127. The Heckling Hare – Tex Avery

the-heckling-hare

SUMMARY: Bugs Bunny faces off against the less-than-intelligent Lenny the Dog.

WHY IT’S HERE: Tex Avery’s ‘The Heckling Hare’ is classic Bugs Bunny all over. Bugs’ fifth ever appearance, it was also the cartoon that lead to Avery being fired from Warner Bros. Pitting Bugs against a dim-witted dog (voiced by Avery himself and modelled on Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’), ‘The Heckling Hare’ further cemented the character of Bugs which Avery had been instrumental in creating. There’s very little plot in this woodland chase but that is irrelevant when you take into account the many brilliant and inventive gags and how beautifully animated they are. Just look at the scene where Bugs puts on his swimming cap, carefully tucking his ears in each side. Check out not one but two fantastic gags involving just Bugs’ ears and nothing else! The dopey dog is so little threat to Bugs that he actually takes a moment in the middle of the cartoon to wonder aloud “Now what can I do to this guy now?” This lack of any real threat allows Bugs to turn on his heckling full blast (as the title would suggest) and, in doing so, he invents several classic bits including the “Silly, Isn’t He?” routine.

‘The Heckling Hare’ is utter brilliance itself but it builds up to a climax that trumps everything that went before it. Bugs and the dog take the most extended, hysterical nosedive from a cliff you’ll ever see in a cartoon. Far from simply waving at the camera and accepting their fate a la Wile E. Coyote, they scream blood-curdling, pleading wails of pure terror all the way down. It’s surely one of the funniest scenes in the entire Warner archive and it’s only a shame that Avery’s boss Leon Schlesinger waded in and messed with his intended ending, which would have seen Bugs and the dog fall off another cliff. Schlesinger ordered that the ending be cut on the flimsy pretext that Bugs’ line “Hold onto your hats folks, here we go again” was the punch line to a well-known dirty joke at the time! Schlesinger’s cut version is the only one that exists today, meaning that the classic cliff-falling sequence is followed by a ludicrously abrupt ending. It’s not enough to spoil such a wonderful short but you can’t help but feel Avery and ‘The Heckling Hare’ deserved considerably more respect. Instead, Avery was fired and went to work for MGM. Although we may wonder what great cartoons he may have made had he stayed at Warners, had he not gone to MGM we wouldn’t have the likes of ‘Bad Luck Blacky’, ‘King Size Canary’ or ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’. For the existence of those cartoons, I guess we can thank the uncompromising brilliance of ‘The Heckling Hare’ and the audacious ignorance of the interfering Schlesinger!

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