Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Short Subject, Cartoons - Leon Schlesinger



Released on June 7, 1941, "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" was just the fourth official Bugs Bunny short, coming out less than a year after "A Wild Hare" (though Bugs had appeared in a few Merrie Melodies shorts before 1940, "A Wild Hare" is generally considered the official first Bugs Bunny film).  Though some of Bugs's signature personality traits and madcap humor are on display, it is clear that this was an early Bugs effort, and the short is not in the same class as the best of the Bugs Bunny cartoons that would be released in the following years.

The short is one of the many Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies stories built around one character hunting another, in this case a young Hiawatha hunting Bugs Bunny.  Hiawatha displays the single-minded focus of Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester or Elmer Fudd in hunting his prey, as a nonplussed Bugs easily eludes his predator.  The story is paint-by-numbers, but Looney Tunes shorts succeed or fail not based on the plot, but the set pieces chosen to tell the story.  "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" is a bit lacking in this department, with the best consisting of Hiawatha attempting to cook Bugs in a vat of boiling water in an attempt to make rabbit stew.  There's some outstanding anatomical animation of Bugs adapting to the hot water that is a big laugh, but other than that the humor falls relatively flat.

"Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" has stoked some well-deserved criticism for its portrayal of Native Americans, leading to its virtual disappearance from television.  It's what many people call "of its time," and it reflects the dominant view of Native Americans in film in the 1940's, a view dramatically shifted (though in need of still more improvement) in the present day.  The humor that is at Native Americans' expense is crass and stupid, and robs the film of the timelessness of many Bugs Bunny cartoons.

"Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" isn't much compared to the best Bugs Bunny offerings, but as an early attempt for the Merrie Melodies team to figure out the character of Bugs, it is well worth watching.

Remaining: 3170 films, 871 Oscars, 5445 nominations

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