Monday, July 27, 2020

Happy 80th Birthday, Bugs Bunny!

in which I argue this is a hero of the people

Because parents are now largely concerned their children will experience any joy that doesn't have bumpers on it,* I don't think kids really know about Bugs Bunny.  Which is a shame.

Being a 1980's latchkey kid who had a Zenith for a babysitter, like most of my generation, I had WB cartoons blasted at me day and night for my entire youth.  From my earliest memories straight through college, Looney Tunes were not just a staple, but a constant.  In a way, the cheap programming of a thousand UHF channels and basic cable options may be the truest common denominator for 2-3 decades of Americans.  All of us know "Rabbit Season/ Duck Season".  We all know the weird, hilarious poetic tragedy of Michigan J. Frog and those who find him.  We all know the best thing to do when pursued is to dress as a coquettish young blonde and flirt with our pursuer.

It's printed on our DNA.

And, right in the center of a swirl of a thousand characters (all voiced by one man, no less), dating way back to 80 years ago today:  we had Bugs Bunny.

I tend to think of Bugs Bunny as the embodiment of a certain spirit of independence and ingenuity of the 20th Century America, with more than a dash of trickster god tossed into the mix.  Who among us does not want to be left alone to enjoy our paper and coffee and carrots, and when others seek to disrupt our tranquility or plans, roll up our sleeves and become a royal pain in the ass?

That's sort of the set-up/ mission-statement of Bugs:  he's a nice guy, until a bully pushes him.  When the thoughtless and selfish come at him - cue nonsense and come-uppance.  Humiliation.  Explosions.  Loss of clothing.  It's the revenge of the everyman.

While the Goliath to his David is often on the daintier side (see: Elmer J. Fudd or Yosemite Sam), Bugs is never punching down - he's at odds with dopiness in it's lazier form and it's bluster. Sure, he works well with mad scientists, Martians, gangsters and a host of other antagonists (including sweaty opera performers), but it's tough to beat Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd.  And, of course, version 2 of Daffy Duck as Bugs' short-fused frenemy.

While there's no shortage of funny cartoon characters, old and new, a review of those Bugs cartoons will show you craft - whether you're talking character design, voice work from the insanely talented Mel Blanc, backdrops or - and maybe especially - in music direction.  It's wild to see the thoughtfulness put into cartoon after cartoon, from how Bugs moves through a frame, to how he descends stairs, to the spaces/ sets of a cartoon.

Unlike a lot of today's cartoons you could listen to like a radio show, Bugs' cartoons rely on visuals, sets, action and acting and mime.  It's a complete package - all meant to serve some simple ideas of scrappiness from an underdog.

I know I was in full-bloom appreciation of Bugs by high school as I wrote a paper on the wascally wabbit for something or other in my English class my senior year.  I believe I got an "A".  Part of what I remember discussing was the change in Bugs from early cartoons (where, honestly, he emerges as full-blown Bugs in A Wild Hare) to the spirit that Chuck Jones brought, and room for play.  And while there's nothing but great stuff in those Fritz Freleng cartoons, I think the Bugs in most people's mind's eye is the version who might just dress as Brunnhilde and charge down a hill on a portly pony.

I've mellowed over the years, but in many ways, as a young person, Bugs gave me terrible ideas for how to respond to authority figures, uncomfortable moments, and, especially, my own dad.  I don't know that I was playing to anyone else but to myself, but I always figured as long as I was entertaining myself and unlikely to die as a result of my actions, cracking wise in bad situations was a stupendous idea.  Frankly, I think the world needs more of that.  But I am likely alone in this thinking, and it may be what does get me killed one day.

Also: the Bugs Bunny kiss is incredibly hard to pull off, but it gold when you do so.

I may love Mickey, find Augie Doggie and Quick Draw McGraw hilarious.  I may have found inspiration of a sort in the Super Friends.  But Bugs is a straight up hero.  May we all find inspiration in nonsense and playfulness in sticking it to those who deserve it.

*Yes, yes, we all grew up with dynamite and tricking our friends into playing "Those Endearing Young Charms", and, oh, the calamity.  And the number of my childhood friends who lost hands bu sticking their finger in the end of a shotgun barrel..

1 comment:

mcsteans said...

Bugs is truly Ryan's spirit animal. Can confirm.