"Hyde and Hare": An Overlooked Masterpiece

By Kevin McCorry




A Looney Tune released on August 27, 1955.
Directed by I. (Friz) Freleng.
Story by Warren Foster.
Animation by Gerry Chiniquy, Virgil Ross, Arthur Davis, and Ted Bonnicksen.
Layouts by Hawley Pratt.
Backgrounds by Irv Wyner.
Voice Characterisation by Mel Blanc.
Music by Carl W. Stalling.

With close to a thousand cartoon shorts produced in Warner Brothers' animation studios between 1930 and 1970, the Warner Brothers cartoons, through their various means of distribution, have reached millions of impressionable youngsters and good-humoured adults. Nearly everyone has a cartoon or cartoons that most affected him or her as a child or inspires him or her as a grown-up. There appears to be a widespread respect for these cartoons as something more wonderful than the ephemeral theatrical filler that the Warner Brothers company originally intended for them to be. Many of the cartoons are regarded as art. Film has replaced literature as the twentieth century's mass-population art medium, and cartoons, being one of the most abstract, lavish, and fantastic genres, have been elevated to a high art status that even their more cerebral creators never expected or intended them to reach.

Serious study of the classic "One Froggy Evening" (1955) has revealed a sophisticated sensitivity on the part of its director, Chuck Jones, for such timeless themes as the shallowness of greed, the capriciousness of fate, and the elusiveness of fame. Meanwhile, cartoon buffs can watch "One Froggy Evening", enjoy its tuneful lyrics and comical, pantomime expressions, and realise that art does not have to be stuffy, pretentious, and boring. It can appeal to just about everyone. And be fun.

The Bugs Bunny cartoon series contains several of its own acknowledged masterpieces. His musical cartoons, "Rabbit of Seville" (1950), "What's Opera, Doc?" (1957), and "Rhapsody Rabbit" (1946), are hailed as the ultimate Warner Brothers animation creations. With lavish production values and comically creative use of classical music, they have justly been "inducted" into an everlasting "pantheon" of great animation.

Bugs Bunny cartoon shorts number close to 150, and are almost always briskly funny conflicts between Bugs and a hot-tempered and fallible human or animal foe, often defeated by Bugs without much active effort. Nearly all of the time, Bugs is an unflappable hero, who, though sometimes frightened, swiftly regains his composure and his wits and nonchalantly nudges or pushes his enemies into self-destruction.

   

"Hyde and Hare", the Bugs Bunny cartoon that most affected this writer, did so because of its different story plot, its different character performance, its different outcome. Here, Bugs is not his self-assured, in-control self. He is panic-stricken, fleeing in earnest a creature that he seems to fear more than Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil, the "Bully For Bugs" bull, or any of his other opponents.

In "Hyde and Hare", Bugs is adopted as a "pet" by a kindly man who has been coming daily to an urban park to feed carrots to him. Though Bugs does not know it, this man is Dr. Jekyll, who, after agreeing to Bugs' proposal of adoption and carrying Bugs to his home, "gives in" to the temptation to drink the potion that changes him into Mr. Hyde. Back and forth from Jekyll to Hyde he goes, terrorising Bugs, who hides with the groggy doctor only to put himself within the murderous striking distance of Hyde. In the end, the audience finds that Bugs has "helped himself" to some of the potion. After leaving Jekyll and returning to the park, Bugs changes into a shaggy, clawed, green rabbit that scares everyone there away.

"Hyde and Hare" is an atypical Bugs Bunny offering. In stark contrast to nearly all of Bugs' other cartoons, good does not win over evil. Evil seems to prevail, and the heroic rabbit seems to succumb to it. He falls from grace. He loses the countenance with which he has been long associated with righteousness and lovability. He is transformed out of his familiar, noble image and into the look of a ghastly beast. Revolting green body colour. Red eyes. Shaggy hair. Protruding mouth. Knuckle-dragging. Physical characteristics comparable or analogous to those of the ungracefully transmuted Jekyll. If a rabbit were to evolve human characteristics and then undergo the ugly retrogressive mutation induced by Hyde formula, a Leporidae-simian brute of such grotesque form and complexion could logically be expected.

