Bugs and Thugs

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

We sub/urban moderns yearn for the idyll of rural life, but this cartoon touches (if inadvertently) on the Darwinian truth that the rural, or rather nature itself, is never idyllic for an animal. Yann Martel talked about that in the early portions of Life of Pi. Zoos might not be so bad, he says, when you closely consider the alternatives.

Closer scrutiny may suggest to you that Bugs Bunny isn’t supposed to be a verisimilar rabbit, so I guess this idea applies more to how technologized people yearn for a simpler, more organic life. And yet, is camping that fun? Things didn’t go so good for Robert Mitchum when he took his fedora into the wilderness in Out of the Past, did they? That might even be an apt comparison, because this really is a gangster picture, set in the country. Rocky! And Mugsy too. The WB menagerie is so very rich.

The compounded cab gag that gets everyone out of the city is very funny. I love the exchange that resolves with the hilarious “This guy knows too much” line. I say with tenderness, and intending some reproof for you youngsters out there, that this is a Grandpa joke. The next one isn’t: “shut-up—shuttin’ up!” Who says there’s no place for swearing in movies? Absolutely immortal!

The telephone and the policeman at the other end! This is another compounded gag sequence. The conclusion involves a train, and it is at once gleeful and appalling. Tex Avery’s first Screwball Squirrel picture ended with a similar joke, in similarly poor taste. Utterly inappropriate, to the point of plain uncivilized. So funny!

I don’t say that cavalierly, or with any desire to corrupt your children. These things should make us wonder. Whence this acceptance, this approval even? I’m not sure. There’s just something exhilarating about these cartoon annihilations! “A shadow of violence lies hard across my soul,” as the Pit Bull in Babe, a Pig in the City said. We should ask our kids what they think.

There are some beautiful noir silhouettes when we get to the gang’s hangout. Bugs’ practical omnipotence operates at the climax of the film, in the section in which he acts out that cop raid all by himself. This hearkens back to the more celebrated Duck Amuck—which was released during the previous year. He really is the god of this world. And as with Duck Amuck, you realize that it’s these churning-’em-out collective of practitioners that have really accomplished these demi-divine powers. Or demi-devilish. They stage their climax a second time, with just one small variation. That is really pushing it. Virtuosi/craftsmen that they all are, they get away with it. Aren’t we glad?