Sunday, June 29, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Rabbit Seasoning

The Story: "Pronoun trouble..."

Here is a scene from the second of Chuck Jones' "Hunting Trilogy"* with the troika of Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

If you grew up watching "Rabbit Seasoning" on ABC, CBS, or the WB, you probably didn't see this scene in quite this way, as it featured Daffy Duck being shot in the face and disfigured...many times. The networks would, instead, cut to a freeze-frame of by-stander Bugs during the actual rifle explosion, fearing that "Little Johnny" at home would try to repeat the stunt with "Little Mary" (or vice versa) and see if their face got re-arranged using Big Daddy's unsecured fire-arms.**

Chuck Jones, the director of this cartoon, saw the children watching his cartoons on TV another way. As he demonstrated with a Road-Runner short (entitled "Zip Zip Hooray!") he saw them as cowboy-hatted little zombies, sitting six inches from the screen.

Probably more accurate.

As pictorially conscious of movement and timing as Jones was, Michael Maltese, his frequent collaborator, was punctilious in his words. His concepts were off the wall, and his choice of invectives encyclopedic ("You're desthpicable!"), his gags were elegant and simple, delivered with a sadist's zeal. Don't believe me? Watch Daffy Duck caught between Bugs Bunny's twisting of language and Elmer Fudd's blasting of features. Comedy (like celebrity deaths) comes in three's: Here Maltese sets up a simple confusion turning on one word ("Pronoun trouble") ending in violence, a calm review of that act ending in violence, and a change of the conditions (where it happens) also ending in violence. It's the same gag, but built on the previous instance and its differentiation that still leads to the inevitability of violence is what makes it funny.

That, and the different ways Daffy's beak gets rearranged on his skull, which in itself is hilarious.

But it all comes out of character—that was part of the magic of the Jones/Maltese collaborations. The comedy comes from character. Bugs is the cagey one, Elmer's the dumb and easily suggestible one—merely a pawn in the Bugs/Daffy tussle of wits—and Daffy is the vain-glorious one, who thinks he's smart, is smart to a degree, but lets his emotions lead him to disaster. It's when Daffy stops thinking and explodes in a hypocritically righteous fit, that Elmer takes the cue and fires. Bugs, who never loses his cool, never gets his fur singed.

Lessons, anyone?

Yeah. Whatever. It's still funny.

Before we do the scene, just a side-note: although one tries, one can't replicate the superb timing that Jones and Co. employ in this cartoon. For that, we have the film itself positioned conveniently under our presentation. Feel free to enjoy.

Now, it should be noted that in our home-state of Washington (coincidentally Chuck Jones' home state as well, he being born in Spokane), there is no season for European rabbit, as they can be hunted year-round (given the hunter is properly licensed) but cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares cannot be hunted until September 1, 2010. Ducks can be hunted October 17th through the 21st, at which point they're given a chance to think it over or re-group and mount their reprisal attack, then hunting begins again October 24th through January 31st.

Just to clear up any confusion caused by this scene.

The Set-Up: It's duck hunting season. And the Duck, Daffy (in both name and temperament) is hedging his bets by providing that most thick of human beings, hunter Elmer Fudd ("Huh-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-huh") with deflecting signage saying that it is, rather, rabbit-hunting season..and, oh, by the way, "Bugs" Bunny lives right over there. As we join the scene, Daffy—in hiding—has just watched Elmer shoot his wad down a rabbit hole, while its resident sidles up to the befuddled Fudd with his typical ice-breaker.


Bugs Bunny: [echoing] Ehhh...what's up, doc? Elmer Fudd: I'm hunting wabbits. It's wabbit season!** Bugs: Rabbit season, huh? Havin' any luck? Elmer: Well, no, as a matter of fact, I haven't seen... Elmer: ...a wabbit yet! Daffy Duck:[spitting, fuming] Thith ith prepostherous-sth-sth! Daffy: Sthay, what's the matter with you, anyway? Daffy: Don't you know a rabbit when you sthee one? Hmm? (Daffy grabs Elmer by the neck and points at Bugs, then pushes him upwards and hands him his gun) Bugs: It's true, Doc; I'm a rabbit alright. Would you like to shoot me now or wait 'til you get home?Daffy: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!Bugs: You keep outta this! He doesn't have to shoot you now!Daffy: He does stho have to shoot me now!Daffy: [to Elmer] I demand that you shoot me now!Daffy: Nyeah![Elmer looks at the camera, unsure if Daffy knows what he's talking about. As Daffy sticks his tongue out at Bugs, he is shot.][Daffy puts his beak in its place and pushes the tongue back in and walks back over to Bugs, gun smoke pouring out of his nostrils.]Daffy:[to Bugs] Let'sth run through that again.Bugs: Okay!Bugs:[deadpan] Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home.Daffy:[similarly] Shoot him now; shoot him now.Bugs:[as before] You keep outta this, he doesn't have to shoot you now.Daffy:[re-animated] Hah! That’sth it! Hold it right there!Daffy:[to audience] Pronoun trouble.Daffy:[to Bugs] It'sth not "He doesn't have to shoot you now";Daffy:'s "He doesn't have to shoot me now!"[Pause]Daffy:[angrily] Well, I sthay he does have to shoot me now!!Daffy:[to Elmer] Stho shoot me now![Elmer obliges and lets him have it. Daffy puts his beak back to normal and rushes to Bugs in a pose with him pointing a finger at him with his mouth open.]Bugs: Ye-es?[Daffy looks at the camera and forcibly pulls his arm back and closes his beak.]Daffy:[shakes his head] Oh no you don't. [shakes head again]Daffy: Not again, sorry.[Daffy walks over to Elmer.] 

Daffy: This time we'll try it from the other end.Daffy: Look, you're a hunter, right?
Elmer: Wight!
Daffy: And it'sth rabbit season, right? 
Elmer: Wight!
Bugs: [interrupting, pointing at Daffy] And if he was a rabbit what would you do?Daffy: Yeah, if you're stho sthmart, if I was a rabbit what would you do?Elmer: Well, I'd... [Points gun at Daffy]Daffy: [Looks at the camera in horror] Not again! [gets shot] [Daffy puts his beak back and walks over to Bugs with a deadpan expression.]Daffy: [re-animated] Ha-ha-ha, very funny, ha-ha-ha! [resumes deadpan expression]

"Rabbit Seasoning"

Words by Michael Maltese

Pictures by Maurice Noble and Charles M. Jones

"Rabbit Seasoning" is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

* The first was "Rabbit Fire" (set in Spring) and the third "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" (set in Winter).

** Writer Steve Englehart once said that the networks censored their cartoons as if children were suggestible morons possessed with the strength of gorillas—actually not a bad strategy for going into parenthood...or town meetings. I can actually imagine Elmer Fudd saying that he didn't want nationalized health-care...and didn't want anybody touching his Medi-care, either! "Yeah, but y'see...oh, nevermind").

*** Wherever possible I've tried to re-create, phonetically, the, sound...of the Warner Brothers character's speaking voices: Elmer, of course, can't say his "R's" and Daffy is just one of the many Warners characters who have a spitting lisp—an impediment shared by the animation department's old boss, the detested Leon Schlesinger, whom the cartoon creators would openly mock. 'Tweren't in Disneyland, kids!