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Bugs Bunny is an animated cartoon character, created in the late 1930s by Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons) and voiced originally by Mel Blanc. Bugs is best known for his starring roles in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short films, produced by Warner Bros. Though a similar character called Happy Rabbit debuted in the WB cartoon Porky's Hare Hunt (1938) and appeared in a few subsequent shorts, the definitive character of Bugs is widely credited to have made his debut in director Tex Avery's Oscar-nominated film A Wild Hare (1940).
Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray and white rabbit or hare who is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality. He is also characterized by a Brooklyn accent, his portrayal as a trickster, and his catch phrase "Eh...What's up, doc?". Due to Bugs' popularity during the golden age of American animation, he became not only an American cultural icon and the official mascot of Warner Bros. Entertainment, but also one of the most recognizable characters in the world. He can thus be seen in the older Warner Bros. company logos.
Bugs starred in more than 160 cartoon shorts produced between 1940 and 1964. He has since appeared in feature films, compilation films, TV series, music records, comics, video games, award shows, amusement park rides, and commercials. He has also appeared in more films than any other cartoon character, is the 9th most-portrayed film personality in the world, and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
According to Chase Craig, who wrote and drew the first Bugs Bunny comic Sunday pages and the first Bugs comic book, "Bugs was not the creation of any one man; however, he rather represented the creative talents of perhaps five or six directors and many cartoon writers. In those days, the stories were often the work of a group who suggested various gags, bounced them around and finalized them in a joint story conference." A rabbit with some of the personality of Bugs, though looking very different, was originally featured in the film Porky's Hare Hunt, released on April 30, 1938. It was co-directed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway and an uncredited Cal Dalton (who was responsible for the initial design of the rabbit). This cartoon has an almost identical plot to Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937), which had introduced Daffy Duck. Porky Pig is again cast as a hunter tracking a silly prey who is more interested in driving his pursuer insane and less interested in escaping. Hare Hunt replaces the little black duck with a small white rabbit. The rabbit introduces himself with the odd expression "Jiggers, fellers," and Mel Blanc gave the character a voice and laugh much like those he later used for Woody Woodpecker. The rabbit character was popular enough with audiences that the Termite Terrace staff decided to use it again. According to Friz Freleng, Hardaway and Dalton had decided to dress the duck in a rabbit suit. The white rabbit had an oval head and a shapeless body. In characterization, he was "a rural buffoon". He was loud, zany with a goofy, guttural laugh. Blanc provided him with a hayseed voice.
The rabbit comes back in Prest-O Change-O (1939), directed by Chuck Jones, where he is the pet rabbit of unseen character Sham-Fu the Magician. Two dogs, fleeing the local dogcatcher, enter his absent master's house. The rabbit harasses them but is ultimately bested by the bigger of the two dogs. This version of the rabbit was cool, graceful, and controlled. He retained the guttural laugh but was otherwise silent.
The rabbit's third appearance comes in Hare-um Scare-um (1939), directed again by Dalton and Hardaway. This cartoon—the first in which he is depicted as a gray bunny instead of a white one—is also notable as the rabbit's first singing role. Charlie Thorson, lead animator on the film, gave the character a name. He had written "Bugs' Bunny" on the model sheet that he drew for Hardaway. In promotional material for the cartoon, including a surviving 1939 presskit, the name on the model sheet was altered to become the rabbit's own name: "Bugs" Bunny (quotation marks only used, on and off, until 1944).
In his autobiography, Blanc claimed that another proposed name for the character was "Happy Rabbit." In the actual cartoons and publicity, however, the name "Happy" only seems to have been used in reference to Bugs Hardaway. In Hare-um Scare-um, a newspaper headline reads, "Happy Hardaway." Animation historian David Gerstein disputes that "Happy Rabbit" was ever used as an official name, arguing that the only usage of the term came from Mel Blanc himself in humorous and fanciful tales he told about the character's development in the 1970s and 1980s; the name "Bugs Bunny" was used as early as August 1939, in the Motion Picture Herald, in a review for the short Hare-um Scare-um.
