Tortoise Beats Hare (1941)

Supervision: Fred Avery
Animation: Charles McKimson
Story: Dave Monahan
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling
Voice Characterisations: Mel Blanc (uncredited)
Starring: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle

This is my favourite cartoon so far! Vastly superior to sequel “Tortoise Wins By a Hare“.

From the start, we know that this cartoon isn’t going to be run of the mill. Tex Avery’s anarchic wit, has Bugs Bunny pacing the credits, reading out the names of the crew (incorrectly) while sardonically munching a carrot. Finally he reads the title “Tortoise Beats Hare”, spits out his carrot and flies into a rage. “…these screwy guys don’t know what they’re talking about.” Bugs rips the credits off the screen to reveal the tree trunk home of Cecil Turtle.  “Where’s that toitle? Let me at ‘im! I’ll shown ‘im!”

Bugs hammers on the door. We expect a fight. When we discover that the object of Bugs’ enormous rage is in fact a tiny, gentle and self effacing tortoise named Cecil it’s hard not to laugh. When Bugs tries to pick up Cecil, so that they can talk eye to eye, he find himself talking to a shell, while Cecil stands bashful, in his red spotted boxer shorts. We can only imagine how an audience in 1941 would have reacted. Fantastic!

There’s some great sound effects when Bugs sticks his head into Cecil’s shell and Mel Blanc’s voice is put through some kind of a compression. Blanc isn’t credited on this story, and it wasn’t until 1944, three years later that his contract stipulated a credit reading “Voice characterization by Mel Blanc.” Blanc asked for and received this screen credit from studio boss Leon Schlesinger when Leon objected to giving Blanc a raise in pay. (Wikipedia)

The gauntlet is thrown down and Bugs bets Cecil $10 that he’ll beat the tortoise in a race.

Bugs speeds off at the starting line and Cecil amiably trots off with a lolloping soundtrack only to head for the nearest phone (courtesy of the Bell Turtlephone Co.) and ring all his brothers / friends. This sequence is filled with gentle humour as we are introduced to Chester and in turn the other members of Cecil’s clan, who are depicted as very different characters, one is seen fishing when the phone rings, another is interrupted while having a bath. They all charge off to take their places in the scheme.

During the race we are treated to some wonderful backgrounds from an uncredited artist. Tex Avery‘s cartoons at Warner Bros. can be noted for their lush backgrounds. Avery started as a background artist before become a storyboard artist for Walter Lanz so maybe he always had a soft spot for this discipline?

There is a delicious pause when Bugs passed the tortoise for the second time, he stops, looks round, races up to Cecil and gawps at him for about three seconds before leaping back in horror. Brave and very funny, the race is the jewel in the centre of this cartoon is a protracted gag that has Bugs building a barricade only to find Cecil absently watching him, ahead again, Bugs races off, cuts a rope bridge and scampers up a tall tree to look for the tortoise, only to be kissed on the chops by the Cecil look-a-like who is sitting on the crown.

Finally Bugs crosses the line, Mel Blanc delivers the half-crazed-with-relief laughter of Bugs’ victory brilliantly. We know what’s going to happen next but it doesn’t make it any less funny when we finally see Cecil sitting calmly under the shade of a tree. Bugs hurls “abuse” at Cecil calling him a “Blankety Blank Blank Toitle” and pays up the $10.

When the penny drops and Bugs asks himself “I wonder if I’ve been tricked?” he turns to hear the entire Cecil Turtle clan, each of them clutching a $1 bill, say in unison “Er it’s a possibility” and simultaneously plant a huge kiss on Bugs’ astonished face.

The real star of the show is Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc’s voice work is brilliant on a great script, coupled with some inspired timing and animated reactions from Bugs. Cecil Turtle is an absolute joy, given that Cecil only made three appearances on screen, it seems logical that tomorrow, we visit his final outing in Friz Freleng‘s cartoon, Rabbit Transit, released in 1947

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