" in Bugs' time line is "Roman Legion-Hare". Traditional Bugs Bunny battle lines have resumed, and eluding Yosemite Sam, Captain of the Roman Guards, and avoiding being the feast for Colosseum lions proves to be easy for Bugs. Repeating a ploy of "Beanstalk Bunny" and "Knight-Mare Hare", Bugs extends a foot over which the Roman soldiers stumble to a crash. Simple but effective. He receives not a single scratch by lion's claw during pursuit of him by Sam through the lions' cages and into the arena. When Emperor Nero orders release of the big cats into the middle of the Colosseum, they run straight past Bugs and select Sam and the Emperor as their feed, and Bugs mangles the slogan of e pluribus unum with not an impression of frailty while he shrugs at the audience.

"Roman Legion-Hare" was the final Bugs Bunny film of 1955, and with it one is inclined to say that "deconstruction" and subsequent renewal was completed. Bugs has pulled himself out of the sorry state in which he has been through a number of arguably interrelated cartoons, and from here for several years to follow, his righteous persona could not be diminished by gangster's headgear, nor by an accidental collision with a railroad tunnel arch, nor by adoption as a pretended baby by apes, nor by a race against Yosemite Sam to a mountain top with abundant carrots as an objective.

Bugs will surrender again to his personal fault, but not to the extent and severity of consequence of cartoons of 1955. No matter which director with his particular portrayal of Bugs was the orchestrator of the adventure at hand, the rabbit was not inclined to lose when his battles were honourable or just, and this was the Bugs with the suavity and the poise to host The Bugs Bunny Show (1960-2) and deflect countless efforts of his on-stage rival, Daffy, to challenge his prominence.

Granted, in Jones' "Baton Bunny" (1959), Bugs is fettered by a fly in music conducting. But although the crowd in the outdoor theatre deserts him, he does not lose the conflict against his tiny foe, because in his effort to destroy the insect, he renders a delightfully frenetic performance of Franz Von Suppe's master work, and at cartoon's end, the winged, buzzing enemy capitulates, with a solitary standing ovation to Bugs' talent.

In "What's Opera, Doc?" (1957), Elmer has been endowed with the powers of a Wagnerian demigod, but Bugs, garbed like the Valkyrie Brunhilde, humiliates Elmer for most of that cartoon, and when Elmer believes that he has "killed the wabbit" and sobs as he remorsefully carries the limp bunny in his arms, the audience learns that Bugs is not really dead and is faking the cadaverous condition solely for dramatic, opera-ending effect. Bugs was never not in control in the animated cartoon spectacle, and Elmer has again failed to rid himself and the world of the "screwy wabbit".

Further, a cartoon as bizarre for its time period as "Rabbit's Feat" (1960), in which Jones' Bugs Bunny, while carnivorously sought by Wile E. Coyote, sleeps in a crib, sucks his thumb, and acts the naive innocent, does not, for any of the apparent regress in the then "mature" Bugs, contain enough criteria for the backward demeanour to reach "deconstructive" proportions and incur punitive damages. Bugs can exhibit "immature", even infantile behaviour without the carrot or base craving for it as a motivating factor in that behaviour and therefore retain a thoroughly favoured position in a cartoon tete-a-tete.

Not until "Mad as a Mars Hare" (1963) is there again a convincing hint of a negative facet to the rabbit. In that case, the issue of Bugs' carrot vice and its influence recurs, and correspondence with "Hyde and Hare" and with the "deconstruction" cartoons of 1955 is notable, with Bugs regressed through evolutionary time by Marvin Martian's Time Projector Gun. But Bugs is never again "deconstructed" like in the cartoon trilogy of 1955. "Mad as a Mars Hare" is an interesting repetition of some of "Hyde and Hare", and it is the closest that Bugs comes to an ordeal comparable to that of 1955, but without as many discernible components- and without a clustered span of cartoons. So, Bugs' 1955 "deconstruction" is distinct as much by number of involved films as by the all of the criteria by which it diverges from what is considered normal for the bunny.

So much has been addressed here! Time now to at least attempt a coherent summary. In "Beanstalk Bunny", Bugs fails to completely depart the dominion of the giant Elmer Fudd, deciding to indulge his carrot urge in most fantastic proportions and hereby altering his appearance (waist size). Bugs differentiates himself from Daffy Duck only in the object of his desire for abundance, and after this shameless plunder of a land of extreme fertility comes a misdirected stay in a hot, arid, sandy wasteland where fortune is sparse and only the foul-tempered mistakes of his animal-abusive, fiery foe tip the scales of battle in his favour. But if there was a lesson to be learned, it has gone unnoticed, because next, Bugs loses like never before, eluded, humiliated, and violently victimised through a cartoon and at its conclusion incarcerated and bereft of his identity and of any hope of escape, while his first-ever adversary, Fudd, has won against him. All because he did not "turn the other cheek" and walk away from a carrot- and subsequently did not resist the "advantages" of becoming a millionaire when doing so required him to compromise his integrity (by allowing himself to be drugged and mentally "made-over"). And then comes physical "make-overs", unflattering and repulsive, again with Bugs as a loser and Elmer victorious, and as the one man who could have total control over Bugs- Bugs' animator- and who does to Bugs what Bugs has done to Daffy. After an incongruous and possibly ironic interlude on a television stage, Bugs "REALLY goes too far", condescending to "on-all-fours", primitive bunny hopping totally unbecoming for him, a deception for which he admits shame but proceeds nonetheless to commit, becoming an uncharacteristically ignorant and thoroughly terrified "pet" to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and undergoing a gruesome change (physical and probably also behavioural) by Jekyll's potion- all brought about because of his unchecked desire for the carrot. Bugs has fallen from grace and in the next cartoon appears to dream a successful "battle for deliverance" from the consequences of his unseemly conduct, in Middle Ages combat against the symbol for forces of darkness and regression, and hereafter is back to normal, winning his cartoon clashes and not being too much affected by temptation or circumstance. Quite a saga for a year. Still just a hypothesis, though. Not conclusive but somewhat persuasive.

1955, Bugs' fifteenth year, tested the heroic rabbit's integrity on a magnitude without rival in the 1950s and quite likely in his entire cartoon career. It can be said with some amount of authority that he failed the test but restored himself to rightful glory, finishing the year back on his pinnacle of cartoon nobility. Some elements of such a "deconstruction" of Bugs Bunny may be apparent in cartoons or parts of cartoons of other years, but 1955's Bugs Bunny series entries call attention to themselves as a trend, through multiple Bugs adventures featuring the bunny on the losing side of cartoon conflict- including conflict against himself. Whatever possessed directors Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones to do this with their animation studio's star creation may never be specified beyond fanciful speculation, but a succession of cartoon shorts deviating from the accepted pattern for Bugs Bunny rolled off of the animator drawing boards at Warner Brothers for theatrical release in the months of 1955, and thus, that year for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies warrants much more examination and appreciation than it has been known to receive.

   

The 1955 Bugs Bunny Cartoons


All images (c) Warner Bros.
Textual content (c) Kevin McCorry, with all rights reserved
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