It is unclear as to whether or to what extent Bugs' demeanour may have been affected, since there is nothing in the monster Bugs' one passage of dialogue to distinctly indicate a change. One can not ascertain either that Bugs has NOT undergone a behavioural metamorphosis. It is a matter of interpretation. This said, statistics on the effect of the doctor's beverage do not weigh in favour of normalcy in Bugs' persona, and Bugs' prior conduct in this cartoon has already evidently compromised his entitlement as a winner. The evil implicit in the transmogrification is there in Bugs as it is in Jekyll, and an utter descension of Bugs to his own personal baseness may not necessarily manifest itself with the same degree of anti-social behaviour as that of Jekyll does. At least not at first.

To be certain, the sight of the monster Bugs chomping a carrot with a quite uncongenial look on his face as the cartoon "irises out" does not give to a viewer very much cause to think positively about what might become of Bugs' altered condition. Bugs looks menacing. And the cartoon's final notes of music, of a scary, horror style of composition distorting the normal upbeat cartoon-closing motif, that accompany the transformed Bugs' action and expression, do accentuate the sense of menace.

However, as a concession to the sceptical reader, this writer will posit that Bugs in falling from grace may have been granted some amount of grace in his fall. Bugs' physical metamorphosis following his consumption of the potion, is slower to begin than was Jekyll's, and it appears to be painless and fluid, not causing bodily distress (i.e. convulsions and contortions) but happening as Bugs is in the process of walking. Perhaps Bugs' demeanour also undergoes a slow and gradual change following his drinking of the potion. It is not an unreasonable assumption.

This writer first beheld "Hyde and Hare" with horror at the age of six. The possibility that events in the cartoon may have a basis in fact, that appearances and personalities can really be transmuted with evil predominating- and by a potion which could reactivate in a body at any time- tormented this writer's sleep for many years. After having come to think of Bugs as a symbol of virtue, wholesomeness, and infallible heroism, a six-year-old could not have had any other reaction to "Hyde and Hare", a cartoon wherein Bugs is very impulsive, vulnerable, and easily misled. He is panic-stricken to an extent seldom seen in other cartoons and never able to neutralise this particular foe. Perhaps because there is a monster lurking within himself, the beast into which he transforms as this cartoon closes. The final image of a mutated, sneering, sickly verdant Bugs chomping on his carrot, is perhaps the most disturbing ending ever to a Bugs Bunny cartoon. And the music there is the clincher. Even the other Jekyll-and-Hyde-themed cartoons in the Warner Brothers cartoon canon "let the viewer off the hook" in their concluding scene's accompanying music. But not "Hyde and Hare". In the last film frames at "iris out", it keeps a distorted mien to cartoon conventions. Most especially those of the Bugs Bunny cartoon series.

"Mad as a Mars Hare" (1963) has a somewhat like ending. Reverted through time by Marvin Martian's Time-Projector gun, Bugs becomes a brutish monster. This is also the basic effect of the Hyde formula, reversing the process of evolution so that Jekyll can become a Neanderthal Man, ungracefully released from civil and moral restraint, free to selfishly seek whatever pleasures that he wants. Mr. Hyde is the chemically-induced embodiment of evil "built up" over years of repression in polite society- and then "let out" like a long-caged beast.

The similarity in the endings of "Hyde and Hare" and "Mad as a Mars Hare" is quite difficult to deny. So too is the motif in both transformations of regressing through time. "Mad as a Mars Hare" also happens to be the one cartoon in which Bugs openly admits that his appetite for carrots is a baser reflex. And in both cartoons, a carrot entices Bugs into the situation that results in his transformation backward through evolutionary time.

In "Hyde and Hare", long before Bugs undergoes his chemically-induced change, he appears to be willing to regress from his evolved state to that of an ordinary, wild rabbit, just to obtain an easy carrot from Jekyll. Yes, the upright, two-footed Bugs reverses his evolution, even if only as an act, goes back into his hole and comes out of the hole "on all fours". He admits that this facade is "shameful", probably because he is tricking Doc into thinking that he is an ordinary rabbit, and maybe also because it is a wilful reverting to a less refined state. Bugs' admission here is similar to Doc's, when later in the laboratory as he is about to relent to temptation to drink the potion, the Doc says, "Oh, I'm so ashamed."

Bugs' pretended reverting to his animal ancestor seems to foreshadow his actual physical change to a brute at cartoon's end- rather like his pretended timidity in the park becomes veritable fright later, when his host's other aspect of self is released as a monster. One could also be inclined to regard Bugs and Jekyll as both their own way weak, succumbing rather easily to the temptation in their personal vices, Bugs for his carrot, Doc for his transformation and the unlimited indulgence that goes with it.

