Today in History (December 16)

On December 16, 1950, Warner Brothers released the cartoon short The Rabbit of Seville. It was directed by Chuck Jones from a story by Michael Maltese, and featured the voices of Mel Blanc as Bugs Bunny and Arthur Q. Bryan as Elmer Fudd. The animation is set to the music of Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville  (and, briefly, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March), as arranged and conducted by musical director Carl Stalling.

While I love Chuck Jones’ memoirs Chuck Amuck and Chuck Reducks, I’m surprised that The Rabbit of Seville is barely discussed in either one. There is one brief mention of how this cartoon is the first in the Warner Brothers repertoire where the music absolutely drives the story, and that’s it. In contrast, Jones spends a lot of time on 1957’s What’s Opera, Doc? in Chuck Reducks, praising its technical innovation. I assert that while The Rabbit of Seville owes its premise to 1944’s Stage Door Bugs, What’s Opera, Doc? would not exist without The Rabbit of Seville. Furthermore, I find Rabbit a lot more fun to watch.

Daffy Duck is usually my Warner Brothers star of choice, and my Elmer Fudd tolerance is generally very low. (Jones’ books reveal that the studio writers had a similar antipathy toward the character, which I find amusing.) Yet, the Bugs/Elmer action here is just right. It’s so quick that there’s no chance to anticipate either character’s reactions, so the two seem equally matched (well, nearly) for maybe the only time in Warner Brothers history. The timing of the music to the imagery is exquisite, attesting to Stalling’s brilliance. It’s ensured that the cartoon will always run through my head whenever I hear Rossini’s music.

Maybe we should just watch:

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