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What's Opera, Doc?

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What's Opera Doc
Whats Opera Doc still
What's Opera, Doc? is a 1957 animated cartoon short
220px-What's Opera Doc Lobby Card

Lobby Card

from the Merrie Melodies series, directed by Chuck Jones for Warner Bros. Cartoons. The Michael Maltese story features Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny through a 6:11 opera tic parody of 19th century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) and Tannhäuser. It is sometimes characterized as a condensed version of Wagner's Ring, and its music borrows heavily from the second opera Die Walküre, woven around the standard Bugs-Elmer conflict.

Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What's Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc as Bugs and Arthur Q. Bryan as Elmer (except for one word dubbed by Blanc). The short is also sometimes informally referred to as Kill the Wabbit after the line sung by Fudd to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyrie", the opening passage from Act Three of Die Walküre (which is also the leitmotif of the Valkyries).

In 1994, What's Opera, Doc? was voted #1 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by 1000 members of the animation field.

Story

The screen pans on the silhouette of a mighty Viking arousing ferocious lightning storms, but then zooms in to reveal that it is only Elmer Fudd (as the demigod Siegfried). Elmer sings his signature line "Be vewy qwiet, I'm hunting wabbits" (in recitative), before arriving at Bugs Bunny's hole. Bugs watches Elmer fruitlessly jam his spear into the hole to "Kiww the wabbit! Kiww the wabbit! Kiww the wabbit!" Bugs sticks his head out of another rabbit hole, and, apparently appalled, sings his signature line "What's up, doc?" to the theme of Siegfried's horn call from the Ring Cycle. He then taunts Elmer about his "spear and magic helmet". This prompts a display of Elmer-as-Siegfried's "mighty powers", set to the overture of The Flying Dutchman. At that, Bugs flees and the chase begins.

Suddenly, Elmer is stopped in his tracks at the sight of the beautiful Valkyrie Brünnhilde (Bugs in an obvious disguise), riding in grandly on an enormously fat horse (in Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist, director Jones notes that the production team "gave the horse the operatic curves we couldn't give Bugs"). "Siegfried" and "Brünnhilde" exchange endearments, set to the overture to Tannhäuser:

"Oh Bwunhilde, you'w so wuvwy!"
"Yes I know it; I can't help it!"'
Oh Bwunhilde, be my wove!

and after the usual "hard to get" pursuit, they perform a short ballet (based on the Venusberg ballet in Tannhäuser), capping it off with the duet "Return My Love" set to another section of the Tannhäuser overture. Bugs' true identity is suddenly exposed when his headdress falls off, enraging Elmer and prompting him to command fierce lightning, "typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes" and, finally, "SMOG!!!" (a word Elmer screams which was not done by Bryan, but by Blanc) to "kill da wabbit!" while music from The Valkyries plays in the background.

Eventually, a lightning bolt strikes Bugs dead. Upon seeing the bunny's corpse, Elmer, as usual, immediately regrets his wrath and tearfully carries the bunny off, presumably to Valhalla in keeping with the Wagnerian theme, per Act III of The Valkyries (although the music again comes from the overture to Tannhäuser). Bugs suddenly breaks character, raises his head to face the audience and remarks, "Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?" The Merrie Melodies end title card then appears with all the words already there.

This cartoon marks one of the few times that Bugs Bunny is defeated by Fudd.

Wagner's music

When presented in the 1979 compilation The Bugs Bunny/Road-Runner Movie, Bugs Bunny claims that the short was the whole of Wagner's 17-hour Opera Cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung, which he mispronounced as "The Rings of Nibble-lung" in his Brooklynese accent), condensed into only 7 minutes. He also pronouncedRichard Wagner the way it looks (wag-ner), instead of Rikard Vagner. Besides the second opera of Ring, Die Walküre|Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and the third opera of the Ring, Siegfried, other Wagnerian music present in the cartoon comes from Tannhäuser and Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). Specific excerpts include:

  • the overture from The Flying Dutchman — opening storm scene
  • Siegfried's horn call from Siegfried"O mighty warrior of great fighting stock"
  • the overture and "Pilgrims’ Chorus" from Tannhäuser"O Bwünnhilde, you'w so wuvwy," "Return my love," and the closing scene
  • the Bacchanal from Tannhäuser — ballet scene between Elmer and Bugs

Awards

This cartoon is widely regarded not only as Chuck Jones’ greatest masterpiece, but many film critics, animation fans, and filmmakers consider this to be the greatest animation achievement of all the cartoons Warner Bros. released since this medium arose in 1930. It has topped many Top Ten lists of the greatest animated cartoons of all time. It was rated by a panel of over 1000 animators in Jerry Beck's 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals as the #1 greatest cartoon of all time[1]. It was inducted by the Library of Congress in 1992 for the National Film Registry, presently preserving the 500 most important films of all time, and is the only short cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny on the list[2].

