10 July 2007

"Kill Da Wab-bit!..."

Remember that "Seinfeld" episode when Elaine says to Jerry: "It's so sad--all your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons"? I'm reasonably sure I yelled back at the screen: "so what the hell's wrong with that?...(big head)".

The Chuck Jones classic "What's Opera Doc?", turned 50 years old on July 6th, and for many of us of a certain age, it's pretty much the sum total of what we know about Der Ring des Nibelungen by some German dude named Wagner.

Steve Watt, curator of Toronto's "Animation Connection" gallery (and, he points out, owner of an actual animation cel from the short) writes in The Toronto Star:

It is the antithesis of the routine cartoon. In place of snappy one-liners we see Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny singing their parts with complete sincerity and commitment. The backgrounds are beautifully textured paintings. The score is powerful and moving. Bugs cuts a striking figure in a metallic brassiere before Madonna was even born. It's audacious and decadent and beautiful and bold and everything the vast majority of cartoons would never dare to be.

He makes a solid argument that it could be "the greatest cartoon ever...a piece of such grandeur will never be repeated".

Jones had told Watt that because they (the legendary "Termite Terrace" team of Warner Bros. animators) made cartoons to "humour themselves", and that the studio executives didn't care what they did as long as "they stayed on time and on budget". Instead of kicking back and cracking out formulaic shorts, they devoted their considerable talents into such iconoclastic and ground-breaking experiments as "Opera", "One Froggy Evening", "Duck Amuck", "The Rabbit Of Seville" to name but a few...

Watt's appreciation can be read in its entirety here at The Toronto Star.

And here's a very thorough scene-by-scene analysis at Barbara Thomas' Thomasville Central.

But why settle for egghead analysis when you can watch those seven perfect minutes here on YouTube?