Kill The Wabbit!
July 8, 2007 9:54 PM   Subscribe

What's Opera, Doc? (YouTube, approx. 7 mins.) The opera-parodying Merrie Melodies cartoon, which some consider to be Chuck Jones' career masterpiece, turned 50 years old this week. The short is also known as "Kill The Wabbit" in reference to the line sung by Elmer Fudd to the tune of "Ride Of The Valkyries," which is just one of many Wagner references in the piece.
posted by amyms (41 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I had the privilege of talking to Chuck Jones some years ago and he confided in me that he considered "What's Opera, Doc?" to be his least successful Bugs Bunny cartoon. As a parody of Fantasia, it was very effective. But it wasn't particularly funny. "The Rabbit of Seville", in contrast, is a success on every level, both as cartoon and happy parody of the original work.
posted by SPrintF at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is the second FPP today that could use the tags "horse" and "fat."

Someone better get cracking on one about Philip K. Dick's "Valis" to complete the tag trifecta.
posted by sourwookie at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bugs Bunny TOTALLY introduced me to opera. Thousands of people will be able to hum Barber of Seville by heart until the day they die solely thanks a cartoon they saw as a kid... and honestly, that just rocks.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:21 PM on July 8, 2007

*skeptical sneer* Maaagic helmet.
posted by adipocere at 10:28 PM on July 8, 2007

SPrintF said: I had the privilege of talking to Chuck Jones some years ago and he confided in me that he considered "What's Opera, Doc?" to be his least successful Bugs Bunny cartoon.

That's very interesting, SPrintF. Why did he think that? It's been almost universally considered to be one of the greatest cartoons of all time.

miss lynnster said: Bugs Bunny TOTALLY introduced me to opera.

Me too! lol
posted by amyms at 10:30 PM on July 8, 2007

When I was a kid I hated Merrie Melodies, I loonie toons It was like nails on chalkboards. I don't know, and I don't care, but I think it had something to do with surrealism. Those cartoons rejected reality, and that irked me greatly.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 PM on July 8, 2007

Creative people aren't always the best judges of their own work. I think it has something to do with them having an idea for what they wanted to do when they started the piece and how far the finished piece was from what they had intended.

Whereas the rest of us have only the piece itself, instead of what it had been meant to be.

For my money, Duck Amuck was his best, though.
posted by empath at 10:51 PM on July 8, 2007

I've read both of Chuck Jones' autobiographies.

Which begs the question: How does someone pull off two autobiographies?
posted by sourwookie at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2007

"All kinds of stuff" had an interesting post on the Bugs Bunny model sheets.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sourwookie, part of it is that they were both memoirs; neither were autobiographies.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:57 PM on July 8, 2007

One of the things I always found interesting about those cartoons collectively was that some characters were shared around, but other characters were owned exclusively by particular directors.

Only Freleng used Yosemite Sam. Only McKimson used Foghorn Leghorn. For a long time only Jones used the Roadrunner, but eventually that one became public property.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:59 PM on July 8, 2007

There are so many good cartoons from that era... honestly you could pick almost any one of them and it's a classic.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:00 PM on July 8, 2007

I love this comment on youtube:
"You tagged this with "90s"? It was fucking made in 1957!"
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:02 PM on July 8, 2007

From my conversation with him, I think he believed that "What's Opera, Doc?" failed as a cartoon. It had a few good gags ("Kill da wabbit!" and "magic helmet"), but otherwise followed classic Wagner into tragedy ("Oh! The poor bunny!"). As an homage to opera, this is OK, but as a cartoon, meant to entertain and amuse, it was a failure.

I had the impression that he thought the cartoon presumed too much familiarity with the original work. It doesn't stand on it's own particularly well.
posted by SPrintF at 11:09 PM on July 8, 2007

It doesn't stand on it's own particularly well.

I disagree. I'm not even vaguely familiar with opera and I love it! The artwork is fantastic (check out the backgrounds, seriously), and I'm always impressed with the musical score of these old cartoons.