Thorson had been approached by Tedd Pierce, head of the story department, and asked to design a better rabbit. The decision was influenced by Thorson's experience in designing hares. He had designed Max Hare in Toby Tortoise Returns (Disney, 1936). For Hardaway, Thorson created the model sheet previously mentioned, with six different rabbit poses. Thorson's model sheet is "a comic rendition of the stereotypical fuzzy bunny". He had a pear-shaped body with a protruding rear end. His face was flat and had large expressive eyes. He had an exaggerated long neck, gloved hands with three fingers, oversized feet, and a "smart aleck" grin. The end result was influenced by Walt Disney Animation Studios' tendency to draw animals in the style of cute infants. He had an obvious Disney influence, but looked like an awkward merger of the lean and streamlined Max Hare from The Tortoise and the Hare (1935) and the round, soft bunnies from Little Hiawatha (1937).
In Jones' Elmer's Candid Camera (1940), the rabbit first meets Elmer Fudd. This time the rabbit looks more like the present-day Bugs, taller and with a similar face—but retaining the more primitive voice. Candid Camera's Elmer character design is also different: taller and chubbier in the face than the modern model, though Arthur Q. Bryan's character voice is already established.
While Porky's Hare Hunt was the first Warner Bros. cartoon to feature a Bugs Bunny-like rabbit, A Wild Hare, directed by Tex Avery and released on July 27, 1940, is widely considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is the first film where both Elmer Fudd and Bugs, both redesigned by Bob Givens, are shown in their fully developed forms as hunter and tormentor, respectively; the first in which Mel Blanc uses what became Bugs' standard voice; and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, "What's up, Doc?" A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject.
For the film, Avery asked Givens to remodel the rabbit. The result had a closer resemblance to Max Hare. He had a more elongated body, stood more erect, and looked more poised. If Thorson's rabbit looked like an infant, Givens' version looked like an adolescent. Blanc gave Bugs the voice of a city slicker. The rabbit was as audacious as he had been in Hare-um Scare-um and as cool and collected as in Prest-O Change-O.
Immediately following on A Wild Hare, Bob Clampett's Patient Porky (1940) features a cameo appearance by Bugs, announcing to the audience that 750 rabbits have been born. The gag uses Bugs' Wild Hare visual design, but his goofier pre-Wild Hare voice characterization.
The second full-fledged role for the mature Bugs, Chuck Jones' Elmer's Pet Rabbit (1941), is the first to use Bugs' name on-screen: it appears in a title card, "featuring Bugs Bunny," at the start of the film (which was edited in following the success of A Wild Hare). However, Bugs' voice and personality in this cartoon is noticeably different, and his design was slightly altered as well; Bugs' visual design is based on the prototype rabbit in Candid Camera, but with yellow gloves and no buck teeth, has a lower-pitched voice and a more aggressive, arrogant and thuggish personality instead of a fun-loving personality. After Pet Rabbit, however, subsequent Bugs appearances returned to normal: the Wild Hare visual design and personality returned, and Blanc re-used the Wild Hare voice characterization.
Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941), directed by Friz Freleng, became the second Bugs Bunny cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination. The fact that it didn't win the award was later spoofed somewhat in What's Cookin' Doc? (1944), in which Bugs demands a recount (claiming to be a victim of "sa-bo-TAH-gee") after losing the Oscar to James Cagney and presents a clip from Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt to prove his point.
By 1942, Bugs had become the number one star of Merrie Melodies. The series was originally intended only for one-shot characters in films after several early attempts to introduce characters (Foxy, Goopy Geer, and Piggy) failed under Harman–Ising. By the mid-1930s, under Leon Schlesinger, Merrie Melodies started introducing newer characters. Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942) shows a slight redesign of Bugs, with less-prominent front teeth and a rounder head. The character was reworked by Robert McKimson, then an animator in Clampett's unit. The redesign at first was only used in the films created by Clampett's unit, but in time it was taken up by the other directors, with Freleng and Frank Tashlin the first. For 1943's Tortoise Wins by a Hare, he created yet another version, with more slanted eyes, longer teeth and a much larger mouth. He used this version until 1949 (as did Art Davis for the one Bugs Bunny film he directed, Bowery Bugs) when he started using the version he had designed for Clampett. Jones came up with his own slight modification, and the voice had slight variations between the units. Bugs also made cameos in Avery's final Warner Bros. cartoon, Crazy Cruise.
