What gives Bugs Bunny his lasting power?
It was 75 years ago. A gangly, gray rabbit hopped out of a hole in the ground. He knocked on a bald man's head. Then he asked, "What's Up, Doc?" The phrase was made as he crunched on a large carrot.
The rabbit had been in previous short films. But this was a fateful scene. It was in the 1940 Warner Brothers animated short "A Wild Hare." It introduced the version of the rabbit that would become Bugs Bunny.
Earlier shorts referred to him as "Happy Rabbit."
"A Wild Hare" did not use the name Bugs Bunny. But it was the first where the character had a certain personality and look. And a catchphrase.
In the short film, Bugs takes great pleasure in escaping the "wabbit" hunting Elmer Fudd.
Bugs has appeared in over 150 films in the decades since his debut. He has earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And he was the first animated character to get his face on a postage stamp. TV Guide ranked him number one atop a list of the 50 greatest cartoon characters.
The "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" films came out of the Warner Brothers animation studios. A team of artists, directors and voice actors worked together on the cartoons.
Bugs was unlike Disney's Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. They came with their own set of physical features. But they lacked much personality. Bugs was defined by his wise guy attitude. That, and his witty banter.
Linda Jones Clough is the daughter of famed animator Chuck Jones. She said Bugs rocketed to fame because he was "character driven, rather than gag driven."
Each director put his own spin on Bugs Bunny. But there was agreement about one thing. Bugs was never to be mean-spirited.
That quality was very important to his fame.
"It was very important that he be provoked," said Chuck Jones. He spoke during a 1998 interview. "Because otherwise he would be a bully. And we did not want that. We wanted him to be a nice person."
They wanted him to be a nice person. But not a pushover. For the directors and audiences, Bugs was more than just a cartoon character.
"[My father's] attitude was that Bugs already existed. And they were just writing about him," said Jones Clough.
"He would come home in the evening and say to my mother, 'You will not believe what Bugs Bunny said today!' "
"'What do you mean?' she would say. 'You wrote it.' "
"'No, I discovered under the circumstances that this is what he would say."
For years after Bugs first said his signature question, it seemed as though America could not get enough of the character. And his trickster ways.
Within four years, films starring Bugs from the "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes" series were popular. They were sold to theaters. The cartoons appeared in a separate category called "Bugs Bunny Specials."
In that same era, Bugs was able to overlap the world of entertainment and politics. He snuck his way into World War II propaganda. And into ads for war bonds.
The Marine Corps gave him honorary status. He was made a private. That came after he was shown in a marine uniform saying that a marine was a real superman. It was part of the 1943 film "Super-Rabbit."
But like any public figure, Bugs has been in his fair share of questionable activity. War-era films star Bugs as the hero. He was pitted against rudely drawn Japanese and German soldiers.
Still, Bugs moved past that questionable phase. He continues to win the hearts and laughs of the people all over the world.
Perhaps what audiences love the most about Bugs Bunny is not his unique personality. Instead, it is his ability to stay true to it.
From his opera debut in "What's Opera, Doc?" to his jaunt in live action films, such as "Space Jam", Bugs Bunny does not change.
More recent animated characters are Bart Simpson and Eric Cartman. They have established themselves with certain levels of meanness. But Bugs remains the lovable character. He only plays tricks on those who deserve it most.
Merrie Melodies - A Wild Hare (1940) by Cartoonzof2006