Published on July 5, 2016
Bugs Bunny is an animated cartoon character, created by the staff of Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons) and voiced originally by the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” Mel Blanc. Bugs is best known for his starring roles in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short films, produced by Warner Bros. during the golden age of American animation. His popularity during this era led to his becoming an American cultural icon, as well as a corporate mascot of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray hare or rabbit who is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality; a pronounced New York accent; his portrayal as a trickster; and his catch phrase “Eh… What’s up, doc?”, usually said while chewing a carrot. Though a similar rabbit character began appearing in the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts during the late 1930s, the definitive character of Bugs Bunny is widely credited to have made his debut in director Tex Avery’s Oscar-nominated film A Wild Hare (1940).
Since his debut, Bugs has appeared in various short films, feature films, compilations, TV series, music records, comic books, video games, award shows, amusement park rides and commercials. He has also appeared in more films than any other cartoon character, is the ninth most-portrayed film personality in the world, and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
While Porky’s Hare Hunt was the first Warner Bros. cartoon to feature a Bugs Bunny-like rabbit, A Wild Hare, directed by Tex Avery and released on July 27, 1940, is widely considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is the first film where both Elmer Fudd and Bugs (both redesigned by Bob Givens) are shown in their fully developed forms as hunter and tormentor, respectively; the first in which Mel Blanc uses what would become Bugs’ standard voice; and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?” A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject.
For the film Avery asked Givens to remodel the rabbit. The result had a closer resemblance to Max Hare. He had a more elongated body, stood more erect, and looked more poised. If Thorson’s rabbit looked like an infant, Givens’ version looked like an adolescent. Blanc gave Bugs the voice of a city slicker. The rabbit was as audacious as he had been in Hare-um Scare-um and as cool and collected as in Prest-O Change-O.
Immediately following on A Wild Hare, Bob Clampett’s Patient Porky (1940) features a cameo appearance by Bugs, announcing to the audience that 750 rabbits have been born. The gag uses Bugs’ Wild Hare visual design, but his goofier pre-Wild Hare voice characterization.
The second full-fledged role for the mature Bugs, Chuck Jones’ Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1941), is the first to use Bugs’ name on-screen: it appears in a title card, “featuring Bugs Bunny,” at the start of the film (which was edited in following the success of A Wild Hare). However, Bugs’ voice and personality in this cartoon is noticeably different, and his design was slightly altered as well; Bugs’ visual design is based on the prototype rabbit in Candid Camera, but with yellow gloves and no buck teeth, has a lower-pitched voice and a more aggressive, arrogant and thuggish personality instead of a fun loving personality. After Pet Rabbit, however, subsequent Bugs appearances returned to normal: the Wild Hare visual design returned, and Blanc re-used the Wild Hare voice characterization. The Wild Hare personality also returned as well.
Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (1941), directed by Friz Freleng, became the second Bugs Bunny cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination. The fact that it didn’t win the award was later spoofed somewhat in What’s Cookin’ Doc? (1944), in which Bugs demands a recount (claiming to be a victim of “sa-bo-TAH-gee”) after losing the Oscar to Jimmy Cagney and presents a clip from Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt to prove his point.