A magnum opus

What's Opera, Doc? required about 6 times as much work and expense as any of the other 6-minute cartoons his production unit was turning out at the time. Jones has admitted as much, having described a surreptitious re-allocation of production time to completing the short.[3] During the 6 minutes of What's Opera, Doc?, Jones lampoons:

  • Disney's Fantasia,
  • the contemporary style of ballet,
  • Wagner's perceived ponderous operatic style, and even
  • the by-then clichéd Bugs-and-Elmer formula.

Michael Maltese devised the story for the cartoon, and also wrote lyrics to Wagner's music to create the duet "Return My Love". Art director Maurice Noble devised the stylized backdrops for the cartoon. 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. Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening were also later inducted into the registry, making Chuck Jones the only animator with three shorts thus recognized. It is currently the only Bugs Bunny short listed in the National Film Registry.

The cartoon drew upon some previous Warner studio work; the concept of Bugs in Valkyrie drag riding a fat horse to the Tannhäuser Pilgrim's Chorus was originated by Friz Freleng in the suppressed 1945 wartime cartoon Herr Meets Hare.

Availability

In addition to its appearance in The Bugs Bunny/Road-Runner Movie, What's Opera, Doc? is also included on disc four of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 DVD box-set, supplemented with two audio commentaries, optional music-only and voice-only audio tracks, and accompanied by a making-of documentary entitled Wagnerian Wabbit.

Also available for download on iTunes under Bugs Bunny, Vol. 1, this episode is paired with Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid.

Homage was paid to this cartoon in the Looney Tunes video game Bugs Bunny and Taz: Time Busters, in which Fudd-as-Siegfried is the boss of the Viking level. Also, a clip from the short was used on Animaniacs in the Slappy Squirrel segment "Critical Condition".

On October 23, 2007, Microsoft's Xbox Live service began offering more than 50 Looney Tunes animated shorts on Xbox Live Marketplace, with several of them available in high definition for the first time. While there is a fee to download the cartoons, What's Opera, Doc? was available on the service for free in both standard and high definition formats.

Gallery

Video Releases

VHS

DVD

References

Notes

  1. Turner Pub; 1st ed edition (October 1994); ISBN 978-1878685490
  2. National Film Registry: 1989-2007
  3. Cartoons were scheduled for a five-week production, according to producer Eddie Selzer. Jones did this cartoon in seven weeks instead. To cover up for the extra time spent, he had his entire unit doctor their time cards to make it appear as if they working on the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short Zoom and Bored (1957) for two weeks before production of that cartoon actually started.

Bibliography

  • Beck, Jerry and Friedwald, Will (1989): Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company.
  • Richard Freedman, What's Opera, Doc?, Andante Magazine, March 2002
  • Thomas, Todd and Barbara, WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? -- An analysis of the various Richard Wagner operas used throughout the cartoon" [1]

