Release date: October 30, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Gremlin), Bob Clampett (Vocal effects) (Thanks Keith Scott).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny becomes tormented by a war-time gremlin who attempts to sabotage an aircraft.
Making Bugs Bunny a victim of another foil is an extremely dangerous feat; as it depends entirely on who Bugs' opponent is - based on potency and wit. Bob Clampett's choice of candidate is much more amusing and in context of his cartoon style - by having Bugs run afoul of an unseen power - a fictitious gremlin.
The origin of gremlins go back to the myths of airmen from the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the United Kingdom - the myth that gremlins are impish creatures who have the ability to sabotage aircrafts. In 1943, Welsh author Roald Dahl (best known today for a highlighted career writing children's books) was perhaps first attributed for making the myth known worldwide, by writing his first children's book for the Walt Disney Studios simply titled The Gremlins.
Roald Dahl had served in the RAF during World War II, explaining his awareness of the myth amongst airmen. For what it's worth, Dahl himself was involved in a plane crash during his post at Libya in September 1940.
Reportedly, the concept created a lot of superstition amongst many airmen. And so, it enhanced further possibilities for wartime animated cartoons. By placing Bugs Bunny in that environment, Clampett and Warren Foster don't shy away from limiting the possible consequences Bugs would face once he encounters a gremlin.
Bob Clampett must've taken a liking to the Dahl story, as well as the gremlins concept - enough so, it warranted another directed-cartoon, Russian Rhapsody which was released shortly after this cartoon.
The opening sequence has a very satisfying yet unpredictable tone. From any first-viewing experience, it's difficult to determine what Clampett has lied in store. For much of the short's first minute of running time; it's animation free - which is possibly attributed by Clampett's careless management skills.
A Clampett-esque sign gag is featured as the cartoon's establishing shot which is followed by a slow pan shot of an air base, whilst Carl Stalling plays We're in to Win in the background.
The lack of new animation is soon compensated in the following scene - which features some of the most beautiful character animation ever conceived by the studio. Bob McKimson's work of Bugs' introduction is usually hailed as a tour de force piece of animation - and rightfully so. Not only is Bugs drawn very appealingly in proportions; but he feels very human. It also serves as a welcoming opening for what's yet to appear.
Mel Blanc adds some wonderful touches to Bugs' delivery as he reads the text, such as Bugs' misreading on "dia-boo-lickal saa-boh-tay-jee". Bugs laughs mockingly over the notions about gremlins - utilised beautifully by McKimson's acting. Bugs' mocking gesture from his line, "Oh, murder" reads beautifully.
Bugs continues to laugh skeptically about gremlins ("Gremlin! What a fairy tale! Little man. Oh brother!") - until one passes by him. And so, Bugs feels an unusual strike coming from the nose of the blockbuster bomb, causing his body to vibrate broadly. He timidly laughs until he feels another strike.
After a surprisingly calm opening sequence for Bob Clampett - the cartoon effortlessly moves forward.
And so, Bugs Bunny is deceived by the gremlin into testing the blockbuster bomb, by borrowing the mallet: "Hey, Mac. Let me take a whack at it". McKimson animates Bugs with an extreme anticipation - causing Bugs to twist his body several times; until he violently halts, hollering "What am I DOING?!".
Clampett's sheer energy begins to kick in a close-up of Bugs Bunny animated by Rod Scribner. Bugs stutters and speculates, "Hey, I bet that was a -- Say, do you think that--? Hey, could that have been a...gremlin?". The gremlin, standing on top of Bugs' whiskers yells in Bugs' ears: "It ain't Wendell Willkie!".
Scribner's timing of Bugs reacting to the holler is excellent in its frantic delivery. The use of layouts and colour styling in Clampett cartoons is always intriguing. Note how in the close-up; Mike Sasanoff only uses one colour to signify suspense. It's quite a risk in changing backgrounds very drastically; but it works well effectively.
Once Bugs Bunny chases after the gremlin, he strikes Bugs on the head with a monkey wrench. After an assembly line of inventive smear animation by Virgil Ross, Bugs momentarily alters his persona to dim-witted Lennie from John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men.
He dimly asks the Gremlin, "Which way did we go, George?" before collapsing frontwards. Mel Blanc provides a dim-witted voice for Bugs Bunny, to enhance the absurdity of the scene. In the following close-up animated by Rod Scribner, Bugs' posing and expressions are outrageously broad and hysterical as drawings.