Bugs' taste for carrots may be akin to man's vices of women, liquor, and smoking. In various cartoons, Bugs handles his carrot like a cigar, or caresses it like a man caresses a woman, or experiences a hangover as a result of overindulging on carrot juice. In this sense, Bugs' sometimes refined way of holding the carrot (e.g. with his pinky raised) counterpoints its unfortunate influence on his weaker nature. There is scarcely any denying that at the start of "Hyde and Hare", Bugs, in playacting to fool Jekyll, reverses his evolved behaviour to obtain a carrot.

The carrot could thus be linked to a regressive side of Bugs. It may also be seen to symbolise the Earth, to which man's (and Bugs Bunny's) other, darker self is dimly, aggressively bound. This notion is directly stated by Fredric March as Dr. Jekyll in the 1932 movie version of the classic horror tale. In "Mad as a Mars Hare", one of the carrots that lured Bugs into Cape Canaveral so that he is transported to Mars and eventually reverted by Marvin into a monstrous Neanderthal Rabbit, at one point of time in said cartoon splits open and sprouts drums and trumpets- and a flag saying "Earth". If one looks at the flag as a symbolic label, the carrot does seem to represent Bugs' mother world, which gives to him birth, life, sustenance. A vital component to Bugs' bodily existence. But that is all that it should be.

In "This is a Life?" (1955), the Bugs Bunny cartoon directly preceding "Hyde and Hare" in order of initial release, Elmer Fudd as host of a retrospective television show instructs Bugs to "start at the beginning". Bugs obliges by hearkening back to the tumultuous origins of life on Earth and then to his own beginnings, sucking a nipple on a carrot as if it were that on his mother- or at least a nipple on a baby's bottle in lieu of that on a mother's breast. For Bugs, the carrot seems to be likened to a mother, an individual's biological mother, and by symbolic extension, one's mother world. Initiator and provider of life. Something to appreciate without use for self-gratification. Nourishment in pursuit of independence and in righting wrongs being perpetrated by others- the essence of what Bugs Bunny, most of the time, is about. Satisfaction with the carrot, higher development put aside, quite abasing behaviour shamefully exhibited because of it; this seems to be distinctly improper for a cartoon hero of Bugs Bunny's stature. And an impropriety can open a door for a downward spiral to worst potential misconduct. Dark side expressing itself with little or any of the countervailing force of conscience and other evolved traits. Even Bugs Bunny may not be immune. At the very least, Bugs has a vice that if indulged in a way that involves condescension and acknowledgement of shame, could bring him in connection to and comparison with the problems of Dr. Jekyll.

So many different directors, writers, and cartoon animators contributed to the development of Bugs Bunny, and he has appeared in so many different capacities in so many different films, that an all-encompassing, consistent definition of personality ought to be impossible. Yet, there are traits that recur through enough of his cartoons to give the notion of a moral bunny with human-like weaknesses some degree of credibility.

Bugs has human qualities in addition to his inherent rabbit impulses. The human qualities set him above other rabbits, and in the main, he even rises above human bearings as he goes about his life, his travels, his heroic "business". Quite often with some considerable aplomb. Ironically, Bugs lives in a hole in the ground while in personality terms being very much above other creatures of the Earth. As Chuck Jones has noted, Bugs Bunny is a personification of people's most noble dreams, what people most aspire to be, a creature of great poise, elegance, and modesty, and, while he may resort to violence, does so to preserve dignity and justice, for himself or for someone else. Or in several cases, his own continued life or that of others. In most of his cartoons, Bugs only wants to be left alone but finds that he must wage war against a villain intending to disrupt his humble existence or undermine his dignity. While he fights battles such as this, he can do no wrong.

Although the Bugs in Robert McKimson's cartoons is quite brash, he, too, usually acts to preserve his own life or someone else's or to restore justice in a retributive way. He sides with the underdog in such cartoons as "The Windblown Hare" (1949), in which he helps the Big Bad Wolf to defeat Three dishonest Little Pigs who earlier sold to Bugs two dud houses. And when his honour is insulted, like by Elmer in 1953's "Upswept Hare" ("Rabbits don't belong in penthouses."), Bugs acts solely to prove that snobbery and false pride do not equal nobility.

