Special: The 15 Greatest Bugs Bunny Cartoons

07/28/2015  By  Jordan Saïd     No comments

Bugs Bunny, the most important cartoon character in American history, turns 75 today. (Yeah, I said it. Go ahead, Mickey Mouse. Step to me. See what happens.) 

For 75 years, Bugs Bunny has embodied the kind of person we all wish we could be, a modern-day trickster god. We love Bugs because he’ll stand up to anyone. A hunter threatens to eat him? Bugs cross-dresses and seduces him. A martian tries to destroy Earth? Bugs wraps him in a straitjacket. A bandit who looks like General Custer tries to keep him out of the South? Bugs dresses up as Stonewall Jackson and tricks him into falling down a well. Let’s talk about Bugs at his best: 15 cartoons that show Bugs in all his awesomeness.

  1. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

    You knew this one had to come first. What’s Opera, Doc? shows off just how well the boys at Termite Terrace understood their own creation. This short plays to all of the studio’s strengths: the exaggerated body language; Mel Blanc’s preternaturally versatile voice; Phil De Guard’s beautiful, brilliantly simple backgrounds; the synthesis between music and animation rhythm; the perfect joke timing. The short skewers and plays perfectly off of the fluid love/hate relationship between Bugs and Elmer Fudd.

    Pictured: the brony’s ideal woman.

    Jones took plenty of opportunities to introduce children to classical music, and this one ranks among the best. The animators do such an amazing job lining the mood of the music up with the mood of the cartoon. To this day, I hear “Ride of the Valkyries” and need to sing, “Kill the wabbit / Kill the wabbit / Kill the wabbit!!”

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 (disc 4)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie
    Looney Tunes (season 1)

  2. Bully for Bugs (1953)

    One of Bugs’ more enduring qualities is his ability to outdo anyone at anything with minimal preparation: in this case, bullfighting. The bull in question manages to somehow look alternately cute and menacing, but ultimately supremely unlucky in the Rube Goldberg-esque ending. This short features all of Bugs’ most iconic gags: the Las Chiapanecas slap dance, the bull chalking his horns like a pool cue, and of course, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.” That line gives us all hope that someday Bugs will cross over with Better Call Saul.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 3 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 2)

  3. Baseball Bugs (1946)

    America’s quintessential cartoon character and America’s national pastime go together perfectly. Bugs becomes even more a reflection of who we all dream of becoming. He trash-talks the Gas-House Gorillas, only to prove that he can back it up. Along the way, everything we love about old-school baseball shows up, especially the crazy fights between players and umpires. Michael Maltese closes this short with a brief but funny sequence showing off his old stomping grounds in New York City. Longtime supporting voice actor Bea Benaderet lands the final gag, which ties the whole thing together beautifully.

    A Gas-House Gorilla was pleasantly surprised when Bugs reminded him that women exist.

    Take a look in particular at the Gas-House Gorillas. They serve as the perfect example of the simian, brutish “tough guy” antagonist in cartoons: the animalistic, cigar-chomping hulks who think might makes right. Bluto and Pete did it first, but Friz Freleng perfected it.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 1)

  4. Rabbit Fire (1951)/Rabbit Seasoning (1952)/Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (1953)

    Here we have Chuck Jones’ “Hunting Trilogy,” three shorts set in different seasons—spring, autumn, and winter, respectively—that all have the same plot: Elmer hunts Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck tries to run interference, and Bugs humiliates both. As with Wile E. Coyote shorts, the predictability makes it fun. We know Elmer will shoot Daffy. The question becomes how and of course, how often. The three shorts, all beautifully drawn, serve as the perfect introduction to Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer. But most importantly, no matter what, we know Daffy will get shot. What else could we ask for?

    Where to find Rabbit Fire:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 2)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 (disc 2)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 2)
    Where to find Rabbit Seasoning:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 (disc 2)
    Looney Tunes (season 1)
    Where to find Duck! Rabbit, Duck:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 (disc 2)

  5. Broom-Stick Bunny (1956)

    While most Looney Tunes shorts showcase Mel Blanc’s legendary talent, June Foray steals the show here. Foray reprised her role as Witch Hazel from the Donald Duck short Trick or Treat from 1952. She does an inimitable job as Hazel, especially in the latter half of the short when Hazel transforms into a caricature of Foray herself. Chuck Jones’ lively animation adds to this; Hazel’s character arises from a few basic shapes and lines, but she has incredibly expressive movements (like leaving a cloud of hairpins whenever she dashes off). Bugs also comes through surprisingly well given that he spends most of this short wearing a mask.

    This short also contains quite possibly the best work of Phil De Guard, probably the best background artist ever to work for Warner Brothers. His use of line and color to convey mood goes unmatched. Every background conveys the perspective necessary for the short while taking the visual design in weird and imaginative new directions.

    I would totally live in this house.
    Does that make me a bad person?

    Where to find it: Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 2)
    Looney Tunes (season 2)

  6. 8 Ball Bunny (1950)

    8 Ball Bunny has an epic scope for a 7-minute cartoon. When Playboy Penguin gets separated from his Ice-Capades show, Bugs takes the penguin under his own wing and undertakes a globetrotting quest to return the baby penguin to his habitat. Like the tough-guys of Baseball Bugs, Playboy Penguin serves as the quintessential baby character. Point of fact, this short shows the emotionally manipulative side of that idea, as the baby penguin uses his cuteness to keep Bugs wrapped around his little wing. In keeping with the theme of helping the less fortunate, a caricature of Humphrey Bogart as a panhandler acts as a running gag that pays off wonderfully at the end.

