Big House Bunny

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

Here’s some cheerful all-round anarchy, and a pointed undercutting of authority. Alison Lurie’s Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: Subversive Chidren’s Literature (1990) holds that kid rebellion is pretty well always a virtue, always necessary. Her argument is instructive, but I don’t buy it. (Mostly because I demand that my children obey me, at all times.) I don’t buy it in its entirety maybe. Still, a bit of rebellion, maybe even a whole lot of rebellion, can also be pretty important.

Even appropriate and kindly adult supervision will at times inspire children to little moments, little fantasies of opposition. And sometimes we’re not so kindly! So it’s almost certainly true that stories for kids should selectively disrespect power.

In this respect, the character of Bugs Bunny is almost singlehandedly capable of providing most a kid’s daily requirement of rebellion. The fact that Bugs always prevails, especially in the face of inappropriately exercised authority, is really important to this discussion. After all, a child’s identification with and sympathy for the naughty can actually prefigure a healthily independent growing up. We might also talk the child down from these impertinent heights. Bugs prevails over the sputtering parent, and the child understandably  perceives him as such. The reality is more complex. We rage and are reasonable, we are wisdom and error intermingled.

Or, also, there’s that great point that Bruno Bettelheim made in his book The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976). The kid sees a dangerous world, and prison as the alternative! How about none of the above? This is apt, efficient emblem of almost any child’s dilemma. The fact is that neither agriculture nor nomadry, subordination nor independence are free of peril.

None of this is likely to come out in a casual viewing of cartoons like this, but it does go to show how mythologically, how psychologically attuned they can be. You may get resistance, especially as the scoundrels grow older. But it wouldn’t hurt every once in a while to try to draw ideas like this into the open air of your family interaction, and mutual ministration.

That Rabbit Season gag (uniforms, for instance) is funny here too. There’s some great stuff with the warden, and it’s an uncharacteristic place for the usually rootin’, tootin’ Sam to be. Maybe that’s Bettelheim too, especially give what eventually happens to Sam’s character. Your seemingly oppressive parent might actually be Willy Loman.