Whether the cartoons were directed by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, or Robert McKimson, Bugs tends to stay on that lofty pedestal that sets him apart from ordinary rabbits and that establishes him as a larger-than-life, immortal hero, adored by multitudes. His noble missions of mercy such as in "Bewitched Bunny" (1954) and "Hare Trimmed" (1953) are perhaps the best examples of his angelic character.

However, there are cartoons in which Bugs falls off of his pedestal, succumbing to what may be seen as un-pious inclinations. For this writer, Bugs' deception to gain daily feedings of carrots by Dr. Jekyll, is the best, most salient example of a fall from grace. And because he falls, Bugs' cartoon-ending change into a monster is poetic justice, one of those rare times that Bugs does not win in the end. Because he does not deserve to win.

   

And Mr. Hyde is presented as a most unusual foe for Bugs. The villains that Bugs normally fights are often ordinary men (ordinary in a cartoon sense), not metamorphosed into something uncanny, physically inhuman, and behaviourally thoroughly unamenable. Their evil intention tends to be precise and calculated, easy for Bugs to learn and then to foil, once Bugs has "caught on" to their weaknesses. Mr. Hyde acts on any and all base impulses and will brutishly and fully gratify those impulses. No matter what. No matter who. The Tasmanian Devil may be a brute but is also in a original state of savagery and prone to stupidity when Bugs can manoeuvre him into such. He is not an evolved, intelligent man regressed to a savage. Hyde is savage but retains enough of Jekyll's intelligence to make him quite a formidable adversary. Hyde is chemically induced and empowered and has become the stronger between him and Jekyll. He is without compunction and physically repulsive. And Bugs has done for himself no favours by acting shamefully, condescending to his own regressive side, and somehow thereby losing his usual winner status.

Is it really likely that such an unintended strain of symbolism could have ingrained itself into a mass public entertainment, and into something so intended for fun as the Bugs Bunny animated cartoon series- and not even in one of his more recognised cartoons? Friz Freleng was not the most acclaimed director at Warner Brothers, certainly not when it came to cerebral, thoughtful cartoons. However...

   

All three of the cartoons involving a character or characters drinking Hyde formula and changing repeatedly into a monster came out of the animation unit of Mr. Freleng. That was one unit out of three producing all three of the cartoons with Jekyll-and-Hyde themes, laboratory setting, and story plot structure. Considering this interesting statistic, one would have thought that Mr. Freleng would have been asked about it in at least one interview. But it seems that the man died never having once been commended for what seems his (and/or Warren Foster's) keen interest in the story, motifs, and metaphors of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", or even asked about the apparent patterning of the Jekyll in this cartoon (a short man with a pointy nose) after his own physical appearance.

"Hyde and Hare" has been one of the least regarded of all Bugs Bunny cartoon shorts. Being chosen as a bonus item for a 2004 digital videodisc (DVD) of the Fredric March Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde movie was unexpected and long overdue recognition, after "Hyde and Hare" was denied for 18 years a single appearance on commercial videotape. To the amazement of this writer, and to the ever so predictable indifferent or dismissive response of nearly all cartoon enthusiasts and critics, "Hyde and Hare" was also included in 2004 in the second LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION DVD release. Which, anyway, does not alter the fact that "Hyde and Hare" was left out of the selection of cartoon shorts utilised for television's Bugs Bunny Show (1960-2) and unceremoniously excluded from American network television's airings on Saturdays of Bugs' films all through the 1960s and the 1970s. Apart from a few quick clips for The Bugs Bunny Howl-Oween Special in 1978, it received no U.S. network television airing of any kind until a token appearance on an instalment of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show circa 1982, after which it was again gone from American network Saturday television until 1990. In Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, a 1989 feature film assembling footage from almost every 1948-64 Looney Tune and Merrie Melodie of a dark or spooky nature, "Hyde and Hare" is absent. Only a few passages of its music were used. In 1990, CBS' Happy Birthday, Bugs! prime-time television special omitted "Hyde and Hare" from its parade of film clips. Discussion groups on the Internet by consensus periodically label "Hyde and Hare" as boring and poorly cartoon-animated and characterised. The Internet Movie Database's entry for "Hyde and Hare" shows a routinely dropping average rating (a rating more or less on par with that for widely unacclaimed 1960s Bugs Bunny cartoons). Books by Steve Schneider (That's All Folks! The Art of Warner Bros. Animation) and Joe Adamson (Bugs Bunny- 50 Years and Only One Grey Hare) mention "Hyde and Hare" only in their appendix listings. Meanwhile, "Hyde and Hare"'s fellow two post-1948 Jekyll-and-Hyde Warner Brothers cartoons enjoyed network television exposure for close to three decades, were on videotape, and are at least mentioned in published overviews of the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon series.

