Reading The Rabbit: Explorations In Warner Bros. Animation edited by Kevin S. Sandler (book review).

Y’know, doc, the animation folk at Disney get more books written about them than us folk at Warner’s. Either way, the books are mostly written with permission than an unbias examination. Not here, doc. I tell ya for starters, editor Kevin Sandler from his introduction also points out that both companies created a lot of material at the beginning that would not be seen as politically correct today and neatly hidden from view now. Mostly! Occasionally, doc, you can get a peep if you ever see a ‘The Bad Bugs Bunny Show’ in town. Nah! It wasn’t just me. I only do what I’d drawn to do. I think mentioning this with a bit more descriptive detail was Sandler’s way of showing that they aren’t under the Warner Bros thumb with whatever they said. Then again, when you consider the anarchy in the early cartoons and the fact that the Warner’s top honcho Harry Warner thought they made Mickey Mouse cartoons tells all. I tell you, doc, can you see me and the mouse getting on? The suits didn’t know what their own studio was doing which no doubt contributed to the freedom the animators had. But that had nuthin’ to do wit’ political correctness, just the way things were back then an’ how things were drawn. Chuck Jones says without it, you wouldn’t have seen any black folk in cartoons. He also points out that you must love what you draw to caricature it. Bob Clampett even took his team to black nightclubs in Los Angeles so they got the feel for what they were animating.


Today, there have been attempts to sugarise the Warner’s cartoon brand instead of letting the anarchy rule. I tell you, doc, that means war. The choice of black folk was because they looked larger than life which is always why something is chosen so please pay attention to page 124 and remember other animation companies were doing the same thing. Here at Warner’s, they were applauding the differences not out to belittle them. Just goes to show its all in how you interpret things, doc.

The book ‘Reading The Rabbit: Explorations In Warner Bros. Animation’ has twelve articles examining the Warner Bros cartoons from the ‘Merrie Melodies’ and ‘Looney Tunes’ and the building up of Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and all the other characters. There’s also the occasional illustration and some model sheets showing how to draw some of them. There are other books with larger versions of these but there’s so much else here as well.

Speaking of ‘Merrie Melodies’ and ‘Looney Tunes’, did you know the reason why they were created was to find another use for the Warner’s music catalogue? It was only because they wanted to expand that the likes of Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny were invented so they had characters literally running across the screen. They also hold the distinction of having the first real animation talkies because of it, although never went feature-length. For those who didn’t know, the original designs for many of the main characters were initially developed by Charlie Thorson although developed into the more familiar shapes we know by the animation directors. Seeing the early Bugs, that’s me, doc, compared to what I look like today would make you think you were seeing different people. Talk about make-overs, doc.

The influence of vaudeville and hillbillies is examined, undoubtedly used because of their slapstick and feudism. Unlike Disney and as a quote from Steven Spielberg pointed out, with Warner’s cartoons, there was none of that pretend violence, they were out to get each other. I mean, doc, you can tell the duck and Elmer didna sit down for a carrot lunch wit’ me. The more recent cartoons have gone more towards the sugarised Disney approach. They might look cute, but lost their trademark violence. As pointed out, I only retaliated never insta…insti…started anythin’. Y’know, doc, I’m beginning ta sound like Porky Pig.

I’m less sure about the discussion about me dressing as a woman ta hide or evens because I’s like it. It’s a disguise, doc. Plain and simple. Not only was I being chased, I could be chaste back. How else am I gonna disguise my ears? They stick up, y’know.

If you thought the animators got paid well, think again. The directors got the normal rates but everyone else was on twenty-one bucks a week and only had a five bucks increase after a strike and arbitration. Talk about slave labour, doc, even before inflation. As pointed out, Disney hogged the Oscars without Warner’s cartoons ever getting close. Mostly because there was never any backing from the top. No doubt Harry Warner thought they were already getting them because he thought he owned them.

Just in case you thought Warner’s were always a bit slow on the uptake, they finally got into merchandising their product in the 1990s with their stores opening across the world, selling a proportion of their cartoon imagery. If anything, I always felt it odd that they took so long but Warner Bros always saw themselves as film-makers first.

This book is very well informed on the subject, especially in areas that Warner’s think should be relegated and forgotten. I saw some of the cartoons noted when very young and didn’t think they had any racist overtones, especially when they were caricaturing famous actors of any colour, mostly because if you’re doing it to everyone then you aren’t showing any biasness. As is pointed out, they also gave permission which showed they had a sense of humour.

Don’t expect a comprehensive history here but you will find a lot of gaps covered that you might have suspected but never had confirmed before which should fulfil your gaps in your knowledge about Bugs Bunny, his friends and enemies and those who put them together. Tha…Tha…That’s all, folks!

I tell you, doc, he couldn’t resist ending like that, could he?

GF Willmetts

May 2014

(pub: Rutgers University Press. 271 page indexed illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: £20.50 (UK), $24.95 (US). ISBN: 0-8135-2538-1)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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