Happy Thanksgivukkah, MovieFanFare readers. As we prepare once again to come to the table and gather around the familial feast (or, in some cases, come to the TV tray and gather around the microwaved Hungry Man turkey dinner) for fellowship, food and reflection, allow me to present my second annual honor roll of cinematic goodies for which I’m grateful. This year, my sincere appreciation goes out to Tex (Avery), Bob (Clampett), Friz (Freleng), Chuck (Jones), Mel (Blanc), and the rest of the men and women of “Termite Terrace,” who for nearly 40 years gave moviegoers–and, later, TV-obsessed kids like me–some of the biggest laughs to ever hit the big and small screen. That’s right, it’s a Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies Thanksgiving, as I list my favorite moments from the 1930-1969 Warner Bros. cartoons. Going in more-or-less chronological order, I offer up thanks for:
Freddy the Freshman (1932) – “Who’s got all the girlies chasing him around?” Why, “Freddy the freshman, the freshest kid in town,” of course! The collegiate cut-up’s jazzy title tune–later used as incidental music for sport-related sequences with everyone from Bugs Bunny to Foghorn Leghorn–is easily the most memorable thing about this early Merry Melody from director Friz Freleng.
I Love to Singa (1936) – Similarly, this Merry Melody from Tex Avery, in which a young jazz-singing owl upsets his classical-minded pop, features a catchy title song (“I love to sing-a, about the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a”) that gained new life six decades later, when an alien-probed Cartman sang it in the first episode of South Park.
Porky’s Duck Hunt (1937) – Two year after his own debut in I Haven’t Got a Hat, Porky Pig’s outing as a would-be huntsman introduced audiences to a cartoon character the likes of which they’d never seen before: a “crazy darn fool duck” later to be known as Daffy. How crazy was he? Check out the final seconds, as director Avery has his new creation break down the fourth wall, “woo-hoo-hoo”-ing his way across the ending credits.
Old Glory (1939) – In a rare serious effort from the studio, this Chuck Jones-helmed piece features a grade-school Porky learning the basics of America’s founding from none other than Uncle Sam himself. It’s “Schoolhouse Rock” nearly four decades early, with Porky delivering an almost stutter-free reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
A Wild Hare (1940) – While versions of them had appeared in prior efforts (including a team-up in Elmer’s Candid Camera), this Avery outing is considered the first official Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon, and features the first instance of the rascally rabbit delivering his trademark greeting, “What’s up, doc?”
You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940) – Nearly a half-century before Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Termite Terrace crew managed to seamlessly blend animation and live action in this short, where Daffy talks Porky into walking out on his cartoon contract to become a feature picture star. After Porky shakes hands with him, animation producer Leon Schlesinger (who, it is said, never got most of the jokes), looks at the camera and predicts, “He’ll be back.”
Wabbit Twouble (1941) – For the opening credits written in Elmer Fuddspeak (“Wobert Cwampett,” “Cawl W. Stawwing,” et al.) and the scene where Elmer, fleeing from a bear, packs his entire campsite–including a massive tree–into his jalopy and speeds off…only to sheepishly return a second later and replant the tree.
Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942) – Think I’d forget that Mortimer Snerd-voiced, would-be bird of prey, Beaky Buzzard? “Aww, no, no, no, no…”
Ding Dog Daddy (1942) – What starts out as a “simple” comedy about a goofy hound (voiced by Goofy himself, Pinto Colvig) who falls in love with a metal dog statue takes a strange and oddly emotional twist when the object of his affection is hauled away by wartime scrap metal collectors, leading to a truly explosive reunion at the toon’s conclusion.
Horton Hatches the Egg (1942) – “Hut-sut ra, sat on a willowa, so on, so on, so forth”…these moving lyrics come courtesy of “The Hut-Sut Song,” prominently featured in this, the only theatrical collaboration between Warner and Dr. Seuss. The 11-minute adaptation by director Bob Clampett of the good doctor’s book manages to blend two seemingly divergent illustrative styles seamlessly. A quarter-century later, Seuss and another Looney Tunes veteran, Chuck Jones, would team up for the beloved Yuletide TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Falling Hare (1943) – For the scene where Bugs Bunny, knocked senseless by a “sa-bo-tah-gee”-minded gremlin who tries to wake him up, answers him with “I’m only twee-and-a-half years old,” to which the gremlin replies, “I like him–he’s silly.”
An Itch in Time (1943) – For making me sing “There’ll be food around the corner,” like the hillbilly flea antagonist, whenever I’m hungry…and for the scene where Elmer’s flea-bitten dog scoots rapidly around the house on his butt before stopping and turning to the audience to say,” Hey, I better cut this out or I may get to like it!” (a line the animators were sure the censors would tell them to cut out).
