Rabbit Transit (1947)

Director: I. Freleng
Story: Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce
Animation: Manuel Perez, Ken Champin, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy
Layouts: Hawley Pratt
Backgrounds: Philip De Guard
Effects Animation: A.C. Gamer
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc
Musical Director: Carl Stalling
Cast: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle

The cartoon opens with Bugs having a sauna at the what looks like the Geysers in Yellowstone park. His ears are wrapped in towels and he is reading a book of fables while munching a carrot. He reads allowed a passage that reads “..with the result that the tortoise beats the hare” he turn a page and continues reading, then stops and turns back about 7 pages to re-read the passage again. A continuity error that makes the sequence all the funnier. The set-up is quite similar to the original Tex Avery “Tortoise Beats Hare” because Bugs spits out his carrot and begins to rant and rave about how outrageous the suggestion is. Bugs asks “Who’d ever believe such a zany story?” and the familiar drawl of Cecil Turtle can be heard off-camera saying “err I would” Bugs turns to find Cecil also enjoying the steam. His head wrapped in towels and his shell, complete with a pressure gauge serving as a convenient steam box sauna.

It seems a shame that unlike “Tortoise Wins by a Hare“, this cartoon presumes that Bugs and Cecil have never met before so as a result, instead of feeling like another chapter in an ongoing feud it feels like an inferior re-hash of an old idea.

There are some delicious touches. The banter between Bugs and Cecil is brilliant. Especially the starting line where the two come clean about cheating. Bugs, throws out a pair of roller-skates concealed under his boxers robe. He in turn picks up the be-goggled and robes Cecil, turns him upside down and shakes out a pair of roller-skates, a wooden buggy, a cycle and a motorised scooter. When they finally crouch at the line, the familiar finger-walk line encroachment gag seen in Tortoise wins by a hair. Although in the countdown, “One for the money, two for the show, three to make ready and four to go!”, instead of Bugs, shouting “Go!” in the far distance, a telegram rider arrives on a moped a split second after Bugs has gone with a Telegram bearing a single word “GO!”

Then Cecil reveals his secret weapon, under his shell he carries a mean looking Jet Propulsion system under his shell. For me this is the best gag in the cartoon, Cecil runs in mid-air with the same old lolloping gait we’re used to be is carried along on the crest of a comet. When Bugs is passed there is a quick joke that you’d miss if you blinked. Bugs powers round a bend and instead of crossing a Toll bridge he swims over the river instead.

As if in answer to Bugs’ cheeky telegram at the starting line, another motorcycle courier arrives with a letter from Cecil, in Chicago! Bugs is incensed. He opens a letter to discover that it’s a Christmas Card, (the cartoon was released May 10, 1947, so nothing seasonally appropriate about this gag), Bugs spends a moment or two feeling guilty that he never sent anything to Cecil. He’s seized with a bright idea. The next scene we see Cecil in his bathing costume on the Beach with Shell cast aside another moped riding courier arrives with a Parcel containing Bugs who plants a wet kiss on Cecil astonished face.

Bugs managed to steal the jet propelled shell from Cecil’s back, Cecil steals in back when Bugs has a breakdown. Bugs hitches a lift a cooks a hot-dog in the fire from Cecil’s exhaust and pours a bucket of water into the engine. Cecil bails it out and speeds after the Rabbit. What follows is a classic cartoon gag. I’m sure it’s not the first time it was used. Bugs, extends the road markings off the road up-to the side of a thick tree trunk, he then paints an arch in the side of a tree. Instead of crashing into the trunk, Cecil speeds through as if the tunnel where real. When Bugs tries it, “CRASH!” I must thy to track down the original version of this gag.

All in all there doesn’t seem to be much going on in this cartoon aside from the brilliant Jet propelled tortoise shell. The title of this short is a seemingly meaningless pun on the phrase “Rapid Transit”. Not the best gag ever written. Given the effort that goes into a cartoon, it amazes me at how little time appears to go into titles. This 1947 feature, is the last of three appearances of Cecil Turtle and a neat ending it is too. Finally Bugs gets to win the race. Although he gets hauled off by Traffic Police for speeding as a result.

How about a chance of pace? I’m interested to track down more cartoons where Manuel Perez get’s a credit. Oddly I can’t find out anything about him. While all the other animators have a Wikipedia page or some biographical record, there’s virtually nothing about Manuel Perez. We know he worked on this picture, and “Baseball Bugs” in 1946. Let’s go back one picture to “Tweetie Pie” released only a week earlier than “Rabbit Transit”, it too was animated by the mysterious Manuel Perez, among others. In was also to first Warner Bros, cartoon to win an Academy Award.

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