Rabbit Fire

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

Historic! This is a multiple milestone in the history of Bugs ‘n Daffy, Warner Bros. cartoons, and film generally. Of course Rabbit Fire is the first of what we might call the Daffy-getting-repeatedly-shot-in-the-face trilogy. Talk about pushing the boundaries! I love these, but am somehow feeling anxious to acknowledge your right and reason to be concerned or offended. That rifle in the mouth, for instance!

There’s some interesting character business going on here. Daffy makes a pretty considerable transition, from hyperactive looney to really interesting, practically plausible Everyman. Director Chuck Jones spoke of how closely he identified with this character, who understood a great deal, tried really hard, and was pretty well always disappointed. (Or shot in the face.) He was no saint, but you start to think that he didn’t really deserve all this punishment either. Same with the Coyote, if you want to think of it that way.

What might we make of Elmer’s complete cluelessness? (“Hey, laughing boy!”) The great hunter turns out to be a vegetarian, which if you want to think of it is a pretty portentous, even (Paulo)Freire-ian revelation. Bugs had long since abandoned the insufferable manner of the earlier cartoons, and so continues on as a remarkable balance of contradictory qualities, that basically add up to perfection. We take him for granted, I think. But what an invention he is!

More miscellaneously we have the elephant gun/elephant gag. It really works, being that it’s so outlandishly out of left field. The way these cartoons incorporate effeminacy—which they do quite a lot, actually—is really interesting. It doesn’t seem at all vicious or gay-hating. It doesn’t seem gay-equating, either. It’s certainly not Cole Porter’s description (glimpses of stocking, etc.). Rather, instead, it’s a genre and physics and decorum-smashing declaration that, in these films at least, and also in the imaginations and self-hopes of young audiences, Anything Goes.