I debated with myself for a long time about what format I should use to talk about shorts on this blog. The iconic cartoon shorts from Warner Bros. and Disney are some of the most influential pieces of film from my childhood, as they were for pretty much anyone over the age of thirty. I've finally settled on giving them their own top ten lists. Bugs Bunny, Daffy, and the rest of the Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes gang will go first, and Disney will have their own list next month. Yes, I picked all Chuck Jones directed and Michael Maltese written shorts, and will not apologize for it. Entries below are unraked, and ordered by date of release. I'm going to cheat a bit on one of them, though. And off we go.
Fast and Furry-ous (1949) - You simply can't talk about the Warner Bros. cartoons without mention of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Unfortunately, most of their shorts tend to blend together for me, so I'm going to pick their first outing as a representative. It wonderfully set up the format for the long-running series and already has most of their best gags in some form: the malfunctioning ACME products, rampant misuse of dynamite, the demented cartoon physics, and of course the Coyote getting squashed and blown up multiple times.
Rabbit of Seville (1950) - A big contributor to some of the best shorts was composer Carl Stalling. He was the one who rearranged "The Marriage of Figaro" and all the other music central to the escalating madness of Bugs and Elmer's feud in "Rabbit of Seville." This one has so many of my favorite gags, from Bugs playing barber (and horticulturalist) on Elmer Fudd to the wedding that erupts out of nowhere. Of course, Stalling and Chuck Jones' greatest opera-themed collaboration would come a few years later in another entry on this list.
Rabbit Fire (1951), Rabbit Seasoning (1952) and Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (1953) - Now Bugs and Elmer are a classic pairing, but when you add Daffy Duck to the mix, suddenly there's rivalries on top of rivalries, and all sorts of new angles to play with. If push comes to shove, I'd probably pick "Rabbit Fire" as my favorite of the "Hunting Trilogy," but the hysterical variations in the two sequels are so good, it's too painful to separate them. And special kudos to Mel Blanc - remember that the whole "duck season/rabbit season" argument was one man!
Feed the Kitty (1952) - Marc Anthony the bulldog's selfless love for the world's most adorable kitten makes for a heart-tugger beyond compare. There had already been shorts with a similar premise - Disney's "Lend a Paw" comes to mind - but it's the little things that make this one hit so much harder: Marc Anthony's evolving reactions to the kitten, the various distractions he comes up with, and finally the visual gag with the cookie cat. Watching this one again as a grown-up and a parent just made me fall in love with it all over again.
Duck Amuck (1953) - The epic struggle between a cartoon duck and the unseen animator who controls his universe is one of the greatest pieces of animation ever made. It's such a simple idea, but the metaphysical and comedic implications are endless. Daffy was always my favorite character, for his massive ego and his stupendous outrage, and they're impossible to suppress here, no matter what the animator does to him. The sequel with Bugs was a lot of fun, but it couldn't match the heights of the existential lunacy scaled here by Daffy Duck.
Duck Dodgers of the 24½th Century (1953) - The pitting of Daffy and Porky against Marvin the Martian is so memorable in this "Buck Rogers" spoof, that I was surprised to discover that it actually only happened once during the original Merrie Melodies run. Marvin's usual adversary was Bugs, who he had some great cosmic spats with. I prefer Daffy's outing though, for the buddy comedy bits with Porky and the constant self-aggrandizement. And take special note of the spectacular layout and backgrounds by Maurice Noble and Phillip DeGuard.
Bully for Bugs (1953) - The legend goes that Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese made "Bully for Bugs" in response to their producer declaring out of the blue one day that he didn't want any pictures with bullfighting, as there was nothing funny about it. So Bugs Bunny took another wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up in the middle of a Barcelona bullring with Toro the Bull. And now everyone knows the tune of "Las Chiapanecas," which must be accompanied by judicious slapping, and Bugs' famous line, "Of course you know this means war."
One Froggy Evening (1955) - I hated this short when I was a kid because I felt so bad for the poor construction worker who found the singing frog, and usually got upset when no one would believe him. It took me years to appreciate that it was really a parable about letting things go and the dangers of greedy entitlement. And that it's still really, really funny. The short is so etched into my brain, I can still remember most of the charming old tunes sung by the frog. most notably "Hello! Ma Baby!" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry"
Double or Mutton (1955) - Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog are fairly minor characters, but I just love all their appearances. The joke about them only being mortal enemies while on the clock never gets old. Also, the ridiculous sight gags with the sheep get me every time. "Double or Mutton" is their third short together, the one where their formula finally gelled and the two characters fully established their cordial working relationship. I also love the gags in this one, especially the use of the silly disguises and Sam's bad hair day.
What's Opera Doc? (1957) - "Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!" Chuck Jones rushed other productions to buy him more time to work on this short, widely considered to be his magnum opus, and it shows. The transformation of the Bugs and Elmer's feud into a six minute Wagnerian opera is opulent and gorgeous. And though it's a pointed spoof of theatrical excess, I still find the melodrama quite touching, especially the ending. I'd never felt so much empathy for Elmer Fudd as I did when watching him cry in remorse over that wascally wabbit.