"Dr. Jerkyl's Hide" (1954) features Sylvester, Spike, and Chester in a clever reworking of the routines from their earlier cartoon, "Tree For Two" (1952), with rough and tough Spike being turned into a coward because timid, puny Sylvester somehow becomes "too much a match" for him. In "Dr. Jerkyl's Hide", Sylvester's aid comes not from an external source (the black panther in "Tree For Two"), but from the wildcat lurking within himself, empowered and evoked by the formula which Sylvester mistook for soda pop. The Hyde cat tears Spike to pieces, but Chester, when he looks, only sees the re-transformed, back-to-normal Sylvester. A very funny cartoon, and rather scary at the same time. But Sylvester is already something of a villain, at least in his cartoons with Tweety, and the fact that he clearly wants to fight back against his canine foes somehow renders his transformations less drastic than, for instance, Tweety's in "Hyde and Go Tweet" (1960).

Tiny, innocent-eyed Tweety changing into a mean-tempered, evil-eyed, vicious bird of prey similar to his prehistoric ancestor is as severe a change as one could imagine! In "Hyde and Go Tweet", roles are reversed, with Sylvester becoming the hunted party. There are many transformations, occurring very rapidly, with a haunting look of sickly distress in Tweety's eyes midway in transformation, especially while emerging out of two slices of bread to gulp Sylvester. But this is all negated when Sylvester awakes to find that he has just had an unpleasant dream.

   

The transformations in "Hyde and Hare" are not eliminated by a dream pretence. And although they are mostly experienced by an unfamiliar character, Dr. Jekyll, the pathetic portrayal of Jekyll's inhibited meekness contrasting with the silent, fire-red-eyed murderousness of his alter-ego, is deeply textured by his woeful look before drinking the potion. He knows what is going to happen and looks genuinely remorseful, while just a few seconds earlier when he dashed to grab the glass, he had the ecstatic look of an alcoholic about to binge after a long abstinence.

Why does he drink the potion when he knows that it will induce coughing and gagging, send him into deathly painful convulsions, and turn him into a monster with a potentially lethal lack of restraint? Because freedom to seek any pleasure, no matter how undignified, and indulge oneself with no moral "checks or balances", is tantalising. For Doc, it is a disgraceful and delightful regression in evolutionary time- or perhaps also in personal history to undisciplined pre-adulthood. Conscience slumbers, responsibility is forsaken, and the animal part of the psyche is free to enact what base, Earth-oriented impulses come to it. Violence. Lust. The urge to possess the world in its natural splendour all for oneself and to bully and assault other people who either are or are not in competition for world possession. Primitive enjoyment of hurting or killing others or even of destruction of the world, if such befits the delirious ecstasy of the moment. The evil of which Hyde is capable is known to Jekyll, but Jekyll cannot resist summoning Hyde with the potion. Hyde is, to the most extreme degree, that part of Jekyll that has been "pent up" and craves release. Utter, uninhibited release.

   

These transformations are far more striking than those of any other cartoon. By looking closely at the mid-transformation frames, one can see that Jekyll seems to change for a fleeting instant to a younger form of himself, or assumes the appearance of a Chinese or Japanese caricature (too swiftly for the censors to notice, happening in just a single frame). In some frames, his eyes open three times wider than normal, and one can never be sure if they are meant to express terror or rapt anticipation.

   

The timing of Jekyll's changes is fascinating. During one of them, he has an axe which Bugs has placed in his hands for defence against the monster that Bugs has not realised is Doc's alter-ego. In another, he has a gun: "Oh, my. I wish he hadn't given me this!" And here when Jekyll metamorphoses, he and Bugs are in his cellar store room, which has bars on the windows. Hell-like. Same goes for the site of Jekyll's next change to Hyde, a pitch-dark closet.

