is having a Friz Freleng-a-thon today in honor of his birthday, with various bloggers pointing out excellent aspects of his work. So, a Freleng-specific entry on a cartoon so late that I likely won't be reviewing it anytime soon, Freleng's Hare Brush (1955).
As I've been writing LJ entries on the WB cartoons, I've noted how impressed I was with Freleng's ability to let Bugs be the hero and yet be fallible. Not as obnoxious as Clampett's bunny, nor as full of himself as Chuck's bunny grew to be, Friz has what I consider to be the 'default' Bugs. One who can react when provoked, but can also be in the mood to start things himself, just for the hell of it. "Ain't I a stinker?" he comments in several Freleng cartoons, referring to his ability to sometimes to the wrong thing just cause it's really RIGHT to do so. (I'd talk about Little Red Riding Rabbit, but someone else took it.)
Also, Freleng's Bugs screws up. He tends not to notice when he gets in danger, and can sometimes be outfoxed, even by a dumber villain. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hare Brush. (If you don't know the end of this cartoon, be warned that I spoil it all).
The premise is that Elmer Fudd has finally gone insane, and has been committed to a mental institution. After hunting Bugs and failing for so many years, Fudd now thinks that he's a rabbit, and has even dressed himself ina rabbit suit. The other thing worth noting is that Fudd is apparently incredibly wealthy, so there are many important people who want him cured. While Fudd rests at the asylum, Bugs walks by, and Fudd bribes him to take his place with a carrot. Bugs, who never met a carrot he didn't like, agrees. So when the psychiatrist walks in and sees Bugs, he calls it the "worst case of rabbitschenia" he's ever seen, and treats Bugs as if he were Fudd.
Bugs at first has the upper hand, but when the psychiatrist uses drugs and hypnotherapy, Bugs is eventually brainwashed. "Repeat after me. I am Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht." And, amazingly, Bugs is brainwashed into thinking he's Elmer Fudd! Despite still looking like a rabbit, Bugs has the speech impediment and everything. And luckily, Wednesday is apparently hunting day for Elmer, so his chauffeur takes him right to the forest... where Elmer, in a rabbit hole, awaits.
This whole first half has been a setup for the payoff, which is all the Bugs/Elmer hunting gags we've ever seen and grew bored with, only refreshing as they're all reversed. Elmer as Bugs is just as canny as Bugs was, and Bugs as Elmer is just as dumb as Elmer. Freleng did this in The Hare-Brained Hypnotist, in 1942, but 13 years later, he's really perfected it.
And then, the payoff. Bugs as Elmer gets a letter from FBI agents - he owes thousands in back taxes. Bugs is dragged off, protesting that there's some mistake, and he's hunting a scwewy wabbit. Elmer, watching all this blithely, says "I may be a scwewy wabbit... but I'm not goin' to Alcatwaz!" And then he hops merrily off back to his hole!
The cartoon is beautifully done, with the setup and payoff perfectly timed and acted by Mel Blanc. It's important that Freleng, who always preferred using Yosemite Sam to the stupider Fudd, went to Fudd here - this would never have worked by reversing Bugs and Sam. Bugs and Elmer Fudd have a history that the casual viewer knows even after only having seen one or two cartoons, and this is what Friz draws on to milk the humor here.
Happy birthday, Friz! I suspect you'll always be underrated in this Jones vs. Clampett world, but you are truly one of the brilliant architects of Warner Brothers!