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Western Animation / A Wild Hare

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A Wild Hare is a 1940 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies animated short film. It was produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions, directed by Tex Avery, and written by Rich Hogan, and originally released on July 27, 1940. A Wild Hare is considered by many film historians to be the first "official" Bugs Bunny cartoon, and set the basic comedy formula for the rest of Bugs Bunny's shorts, solidifying Bugs as a Karmic Trickster and finalizing Elmer Fudd's personality and design. The opening lines of both characters—"Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits" for Elmer, and "Eh, what's up Doc?" for the rabbit—would become catchphrases throughout their subsequent films.

The short begins with Elmer Fudd setting out to hunt for wabbits, and instead encountering Bugs, who after not falling for Elmer's first trick to lure Bugs out of his hole with a carrot comes out of a separate hole, and as Elmer is still peeking down the first rabbit hole, he chews on his carrot and nonchalantly asks "What's up Doc?" This sets the tone for the rest of the short, in which Bugs manages to outsmart Elmer at every turn and foil every trap. After Elmer becomes overly frustrated Bugs offers him a free shot with his shotgun, and when Elmer misses Bugs plays dead ("Everything's gettin' dark..."), which leaves Elmer sobbing and calling himself a murderer. Bugs gets up, kicks Elmer in the rear and shoves a cigar in his mouth, before tip-toeing away ballet-style. This leaves Elmer storming away in mental anguish. Bugs asides to the audience, "Can ye imagine anyone acting like that? Ya know, I think the poor guy's screwy!" Bugs then begins to play his carrot like a fife, and marches with one stiff leg towards his rabbit hole.

The short was nominated for the 1940 Academy Award, but lost out to an MGM Harman and Ising short, The Milky Way.

"A Wild Hare" provides examples of:

  • Antagonist in Mourning: The start of a memorable Running Gag between Elmer and Bugs.
  • Aside Glance: Bugs occasionally looks at the audience as if to say "How stupid is this guy?"
  • Bowdlerise: In the original version, during Bugs' game of "Guess Who?" with Elmer, Elmer's second guess was "Carole Lombard." Carole Lombard was a blond, comic actress of the 1930s and 1940s who died in a plane crash in 1942. In the re-release of this short, "Carole Lombard" was replaced with "Barbara Stanwyck." The "Barbara Stanwyck" version is the one shown a lot on television and most home video and DVD releases. The original "Carole Lombard" version was thought to be lost to the ages, until it appeared on TNT's 1990 special What's Up, Doc? A Salute to Bugs Bunny; however, it was not given a home video release until years later, as part of The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Volume 4 Laserdisc and the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 2 Blu-Ray. As of 2020, the "Carole Lombard" version is the version that appears on HBO Max and the Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Blu-Ray set.
  • Box-and-Stick Trap: Elmer tries to catch Bugs with one, but gets a skunk instead.
  • Butt-Monkey: Elmer, then and many years to come.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: A concept lost on many modern viewers. When the rabbit sees a hunter, he doesn't scream, run or play dead. He just settles down next to him and nonchalantly asks "What's up, doc?"
  • Cradling Your Kill: Elmer feels sorry almost immediately after shooting Bugs and cradles him as he does his Final Speech.
  • The Ditz: A lot of the humor of the cartoon is centered on Bugs playing off the fact that his adversary is a complete and utter idiot—for starters, Elmer tells Bugs that there is a rabbit that he is trying to catch, even though the rabbit in question is standing right in front of him. And then he falls for Bugs' faux death throes and is reduced to a sobbing mess for thinking he killed Bugs, even though that was what he set out to do in the first place.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Bugs' design looks a bit odd if you're used to his finalized design from the Fifties. But alternatively, one could look at the 'Happy Hare' shorts that preceded this as Early-Installment Weirdness which was finally lifted in this short.
    • Its pacing is also a bit slower than your typical Bugs short- besides the timing on the gags being slower than what we'd see even a year later, Bugs isn't even fully shown until almost 2 1/2 minutes in.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: The moment Elmer opens his mouth, it's clear why he's the Trope Namer.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Bugs Bunny popping out of his hole to see what Elmer is doing and casually asking "Whats up, Doc?", quickly catching on that Elmer isn't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, and nonchalantly laying down and munching on his carrot while he plays off of Elmer's stupidity.
  • Faking the Dead: Bugs does a protracted death scene to psych out Elmer, setting him up for the final humiliation.
  • Final Speech: After Elmer supposedly shoots Bugs, he gives a long speech, along the lines of "Ya got me doc...everything's gettin' dark...dark..."
  • From Bad to Worse: A surprising aversion for such an early work. When Elmer realises he's holding a skunk instead of Bugs, there's a long moment in which it's obvious that he's going to be sprayed. Elmer gently lowers it to the ground, softly lowers its raised tail, gives it a light push away... and the skunk walks off, never to be seen again.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The short ends with Bugs punctuating the line "I think the poor guy's screwy!" by indulging in some characteristically silly behavior himself.
  • Karmic Trickster: Bugs, the former Trope Namer, makes his grand debut here.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: While Elmer is mourning the "poor widdle gway wabbit", Bugs gives him a swift kick in the rear, so hard he flies up in the air and hits a branch overhead.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Elmer is reduced to a sobbing mess after he thinks he killed Bugs, despite the fact that it was what he'd set out to do in the first place.
  • No Fourth Wall: Both Elmer and Bugs speak to the audience at different points.
  • No Name Given: Surprisingly, Bugs is not named in this short, be it in the cartoon or in the titles. He wouldn't get his name until the next short, "Elmer's Pet Rabbit". Bugs is identified though as "Bugs Bunny" in promotional material and merchandise as early as 1939.
  • Please Wake Up: Elmer reacts this way when he thinks Bugs is dead, before crying.
  • Pun-Based Title: Complete with the opening using the song "I'm just wild about Harry", obviously keeping in sync with the "hare" theme naming.
  • Remake: This short is very much a remake of the Proto-Bugs short "Elmer's Candid Camera", with Avery improving on what he felt was wrong with "Camera".
  • Smelly Skunk: When Elmer catches a skunk in his rabbit trap instead of Bugs, he walks right up to Bugs and proudly brags about it, before slowly realizing that the animal he's holding is not a rabbit. He doesn't get sprayed, though, but Elmer visibly grimaces in disgust as he puts the skunk down and sends him on his way.
    Skunk: "Confidentially... uh, you know..."
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The song "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" plays when Elmer is crying after he thinks he killed Bugs.
  • Stock Animal Diet:
    Elmer: "Wabbits wove cawwots, huhhuhhuhhuhhuh..."
  • Suddenly Shouting:
    Bugs: "Now don't spread this around, but uh...confidentially...I AM A WABBIT!!!"
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Bugs gives Elmer several of these.
  • Trapped the Wrong Target: Elmer Fudd tries to catch Bugs Bunny with a Box-and-Stick Trap. He catches a skunk instead, but it takes him a while to find that out.