Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bully for Bugs

Animation Nation

By Ed Garea

Bully For Bugs (WB, 1953) – Director: Chuck Jones. Writer: Michael Maltese (story). Animation: Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam. Background: Philip DeGuard. Layout: Maurice Noble. Sound: Treg Brown. Music: Carl Stalling, Milt Franklyn (uncredited). Voices: Mel Blanc. Color, 7 minutes.

If there was anything that could be considered as the quintessential Bugs Bunny cartoon, this might be it, a knock-down, drag-out battle between Bugs and an angry bull loaded with marvelous sight gags.

According to Chuck Jones in his memoir, Chuck Amuck, the idea for the cartoon came one afternoon when Jones and Michael Maltese were in their workroom wrestling with a new story idea:

Suddenly, a furious dwarf stood in the doorway. ‘I don’t want any gags about bullfights, bullfights aren’t funny.’ Exactly the same words he had used to Friz Freleng about never using camels. Out of that dictum came Sahara Hare, one of the funniest cartoons ever made, with one of the funniest camels ever made.

After Eddie Selzer, Warner's animation producer and the “furious dwarf” mentioned above, returned to his office, Jones and Maltese had solved their storyline dilemma. Selzer was famous among the staff for his lack of judgment about cartoon subjects. He had once told Jones that a skunk that speaks French wasn’t funny. Result: For Scent-imental Reasons, which won an Oscar for Best Short Subject in 1950. Selzer, as Jones recalls, had no trouble going up to accept the award. 

Bully For Bugs opens at a bullring somewhere south of the border. An impeccably dressed and self-assured matador is standing in the middle of the arena. We hear a bellow and a bull crashes through the doors marked “Toros.” He sizes up the matador and smiles knowingly. The matador grows nervous and we see sweat beading up on his forehead. He throws his cape up in the air as the bull charges through it and begins to chase him around the arena.

Suddenly we see that someone is tunneling into the arena. It’s Bugs, who immediately grasps that he’s in the wrong place. “Hey, this don’t look like the Coachella Valley to me,” he says as he gets out a map and issues that frequent line: “I knew I should’ve made that left toin at Albuquerque.” He sees the matador run by. “Hey, I know. I’ll just ask this gent in the fancy knickerbockers.” He catches up to the fleeing matador and asks if he can direct him to the Coachella Valley and “the Big Carrot Festival therein.” But the matador is too busy fleeing for his life and climbs over the wall. Toro stops right behind Bugs and is snorting heavily. Bugs turns around and smacks him on the nose. “Stop steaming up my tail!” Toro retreats and chalks his horns like a pool cue. He then charges and rams Bugs out of the arena into town. As Bugs sails through the air he tells us, “Of course you realize this means war!”

Toro celebrates his triumph by moving a bead over a line like in a pool hall and bowing to the cheering fans, who are throwing roses at him. We quickly cut to two doors marked Cuadrillas. The doors open to reveal Bugs in a matador’s outfit holding a cape. Toro charges. Bugs stands still. Just before Toro reaches him Bugs holds out the cape, pulls it away and Toro runs head-on into an anvil atop a concrete block. Dazed (his eyes turn from red to light blue), he follows Bugs, who is waving his cape at him and they prance to the underscore of “La Cucaracha.” Toro regains his senses and makes a full charge at Bugs, who once again lifts the cape as Toro runs into the bull shield, piercing it with his horns. Bugs quickly nails them down with a hammer, as one would do with a nail. He thinks he has Toro where he wants him and remarks, “What a gulli-bull! What a nim-cow-poop!” But he is unaware that Toro has detached his horns (this is a cartoon) and bops Bugs in the head with his hoof, knocking the rabbit cold.

While Toro sharpens his horns on a manually powered grinding wheel Bugs interrupts to place a large rubber band over the horns. He then pulls back the band and places a boulder on the end like a slingshot. As he lets it go we see everything from the bull’s perspective. Now it’s Bugs’ turn to bow to the cheers, but as he does so he has his back to Toro and the bull rams him in the behind as he takes his bow, driving him through the wall. Bugs merely peers out at us with his hand on his face, much like Jack Benny, and gives us an embarrassed look.

The next scene finds Bugs wearing a sombrero, dancing up to the bull in tempo to the accompaniment of “Las Chiapanecas,” slapping Toro twice in the face each time he comes up to him. Toro follows, but gets the same treatment. As Bugs goes into a wild dance Toro charges and Bugs disappears into his hole. His arm reaches out to pinch the bull twice on the nose.

