What's Opera, Doc?
|What's Opera, Doc?|
|Directed by||Chuck Jones|
|Produced by||Edward Selzer |
|Story by||Michael Maltese|
|Starring||Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny)|
Arthur Q. Bryan
|Music by||Richard Wagner |
(lyrics: "Return My Love")
|Animation by||Ken Harris |
|Layouts by||Maurice Noble|
|Backgrounds by||Phillip DeGuard|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|6:53 (one reel)|
What's Opera, Doc? is a 1957 American animated cartoon comedy-drama musical short in the Merrie Melodies series, directed by Chuck Jones for Warner Bros. Cartoons. The Michael Maltese story features Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny through a parody of 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), Der Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser. It borrows heavily from the second opera in the "Ring Cycle" Die Walküre, woven around the typical Bugs-Elmer feud.
Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What's Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as Bugs and Elmer, respectively. The short is also sometimes informally referred to as "Kill the Wabbit" after the line sung by Fudd to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", the opening passage from Act Three of Die Walküre (which is also the leitmotif of the Valkyries).
This is the third of the three Warner Bros. shorts (the others being Hare Brush and Rabbit Rampage) in which Elmer defeats Bugs (though here the former shows regret for defeating the latter), as well as the last Elmer Fudd cartoon directed by Jones.
The screen pans on the silhouette of a mighty Viking arousing ferocious lightning storms, but then zooms in to reveal Elmer Fudd in armor (as the demigod Siegfried). Elmer sings his signature line "Be vewy qwiet, I'm hunting wabbits" in "wecitative" (recitative), before he finds "wabbit twacks" (rabbit tracks) and arrives at Bugs Bunny's hole. Elmer then jams his spear into Bugs' hole to "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!" Bugs sticks his head out of another rabbit hole and, appalled, sings his signature line "What's up, doc?" to the theme of Siegfried's horn call from the Ring Cycle. He asks Elmer how he will kill the rabbit, then taunts Elmer about his "spear and magic helmet". This prompts a display of Elmer-as-Siegfried's "mighty powers", set to the overture of The Flying Dutchman, which causes lightning to strike the tree next to Bugs. At that, Bugs flees, Elmer realizes "That was the wabbit!", and the chase begins.
Suddenly, Elmer stops in his tracks at the sight of the beautiful Valkyrie Brünnhilde (who is really Bugs in disguise), riding in grandly on her enormously fat horse, Grane. "Siegfried" and "Brünnhilde" exchange endearments, set to the "Pilgrims' Chorus" theme from Tannhäuser as orchestrated in the opera's overture.
After the usual "hard to get" pursuit, they perform a short ballet (based on the Venusberg ballet in Tannhäuser), capping it off with the duet "Return My Love" set to another section of the Tannhäuser overture as the pair meet at a gazebo. Bugs' true identity is inadvertently exposed when his headdress falls off, enraging Elmer. Bugs yanks Elmer's helmet down over his head and uses it as a chance to escape, discarding his disguise. A crescendo drum roll is playing while Elmer struggles to fix his helmet. Once Elmer puts his helmet back into the right position, the "Ride" overture plays once again and the white gazebo turns red (reflecting Elmer's anger), resolving to himself "I'll kill the wabbit!" prompting him to command fierce lightning, "typhoons, huwwicanes, earthquakes" and, finally, "SMOG!!!" to "stwike de wabbit!" while music from The Flying Dutchman plays in the background.
Eventually, the ensuing storm tears apart the mountains where Bugs has fled. Elmer triumphantly rushes to see his victory, but upon seeing Bugs' intact yet seemingly lifeless body, Elmer immediately regrets his wrath and tearfully carries the rabbit off, presumably to Valhalla in keeping with the Wagnerian theme, per Act III of The Valkyries (although the music again comes from the overture to Tannhäuser). Bugs briefly raises his head to face the audience, breaking the fourth wall, and remarks, "Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?" before going back to playing dead. The pre-written "That's all, Folks!" card appears while the music finishes.
