Monday, July 23, 2018

Hair-Raising Hare/Water, Water Every Hare

Animation Nation

By Ed Garea

Hair-Raising Hare (WB Merrie Melodies, 1946) – Director: Chuck Jones. Writer: Tedd Pierce (story). Animation: Basil Davidovich, Robert Gribbroek, Ken Harris, Earl Klein, Abe Levitow, Lloyd Vaughan, & Ben Washam. Music: Carl W. Stalling. Sound: Treg Brown. Voices: Mel Blanc. Color, 7 minutes.

Water, Water Every Hare (WB Looney Tunes, 1952) – Director: Chuck Jones. Writer: Michael Maltese (story). Animation: Philip DeGuard, Robert Gribbroek, Ken Harris, Earl Klein, Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan, & Ben Washam. Music: Carl W. Stalling. Sound: Treg Brown. Voices: Mel Blanc & John T. Smith (uncredited). Color, 7 minutes.

Now that the war was over and there was no longer a need for Private Snafu cartoons, it was time for Termite Terrace to get down to business.

Much had changed. Leon Schlesinger, who owned the cartoon studio and acted as a subcontractor to Warner Bros., finally sold his operation outright to Warner’s, who placed producer Eddie Selzer in charge. Pioneering animators Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett would leave this year and Robert McKimson would be elevated to the director’s chair.

Bugs Bunny, too, had changed over the years. As created by Tex Avery, he was a rabbit who clashed with hunter Elmer Fudd. As the years went by his screen image mellowed and he began to be seen as someone who just wants to be left alone, but characters such as Fudd and others won’t allow him any peace. In Hair-Raising Hare, director Chuck Jones now shows the influence on Bugs of another screen icon: Groucho Marx.

In no other cartoon would Groucho’s influence be as strong on Bugs as here. Bugs takes on Groucho’s leer, his breaking of the fourth wall, and even his duck walk. Like Groucho, all Bugs is really interested in is chasing the girl.

The cartoon opens with the camera panning across the dark forest. We hear Bugs singing a stanza of “Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart” (first heard in the 1944 all-star extravaganza Hollywood Canteen). A shaft of light appears and the camera zooms in on Bugs' rabbit hole as he rises up, dressed in a nightshirt and holding up a candle. “Eh, I don't know but, did you ever have the feeling you was being watched?” 

In fact, he is being watched via remote TV by an evil scientist (a caricature of Peter Lorre, voiced by Blanc). “Being watched, he says,” the scientist intones as we now hear growling behind a door labeled “Monster.” “Patience little one,” the scientist says  soothingly. “Your dinner will soon be here. A nice, tender little rabbit.” 

The scientist winds up a shapely female technical rabbit (the box she came from reads “One Mechanical Rabbit Lure”) and sends her on her way to the background tune of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”   

Bugs follows the lure to the castle (with “evil scientist” on the outer castle wall in big neon lights). The scientist locks the door behind him, but Bugs simply turns and says, “You don't need to lock that door, Mac. I don't wanna leave.” He catches up to the mechanical rabbit and begins kissing her hand. After she suddenly short-circuits, breaking into pieces, Bugs stoically comments, “That's the trouble with some dames . . . kiss 'em and they fly apart!”

Nonchalantly heading for the door to take his leave, Bugs is stopped by the scientist, who tells him, “I have another friend who would like to eat . . . I mean, greet you.” Bugs turns both around as he heads for the monster’s door, saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”    

As they near the door the monster growls loudly. Bugs wraps himself around the scientist. “Your friend?” he asks. The scientist smiles and says, “Yes.” When it becomes clear that this "friend" is a ferocious beast, Bugs vigorously shakes the scientist's hand in goodbye and begins packing luggage as if for a vacation trip, all to the tune of “California, Here I Come.” He tells the scientist, in typical Groucho fashion, “And don't think it hasn't been a little slice of heaven . . . ’cause it hasn’t,” as he bolts for the door. The scientist then opens the door and out comes the monster, covered completely in bright orange fur and wearing basketball sneakers. The monster comes up behind Bugs as he’s trying to get the front door open. He asks the monster for a hand: “Here, you look like a strong, healthy boy. Gimme a hand!” Turning and getting a look at his “helper,” Bugs makes a face while holding up a sign simply saying “Yikes!” He turns it around and the word is now in big letters, before Bugs drops the sign and runs off. 

The thin plot gives way and the cartoon becomes nothing more than an extended chase scene between Bugs and the monster. With the gags flying so fast and furious, it’s almost hard to keep up.  

