Rabbit Seasoning (1951)
Director: Charles M Jones
Story: Michael Maltese
Animation: Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Ken Harris
Layouts: Maurice Noble
Backgrounds: Philip De Guard
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc
Musical Director: Carl W Stalling
Cast: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd
Date of release: September 20, 1951
From the Bugs-filled credits to the opening shot of a series signs leading us along a stylised country track, it is clear we are the 1950s. The economical minimalism of the great Maurice Noble‘s layouts and Philip De Guard’s backgrounds, while clean and crisp, seem to smack of a style peculiar to this period.
The signs revealed one by one are painted with the words “If youre looking for fun–” [missing an apostrophe], “you don’t need a reason”, “all you need is a gun–”, “it’s rabbit season!”. Coupled with the name of the cartoon we are left with little doubt as to this cartoon’s subject matter and a strong clue as to it’s narrative.
We follow the signs into a forest to the very edge of Bugs Bunny’s rabbit hole, where we discover Daffy Duck in the midst of executing a cunning plan complete with fake rabbit footprints, to rid himself of his nemesis once and for all. He confesses to camera as he tip-toes for cover behind a huge boulder “Awfully unsporting of me I know, but what the hey, I’ve got have some fun. …and besides it’s really duck season!”
Elmer Fudd the hunter, excited to action at the arrival of “rabbit” season follows the trail dutifully.
The character interplay in this delightful short is wonderful, the trio and now fully formed and at the top of their game. When the nonchalantly carrot munching Bugs exits his burrow via the rear exit to watch Fudd empty his shotgun repeatedly into the front entrance of the home, Fudd, explains to him that it’s “Wabbit Season” but he hasn’t even seen a rabbit yet. Cue the arrival of the central premise, a delightful, still of Daffy, stupefied with incredulity. The game is afoot! Fudd clearly isn’t very bright, he doesn’t even recognise a rabbit when one’s standing right in front of him munching a carrot. Daffy storms over to the casually chatting pair and angrily points out the prepospterous’us’ness of the situation.
What ensues is essentially a series of well written gags whereby using clever wordplay, or as Duffy put’s it “pro-noun trouble”, Bugs is able to confuse Daffy sufficiently to argue Fudd into shooting him in the face, again and again. Each gun shot resulting in ever more grotesque displacements of his bill.
There are a couple of variations in the action, where Daffy and Bugs are both chased by Fudd and take cover in Bugs rabbit hole and another example of Bugs’ penchant for dressing in women’s clothes and seducing dim witted antagonists, all of these distractions end in the same way. BANG! Poor old Daffy!
The beauty of this cartoon is the carefully and subtly animated interplay between the characters. It’s a great example of how Chuck Jones’ team of master animators worked together. Ben Washam‘s Bugs Bunny with his tapered canines, Lloyd Vaughan‘s keen sense of dialogue, all that head nodding, can be attributed to him and of course Ken Harris who was famous for his comic timing, life-like character work and intricate body movements. I like to attribute that elbow of Bugs’ resting on Elmer Fudd’s head as he peers down his rabbit hole to Harris.
Thanks to Jones’ ferocious loyalty to his team, many of these animators went on working beyond the closure of Warner Bros and directly influenced the development of animation throughout the following decades right up until the present day.