Since Bugs' debut in A Wild Hare, he appeared only in color Merrie Melodies films (making him one of the few recurring characters created for that series in the Schlesinger era prior to the full conversion to color), alongside Elmer predecessor Egghead, Inki, Sniffles, and Elmer himself. While Bugs made a cameo in Porky Pig's Feat (1943), this was his only appearance in a black-and-white Looney Tunes film. He did not star in a Looney Tunes film until that series made its complete conversion to only color cartoons beginning in 1944. Buckaroo Bugs was Bugs' first film in the Looney Tunes series and was also the last Warner Bros. cartoon to credit Schlesinger (as he had retired and sold his studio to Warner Bros. that year).
Bugs' popularity soared during World War II because of his free and easy attitude, and he began receiving special star billing in his cartoons by 1943. By that time, Warner Bros. had become the most profitable cartoon studio in the United States. In company with cartoon studios such as Disney and Famous Studios, Warners pitted its characters against Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and the Japanese. Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips (1944) features Bugs at odds with a group of Japanese soldiers. This cartoon has since been pulled from distribution due to its depiction of Japanese people. One US Navy propaganda film saved from destruction features the voice of Mel Blanc in "Tokyo Woes" (1945) about the propaganda radio host Tokyo Rose. He also faces off against Hermann Göring and Hitler in Herr Meets Hare (1945), which introduced his well-known reference to Albuquerque as he mistakenly winds up in the Black Forest of 'Joimany' instead of Las Vegas, Nevada. Bugs also appeared in the 1942 two-minute U.S. war bonds commercial film Any Bonds Today?, along with Porky and Elmer.
At the end of Super-Rabbit (1943), Bugs appears wearing a United States Marine Corps dress blue uniform. As a result, the Marine Corps made Bugs an honorary Marine master sergeant. From 1943 to 1946, Bugs was the official mascot of Kingman Army Airfield, Kingman, Arizona, where thousands of aerial gunners were trained during World War II. Some notable trainees included Clark Gable and Charles Bronson. Bugs also served as the mascot for 530 Squadron of the 380th Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, U.S. Air Force, which was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force and operated out of Australia's Northern Territory from 1943 to 1945, flying B-24 Liberator bombers. Bugs riding an air delivered torpedo served as the squadron logo for Marine Torpedo/Bomber Squadron 242 in the Second World War. Additionally, Bugs appeared on the nose of B-24J #42-110157, in both the 855th Bomb Squadron of the 491st Bombardment Group (Heavy) and later in the 786th BS of the 466th BG(H), both being part of the 8th Air Force operating out of England.
In 1944, Bugs Bunny made a cameo appearance in Jasper Goes Hunting, a Puppetoons film produced by rival studio Paramount Pictures. In this cameo (animated by McKimson, with Blanc providing the usual voice), Bugs (after being threatened at gunpoint) pops out of a rabbit hole, saying his usual catchphrase; after hearing the orchestra play the wrong theme song, he realizes "Hey, I'm in the wrong picture!" and then goes back in the hole. Bugs also made a cameo in the Private Snafu short Gas, in which he is found stowed away in the titular private's belongings; his only spoken line is his usual catchphrase.
Although it was usually Porky Pig who brought the Looney Tunes films to a close with his stuttering, "That's all, folks!", Bugs replaced him at the end of Hare Tonic and Baseball Bugs, bursting through a drum just as Porky did, but munching on a carrot and saying in his Bronx/Brooklyn accent, "And that's the end!"
