COMPRESSED HARE (1961) – Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, together again

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The following is my first of two entries for The 1961 Blogathon, being hosted by little ol’ me at this blog on April 27-29, 2018 in honor of my 57th birthday. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a variety of movies released in or related to the year of 1961!

As I stated above, this blogathon is my self-indulgent tribute to my birthday. And what does my birthday make me think of? Childhood, and watching cartoons on Saturday morning! So I’d like to honor one of those cartoons, released a few months after my birth.

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Compressed Hare is the fourth pairing of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote — they would be paired again in Hare-Breadth Hurry (1963), with Bugs standing in for an ailing Road Runner — and it doesn’t take a SPOILER ALERT to let people know which of this duo is going to win this grudge match. (The cartoon is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.)

This is also one of the last great cartoons of Warner Bros.’ “golden age” of animation, hereafter followed by mostly dull outings with the Road Runner and Coyote (not directed by their originator, Chuck Jones), and Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales.

(If you’ve ever wondered why Wile E. Coyote speaks in some cartoons but not in the Road Runner series [where he first became popular], Jones said he regarded Wile E. as an “actor” in three separate series: the Road Runners, the Ralph-and-Sam episodes [where Wile E., as “Ralph Wolf,” is pitted against a clever sheepdog], and his outings with Bugs Bunny.)

The cartoon begins with Wile E. conveniently planting a live telephone outside Bugs’ hole. When the phone rings, Bugs, playing along with the premise, nonchalantly answers it (because Bugs deserves a phone, doesn’t he?). Wile E. is on the other line, asking to borrow a cup of diced carrots, and Bugs is happy to comply with the request.

When Bugs arrives at Wile E.’s cave, he sees a mailbox adorned with the title “Wile E. Coyote – Genius.” Bugs offers the camera a withering look before knocking on Wile E.’s door and inquiring, “Are you in, genius? Are you incapable? Insolent? Indescribable? Inbearable?” The door slams open, and Wile E. grabs Bugs and pulls him inside.

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We next sees Bugs tied to a stake in the cave while Wile E. prepares rabbit stew, for which he announces that Bugs is the main ingredient. (Bugs is cooler about Wile E.’s impending cannibalization of him than I am in getting up in the morning.) While the stew is brewing, Wile E. tends to his wine collection, wondering which selection best complements game. “You are game, aren’t you?” Wile E. asks Bugs.

Bad choice of words. “Oh, I’m game, all right,” sneers Bugs, who uses the stake to tap on a floorboard and pop a wine cork into Wile E.’s eye. “Now, look here, me bucko,” Wile E. snaps.

Bugs taps the floorboard again. Wile E. ducks to avoid a second wine bottle uncorking, but through a series of Rube Goldberg-like machinations, the cork ends up doing in Wile E. for good. Still tied to the stake, Bugs hops out of the cave and back to his hole.

Three more of Wile E.’s failed attempts to subdue Bugs lead to the cartoon’s centerpiece: a 10-billion volt electronic magnet (probably purchased on credit from the Acme Company). Wile E. drops a metal-plated carrot into Bugs’ hole to tempt the rabbit, but Bugs isn’t fooled — he sends the carrot (and several of his appliances) back Wile E.’s way via the magnet’s draw. Mother Nature is also only too happy to help with Bugs’ revenge — we see other metal-based properties from around the world heading for Wile E.’s cave, including this priceless shot:

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When an oversized rocket plows into the cave, it’s finally too much. The cave explodes, sending Wile E. into celestial parts unknown. Bugs comments on the then-current “space race” by saying, “One thing’s for sure — we’re the first country to get a coyote into orbit!”

When the character of Bugs Bunny was created in 1940, he was regarded almost as a “wartime hero,” a symbol of America’s determination in the grim face of World War II. Animation buffs have since marvelled at how the guys at “Termite Terrace” (the nickname for the slovenly offices of Warner Bros.’ cartoon unit) could come up with so many un-war-like situations to demonstrate Bugs’ spunk. This cartoon remains one of the finest.

(Another of my birthday indulgences: Click here to read my 1988 interview with Chuck Jones. Also, if you enjoyed reading this, click here to read my second blogathon entry, about Stan Laurel receiving an Honorary Oscar in 1961.)

 

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LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Mighty sporting of the little black duck (and friends)

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At last, those tired spy-movie spoofs are right where they belong — right in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I wouldn’t have thought that the sensibilities of a seven-minute cartoon could be stretched to feature length as well as in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Not even Space Jam (1996) went for broke as much.

If you tried to diagram the plot for this movie, it would probably look something like several Looney Tunes strung together. It starts out with a harried movie executive (Jenna Elfman) firing and then trying to re-hire Daffy Duck. Then it turns into the story of a security guard (Brendan Fraser) who finds out that his father (two-time James Bonder Timothy Dalton) is, guess what, a secret agent. Then there’s the whole subplot about the Acme Corporation’s evil leader (Steve Martin) trying to turn the world’s human population into monkeys. And the mind still reels at Bugs Bunny and Daffy finding out that the Roswell UFO incident wasn’t a fake.

There’s probably only one man in Hollywood who could meld these shards of plot into a cartoon/live-action movie, and happily, the Warner Brothers hired him. His name is Joe Dante, who made his name in the ’80s directing cartoon-like feature films (GremlinsInnerspace). Dante has probably been licking his chops at the thought of doing a Bugs/Daffy feature ever since he had them do a cameo in Gremlins 2, and he has done himself proud. Even though the original Looney Tunes directors have long since gone to comedy heaven, Dante’s lead “actors” don’t seem to have aged a bit. It’s like finding a newly uncovered Marx Brothers movie.

As for the flesh-and-blood performers, Fraser, Elfman and the rest of the movie’s live actors, they’re admirably good sports, cheerily getting walloped around by hand-drawings. The only sour note is struck by Steve Martin, who overdoes trying to be even more cartoony than the cartoon characters.

In a year filled with typical Hollywood blockbusters, who could have guessed that Finding Nemo and this gem would be the year’s highlights? Some days, a movie viewer feels like Porky in Wackyland.