A Wild Hare (re-released as The Wild Hare) is a 1940Warner Bros.Merrie Melodies animated short film. It was produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions, directed by Tex Avery, and written by Rich Hogan. It was originally released on July 27, 1940. A Wild Hare is considered by many film historians to be the first "official" Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The title is a play on "wild hair", the first of many puns between "hare" and "hair" that would appear in Bugs Bunny titles. The pun is carried further by a bar of I'm Just Wild About Harry playing in the underscore of the opening credits. Various directors at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio had been experimenting with cartoons focused on a hunter pursuing a rabbit since 1938, with varied approaches to the characters of both rabbit and hunter.
A Wild Hare is noteworthy as the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon, as well as for settling on the classic voice and appearance of the hunter, Elmer Fudd. Although the animators continued to experiment with Elmer's design for a few more years, his look here proved the basis for his finalized design.
The design and character of Bugs Bunny would continue to be refined over the subsequent years, but the general appearance, voice, and personality of the character were established in this cartoon. The animator of this cartoon, Virgil Ross, gave his first-person account of the creation of the character's name and personality in an interview published in Animato! Magazine, #19 (1989).
Bugs is unnamed in this short, but would be named for the first time in his next short, Elmer's Pet Rabbit, directed by Chuck Jones. 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 the other shorts.
The basic plot of A Wild Hare, which centers on Elmer Fudd's hapless pursuit of the much smarter Bugs, would serve as a template for many subsequent cartoons. Elmer first approaches one of Bugs' holes, puts down a carrot, and hides behind a tree. Bugs' arm reaches out of the hole, feels around, and snatches the carrot. He reaches out again and finds the business end of Elmer's shotgun. His arm quickly pops back into the hole before returning to drop the eaten stub of Elmer's carrot before apologetically caressing the end of the barrel. Elmer shoves his gun into Bugs' hole, with a tug of war resulting in the barrel being bent into a pretzel.
Elmer frantically digs into the hole while Bugs emerges from a nearby hole with a carrot in his hand. He lifts Fudd's hat and raps the top of his head until Elmer notices, then chews his carrot a bit before delivering his definitive line, "What's up, Doc?" Elmer explains that he's hunting "wabbits", and Bugs chews his carrot while asking what a wabbit is. Bugs teases Elmer by displaying every aspect of Fudd's rabbit description until Elmer begins suspecting that Bugs is a rabbit, saying to the audience "You know, I beweive this fella is an R-A-B-B-I-T." Bugs draws Fudd close and says, "Listen, Doc, don't spread this around, but, uh... confidentially..." before yelling "I AM A 'WABBIT'!" (a variation of Mischa Auer's line "Confidentially, she stinks" from 1938's You Can't Take It with You, a then-well-known catchphrase used in other Warner Brothers cartoons).
Bugs hides behind a tree, then sneaks up behind Elmer, covers his eyes and asks "Guess who?" Elmer tries the names of contemporary screen beauties whose names exploited his accent ("Hedy Wamaw" for Hedy Lamarr, "Cawowe Wombawd" for Carole Lombard, "Wosemawy Wane" for Rosemary Lane, and "Owivia de Haviwand" for Olivia de Havilland) before he arrives at "Say, you wouldn't be that scwewy wabbit, would you?" Bugs responds "Hmm..... Could be!", kisses Elmer, and dives into a hole. Elmer sticks his head into the hole and gets another kiss from Bugs, so wet that Elmer needs to wipe his mouth for a bit before deciding to set a trap. Bugs puts a skunk in the trap and Elmer assumes that he's caught the rabbit. Fudd blindly grabs the skunk and carries it over to the watching Bugs to brag to the bunny about how he outsmarted him. As Elmer comprehends the situation, Bugs gives him a smooch on the nose. Fudd looks at the skunk, who winks and nudges Elmer while saying "Confidentially... uh, hmm, you know..." Fudd winces and gingerly sends the skunk on his way.