Of these gags, there are some notable ones. At one point Bugs rushes up a staircase and runs right back down, knocking over the monster. “Don’t go up there, it’s dark!” (Jones is lifting this gag from Freling’s 1942 cartoon, The Rabbit Who Came to Supper, where Bugs uses the same line on Elmer Fudd after running down into his basement.) 

The Groucho influence again comes to the fore when Bugs locks himself behind a door as the monster begins breaking in. Bugs turns to the audience frantically asking, “Is there a doctor in the house? . . . Is there a doctor in the house,” he asks desperately. A silhouette in the theater audience stands up and says, “I'm a doctor.” Bugs now relaxes and grins while pulling out a carrot and munching on it while asking, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” Though Tex Avery was the first director to break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience in I Love to Singa (read our essay on it here), Jones is lifting the gag as a tribute in spirit to Horse Feathers, where Groucho, along with Chico, trapped the apartment of college widow Thelma Todd by her boyfriend, has to listen to Chico play the piano in a desperate attempt to save both their necks. He stands up, telling the audience that he has to stay but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go wait in the lobby “until this thing blows over.”

As the monster chases him Bugs spots a trap door opening on the floor and comes to a quick halt. While tiptoeing backwards and praying, he bumps into the monster. Suddenly, Bugs produces a table and a chair, seats the monster in the chair, and begins working on him like a manicurist, all the while he talking and acting like a girl: “Oh, for shame! Just look at those fingernails!” He seats the monster and goes to work in his nails. “My, I'll bet you monsters lead in-teresting lives . . . I bet you meet lots of in-teresting people too. I'm always in-terested in meeting in-teresting people. Now let's dip our patties in the water!” As the monster doers so, two mousetraps snap, catching his fingers and making him whine in pain.  

The last inspired gag has Bugs ready to leave the castle after knocking the monster cold. As he rounds a corner he sees the monster standing on as pedestal in a piece of ill-fitting armor and holding an ax. Bugs laughs and retreats. The monster then hears a noise and looks up to see a knight riding a horse and holding a lance heading straight for him. As we hear the sound of a train, Jones uses a cut showing Bugs operating the armor and horse like a locomotive. He then cuts to a unique overhead shot as the lance hits the armored monster head on, bouncing him off a wall. All that’s left is a small can with the monster’s picture on it and the words “Canned Monster” written across the front. It’s a uniquely imaginative gag composed of several parts, all fitted seamlessly into one continuous shot.

But the cartoon flags at the end with Bugs finally getting rid of his nemesis by pointing to the audience. As the monster has him lifted by the throat, Bugs says “Look out there . . . in the audience.” The monster shrieks “People! Aaaah!” and runs through a series of walls, leaving his outline behind. It’s a major plot inconsistency, for earlier, Jones ran a gag where the monster passes by a mirror and scares off his reflection. His reaction is to simply turn to the audience and shrug.

Jones ends the cartoon by resurrecting the mechanical lure, which we earlier saw fly apart. As Bugs snickers and says, “Mechanical!” the robot smooches him on the cheek, leaving a lipstick mark. “Well, so it's mechanical!” Bugs says as he follows her off the screen with a mechanical gait.

The constant gags flying about in Hair-Raising Hare tend to distract us from the excellent backgrounds of Gribbroek and Klein that give the cartoon a sinister, Old Dark House look. The backgrounds also combine nicely with some of Jones’ complex gags. And, of course, Carl Stalling’s use of music is a plus as it lightens the mood and provides a pleasant audio distraction.

This was the first appearance of the orange monster. In Jones’ remake, the monster was named Rudolph. Eventually, Jones would name him Gossamer, the name by which we know him today. In Jones’ 1980 cartoon, Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century, Space Cadet Porky chases Gossamer into his boudoir with a pair of electric clippers. When Porky comes out, he is holding only the basketball sneakers. It seems Gossamer was entirely composed of hair.

This was the final appearance of Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny design. Starting with his next Bugs Bunny cartoon, A Feather in His Hare, Jones would use Robert McKimson’s model for the character. 

In 1952 Warner Bros. released Water, Water Every Hare, a remake of sorts to Hair-Raising Hare. The title is a pun on poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.”

As in Hair-Raising Hare, Bugs finds himself trapped in the castle of an evil scientist and doing battle with the orange monster. The cartoon opens with a downpour that floods Bugs’ rabbit hole, causing his mattress to pop up with him on and float downstream. As he passes by the castle, the neon sign on the outside flashes “Evil Scientist,” alternating with “BOO.” The scientist inside (a caricature of Boris Karloff voiced by Smith) has just finished building a huge robot and is wondering where he is going to a get a brain when he sees Bugs float by. Using a fishing pole he hooks the sleeping Bugs just before the mattress goes over a waterfall.