Super-Rabbit (1943) – All together, everybody: “Bricka-bracka, firecracka, sim boom ba! Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny, rah rah rah!”
Tortoise Wins by a Hare (1943) – For the look of sheer elation on Bugs’ face when, disguised at Cecil Turtle, he takes the lead in their rematch race (“Hooray for the rabbit”).
Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944) – For how a word mimicry contest between Bugs Bunny and the disguised wolf turns into a rousing sing-along of that old standard, “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet (With the Blue Ribbon on It),” with Bugs holding up a “Silly Isn’t He” sign.
The Old Gray Hare (1944) – Forget Tiny Toons and Baby Looney Tunes. The cutest ever pint-sized incarnations of Bugs and Elmer are found in this Clampett comedy that literally traces the duo’s rivalry from the cradle to the grave.
Draftee Daffy (1945) – Did the studio rip off radio’s The Great Gildersleeve when they gave this cartoon’s “little man from the Draft Board” his catchphrase? “Well, now, I wouldn’t say that!”
A Gruesome Twosome (1945) – As the title alley cats fight for the attention of a waiting-to-be-kissed female feline, a dog appears on-screen to proclaim, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t actually belong in this picture…BUT I CAN’T PASS UP A CHANCE LIKE THIS!,” before planting a smooch on her and then just as quickly vanishing.
Hare Remover (1945) – After being tricked by Bugs into drinking the “Jekyll and Hyde potion” he’d invented, mad scientist Elmer starts changing color, making an array of funny faces, and experiencing other bizarre side effects, to which Bugs says to viewers, “I think Spencer Tracy did it much better, don’t you, folks?”
Acrobatty Bunny (1946) – In a great shout-out to another animation studio, Bugs Bunny looks inside the cavernous maw of a circus lion and calls out, “Pinnnooochioooo!”
Baby Bottleneck (1946) – For being one of the best Warners cartoons to use that ultimate factory-themed background song, “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott.
The Big Snooze (1946) – In the middle of a surreal dream sequence in which Bugs Bunny has dressed Elmer in drag and left him to fend for himself against a pack of lascivious “Hollywood and Vine” wolves (whose howls turn into “Howwwwoooldisshe?”), the “female” Fudd turns to the audience and asks, “Have any of you girls ever had an experience wike this?”
Book Revue (1946) – For the wild, Danny Kaye-inspired scat song that Daffy Duck performs to warn Little Red Riding Hood that “The Big Bad Wolf in a zoot-es-kay” is waiting for her.
The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) – Where hapless detective “Duck Twacy,” played by Daffy, is actually “rubbed out” of the picture by the eraser-domed villain Rubber Head (“Fantastic. And furthermore, it’s unbelieva…ble,”), but comes back to play “Guess Who?” with the menacing Neon Noodle.
Hair-Raising Hare (1946) – Only Bugs Bunny could turn fleeing for his life from an enormous, fur-covered creature (later dubbed Gossamer) into an impromptu manicure session (“My, I bet you monsters lead innn-teresting lives”).
Kitty Kornered (1946) – With all the outrageous sight gags in this Clampett-directed short, why do I laugh the most when Porky, thrown out of his own house by his four cats (including an early version of Sylvester), bangs on the front door to get back in, only to have his kitties yell at him, “Milkman, keep those bottles quiet!”?
Racketeer Rabbit (1946) – “It’s curtains for you, Rocky! Curtains!” “Awww, they’re adorable.”
Birth of a Notion (1947) – Chased through the house of a Peter Lorre-esque mad scientist who covets his wishbone, Daffy opens a door and finds scenery passing by, as though he was on a train. “Say, that’s just plain silly!,” he complains.
Easter Yeggs (1947) – for the “Dead End Kid” who makes life miserable for substitute Easter Bunny Bugs while crying “Iwannaeasteregg, Iwannaeasteregg, Iwannaesteregg!.”
The Goofy Gophers (1947) – For my money, there were no better teachers of good manners and courtesy than Mac and Tosh, the ever-so polite and deferential rodents who made their Looney Tunes debut here.
Little Orphan Airedale (1947) – Trying desperately to become Porky’s pet but about to be thrown out of his would-be owner’s home yet again, Charlie Dog warns the pig that he shouldn’t be jostled in his “condition.” Porky immediately lets him rest and looks after him, until finding out that his name is Charlie, whereupon he tosses the canine out. Charlie, however, sticks his head back in and comments, “There really was such a case in Venezuela.”