The Gremlin pulls open Bugs' eyelids, checking to see if he's fine. Bugs responds, quoting Lou Costello "I'm only three-and-a-half years old" (Correction: See Yowp's comment below), and then flaps his lips in a screwball fashion. Typically, such a scene like this would be completely out of character for Bugs Bunny. Bugs' typically suave disposition would normally deprive from such boundaries. Only Clampett's boyish charm and Scribner's wild animation could bring make a feat pass. The sequence still has shock value today, taking into consideration that Clampett's perilous take on Bugs Bunny hasn't been paralleled.
|Animation by Phil Monroe.|
Angered, Bugs attempts to strike the gremlin with the monkey wrench - only breaking the window. This follows in a wonderfully timed, suspenseful piece of action featuring Bugs attempting to run into the aircraft doors - taking a step back farther each time, hoping for greater impact.
The action gets broader to the point where Bugs begins to violate the laws of physics. His feet start up with great anticipation, to the point were the weight of his feet causes the aircraft walls to tilt back. Phil Monroe's animation shows a great use of weight that makes a seemingly preposterous gag look believable from impact.
Carl Stalling's use of the Russian folk song, Dark Eyes fits effectively to build suspense whilst timed accordingly to Monroe's animation - which is now considered a dead art. At the right moment, the gremlin opens the aircraft door - but Bugs' impact is too great as he zips out to an open sky.
One of the short's highlights, asides from observing Bugs Bunny getting tortured, is the animation itself. Arguably some of the most inventive, outlandish pieces of animation ever cranked out by the studio. A scene worthy for analysis is seen in Virgil Ross' animation of Bugs' visual concussion from the monkey wrench that struck his head.
Smear animation dominates a large chunk of the cartoon. Some of them are more conventional, like the smear frame of Bugs, as indicated from the frame grab. Others are more far-out and brave. It's astounding how animators and assistants were able to creatively invent new kinds of smear animation - by still keeping the cartoon action maintained. At times, the stars truly have aligned when it comes to an artistic venture. From a casual viewing experience, the smear work doesn't scream for attention - but it evidently shows the enjoyment and endless possibilities of animation.
From a cartoon standpoint, a lot of the gags conceived are fairly standard - but Clampett's animators enforce so much energy to make results more effective than what would be typically acquired. In a repeated gag of the gremlin striking Bugs with the monkey wrench on his foot - another inventive smear is thrown into the action.
The cartoon even features one of the oldest, and most cliched of slapstick gags - the banana peel. It's one of the rarest of occasions when a banana skin gag is actually inventive and hilariously executed.
Bugs Bunny zips back inside the plane after his exposure towards an open skylight. As he reenters the aircraft, he slips on several banana skins planted by the gremlin as sabotage. The action is very quick and energetic. The staging shows some strong dynamics that blends with Clampett's brisk timing. Notice how very daring the animator is on moving perspective within a a couple of frames. Both scenes provide an excellent showcase on how broad animation can improve generic gags.
|A speed meter that channels|
The layout staging and fast cutting are potent in execution. The shots cut back from a diving aircraft, that's animated beautifully as its body begins to strip apart from impact. Hilarious shots cut back to a nauseating Bugs - burdened by fate and sickness.
The pacing and suspense feels like a throwback to Tex Avery's cartoon The Heckling Hare; except in Clampett's cartoon, the pacing and camera staging has far advanced.
Once the moment of impact is present - the aircraft engine sputters; causing the plane to completely halt in mid-air, barely just above the earth. The unpredictable delivery and absurdness of the punchline makes its payoff the more hysterical. In the closing shot, the gremlin reveals that the plane has run out of gas. Bugs confidently eats his carrot whilst confiding to the audience, "You know how it is with these 'A' (gasoline ration) cards" - revealing an 'A' card next to him. Although the gag itself has aged over time, there's no denying that Clampett's hilarious punchline couldn't have been outmatched.
Perhaps my favourite Clampett-directed Bugs Bunny cartoon - Falling Hare is a home run! It's wonderfully thrilling and inspiring, and yet downright hilarious. Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the savage-like persona Bob Clampett later gave Bugs in Hare Ribbin' or Buckaroo Bugs; but his experimenting on characterisation remains unparalleled. Admiration for Clampett continues to escalate by astonishingly observing the risks he took and his fearlessness. Other cartoon directors would shy away from such an ambitious experiment, but Clampett's confidence shines. As a director, he took great pride by the creative freedom he was blessed with. It remains a wonderful insight in seeing somebody outwit Bugs Bunny to terrorising levels. At the same time, Clampett remains faithful to its source material - by restoring Bugs' charisma at the cartoon's end. Overall, an excellent cartoon that holds a testament to why Warner Bros. cartoons are exciting to watch. They're original and spontaneous.