At any other time, the film would not have been made. Imagine the pitch: "Let's steal time and funding from our other projects so we can go way over budget making a cartoon with no jokes, and no real gags. The score will be a German opera. Kids won't get it. Most adults won't get it, but I don't care because I think it's funny."
Fortunately, the time was 1956, the director was Chuck Jones, and the place was the Warners Bros. backlot animation studio dubbed "Termite Terrace." The result – released 50 years ago this week – was "What's Opera, Doc?," voted by animators in the 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals to be the greatest cartoon of all time.
It is the antithesis of the routine cartoon. In place of snappy one-liners we see Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny singing their parts with complete sincerity and commitment. The backgrounds are beautifully textured paintings. The score is powerful and moving. Bugs cuts a striking figure in a metallic brassiere before Madonna was even born. It's audacious and decadent and beautiful and bold and everything the vast majority of cartoons would never dare to be.
Thanks to Bugs and folks like Chuck Jones we got a classical education on TV. Classical as in music, and opera. Masses of folks from the Forties through the Seventies, experienced these cartoons on the big screen and then on the little screen and were introduced to Wagner, Rossini, Verdi, Mozart etc.
The fact that all these composers were the popular music of their day gets forgotten by those who would make classical music some form of 'long haired' intellectual haute culture. Thanks to Bugs and his creators we came to see and hear the music in a pop culture format.
Which is just a sneaky way to promote the fact that this week we are discussing libertarian education on the Carnival of Anarchy.
Find blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Wiley E. Coyote, Road Runner, Bob Clampet,, Fritz Ferleng,, Mel Blanc, , Warner Brothers, cartoons, Bugs Bunny, DaffyDuck, Grinch, Christmas, opera, classical music, ElmerFudd, Michigan J Frog, toons, animation,