SUMMARY: Bugs Bunny, confident he will win the Oscar for best performance, is irate when it goes instead to James Cagney.
WHY IT’S HERE: Bob Clampett’s ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ is a brilliant cartoon with one major flaw. The premise here is that Bugs Bunny is attending the Oscars, confident that he will win a statuette for best performance. When the honour is instead bestowed upon James Cagney, Bugs blows his top and attempts to convince the voters to change their mind by showing a clip of one of his previous performances. This is where the problem comes in. Up to this point, ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ has been a cartoon bursting with Clampett’s trademark energy. The clip Bugs shows to the audience, however, is a poorly chosen extract from Friz Freleng’s ‘Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt’ in which very little happens. While this perverse choice was likely an in-joke of some kind, the segment from Freleng’s cartoon severely slows ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ down.
This little niggle aside, ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ is a marvellous short. After the success of Chuck Jones’s one character Daffy Duck cartoon ‘Duck Amuck’, a few attempts were made to create a solo vehicle for Bugs, resulting in the lacklustre ‘Rabbit Rampage’ and ‘Baton Bunny’. This was entirely unnecessary since Clampett had already made the great one-bunny show with ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’. While other characters are seen in silhouette or heard off screen, Bugs carries the bulk of ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ entirely by himself with a remarkably energetic, shape-shifting performance. He impersonates Hollywood stars and pantomimes various acting styles, he shifts from smug, laidback nonchalance to disbelieving, ego-driven frenzy. Clampett makes this all characteristically beautiful. Bugs looks amazing here and snaps from one pose to another with breathtaking smoothness. Clampett tosses in a few of his trademark dirty gags too, one of which is the closing joke of the cartoon. ‘What’s Cookin’, Doc?’ is, in part, a masterpiece but its partial brilliance makes the unfortunate interruption from Freleng’s uneventful excerpt positively infuriating.