Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

Mozart, K. 545! It’s playing beneath the opening narration: “Once upon a time there were three bears.” Here we have a very efficient, even simultaneous affirmation and subversion of a couple of classical things. We’re hearing Mozart’s exquisite symmetry, and embarking upon a very basic folk tale. But Mozart’s exquisite symmetry will not be matched by the telling of the basic tale. Which is going to get fractured some!

For one thing, we’re starting our with the bears, so we’ll be experiencing the whole of this through their eyes. (Forward to the true story of the big bad wolf, etc.) This is actually a bit voice-to-the-voiceless, or at least a way to enliven an old story that could otherwise creak a bit. Think about it, or take a look at our review of The “Teddy” Bears. That rendering, this whole story is pretty unfair! Who does this Yellow-Haired Colonizer, this clear-cutter, this strip-miner think she is? We will be seeing the effects that this kind of heedless intrusion can have.

Hold on, though. It’s not that Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears is exactly Harlan County, USA either. Like the Hollywood cartoon entire, it may have a bit of sympathy, but it’ll eschew sentimentality. We’ll experience this with the bear family, but the bear family isn’t exactly innocent, or at least it isn’t without its own set of flaws and improprieties. Kind of like Things Fall Apart, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s not quite it either. It’s not like this is a realistic or naturalistic family, or family study. And as Bugs is the invader, that potential colonial critique is going to dissolve into satire, self-reflexivity and, in this case, inspired knockabout.

Dad is a tinpot general, very funny in his outrageously exaggerated ill-temper. He’s also a film director, whose collaborators (Junyer!) keep getting everything wrong. Characters and filmmakers alike are self-consciously playing out expectations, and then numbers of variations thereupon. The result is the plain pleasure of great comic filmmaking, or, if you like, a penetrating critique that has all sorts of actual, practical parallels. Look at the very bossy Bugs, carelessly exploitative enough to go after the neglected wife! “Why Grandma, what big eyes you’ve got,” he says, quite provokingly. This obviously registers, as evidenced by her subsequent question, apropos of nothing at all. “Tell me more about my eyes.”

The elaboration of this unseemly flirtation is pretty astonishing. In fact, it’s literally unbelievable.(Now that I think of it, Bugs here is more like the Terrence Stamp character in Pasolini’s Theorem. Which you might not want to show to your kids.) Ma has been thrown for a loop. Ma has been knocked off her rails. Ma has gone right round the bend, as we see her getting increasingly aggressive, provocative, even desperately wanton. Diaphonous lingerie! Done up like Veronica Lake! In the bathtub! I was just now talking about how you might well be offended by Rabbit Fire

Pretty amazing though!