    Just don’t let the title fool you. This cartoon does not, in fact, address Bugs’ longstanding coke problem.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 2)
    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (bonus feature)
    March of the Penguins (bonus feature)

  7. Rabbit of Seville (1950)

    This short doesn’t have quite the ambition of What’s Opera, Doc?, but it still shows that Bugs Bunny and classical music go together beautifully. Again, De Guard brings gorgeous, sweeping backgrounds, and the action works perfectly off these backgrounds, with a few gags getting admirably ambitious with perspective in a way most cartoons never attempt. Most strikingly, the action syncs perfectly with the music, culminating in another unforgettable final gag.

    Call me cheap, but I would just feel thrilled. Free food!

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 1)

  8. Tortoise Beats Hare (1941)/Tortoise Wins By a Hare (1943)

    Bob Clampett and Tex Avery never quite mastered Bugs Bunny the way Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng would. McKimson, who animated both shorts, would prove much funnier with the later stars: Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, and Taz. McKimson’s rounded, toothy rendering of Bugs Bunny feels at odds with Bugs as we know him. That said, Bugs makes an excellent antagonist against Cecil Turtle. These two shorts give us a chance to see Bugs beaten at his own game, and Bugs loses almost as well as he wins. The latter short in particular has hilarious subplots involving the bunny mob and Bugs welding a metal shell.

    Where to find Tortoise Beats Hare:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 (disc 2)
    Where to find Tortoise Wins by a Hare:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 3)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 (disc 2)
    Looney Tunes (season 4)

  9. Hair-Raising Hare (1946)

    Hair-Raising Hare gave the world Gossamer (also known as “what happens when Donald Trump overfeeds his toupée”), which alone makes it one of the best Looney Tunes shorts. You wouldn’t think a giant orange lump of hair with legs—and occasionally arms—would work well as a Bugs Bunny villain, but he does. This one also features a Peter Lorre caricature as an evil scientist. This short shows us another reason why we love Bugs: although he has more confidence and courage than most of us do, when he does get scared, his fear becomes exaggerated too.

    Gossamer’s never tried eating a lamp before.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 3)
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (disc 2 special feature)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 3 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 2)

  10. Rabbit Hood (1949)

    It seems like every long-running cartoon series has a Robin Hood episode. Yogi Bear had one, Tom and Jerry had one… Even Garfield and Friends had one! But Bugs’ foray into Merry Olde England stands as the best. The Sheriff of Nottingham makes a wonderful antagonist for Bugs; he almost seems like a British Yosemite Sam. Chuck Jones’ versatility knows no bounds as he voices Bugs, the Sheriff, Little John, and all of Bugs’ various disguises. This short stands out for its many callbacks and intentionally overlong gags. It also culminates in one of the most unexpected but memorable endings Looney Tunes ever did.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 6)
    The Adventures of Robin Hood (bonus feature)

  11. Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

    Yosemite Sam serves as a caricature of America’s heroic ideals of the time: the cowboy and the Civil War general. As a little guy who talks big but can’t back it up, he makes the perfect target for Bugs. Friz Freleng probably understood rhythm to an even better degree than Chuck Jones, and it shows again in the music and the way Freleng timed the gags. While this short feels a little repetitive in places, it also makes for one of the best one-reel-long duels between Sam and Bugs.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 1)

  12. The Old Grey Hare (1944)

    We end with another short that celebrates the tumultuous relationship between Bugs and Elmer, showing them as both old frenemies (in the far-off year of 2000) and adversarial babies. One can’t help but pity Elmer. He cries when he thinks he hasn’t killed the wabbit; he cries when he thinks he has.

    Elmer’s reading level never improved.

    In stark contrast to the usual lighthearted Bugs fare, this one gets dark. It opens with God setting Elmer back on his Sisyphean quest to eternally try and fail to kill Bugs, and the final gag involves a live burial. Seriously.

    Where to find it:
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (disc 2 special features)
    Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5 (disc 3)
    Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
    The Essential Bugs Bunny (disc 1)
    Looney Tunes (season 4)

Honorable Mention: Duck Amuck (1953)

Of course, the best Daffy Duck cartoon is also one of the best Bugs cartoons. Jones used this cartoon to show how a cartoon character arises from the sum of its parts and to explore where the drawing ends and the character begins. We all know the end reveals Bugs Bunny as the sadistic animator who manipulates poor Daffy. In this sense, the short references Bugs as a surrogate for the animators. By this point, Bugs had fully gained a life of his own. In a way, he’d become a determinant for decisions the animators would make. What worked? What didn’t? Which of his mannerisms had made their way into pop culture? Bugs’ runaway success made him a factor in what Warner Brothers would do, just as if he was an animator.

Where to find it:
Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1 (disc 2)
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 (disc 1)
Looney Tunes (season 2)

As you can see, tracking all these cartoons down can become a real hassle. Warner Brothers has yet to make comprehensive—or even well-organized—releases. Someday I hope they release all 1004 shorts from Merrie Melodies’/Looney Tunes’ heyday in a big, final collection. (Well, I suppose they could take out the racist ones and the ones that nobody alive cares about anymore. *cough*Bosko*cough*) But track them down anyway. For a guy who only just turned 75, Bugs has accomplished a lot for his age.

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About Jordan Saïd

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Jordan Saïd does mathematics by day and writes for Front Row Central and Turban Decay by night (and weekend). He specializes in American road films, kung fu cinema, and camp (the aesthetic, not the wilderness). He lives in Eastern Washington with five cats.

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