A very angry bull is once again sharpening his horns on the wheel as Bugs waits with a shotgun behind his cape. He turns to the camera and says, “Booby trap,” as Toro charges through the cape, swallowing the shotgun, which transforms the shape of his tail. When he strikes his tail against the ground, one of his horns fired a round. The Bull quickly grasps what’s going on, and smiling at the rabbit, begins to chase him, firing bullets from each horn. Suddenly we hear a ‘click, click’ as Toro runs out of bullets. He quickly gets a box of elephant gun bullets and proceeds to swallow the entire box. When he hits his tail against the ground to test fire, however, he explodes.

All this is noticed by Bugs, who is standing before the entrance gates, remarking, “What an im-bezzile! What an ultra-maroon!” Suddenly Toro charges and Bugs realizes he’s trapped against the doors. He awaits his fate by writing out a will and praying, but as the bull reaches him, Bugs simply opens the gates like a garage door as Toro runs past him through the town and out into the horizon. We hear the sounds of hammer and saw in the ring as we cut back to Toro, who bellows loudly and begins running back to the arena. Just before he arrives, Bugs has laid a slick of axle grease, which the bull hits dead on, sliding him up a ramp. He sails over a platform on which there is a paint brush laden with glue, on past a platform with a sheet of sandpaper, which sticks to the Bull’s underside, then past a platform holding a match. The sandpaper lights the match, which in turn lights a fuse. The bull floats at the same speed as the fuse burns and they arrive simultaneously over a barrel of TNT, which explodes, sending the unconscious bull flying into the wooden bull shield. 

The cartoon ends with the unconscious bull’s hindquarters sticking out, over which Bugs holds up a cape with the words “The End” stitched on it.


Several things about this cartoon stand out. One is that Jones did take some of his producer’s advice seriously and made sure the bull he drew was merely a caricature. In later interviews he remarked that if he drew the bull anatomically correct, it would have the effect of making the audience root for the bull and evoke feelings of pity, considering what happens to him.

When the bull moves, Jones and his animators have him leave behind multiple hooves in the air to simulate quick movement. He would do the same thing with Witch Hazel later on; when she moved quickly, hairpins were left in the air.

The gag with the bull holding the rubber band in his horns as Bugs placed a boulder on the other end and lets it go was first used in Jones’ 1948 boxing cartoon, Rabbit Punch. In that cartoon, the boulder moving forward and connecting is also shown from the victim’s perspective. Over the years, Jones experimented with perspectives. In his 1946 cartoon, Hair Raising Hare, he shows Bugs inside a suit of armor atop a horse galloping quickly to the sound of a freight train at the monster, who is also in a suit of armor, waiting to waylay Bugs. The action is seen from overhead as Bugs’ lance hits the monster head-on, driving him into the wall and bouncing off as a tin can labeled “Canned Monster.” 

The cartoon follows the format of Tex Avery’s Señor Droopy (1949) which sees challenger Droopy taking on the champion matador The Wolf for the affections of actress Lina Romay. Avery’s gags, however, were a lot wilder than those of Jones. 

In turn, the opening segment of Bully For Bugs would be reused by Friz Freleng in his 1963 Speedy Gonzales cartoon, Mexican Cat Dance. Animator Ken Harris also used part of the cartoon in his 1959 Hare-Abian Nights, in which Bugs entertains the Sultan with tales from his cartoons Bully For BugsSahara Hare, and Water, Water Every Hare. And even the Pink Panther got in on the act, as Bully For Bugs was remade twice as Bully For Pink (1963) and Toro Pink (1979).

Jones’ memoir, Chuck Amuck has other anecdotes about producer Eddie Selzer. According to Jones, Selzer’s stupidity knew no bounds. He was always asking to see the script for a cartoon. The simple fact of the matter is that cartoons do not have scripts, but are laid out on storyboards. No matter how many times his directors told Eddie about this, it simply went in one ear and out the other, and he continued to ask for scripts.

Another classic Selzer story as related by Jones was the time he walked in as four or five of the staff were laughing over a storyboard. “Just what the hell has all this laughter got to do with the making of animated cartoons?” he thundered. 

Those interested in the art of animation should obtain a copy of Chuck Amuck. It’s a scintillating peek into the mind of a creative genius, who, along with Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce and a group of superbly talented artists gave us some of the finest animation ever produced.

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