Buccaneer Bunny (1948) – My family owned a silent, super-8 print of this Freleng-directed romp, and I would always insist on watching it before any showing of home movies. Few things struck me funnier as a kid than the scene where Bugs Bunny throws a lit match into the powder hold of pirate Yosemite Sam’s ship, then waits at the top of the steps with an ever-so-nonchalant look on his face as Sam frantically runs down to grab the match before they’re blown up.
Scaredy Cat (1948) – Sylvester is once again Porky Pig’s pet cat, and in this short the frightened feline can’t convince his owner the spooky hotel they’re spending the night in is full of murderous mice…at least, not until he sees a bound and gagged Porky, being pulled in an executioner’s cart, holding a sign which reads “You were right Sylvester.”
Long-Haired Hare (1949) – Say what you will about Giovanni Jones, the temperamental opera singer who gets on Bugs Bunny’s bad side in this cartoon,but no one could hold a final note like he does–with his face turning several shades of colors as he gasps for air–in his Bugs-sabotaged concert.
Rabbit Hood (1949) – “Welcome to Sherwood!,” proclaims a live-action Errol Flynn, to which a shocked Bug says, “Nah, that’s silly. It couldn’t be him.”
8 Ball Bunny (1950) – You can keep your Chilly Willy, your Happy Feet chicks and your penguins of Madagascar. The most adorable cartoon flightless fowl ever was the bow-tied, top-hatted Playboy Penguin, whose ice cube tears manage to convince Bugs to help the little guy find his way home…sort of.
Ballot Box Bunny (1950) – It’s one throw-away gag in the battle between mayoral candidates Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, but I always got a kick out of it: Sam rigs a cannon to go off when the front door is opened. Pretending there’s a knock at the door, Sam sends Bugs off, but he returns to tell Sam it’s a female adimrer of his who “said to mention St. Louie.” “St. Louie? Emma!,” an ecstatic Sam shouts as he runs to the door, crying out “Emma, here’s your Sammy boy!” Needless to say, it’s not Emma.
Rabbit of Seville (1950) – As impressive a work of art as 1957’s What’s Opera, Doc? is, I really think director Chuck Jones and company did a better job of bringing classical music to the never-ending Bugs-Elmer feud in this earlier picture which, rather than using original songs, managed to work the action and gags around the overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
Rabbit Fire (1951) – The first film to toss Daffy into the Elmer-Bugs mix, this one also features the scene where Bugs informs his pursuer that he’s using an elephant gun and should be hunting elephants instead, at which point a Joe Besser-like pachyderm appears and warns Fudd “You do, and I’ll give you SUCH a pinch!” before pounding him into the ground.
Feed the Kitty (1952) – For the look on bulldog Marc Anthony’s face when he thinks that his new kitten friend has been turned into cookie dough. There’s only a handful of live-action feature films that can match the emotional roller coaster ride this Chuck Jones opus provides.
Operation: Rabbit (1952) – “Wile E. Coyote, super-genius. I like the way it rolls out…”
Duck Amuck (1953) – “Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin!”
Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953) – Because when Duck Dodgers’ disintegrating pistol disintegrates, brother, it disintegrates!
Baby Buggy Bunny (1954) – for the array of “Baby-Face” Finster’s tattoos, and for being funnier in less than eight minutes than the Wayans Brothers’ “homage” Little Man was in 98.
One Froggy Evening (1955) – The ne plus ultra of Jones’ Warner Bros. career–if not the entire studio’s–also led, three decades later, to one of the funniest moments in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs.
Ali Baba Bunny (1957) – two words: “Hassan CHOP!”
Show Biz Bugs (1957) – Thanks to a (literally) show-stopping mix of gasoline, nitroglycerin, gunpower, Uranium 238 and a lit match, Daffy Duck finally manages to one-up stage rival Bugs Bunny, who tells him how much the audience loved it. “I know,” the now-spectral Daffy retorts, “but I can only do it once!”
Steal Wool (1957) – For turning the daily struggle between sheepdog Sam and lamb-stealing wolf Ralph into a 9-to-5 work routine (“Mornin’, Ralph.” “Morning, Sam.”).
Soup or Sonic (1980) – While I was never really much of a fan of the at-times redundant Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote series, I did like the final scene of this Jones-helmed short, made more than a decade after Warner Bros. officially closed its animation department, in which the indefatigable predator finally catches his fleet-footed quarry. Problem is, a trip through some pipes wound up with a mouse-sized Coyote grabbing the leg of a colossal Road Runner, then holding up signs which read “Okay, wise guys, you always wanted me to catch him – Now what do I do?”.
Well, that brings us to number 50. I still have a few toons on my list, but instead I’ll leave the final entry up to you, dear readers. Feel free to share your favorite Looney Tunes memories in the comments, and until then…