SECTION: TV WEEK; Pg. Y06
HEADLINE: Still Hare Today
Judith S. Gillies
At first, said Mike Lazzo, senior vice president of programming at Cartoon Network, "Bugs Bunny actually resembled a rabbit. But over time, as he grew in popularity, he began to take on more human attributes. He became taller and slender. His face became more expressive and his teeth, straighter."
The evolution of the wise-cracking rabbit can be seen in "June Bugs," a 49-hour marathon of 176 cartoons that begins at Friday.
The marathon will start with Bugs Bunny's first appearance, in "Porky's Hare Hunt" (1938), and run cartoons in chronological order through "From Hare to Eternity" (1997). The cartoons will be repeated at various times, ending at on June 3.
Originally, Cartoon Network planned to air every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made, but a dozen were pulled because they displayed racial insensitivities. These may be aired later in a special "Toonheads" presentation, a spokesman said, where the racial issues can be discussed on camera.
One of the cartoons that won't be shown is "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt," a 1941 Academy Award nominee.
Kevin S. Sandler, who teaches courses on film and television at the University of Michigan and is editor of the book "Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation," described how Bugs Bunny has changed over the years.
In the 1940s, especially during World War II, Bugs was more unruly, sadistic, flippant, cocky and very patriotic, Sandler said. There was more violence in the war-years cartoons, "but the Bugs Bunny of the '50s was only driven to violence if his home was being terrorized or smaller furry creatures were being chased."
Initially, "Bugs was a wiseacre, taking pot shots at topical things . . . and much more irreverent. . . . He has a more corporate image now."
Origins: "Porky's Hare Hunt" in 1938 was the first cartoon that featured a rabbit with the wise-guy characteristics associated with Bugs; "A Wild Hare" (1940) is generally considered to be Bugs's first starring role in a theatrical cartoon and was the first time he said, "Eh, what's up, Doc?" But he was first identified by the name of Bugs Bunny in "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" in 1941.
Oscars: Three Bugs Bunny cartoons were nominated for Academy Awards: "A Wild
Hare" (1940); "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" (1941) and "Knighty Knight Bugs," which
won in 1958.
Co-stars: Elmer Fudd (who has appeared most often -- in more than 40 cartoons -- with Bugs), Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam and the Tazmanian Devil are among the characters.
Walk of Fame: In 1985, Bugs got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Voice: Mel Blanc, best known as the voice of Bugs, was allergic to carrots and would lose his voice if he ate them.
Some noteworthy shorts and their approximate air times:
* "Knighty Knight Bugs" (1958, Oscar winner): Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and June 3 at 9:30 p.m.
* "A Wild Hare" (1940): Friday at 11:30 p.m. and June 3 at 8:45 a.m.
* "What's Opera, Doc?" (1957): Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and June 3 at 2:30 p.m.
* "The Rabbit of Seville" (1950): Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and June 3 at 2:30 p.m.
Copyright 2001 The Seattle Times Company
The Seattle Times
May 14, 2001, Monday Fourth Edition
SECTION: ROP ZONE; Scene; Pg. E1; Kay McFadden
HEADLINE: Bunny ban less about dollars and cents than sensibilities
BYLINE: Kay McFadden; Seattle Times TV critic
When it comes to avoiding controversy, AOL Time Warner Inc. will ban a bunny in blackface. But the conglomerate's PC police aren't exactly consistent in their self-styled altruism.
Here's the deal: For weeks, cable television's Cartoon Network--beloved of children and parents alike--has been touting its upcoming "June Bugs" event featuring a marathon Bugs Bunny retrospective.
Then someone inside AOL, which owns both Cartoon Network and Bugs Bunny's licensing parent Warner Bros., got squeamish about the rabbit's past work. Seems certain episodes contain material offensive by today's standards.
So, 12 cartoons were eliminated from the lineup. Among those axed are "Any Bonds Today?" wherein Bugs parodies Al Jolson doing blackface; "Frigid Hare," which depicts a buck-toothed Eskimo; and "All This and Rabbit Stew," in which Bugs distracts a black hunter with a pair of dice.
Cartoon Network had intended to show these episodes with a disclaimer: "Cartoon Network does not endorse the use of racial slurs. These vintage cartoons are presented as representative of the time in which they were created and are presented for their historical value."
However, Warner Bros. made the call to delete the episodes completely. Apparently no mud shall be splashed on the money-making potential of Bugs Bunny.
It would be one thing if company executives really gave a damn about hurting somebody's feelings or being socially aware. It would still be a terribly misguided whitewashing of history--let's pretend this sort of thing never happened--but at least good intentions would be the directing force.
Truth is, though, this is about protecting a prized asset whose image on merchandise brings in millions. You need only look inside the rest of AOL Time Warner's empire to see its spotty record of sensitivity. The offensiveness of some recording-label artists toward women is a moot point so long as CDs sell.
Indeed, you need only view a pilot for the upcoming Cartoon Network series "
Time Squad," which debuts June 9.
In this animated production, we follow the adventures of 8-year-old genius Otto Osworth and his two comrades, macho Officer Buck Tuddrussel and the know-it-all robot Larry 3000, as they time travel to make sure history isn't altered.
Or as their motto holds, "Enforcing the past to protect our future."
In the very first episode, this pledge is borne out. Otto and his pals go back to Savannah, Ga., in 1793, to help Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin.
The cotton gin, as we know, has a complex history. On the one hand, it's the harbinger of America's Industrial Revolution; on the other hand, it's the invention that made the institution of slavery flourish throughout the South.
The new cartoon "Time Squad" doesn't cover any of that. In fact, there aren't even black characters in the Savannah of creator Dave Wasson's imagining.
Otto, Buck and Larry 3000 do, however, uphold their mission. They ensure an economic boom and the growth of slavery by suggesting the cotton gin to Whitney.
Some folks might say I'm being awfully hard on what is, after all, a goofy piece of animation akin to the twisted history that Mr. Peabody and Sherman once provoked with The Wayback Machine.
My point exactly. It's ridiculous to hold cartoons to the same standard as live action or documentaries.
But if AOL Time Warner executives are going to censor what Bugs Bunny's creators did 60 years ago, when racial stereotyping and one-sided history was common, shouldn't they pay attention to what's going on right now? Is a sin of omission any less than a sin of commission?
Cartoon Network was right the first time around. Show Bugs Bunny in his entirety. Trust parents to sit down with their kids and explain how the world used to work--and sometimes still does.
Just don't have media moguls pretending to get allmoral in the interest of a buck. Eli Whitney wouldn't have liked it.
Kay McFadden may be reached at 206-382-8888 or at email@example.com