Also, I know its been said before: but sheesh, Bugs is quite the cross-dresser. Not only that, but he rocks the makeup, too.
posted by Avenger at 11:20 PM on July 8, 2007

It's available in mpeg4 over at the Prelinger Archives, if the youtube isn't your thing.
posted by davelog at 11:26 PM on July 8, 2007

As a funny toon, "Rabbit of Seville" was better, but as Animated Art, "What's Opera" was incredible. And "Duck Amuck" was both.
posted by wendell at 11:33 PM on July 8, 2007

What's Opera Doc always annoyed me as a kid, because, as SPrintF says, it is tragic. A kid doesn't get the 'joke'. Fudd can't win against Bugs, he just can't. It's a rule. This is probably what Jones was getting at.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 11:51 PM on July 8, 2007

heh, "Rabbit of Seville" has "Carlo Jonzi" on the intro bill . . . the things you don't catch when you're a preteen . . .checking out who "Eduardo Selzeri" really was led me to this.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:09 AM on July 9, 2007

The cartoon has a casual intelligence rarely seen in American entertainment (apart from The Simpsons, of course).

One thing that struck me about the cartoon is that it lacks the usual cartoon violence.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:03 AM on July 9, 2007

Holy crap, I forgot how much I fucking LOVED Bugs Bunny.

I fully intend to use these cartoons 10 years from now, when I'm teaching some smart-mouthed middle schoolers about opera. THAT will show 'em.
posted by rossination at 1:08 AM on July 9, 2007

Huh. Funny you should post this.

At a 7/7/7 party this weekend*, some of us were comparing notes on how we learned to appreciate classical music, and "Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?" predominated. I remembered as a kid hearing Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture" and thinking "That's just like the music in that cartoon!"

*(no prizes for guessing the featured choice of adult beverage)
posted by pax digita at 3:04 AM on July 9, 2007

I loved all of these as a kid, despite having very little knowledge of opera; it doesn't take much to appreciate the parody, at least in broad terms. It seems like every time I see it again there is some new subtlety I catch. Another of these cartoons that is worth mentioning is Long-Haired Hare (YouTube); I am sure a lot of others remember that one too.
posted by TedW at 5:05 AM on July 9, 2007

Last summer my wife and I took the kids to see several Merrie Melodies cartoons accompanied by live performance from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Here's a link.
The kids just loved it, and I did too; I grew up with those cartoons. Does anyone know of a good resource for unedited Warner Bros. cartoons? The only ones they show on TV are lame new-jack ones or heavily edited. I'd ber disappointed if I plunked down my hard-earned nickel and didn't get the "Free Beer" sign in the singing frog cartoon.
posted by Mister_A at 6:21 AM on July 9, 2007

The Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVDs are uncut, unedited, and digitally restored and remastered.

I agree with Jones; he's not saying "What's Opera, Doc?" is a bad cartoon, it's just not a good Bugs Bunny cartoon (kind of like how the latest Die Hard movie is a very enjoyable action movie, but not an especially good Die Hard movie).

Bugs' trap for the bull at the end of "Bully for Bugs" is the best trap ever.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:30 AM on July 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Bugs Bunny TOTALLY introduced me to opera.

Even more valuably, Bugs totally introduced me to sarcasm. In fact, childhood corruption by this patron saint of snark probably deserves a fair amount of credit for why a lot of us are here wiseacre-ing away the hours.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:07 AM on July 9, 2007

posted by jokeefe at 7:08 AM on July 9, 2007

What's Opera Doc always annoyed me as a kid,

Me too. It seemed too stuffy. Now I see the sheer brillance of it and I'll happily sing "kill da wabbit" under my breath for the rest of the day. Ha.

This stuff was pure genius, I could watch Merry Melodies and Loonie Tunes all day. One of the reasons for their long lasting appeal is that since they were shown in theaters, they had to appeal to both kids and adults, which is no mean feat. I pick up on gags and stuff I never got as a kid (some of it wonderfully "adult"). Pixar has done a good job with picking up on that style of writing and I think it's one of the reasons for their success. Man, I wish I could here that Merry Melodies theme music every morning. It brings back such fun memories.
posted by Skygazer at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2007

Visually, What's Opera Doc one of Jones's best. But it really suffers in pacing, doesn't do much with the characters, and is loaded with a series of dated sight-gags that evoke 50s stage design. I can see why Jones didn't think it was one of the better Bugs and Elmer cartoons. Compared to the typical Bugs and Elmer short, it's torpid, and depends too much on pulling Elmer out of type, while keeping Bugs as Bugs. It didn't crack the top 50 linked by amyms.