When presented in the 1979 compilation The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, Bugs Bunny claims that the short was the whole of Wagner's 17-hour Opera Cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung, which he mispronounced as "The Rings of Nibble-lung" in his Brooklynese accent), condensed into only 7 minutes. He also pronounced Richard Wagner as it would be pronounced in English (wag-ner), instead of its usual German pronunciation Rikard Vagner. Besides the second opera of Ring, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and the third opera of the Ring, Siegfried, other Wagnerian music present in the cartoon comes from Tannhäuser, The Flying Dutchman and Rienzi. Specific excerpts include:
- The overture from The Flying Dutchman: opening storm scene
- Leitmotif from "The Valkyrie": "Kill the Wabbit"
- Siegfried's horn call from Siegfried: "O mighty warrior of great fighting stock"
- The overture and "Pilgrims’ Chorus" from Tannhäuser: "O Bwünnhilde, you'w so wuvwy", "Return my love", and the closing scene
- The overture from Rienzi: as Elmer is chasing Bugs.
- The Bacchanal from Tannhäuser: ballet scene between Elmer and Bugs
The cartoon is widely regarded as Chuck Jones’ masterpiece, and many film critics, animation fans and filmmakers consider it to be the greatest of all the cartoons Warner Bros. released. It has topped many Top Ten lists of the greatest animated cartoons of all time. It was rated by a panel of over 1000 animators in Jerry Beck's 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals as the #1 greatest cartoon of all time.
In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, making it the first cartoon to receive such honors. Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening were later inducted into the registry, making Chuck Jones the only animator with three shorts thus recognized.
What's Opera, Doc? required about six times as much work and expense as any of the other six-minute cartoons his production unit was turning out at the time. Jones admitted as much, having described a surreptitious re-allocation of production time to complete the short. During the six minutes of What's Opera, Doc?, Jones lampoons Disney's Fantasia, the contemporary style of ballet, Wagner's perceived ponderous operatic style, and even the by-then clichéd Bugs-and-Elmer formula.
Michael Maltese devised the story for the cartoon, and also wrote lyrics to Wagner's music to create the duet "Return My Love". Art director Maurice Noble devised the stylized backdrops. The cartoon drew upon previous Warner studio work: Maltese originated the concept of Bugs in Valkyrie drag riding a fat horse to the Tannhäuser Pilgrim's Chorus in the suppressed 1945 wartime cartoon Herr Meets Hare, directed by Friz Freleng.
- DVD: The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Movie
- DVD: Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2, Disc Four
- DVD: The Essential Bugs Bunny, Disc One
- Blu-ray: Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1, Disc One
- iTunes: Bugs Bunny, Vol. 1 (paired with Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid)
- Xbox Live Marketplace: October 23, 2007
- What's Opera, Doc? at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Beck, edited by Jerry (1994). The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected By 1,000 Animation Professionals (1st ed.). Atlanta: Turner Pub. ISBN 1-878685-49-X.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- Turner Pub; 1st ed edition (October 1994); ISBN 978-1-878685-49-0
- "National Film Registry: 1989–2007". LOC.gov. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
- Cartoons were scheduled for a five-week production, according to producer Eddie Selzer. Jones did this cartoon in seven weeks instead. To cover up for the extra time spent, he had his entire unit doctor their time cards to make it appear as if they working on the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short Zoom and Bored (1957) for two weeks before production of that cartoon actually started.
- Beck, Jerry and Friedwald, Will (1989): Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company.
- Richard Freedman, What's Opera, Doc?, Andante Magazine, March 2002
- Goldmark, Daniel (2005): "What's Opera, Doc? and Cartoon Opera", in Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon, University of California Press.
- Thomas, Todd and Barbara, WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? – An analysis of the various Richard Wagner operas used throughout the cartoon
- What's Opera, Doc? at The Big Cartoon DataBase
- What's Opera, Doc? on IMDb
- Andante Magazine article on What's Opera, Doc? and Rabbit of Seville
- Intimate Enemies: What's Opera, Doc? followed by Bugs Loves Elmer Redux analyze the cartoon at New Savanna blog.
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