Anniversary Blu-ray Collection: Bugs Bunny receives a harebrained birthday gift set for 80th

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

BUGS BUNNY 80TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION

Not rated, 425 minutes.
Director(s): Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, et al.
Cast: Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny)

Nobody could pack a room like Bugs Bunny. Oh, sure, the name on the marquee may have been Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, or Clark Gable, but if any of their films were preceded by a Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies short starring Bugs, the hare would have the last hurrah.

Unlike Dumbo – who worked for peanuts – Warner Brothers’s wascally wabbit chomped through enough carrots to make a person’s skin turn oranger than Cheeto fingers. The studio was seeing green, however. Fan letters and critical praise in trade publications helped to spur the animation studio Termite Terrace to make more shorts featuring a smart-aleck rabbit using his brains to outwit the likes of Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and Wiley E. Coyote.

Appearing in more than 170 animated theatrical shorts, Bugs Bunny has grown to become a pop-culture icon and arguably the greatest cartoon character of all time. Turning 80 this year, Warner Bros. commemorates the milestone with an anniversary collection that restores 60 original shorts with added bells and whistles.

Here, I’ll highlight a few, plus let you know if it’s best to get the collection or wait.

We begin with 1940’s “Elmer’s Candid Camera.” This short is notable for a few reasons. It marks the first appearance of a redesigned Elmer Fudd, a character that was known as Egghead. Also, the animators were still tweaking the nameless rabbit character. Working with a prototype rabbit that had buckteeth, the “Man of 1000 Voices,” Mel Blanc, gave him a voice closer to Daffy Duck without the lisp. Rather than play prey, this rabbit is the main agitator. All Elmer wants to do is take wildlife photos, and here’s a rabbit taking pleasure in tormenting the wildlife enthusiast.

Maybe this is why, a few months later, Elmer puts down the camera and picks up a double-barreled shotgun for “A Wild Hare.” Telling the audience watching, “Shh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits,” as he shoves his shotgun into a rabbit hole only to have the barrel bent into a bow.

Furious, the befuddled Fudd starts digging only to be interrupted by Bugs emerging from a nearby hole with a carrot in his hand and a question on his mind. “What’s up, Doc?” The carrot-chomping chatter is a callback to a scene from 1934’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, where Clark Gable educates Claudette Colbert on the best ways to thumb a ride while he’s eating a carrot. And the famous “What’s up, Doc?” line was supplied by director Tex Avery. Born and raised in Texas, the phrase was a colloquial expression where he grew up. Put the two together, and you have Bugs’s trademark. The phrase has become so enmeshed with our vernacular you could make the argument that it is the most quotable line in cinema’s history.

Revisiting “Super-Rabbit,” after the success of Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I couldn’t help but intertwine the two. While the short is a parody of Superman, here we have Bugs with his Brooklyn accent taking his super-carrot-powered superhero abilities to fight a hunter in Deepinaharta, Texas, who looks to kill all rabbits. Bugs, like Captain Steve Rogers, doesn’t like bullies, which is why the adversarial comeuppance he dishes is comical and justly warranted. However, as the short is about to end, Bugs exits a phone booth without his loose-fitting red and blue tights and Super-Rabbit logo. Instead, he’s in a Marine uniform marching off to a sign that reads “Berlin, Tokyo and points East.” The USMC was so cool about Bugs Bunny becoming a Marine that the character was actually inducted into the military branch as a private. Bugs was regularly promoted throughout the war until officially discharged as a Master Sergeant at the end of World War II.

“What’s Opera, Doc?” (the last short included on the second disc) may very well have been my introduction to classical music. The short parodies Richard Wagner’s classical operas with Elmer Fudd’s Viking character out hunting rabbits. Fudd singing “Kill the Wabbit!” to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is a nice touch as is the two performing ballet followed by a singing duet during the catch-and-pursuit. It is also worth noting: Elmer Fudd’s final appearance in a Chuck Jones cartoon and the third and last time he defeated Bugs. “What’s Opera, Doc?” is widely considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time, and in 1992 became the first cartoon to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Courtesy photo

“Show Biz Bugs” and “Knighty Knight Bugs” on the third disc have historical significance as well. The first short gives us a Daffy Duck akin to Sideshow Bob on THE SIMPSONS. He’s tired of playing second banana to Bugs and is determined to show that he’s really the star. The theater setting and conflict would later be reworked to create an animated anthology TV series that started in primetime as THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW (1960-1961) before becoming a Saturday morning fixture for more than forty years with various name changes (i.e., THE BUGS BUNNY/ROAD RUNNER SHOW).

“Knighty Knight Bugs” finally gives Bugs Bunny the Academy Award he’s been wanting ever since he thought he was a shoe-in to win with “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt.” (Bugs tried to plead his case on why he, not James Cagney, should have been Best Actor for his performance the following year in the short “What’s Cookin’, Doc?”)

As the title infers, we are transported to the age of knights. King Arthur’s kingdom has fallen on hard times after the Black Knight (Yosemite Sam in armor) steals the Singing Sword. Bugs, dressed as a court jester, opens his big mouth and involuntarily becomes the one who has to get the sword back…or else.

Did you know: With more than 170 shorts to his credit, only three Bugs Bunny cartoons were ever nominated for an Oscar.

A steady dose of Looney Tunes cartoons on Nickelodeon and on Saturday mornings were my TV diet growing up. The Roadrunner was my favorite, and the reason I steer clear from any companies named ACME. But Bugs Bunny cannot be equaled. He is that little stinker that puts the bad guys in their places. Having the Looney Tunes signature and platinum collections on DVD and Blu-ray already, I was skeptical if a collection centered on Bugs would be worth its weight in carrots.

The ACME box package comes with the three discs housed in an amaray case (that includes a disc guide and redeemable digital code), nestled in between an introduction letter from animation historian Jerry Beck, and a gaudy Glitter Diamond Collection Bugs Bunny Funko Pop figure.

BUGS BUNNY: 80TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION includes the Looney Tunes 50th anniversary TV special from 1986, 30 audio commentary tracks, four alternate audio tracks, 10 “Behind the Tunes” featurettes, and ten bonus Looney Tunes cartoons from its first season on HBO MAX.

The biggest extra is the “What’s Up, Doc-umentary!”, an hour-long feature that recycles archival interviews found on previous releases, along with new sound bites and narration by fellow New Yorker, Billy Crystal. A nice, informative piece about Bugs and how he grew to become a major commodity for Warner Bros.

Now to answer the question if you should buy or wait. If you are a die-hard Bugs Bunny fan, this is an easy recommendation to purchase now. It does carry a premium price ($75 MSRP), unfortunately, which can only be justified if accounting for the restoration of the classic shorts. Though, I suspect Warner Bros. felt it could drive the price up on account of the inclusion of a sparkling Funko Pop and the collection being limited to 30,000 copies. Good for them, but a large number of these Pops are likely to wind up on eBay.

Casual consumers should pass on this Funko-endorsed Diamond Collection and wait and see if the studio releases the 80th anniversary in its standard amaray case. When will that date arrive – who knows? Maybe at the start of rabbit season, or duck season.

BUGS BUNNY 80TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION is now available for purchase on Blu-ray.

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