External links

Preceded by
Piker's Peak
Bugs Bunny Cartoons
1957
Succeeded by
Bugsy and Mugsy


Bugs Bunny Cartoons
1938 Porky's Hare Hunt
1939 Prest-O Change-OHare-um Scare-um
1940 Elmer's Candid CameraA Wild Hare
1941 Elmer's Pet RabbitTortoise Beats HareHiawatha's Rabbit HuntThe Heckling HareAll This and Rabbit StewWabbit Twouble
1942 The Wabbit Who Came to SupperThe Wacky WabbitHold the Lion, PleaseBugs Bunny Gets the BoidFresh HareThe Hare-Brained HypnotistCase of the Missing Hare
1943 Tortoise Wins by a HareSuper-RabbitJack-Wabbit and the BeanstalkWackiki WabbitFalling Hare
1944 Little Red Riding RabbitWhat's Cookin' Doc?Bugs Bunny and the Three BearsBugs Bunny Nips the NipsHare Ribbin'Hare ForceBuckaroo BugsThe Old Grey HareStage Door Cartoon
1945 Herr Meets HareThe Unruly HareHare TriggerHare ConditionedHare Tonic
1946 Baseball BugsHare RemoverHair-Raising HareAcrobatty BunnyRacketeer RabbitThe Big SnoozeRhapsody Rabbit
1947 Rabbit TransitA Hare Grows In ManhattanEaster YeggsSlick Hare
1948 Gorilla My DreamsA Feather in His HareRabbit PunchBuccaneer BunnyBugs Bunny Rides AgainHaredevil HareHot Cross BunnyHare SplitterA-Lad-In His LampMy Bunny Lies Over The Sea
1949 Hare DoMississippi HareRebel RabbitHigh Diving HareBowery BugsLong-Haired HareKnights Must FallThe Grey Hounded HareThe Windblown HareFrigid HareWhich Is WitchRabbit Hood
1950 Hurdy-Gurdy HareMutiny On The BunnyHomeless HareBig House BunnyWhat's Up Doc?8 Ball BunnyHillbilly HareBunker Hill BunnyBushy HareRabbit of Seville
1951 Hare We GoRabbit Every MondayBunny HuggedThe Fair-Haired HareRabbit FireFrench RarebitHis Hare-Raising TaleBallot Box BunnyBig Top Bunny
1952 Operation: RabbitFoxy by Proxy14 Carrot RabbitWater, Water Every HareThe Hasty HareOily HareRabbit SeasoningRabbit's KinHare Lift
1953 Forward March HareUp-Swept HareSouthern Fried RabbitHare TrimmedBully For BugsLumber Jack-RabbitDuck! Rabbit! Duck!Robot Rabbit
1954 Captain HareblowerBugs and ThugsNo Parking HareDevil May HareBewitched BunnyYankee Doodle BugsBaby Buggy Bunny
1955 Beanstalk BunnySahara HareHare BrushRabbit RampageThis Is A Life?Hyde and HareKnight-Mare HareRoman Legion-Hare
1956 Bugs' BonnetsBroom-Stick BunnyRabbitson CrusoeNapoleon Bunny-PartBarbary Coast BunnyHalf-Fare HareA Star is BoredWideo WabbitTo Hare Is Human
1957 Ali Baba BunnyBedevilled RabbitPiker's PeakWhat's Opera, Doc?Bugsy and MugsyShow Biz BugsRabbit Romeo
1958 Hare-less WolfHare-Way To The StarsNow Hare ThisKnightly Knight BugsPre-Hysterical Hare
1959 Baton BunnyHare-Abian NightsApes of WrathBackwoods BunnyWild and Woolly HareBonanza BunnyA Witch's Tangled HarePeople Are Bunny
1960 Horse HarePerson To BunnyRabbit's FeatFrom Hare to HeirLighter Than Hare
1961 The Abominable Snow RabbitCompressed HarePrince Violent
1962 Wet HareBill of HareShishkabugs
1963 Devil's Feud CakeThe Million HareHare-Breadth HurryThe UnmentionablesMad as a Mars HareTransylvania 6-5000
1964 Dumb PatrolDr. Devil and Mr. HareThe Iceman DuckethFalse Hare
1990 Box Office Bunny
1991 Blooper Bunny
1992 Invasion Of The Bunny Snatchers
1995 Carrotblanca
1996 From Hare To Eternity
2004 Daffy Duck for PresidentHare and Loathing In Las Vegas
Elmer Fudd Cartoons
1940 Elmer's Candid CameraConfederate HoneyThe Hardship of Miles StandishA Wild HareGood Night Elmer
1941 Elmer's Pet RabbitWabbit Twouble
1942 The Wabbit Who Came to SupperAny Bonds Today?The Wacky WabbitNutty NewsFresh HareThe Hare-Brained Hypnotist
1943 To Duck or Not to DuckA Corny ConcertoAn Itch in Time
1944 The Old Grey HareThe Stupid CupidStage Door Cartoon
1945 The Unruly HareHare Tonic
1946 Hare RemoverThe Big Snooze
1947 Easter YeggsA Pest in the HouseSlick Hare
1948 What Makes Daffy Duck?Back Alley Op-RoarKit For Cat
1949 Wise QuackersHare DoEach Dawn I Crow
1950 What's Up Doc?Rabbit of Seville
1951 Rabbit Fire
1952 Rabbit Seasoning
1953 Up-Swept HareAnt PastedDuck! Rabbit! Duck!Robot Rabbit
1954 Design for LeavingQuack Shot
1955 Pests for GuestsBeanstalk BunnyHare BrushRabbit RampageThis Is A Life?Heir-Conditioned
1956 Bugs' BonnetsA Star is BoredYankee Dood ItWideo Wabbit
1957 What's Opera, Doc?Rabbit Romeo
1958 Don't Axe MePre-Hysterical Hare
1959 A Mutt in a Rut
1960 Person To BunnyDog Gone People
1961 What's My Lion?
1962 Crow's Feat
1990 Box Office Bunny
1991 Blooper Bunny
1992 Invasion Of The Bunny Snatchers
2012 Daffy's Rhapsody

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