After World War II, Bugs continued to appear in numerous Warner Bros. cartoons, making his last "Golden Age" appearance in False Hare (1964). He starred in over 167 theatrical short films, most of which were directed by Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones. Freleng's Knighty Knight Bugs (1958), in which a medieval Bugs trades blows with Yosemite Sam and his fire-breathing dragon (which has a cold), won an Academy Award for Best Cartoon Short Subject (becoming the first Bugs Bunny cartoon to win said award). Three of Jones' films—Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!—compose what is often referred to as the "Rabbit Season/Duck Season" trilogy and were the origins of the rivalry between Bugs and Daffy Duck. Jones' classic What's Opera, Doc? (1957), casts Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a parody of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. It was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992, becoming the first cartoon short to receive this honor.
In the fall of 1960, ABC debuted the prime-time television program The Bugs Bunny Show. This show packaged many of the post-1948 Warners cartoons with newly animated wraparounds. After two seasons, it was moved from its evening slot to reruns on Saturday mornings. The Bugs Bunny Show changed format and exact title frequently but remained on network television for 40 years. The packaging was later completely different, with each cartoon simply presented on its own, title and all, though some clips from the new bridging material were sometimes used as filler.
Bugs did not appear in any of the post-1964 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies films produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises or Seven Arts Productions, nor did he appear in Filmation's Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies. He did, however, have two cameo appearances in the 1974 Joe Adamson short A Political Cartoon; one at the beginning of the short, and another in which he is interviewed at a pet store. Bugs was animated in this short by Mark Kausler. He did not appear in new material on-screen again until Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals aired in 1976.
From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, Bugs was featured in various animated specials for network television, such as Bugs Bunny's Thanksgiving Diet, Bugs Bunny's Easter Special, Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales, and Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out All Over. Bugs also starred in several theatrical compilation features during this time, including the United Artists distributed documentary Bugs Bunny: Superstar (1975) and Warner Bros.' own releases: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982), and Daffy Duck's Quackbusters (1988).
In the 1988 live-action/animated comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bugs appeared as one of the inhabitants of Toontown. However, since the film was being produced by Disney, Warner Bros. would only allow the use of their biggest star if he got an equal amount of screen time as Disney's biggest star, Mickey Mouse. Because of this, both characters are always together in frame when onscreen. Roger Rabbit was also one of the final productions in which Mel Blanc voiced Bugs (as well as the other Looney Tunes characters) before his death in 1989.
Bugs later appeared in another animated production featuring numerous characters from rival studios: the 1990 drug prevention TV special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. This special is notable for being the first time that someone other than Blanc voiced Bugs and Daffy (both characters were voiced by Jeff Bergman for this). Bugs also made guest appearances in the early 1990s television series Tiny Toon Adventures, as the principal of Acme Looniversity and the mentor of Babs and Buster Bunny. He made further cameos in Warner Bros.' subsequent animated TV shows Taz-Mania, Animaniacs, and Histeria!
Bugs returned to the silver screen in Box-Office Bunny (1991). This was the first Bugs Bunny cartoon since 1964 to be released in theaters and it was created for Bugs' 50th anniversary celebration. It was followed by (Blooper) Bunny, a cartoon that was shelved from theaters, but later premiered on Cartoon Network in 1997 and has since gained a cult following among animation fans for its edgy humor.
In 1996, Bugs and the other Looney Tunes characters appeared in the live-action/animated film, Space Jam, directed by Joe Pytka and starring NBA superstar Michael Jordan. The film also introduced the character Lola Bunny, who becomes Bugs' new love interest. Space Jam received mixed reviews from critics, but was a box office success (grossing over $230 million worldwide). The success of Space Jam led to the development of another live-action/animated film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, released in 2003 and directed by Joe Dante. Unlike Space Jam, Back in Action was a box-office bomb, though it did receive more positive reviews from critics.
In 1997, Bugs appeared on a U.S. postage stamp, the first cartoon to be so honored, beating the iconic Mickey Mouse. The stamp is number seven on the list of the ten most popular U.S. stamps, as calculated by the number of stamps purchased but not used. The introduction of Bugs onto a stamp was controversial at the time, as it was seen as a step toward the 'commercialization' of stamp art. The postal service rejected many designs and went with a postal-themed drawing. Avery Dennison printed the Bugs Bunny stamp sheet, which featured "a special ten-stamp design and was the first self-adhesive souvenir sheet issued by the U.S. Postal Service
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