The backgrounds in this cartoon are impressionistic as ever. Irv Wyner used brown Earth tones for the piano and the lower walls, in combination with dark red wallpaper, along with even darker red carpets- again suggestive of hell, which seems to contrast with the refined elegance to the decor, the furniture, the winding stairwell, the lavish drapes adorning the entries to rooms, hallways, and stairs. Wyner appears to have captured a conflict in the psyche of poor Jekyll. A wish to be mannered, culturally refined, and high-minded versus an urge to have close at hand traces of mother nature to maintain a spiritual bond with the primitive world. A sense of conflict between civilisation and nature does come with the urban park setting which opens the cartoon.

To gain a full appreciation of this cartoon, it is necessary to consider the possible significance of all of its motifs: the city, the park, the white birds, the "pet" adoption, the Minute Waltz, and, of course, the potion and the carrot.

   

The imagery of the park and nearby buildings is as suggestive of twentieth century New York as it is of Victorian London. Possible time-period-setting items are the prudish lower-leg dresses worn by ladies on the park benches, perhaps suggesting repressed sexuality in Jekyll's world. Repression of many animal impulses is necessary in urban society, among them the wish to be near to nature. A park offers a humble opportunity to briefly rejoin with nature, to harmlessly satisfy one's hankering to be closer to man's primitive origins, though in a hemmed-in area.

The park in "Hyde and Hare" is very sedate. Pigeons soar in the air and land near park benches, and kindly elderly people seated on those park benches feed crumbs to the birds. These birds have all-white plumage giving to them rather cogently the appearance of doves, in film and literature often representative, or at least suggestive, of peace and purity. Such would be ironic indeed here, in this cartoon, considering what follows in Jekyll's chemical workshop. Still, it seems right that these white birds are in the park, which is far more agreeable to human urges for pristine natural beauty than the maze of brick and concrete surrounding it. The white pigeons, or doves, seem to code the park as a place of innocence, gentleness, tenderness, and peace. Perhaps it is, but for what now is afoot within it and who has decided to frequent it, those ostensible coded qualities to it have become ironic and subverted. In this park, Bugs Bunny is condescending to act regressively and deceitfully. A bond of friendship is formed between Bugs and a man with an alter-ego as opposite to the import of the birds as can be imaginable.

"Hyde and Hare" is not the only Warner Brothers cartoon to begin in a city park, nor is it the only one to feature white-plumed pigeons, or doves, and popcorn or bread crumb-providing park benchers in the same inaugurating scene. This also accurately describes the first moments of "Scent-imental Romeo", a 1951 Pepe Le Pew adventure directed by Chuck Jones. The cartoon animation of the pigeons in "Scent-imental Romeo" was evidently reused in "Hyde and Hare", with somewhat different background. In "Scent-imental Romeo", the Parisian park is adjacent to a zoo, where Pepe's usual mistaken-identity feline paramour begs for food from the zoo keeper. Zoos are places to which humans come to view animals in isolated representations of the animals' natural habitats- rather what a park is to people. The zoo is another enclave of mother nature, of mother Earth, reminding man of his kinship with the creatures of the biosphere that gave to him birth. It is possible that the connection between "Hyde and Hare" and "Scent-imental Romeo" extends beyond recycling of pigeon animation.

By mornings, Jekyll regularly visits the park. One might guess that he is humbly trying to satisfy his urge to revert to the primitive by seeking a closeness with nature in a much more moderate, more benign way than by the potion. And also that he also hopes to strengthen the compassionate side of his soul by showing kindness to his rabbit friend, offering to the cartoon hero a daily feeding of carrots.

They meet in the park, each looking for something from the other. Bugs wants carrots, generously and constantly provided, and for that is willing to forsake honest effort and to abase himself in a quite undignified and deceptive way. To Jekyll, Bugs is a part of the natural world with which Doc yearns, in all assumed benevolence, to connect. When Bugs suggests that Jekyll adopt him as a pet, or attain possession of him, Jekyll cannot resist. No more than he can resist another drink of the potion once they reach his home. No more than Bugs resists the promise of an easy carrot. The aggressive side of Jekyll that wants to bond with nature has been given impetus to crave full, violent release by the potion. Jekyll does not realise it, but his pleasure at having Bugs as his pet is not only appealing to his compassionate side; his foul self is also gratified to have more of nature close at hand. To caress, or to kill.