Bugs awakens on a table to find himself beneath a mummy. He first jumps into the scientist’s arms ("Eh, eh, eh, w-w-what's up, doc?"), then to a sarcophagus ("What's going on around here?") and finally onto the robot ("Where am I anyway?"), before running away from the terror of seeing all three.

The scientist, complaining of “delays delays,” opens a door marked “Monster.” A hairy orange monster the scientist calls “Rudolph” emerges. The scientist tells Rudolph to retrieve the rabbit, with the promise of a spider goulash as a reward.

Jones repeats the trap door gag from Hair-Raising Hare, embellishing it with a rock falling into the water below and crocodiles snapping their jaws. Bugs begins walking backward and praying. He bumps into Rudolph, saying to himself, “Uh oh. Think fast, rabbit!” and uses the same gabby beautician gag as in the previous cartoon, but deciding to give Rudolph a new hairdo.

Telling Rudolph he’ll be right back, Bugs goes to a storeroom and returns with sticks of dynamite, which he fastens to Rudolph’s head like curlers. He lights the dynamite and takes his leave just before the dynamite explodes, leaving a bald patch on Rudolph’s head, which he fixes by tying his hair together on top.

Rudolph follows Bugs into the laboratory. Bugs douses himself with a bottle of “vanishing fluid” and becomes invisible. Bugs opens a bottle of “reducing fluid" and dumps the contents on Rudolph, causing him to shrink as he lets out a roar that goes from a bass to a soprano. Putting on a coat and hat and grabbing two suitcases, Rudolph enters a mouse hole and kicks its resident out, before slamming the door (which bears a sign saying "I QUIT!”) The mouse holds up a bottle of whiskey and says, "I quit too,” before dashing away.

Triumphant, Bugs gnaws on a carrot (“Well, that's that.”). Suddenly he re-appears as the scientist, on the table above him holding a hatchet, pours a bottle of “hare restorer” over him, while remarking, “Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist.” He insists Bugs hand over his brain, “Now be a cooperative little bunny and let me have your brain.” When Bugs again refuses (“Uh, sorry doc, but I need what little I've got”), the scientist throws his hatchet at Bugs, who ducks as it flies over his head, shattering a large bottle of ether and sending fumes into the air.

In the next scene the laboratory door opens and Bugs runs out in slow motion with the scientist in pursuit. “Come … back … here … you … rab … bit.” Bugs runs behind a door and sticks out his foot, tripping the scientist, who flies slowly through the air and tells us “nighty night,” before landing asleep on the floor. Bugs slowly lopes down to the river, trips over a rock and falls asleep, landing in the same stream, which now takes Bugs straight back into his flooded hole and onto his bed. He suddenly wakes up and looks around. “Whew. It must’ve been a nightmare,” he declares, before we see the miniature Rudolph, still in his hat and coat, passing by on a rowboat, telling him in a high-pitched voice, “Oh yeah!? That's what you think.” Bugs looks confused as the cartoon ends.

Water, Water Every Hare is not only a far superior cartoon than Hair-Raising Hare, it’s one of Jones’ best. Bugs Bunny has now become someone who isn’t out looking for trouble, but whose problems arise just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While he doesn’t instigate the trouble, once the villain starts, Bugs will not rest until it’s ended. 

In this case he has come across an evil scientist who wants his brain for his robot. The scientist, small with light green skin, a bulbous head and a unibrow, is one of Jones’ better creations. Smith gives him a voice somewhat akin to Vincent Price. 

The orange monster finally gets a name and Jones uses him well, this time not allowing the gags to overtake the plot. Even the way Bugs dispatches Rudolph makes sense given the surroundings. This time, Jones takes full advantage of the marvelously detailed backgrounds by Gribbroek and Klein, integrating the action with them. Nowhere is this better seen than at the cartoon’s climax with a stoned Bugs running from an equally stoned scientist, as if in zero gravity and speaking in slowed-down voices. Carl Stalling beautifully punctuates the scene by using a slower version of the William Tell Overture.

Water, Water Every Hare is a solid example of the growth  and evolution of Chuck Jones from the ‘40s through to the ‘50s. Along with fellow director Friz Freleng, he refused to rest on his laurels, instead continuing to push the boundaries of animation, which led to some of the best and most imaginative cartoons ever to come out of one studio.

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