Rhapsody Rabbit is a 1946 Merrie Melodies short directed by Friz Freleng. This short is a follow-up of sorts to Freleng's Rhapsody in Rivets which featured the "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" by Franz Liszt. The "instrument" used to perform the Hungarian Rhapsody in Rhapsody in Rivets is a skyscraper under construction, while this short features Bugs Bunny playing the piece at a piano, while being pestered by a mouse.
This was the very first cartoon broadcast on Cartoon Network when it first went on the air on October 1, 1992, during a special called "Droopy's Guide to The Cartoon Network."
The cartoon opens with a bar of "Merrily We Roll Along", followed by a segment of the "lively" portion of Wagner's Siegfried funeral march, as Bugs walks onstage to applause and prepares to play the grand piano. Throughout the cartoon he runs through a large assortment of visual gags while continuing to play the Hungarian Rhapsody. The first gag involves an apparent audience member who coughs and hacks loudly just as Bugs is poised to play. When it happens a second time, Bugs realizes that the hacker was too disruptive to be kept alive, so the rabbit pulls a revolver out of his tuxedo and shoots the audience member, dispatching him, and then blows the smoke out of the gun barrel before returning it to his tuxedo and resuming the piano.
Although the film is mostly pantomime, Bugs speaks a few times (voice of Mel Blanc). At one point he is interrupted by the ring of a phone, timed to echo a short strain that Bugs is playing at that moment. The phone is inside the piano: "Eh, what's up doc? Who? Franz Liszt? Never heard of him. Wrong number." When playing a notable triad in the middle of the piece, which happens to be the same triad notably used in the unrelated Rossini aria "Largo al factotum" (from The Barber of Seville, which would be spoofed in a later Bugs cartoon), Bugs accompanies his piano playing by singing, "Fi-ga-ro! Fi-ga-ro!"
A mouse appears and pesters Bugs the rest of the way, although the first ("slow") half of the piece is played nearly "straight", with just a few small gags. Bugs stops at the very short pause in the piece, acknowledging the applause of the audience. Before he can begin the "fast" part of the piece (where the gags accelerate), the mouse instigates a major musical shift, to a "Boogie-woogie" number. Bugs joins in, although he eventually traps the mouse and seemingly disposes of the pest with dynamite, but who plays "Chopsticks" while still trapped, Bugs peeks inside and the mouse hits him with a mallet. Bugs then returns to playing the Rhapsody. As the pace picks up, he speaks to the camera (for the last time in the cartoon): "Look! One hand! ... NO hands!" The camera pulls back, and he is deftly playing the piano keys with his toes.
Nearing the end of the Rhapsody, he is in shock after turning to the finale page which consist of scrambled, quick playing, nearly impossible to read notes after which he takes off his shirt, oils his hands, and prays. Then, preparing to play the intense part, he is startled to hear the frenzied finalé playing, behind him. It is the mouse, complete with tie and tails, playing a toy piano that plays like a normal-sounding piano. Cut back to Bugs after the full-orchestra finalé, and he disgustedly plays the three single notes that actually end the piece, and then mutters inaudible profanity which can be lip-read.
The short is available on Disc 4 of Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2, with an optional commentary track by musical historian Daniel Goldmark.
The same year Warner Bros. released Rhapsody Rabbit, MGM produced a very similar Tom and Jerry cartoon called The Cat Concerto, which features Tom being distracted by Jerry while playing in a concert. Most of the gags are identical to both cartoons, and they used the same music that was played. The Cat Concerto won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Both MGM and Warner Bros. accused each other of plagiarism, after both films were shown in the 1947 Academy Awards Ceremony. Technicolor was accused of sending a print of either cartoon to a competing studio, who then plagiarized their rival's work. This remains uncertain even today, though Rhapsody Rabbit has an earlier MPAA copyright number and release date. The massive similarities could be coincidental. The animators at Warner Bros. and MGM were experienced in making cartoons, and it could be likely that they all thought of similar concepts and expanded them, not knowing that similar situations resulted in each cartoon. On the DVD commentary, Goldmark makes no mention of this.
The controversy was made into an episode of the Cartoon Network anthology series ToonHeads. In the same ToonHeads episode, it is revealed that Friz Freleng finally got back at both Hanna and Barbera by breaking Tom and Jerry's streak of four consecutive Academy Award wins by winning the Oscar for the Tweety and Sylvester cartoon Tweetie Pie in 1947.
Rhapsody Rabbit at SuperCartoons.net
Rhapsody Rabbit at B99.TV
The Big Snooze
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