What's Opera, Doc?
"Well, you either hate opera, or you love it. I love it."
— Bugs Bunny, speaking of What's Opera, Doc?, in The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie.
— yes, with a question mark — is a 1957 Looney Tunes
short famously described by director Chuck Jones
as "our attempt to squish the entire Ring Cycle down to six minutes
." The incredible part is that they succeeded
Specifically, the short is an ambitious parody of the operas of Richard Wagner
, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen
(especially Die Walküre
), and (musically) Der fliegende Holländer
. It was written by Michael Maltese, who twelve years earlier had warmed up for the task with Friz Freleng's similar Herr Meets Hare
, with Hermann Göring
(!) in the Elmer Fudd part.
The plot follows Siegfried Fudd as he attempts to (what else?) kill innocent little forest critter Bugs Bunny
with his "speaw and magic hewlmet
." Along the way Fudd manages to fall in love with what he does not realize is Bugs in drag as Brünnhilde; when he discovers he's been tricked, his tewwib
— er, terrible
wrath unleashes the full force of the helmet's awesome might: "Nowth winds bwow! South winds bwow! Typhoons! Huwwicanes! Eawthquakes! SMOOOOOOGGGGG!!
As the tempest dies down, it reveals the broken form of the "poor wittle wabbit", which he has to all appearances finally killed. Overcome by remorse, Fudd tenderly scoops up the body and marches sniffling into the sunset... at which point Bugs, very much alive
, raises his head and inquires briskly of the audience: "Well what did ya expect in an opera — a happy ending
Naturally, as this is an opera, almost all of the dialogue is sung ("O mighty warrior of great fighting stock, / Might I inquire to ask, 'Ehh, what's up Doc?'" to the tune of Siegfried's Horn Call). Most famous is Elmer's continual refrain of "Kill da wabbit!" to the tune of the "Ride of the Valkyries
". The brief ballet sequence between Siegfried and "Brünnhilde" was painstakingly choreographed by animators who studied film of actual dancers. There's even a duet, "Return, My Love", with original words by Maltese, to the tune of the "Pilgrims' Chorus
" from Tannhäuser
Having taken roughly six times as much time and money to produce as most contemporary Looney Tunes
, this is possibly the most beloved and critically acclaimed animated short of all time, topping numerous lists compiled by film critics and professional animators. In 1992, it became the first cartoon short to be deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and thus was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
What's Opera, Doc? provides examples of the following tropes:
- Affectionate Parody: Of everything Wagnerian and Romantic in general.
- Amusing Injuries: This most-favored-trope of the Looney Tunes is surprisingly averted at the end... in which it turns out that its being purely Played for Drama is the gag.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Typhoons! Huwwicanes! Earthquakes! SMOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGG!"
- The Bad Guy Wins: Yes, you read that correctly. It's lampshaded, even.
- Berserk Button: When Elmer catches on to Bugs' tricks, all hell breaks loose.
- Big Shadow, Little Creature: The opening, when Elmer Fudd first appears.
- Brawn Hilda: Averted; Bugs as Brünnhilde is really quite petite. The horse "she" rides in on, however...◊ Chuck Jones once explained that, denied the traditionally curvaceous opera heroine, they threw every curve they had into her noble steed instead.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: "Well, what did you expect in an opera — a HAPPY ending?"
- Catchphrase: Plays magnificently with Elmer's traditional desire to "Kill the wabbit!!"
- Clothes Make the Superman: Elmer Fudd's "spear and magic helmet" allow him to control the weather and finally kill da wabbit... kind of.
- Cool Helmet: Elmer's magic helmet.
- Cradling Your Kill: What Elmer does after he has killed da Wabbit.
- Darker and Edgier: Given it's a Looney Tunes short, it does conflict with the usual gleefully whacky house style. But it works.
- Downer Ending: Lampshaded by Bugs.
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Siegfwied Fudd Syndwome!
- Hat of Power: The magic helmet, of course.
- Killed Off for Real / Faking the Dead: This was the only short where Bugs was the former trope. And it was lampshaded as well, during which Bugs is the latter trope.
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- Nerd in Evil's Helmet: Elmer Fudd wearing a magic helmet instead of his usual hunter cap.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Elmer Fudd.
- Oh, Crap
- When Bugs realizes Elmer wasn't bluffing about his helmet's powers — complete with doe eyes and drooping ears.
- All of which is accompanied by a dramatic Drum Roll which signals the start of Elmer's Villainous Breakdown. When audiences heard it and saw Bugs running for his life, they knew things were going to get REALLY ugly.
- Oh Crap Smile: When Elmer realizes that Bugs duped him, the rabbit gives Elmer this kind of smile before he runs off.
- One-Winged Angel: While he doesn't actually turn into one, when he has a Villainous Breakdown, Elmer unleashes enough power that would make him seem capable of becoming this.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Obviously; the entire piece is a pastiche of Richard Wagner's operas. Most famously, the Ride of the Valkyries is given the immortal lyrics, "Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit..."
- Pun-Based Title
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Elmer succeeds in killing Bugs, yes, but at the same time kills the...er...rabbit he loved and is overcome by grief and remorse.
- It makes perfect sense. Every time Bugs fooled Elmer into thinking he got him before, Elmer broke down similarly. Perhaps he's not as cut out for hunting as he thinks he is. Or he should stick to hunting the non-sentient.
- Wecycled IN SPACE!
- This short is basically just your typical Bugs Bunny being hunted by Elmer Fudd scenario... but this time, AS AN OPERA! And ELMER WINS!
- Alternately, The Ring Cycle Abridged WITH BUGS BUNNY!
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Elmer gets this as well as everything around him glowing red with rage when he catches on to Bugs' tricks.
- Scenery Porn: Particularly when Elmer carries Bugs away.
- Shock and Awe: "Stwike, wightning! Stwike da wabbit!"
- Sophisticated as Hell: Opera motifs. Ballet. Love duets. Wagnerian motifs. Yet Siegfried is still out to "kill da wabbit."
- Stylistic Suck: Not the cartoon itself by any means, but the song "Return My Love" was deliberately written to be as sappy and cliché as possible.
- Team Rocket Wins
- True Art Is Angsty: Invoked by Bugs at the Punchline.
- Unexplained Recovery: Bugs suddenly recovers, to deliver the Punchline.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Brünnhilde was da wabbit! Leading to Elmer's Villainous Breakdown.
- Unstoppable Rage: Elmer gets like after catching wise to Bugs' trickery. See also: Red Eyes, Take Warning and Villainous Breakdown.
- In fact, it's likely the most angry he has ever been in any cartoon to date. It's no longer about hunting, or good sport. It's Personal. And perhaps the only instance in which he comes off as a truly frightening villain.
- Valkyries: Bugs as Brünnhilde, obviously.
- Villainous Breakdown: When Elmer discovers who his love really is.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Bugs (as usual) at one point in the short.
"Well what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?"