Better scripted are Feed the Kitty and the "Citizen Kane" of cartoon shorts, One Froggy Evening.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:14 AM on July 9, 2007

This Cartoon is the Jammy!

I might also suggest checking out "The Carl Stallings Project", a cd of music from the man who scored many familiar Merrie Melodie cartoons. The sensation of having the cartoon images unspool in your head as you listen to the soundtrack can't be beat. As well as insight to the process of timing music for animation, seemingly a lost art.
posted by djrock3k at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2007

Here's what makes me so sad... Bugs Bunny cartoons would never be made or as revered by parents today. Someone might watch Bully for Bugs and feed bullets to an animal! Bugs encourages improper grammar! Blah blah blah. And opera? Who cares about teaching their children OPERA?

posted by miss lynnster at 9:24 AM on July 9, 2007

miss lynnster:

What is popular is not always right; what is right is not always popular.

But you knew that!

My girlfriend has some of the collections and one of my favorite cartoons from it involves a movie theater. A kid won't shut up asking his dad about the movie. People shush the kid and the dad gets indignant. A neighbor proceeds to punch the dad right in the face.

Hysterical, and even more-so now because it is so inappropriate. Will it teach my (future) kids to punch others after they've seen it? If they do, they'll find out the consequence and the difference between cartoons and reality, either from a parent or getting punched back.
posted by wires at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2007

Well, there goes my morning. Thanks, amyms!
posted by Space Kitty at 10:42 AM on July 9, 2007

Which begs the question: How does someone pull off two autobiographies?
posted by sourwookie

By living longer than you expect?
posted by The Deej at 10:52 AM on July 9, 2007

The only problem with One Froggy Evening is that when I see the audition scene now, I'm mentally envisioning it ending with ". . . the Aristocrats!"
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:28 AM on July 9, 2007

What's really surprising to me is that One Froggy Evening is supposed to be good. What exactly is good about one unfunny joke being taken too far, an annoying song coming out of a frog that looks like it could do better with a natural frog call, ... Oh, I'm sure I'm missing something.
posted by rainy at 11:43 AM on July 9, 2007

...and What's Opera, Doc is good, but I don't see how it can be one of the best cartoons of all time. Or close to that. Tom and Jerry cartoon with Tom playing the piano is a lot funnier, and recent cartoons like Finding Nemo or Flushed away or Miyazaki cartoons are millions of times better. Or thousands of times better? It's hard to quantify.
posted by rainy at 11:47 AM on July 9, 2007

I grew up with Chuck as a sort of honorary uncle/godfather -- he was one of my grandfather's best friends. They met in the '40s in California when my grandparents traveled from Wyoming to take part in a square dancing competition of some sort (my grandfather was a fiddler and caller; Chuck and his wife were avid dancers, too), and became fast friends for all the decades that followed.

When I was a kid, my family would visit Chuck and his family out here (they had the coolest place in Laguna Beach!), or see them whenever they passed through Wyoming or Colorado. He'd frequently draw something for me -- I've got a file folder of sketches of Bugs, Daffy, etc.

Once I remember jumping up and down when he gave me a sketch, and saying I couldn't wait to take it to school to show the other kids, saying how they would be so amazed that I knew Chuck Jones. He laughed and said, "honey, if any of your classmates know the name of this old man, I'll eat my hat. Just tell them you're a friend of Bugs."

He was an indredibly funny, smart, sweet, loyal, and humble guy, so I'm always tickled to see how many people indeed know (and respect) the name of "that old man."

I miss him.
posted by scody at 12:47 PM on July 9, 2007 [9 favorites]

I also learned about opera and snarking from Bugs.

A few years back I was listening to the William Tell overture for the first time- the whole overture, not just the to-the-dump part- and when I heard this (half way through, but right at the beginning of the youtube part 2), I realized I knew it from Bugs Bunny.
posted by MtDewd at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2007

I'm a bad boy was a catch phrase in my family.
posted by taosbat at 2:39 PM on July 9, 2007

"What's Opera, Doc?" pushed me (temporarily) into first place when I successfully identified it as part of a "true daily double" on my Jeopardy appearance. Funny thing is that I hadn't seen it in a decade before then, and hadn't seen it since until now. Most excellent to reacquaint myself with it.
posted by Dreama at 8:11 PM on July 9, 2007

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