The relationship between Bugs and Jekyll could be regarded as a courtship. They display rather "flirty" behaviour in the park, and Jekyll carries Bugs into his home in the way that a groom carries a bride "across the threshold". However, it is preferable to look at it as a symbolic courtship between Jekyll and mother nature of which Bugs, to Jekyll, seems more a part than himself.

Bugs' weakness, his appetite for carrots, has enticed him into the arms of a man who has in a big way lost control of his own baser impulses. Ironically, Bugs calls Jekyll a pigeon, implying he is fooled by the Doc's apparent purity and gentility of character. Doc has been deceived too, because Bugs has been acting like an average woodland hare to be fed.

When the two arrive at the Doc's home, Bugs is impressed by his new surroundings. He believes that he has "moved up" in the world. But has he really? Arguably, he has not, for his motivation for this move cannot be seen to be much of a noble one.

   

Curiously, Bugs commences playing the Minute Waltz, lavishly romantic music, at about the same time that Doc drinks the potion that transmutes him into the monster. Chopin's works had a brashness of spirit in experimenting with new approaches, which may correspond with Dr. Jekyll's chemical experiments into the human soul, which are denounced by his peers as sacrilege. Jekyll boldly persists, defying God, to concoct a formula for releasing the repressed part of the soul- in him, the evil.

Bugs ought to heed the warning in this preferred music of the Doc's. It offers a clue that there is more to his host than has yet "met his eye".

Though there is a refined elegance in Chopin's music as a whole, his sonatas were bold, renouncing the accepted rules of his time, rather like Jekyll's research! The Minute Waltz is also romantic dancing music, to induce men and women to crave one another. For a repressed man like Doc, his fascination with Chopin may, like the park, be regarded by him as offering a modest outlet for his baser urges, while nonetheless stirring his "monster within" to crave full, potion-induced release.

   

Bugs' piano-playing brings the creature out of the laboratory. Bugs thinks that Hyde is a sick patient of Jekyll's! Hyde looks physically ill and also is the product of the illness of spirit afflicting Jekyll. As Hyde wields an axe, Bugs dodges the blade with earnest looks of fear, illustrating his vulnerability and causing the monster to seem more potentially destructive.

When Jekyll temporarily changes back to himself, he is so groggy and so preoccupied with concern that he may have hurt someone, that he does not tell to Bugs what happened in the laboratory. Bugs never "gets wise" about Jekyll being the monster. After the Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation in the dark closet, Bugs, finding himself in that closet not with the Doc (whom he urged to therein hide with him from the green-skinned, red-eyed, induced lunatic) but with the demon, frantically "bolts" through the closet door, tearing it from its hinges, and runs into the laboratory. Jekyll, apparently in control of himself again, follows and calls to Bugs. Bugs comes out of hiding and says to Doc that he has had enough of "dat crackpot" and wants to leave. Doc is distressed by this and pleads for his pet, his adopted piece of nature, to stay.

   

Jekyll swears that he will never touch the concoction again, promising to pour it all down the drain. He finds that his last glass of Hyde formula is empty and asks if Bugs drank the stuff. At this time, the viewer sees an over-sensitive, conceited side of Bugs that is rarely evident in other cartoons. Bugs is offended by Jekyll's "insinuation" that he had imbibed the sinful substance and announces that his friendship with Jekyll is dissolved and that, "I am going back to the park. There is no question of my integrity there."

Here it is. Bugs' integrity in question. Back to the park Bugs goes, expecting that nobody there can have any doubt about his good character, that he is above any criticism there. But he can barely set foot in the park before he starts to change into a monstrous, green rabbit. He has been tainted in his dalliance with Jekyll and Hyde and cannot easily regain his integrity. He should never have allowed his baser reflexes to bring him into the arms of Jekyll. He should have practised the restraint fitting for one of his stature. Bugs' facade in the park to trick Jekyll into feeding him constitutes a sacrifice of integrity for the normally upright, dignified rabbit. He cannot regain it by just returning to the park, coded as pure and beneficent though the park may have been.

And though, as posited above, the slowness in the transformation of Bugs, i.e. his metamorphosis being delayed until he has left Jekyll, and its fluidity may be regarded as a retaining of some grace in a disgraced outcome, the timing of the transformation still is a significant rebuttal to Bugs' statement about the park and his integrity. Going back to the park is not going to absolve or redeem Bugs, or return him to a previous state of having his integrity not in question. The change to repulsive monster and what that change signifies, still occurs.

