Dave Kehr, the DVD columnist for the NY Times, has an appreciation of Bugs Bunny tied into a review of a new compendium, Essential Bugs Bunny Collection, which, unfortunately, is not essential. However, his column is, whether you’re a fan of Bugs or wondering what all the fuss is about. There’s this amazing stretch where he really personalizes his memories of the cartoons:
Exposed as a child to the absurdist art of Mr. Bunny, I used it as a Technicolor portal to the distant world of my father, no matter that our television was black and white. The hardships of the Depression had rendered him mute about much of his past, but these seven-minute masterpieces from the 1940s and ’50s provided clues to his anarchic streak, his contempt for bullies, his fear of falling anvils.
And there’s much in there about why Bugs Bunny appeals to adults even today.
The cartoons, produced for movie audiences by a wildly imaginative, possibly hallucinating team of animators ….
The humor in these cartoons was so sophisticated, so adult, that I found other cartoons on television to be condescending … I sensed all the while that I was being educated in how to approach the adulthood that awaited me. Lightly, it seemed.
I would guess that Kehr and I are around the same age, first exposed to the cartoons on TV, not in movie theaters, wondering about some of the references, it seems we approached them in a similar manner.
The cartoons, produced for movie audiences by a wildly imaginative, possibly hallucinating team of animators, directors and gag writers at Warner Brothers, were recycled for television with outdated pop-culture references intact. Here, from the mid-1940s, a mention of Bing Crosby’s horse; there, from the late 1940s, an appearance byHumphrey Bogart’s seedy character from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But these animated scraps from the past demanded that I research their historical context so that I too could be in on the joke.
Of course the thing is that these cartoons were not made for kids. They were made to be shown in movie theaters to a primarily adult audience. That’s why they appeal to any age. As to why they’re timeless, that’s a testament to the geniuses who worked at WB way back when.