Bugs then offers to let Elmer have a free shot at him. After Elmer fires, Bugs fakes an elaborate death scene and plays dead, leaving Elmer sobbing (despite the fact that killing Bugs was presumably his intention all along). Bugs then sneaks up behind the despairing Fudd, kicks him in his rear, shoves a cigar into his mouth, and tiptoes away, ballet-style.
Finally, the frustrated Elmer, driven to distraction by the rabbit's antics, walks away sobbing about "wabbits, cawwots, guns", etc. Bugs asides to the audience, "Can ya imagine anybody acting like that? Ya know, I think the poor guy's screwy!" Bugs then begins to play his carrot like a fife, playing the tune "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and marches with one stiff leg towards his rabbit hole, as with the fifer in the painting, The Spirit of '76.
On June 17, 1944, Warner Bros re-released this cartoon as a Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies. Many other cartoons were also reissued as well.
Changes in the Blue Ribbon
In the original version, when Bugs plays "Guess Who" with Elmer, Elmer's second answer was Carole Lombard. In the reissue prints released following Lombard's death in a plane crash, "Carole Lombard" was redubbed with "Barbara Stanwyck." to make sure no one is upset.
If you can you look close enough, you can see that before it says MCMXL (1940), it says MCMXLIV (The Blue Ribbon reissue was made in 1944). It quickly changes to MCMXL, with a big black outline (So that MCMXLIV cannot be seen anymore).
This and Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt were the only Bugs Bunny cartoons that ended up in the a.a.p. package to be reissued as Blue Ribbons. This is because WB started making theaters pay more to show Bugs Bunny cartoons (excluding reissues) than other WB cartoons. As a result, it would be more than another decade before another Bugs Bunny cartoon was reissued - by that point, the original credits remained on reissues to keep costs down, so if the date is on the credits then people would be confused though.
Wild Hare on the radio
In a rare promotional broadcast, A Wild Hare was loosely adapted for the radio as a sketch performed by Arthur Q. Bryan and Mel Blanc on the April 11, 1941 edition of The Al Pearce Show. The sketch was followed by a scripted interview with Leon Schlesinger.
Although the script is available for public online viewing, as of June 2010 no recording of the broadcast is known to exist.
What's up, Doc?
Bugs's nonchalant carrot-chewing stance, as explained many years later by Chuck Jones, and again by Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett, comes from the movie It Happened One Night, from a scene where Peter Warne (played by Clark Gable) is leaning against a fence eating carrots more quickly than he is swallowing (as Bugs would later often do), giving instructions with his mouth full to Ellie Andrews (played by Claudette Colbert), during the hitch-hiking sequence. This scene was so famous at the time that most people immediately got the connection.
The line, "What's up, Doc?", was added by director Tex Avery for this short. Avery explained later that it was a common expression in Texas where he was from, and he didn't think much of the phrase. But when this short was screened in theaters, the scene of Bugs calmly chewing a carrot, followed by the nonchalant "What's Up, Doc?", went against any 1940s audience's expectation of how a rabbit might react to a hunter and caused complete pandemonium in the audience, bringing down the house in every theater. Because of the overwhelming reaction, Bugs eats a carrot and utters some version of the phrase in almost every one of his cartoons after that, sometimes entirely out of context as compared to this original use.
The short occurs (unrestored) in its entirety in two documentaries available as bonus material in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series. One documentary is What's Up, Doc? A Salute to Bugs Bunny Part 1, which is available as a special feature on discs 3 and 4 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3, with the original title cards. The other documentary is Bugs Bunny: Superstar Part 1, which is available as a special feature on discs 1 and 2 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 with the Blue Ribbon reissue titles and 'dubbed version' end title, although it has not been refurbished or released independently in that series. The most noticeable effect of this is that the backgrounds appear to be in muted, autumn-like tones (visible in the picture of Elmer and Bugs above), rather than the vibrant springtime colors the backgrounds were painted in (although this is mainly due to the age of the prints). An uncut, restored version appears on the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection - 15 Winners, 26 Nominees DVD, but did not surface on the Golden Collection series, despite being the debut for Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros.' most popular cartoon star. The restored version is also featured on the disc 1 of The Essential Bugs Bunny and on disc 1 of Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2.