It is the implication of the transformation more than what the monster Bugs is seen to do or may be capable of doing were the cartoon to continue, that matters to this study of "Hyde and Hare". If one accepts that the carrot is a symbol for mother Earth, to which the animal, bestial side of man's nature is, in the 1932 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde movie, said to be connected, then such symbolism may be seen to jibe both with the statement of questionable propriety in Bugs' conduct and with the literary (and cinematic) source material in which "Hyde and Hare" is rooted. Bugs has remarked that to his mind and its standards, what he was doing was shameful, and the transformation codes Bugs and the Doc as being of a kind. Corruptible. Capable of losing the virtue of best intention and best behaviour and of undergoing a metamorphosis out of their evolved look and into the form of a brutish creature with the ill look of evil. To what depth of corruption and depravity might the monster Bugs go in thought and deed, is something left for the viewer to ponder. Just seeing Bugs Bunny in that horrible physical state and with that menacing expression on his face to the accompaniment of that cartoon-ending music, should be disconcerting enough. He has gone through what is for him a most atypical cartoon. Who knows what may now be possible?

Bugs in "Mad as a Mars Hare": "Why do I love carrots anyway? There's not much meat on them. They're kinda dry too. But I love 'em. I LOVE 'EM. I LOVE 'EM! I LOVE 'EM!! I LOVE 'EM!!! LUNCH-TIME!!!!" A comparison of Bugs' expression there as he is about to bite into the carrot, and Jekyll's as he grabs his glass of potion, shows something of a commonality between the weaknesses of these two characters. And both do drink the potion and undergo transformation into a beast.

Why did Bugs drink the potion? Possibly he was thirsty after all of the running that he did. Or maybe he thought that the potion was derived from carrots. Doc did say that he was going to look for a carrot in the laboratory. Or it could simply be that since the start of this cartoon, Bugs has lost his way. And his inability to do winning battle against Hyde, his panic, his not "getting wise" about Doc's metamorphoses to and from Hyde, and his drinking of the potion make him no different from Sylvester or just about any other character. His transformation at end of the cartoon could be regarded as a foregone conclusion, and it matters not why Bugs partook of the potion. He just did so, fulfilling the fate that he set for himself.

Granted, the scene where Doc goes into the laboratory to find a carrot for Bugs would, at first, seem quite absurd. Why would he have carrots in his laboratory and not in his kitchen? But one may look at it this way. Carrots are the object of Bugs' dark desire, and Hyde formula is that of Jekyll's, or the means by which Jekyll will proceed to gratify dark desires. It would seem fitting that Bugs' object of craving is in the same place as the Doc's. They are bound together, parallel, adversely affecting Jekyll and Bugs, Hyde and hare.

   

Friz Freleng may not have been Warner Brothers' most cerebral cartoon director, and of his work "Hyde and Hare" may be far from his most acclaimed. But this writer seems to see a rather profound symbolism in it, one that can be quite convincingly applied to Bugs Bunny's personality as it extends over his cartoon career. Bugs and his carrot. An esteemed but "human" bunny tied, by his animal appetite for the carrot, to his mother Earth, and capable of succumbing whenever his taste for the carrot "gets the better of him". In "Hyde and Hare", his appetite brings him into the dubious care of the most infamous dual personality in fiction, with whom he shares capacity for weakness. A weakness that makes him as a cartoon character all the more "human", and as such easier to identify with. In Bugs' usual cartoons, certainly. But in a way also in Bugs' nightmarish ordeal that is "Hyde and Hare". A frightening, self-changing-for-the-worse predicament into which base reflexes (what those be) have brought him. How many people can identify with that? Bravo for Friz Freleng's "Hyde and Hare"!


All images (c) Warner Bros.
Textual content (c) Kevin McCorry, with all rights reserved
This article, the observations, the interpretations, and the ideas therein are the intellectual property of the author unless otherwise noted and may not be reproduced and then altered in any way without the express written consent of the author, and any scholarly quoting, paraphrasing, or other repetition of them MUST be accompanied by full stated credit to the author, with failure to do so possibly exposing an individual or group to litigation and possible civil or criminal penalty


Kevin McCorry's Home Page