Bugs Bunny, cartoon rabbit created by Warner Brothers as part of its Looney Tunes animated short film series.
Emerging as one of the biggest stars of the so-called golden age of American animation (1928–c. 1960), Bugs Bunny has endured as one of the world’s most popular cartoon characters.
He was originally voiced by Mel Blanc, but is now voiced by a variety of voice actors.
Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray hare famous for his relaxed, passive personality, his pronounced Mid-Atlantic accent which Blanc described as being a mixture of Brooklyn and Bronx accents, his depiction as a mischievous trickster, and his catchphrase “Eh, what’s up, doc?” usually said while chewing a carrot.
Bugs’ nonchalant, carrot-eating manner was inspired by a scene in It Happened One Night, when the fast-talking Clark Gable snacks on carrots while leaning on a fence. The character also took inspiration from Groucho Marx.
Bugs wears white gloves, which he is rarely seen without, although he may remove one and use it for slapping an opponent to predicate a duel.
The name “Bugs” or “Bugsy” as an old-fashioned nickname means “crazy” (or “loopy”). Several famous people from the first half of the twentieth century had that nickname, like famous gangster, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who disliked the nickname. It is now out of fashion as a nickname, but survives in 1950’s–1960’s expressions like “you’re bugging me”, as in “you’re driving me crazy”.
Bugs Bunny is characterized as being clever and capable of outsmarting almost anyone who antagonizes him, including Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, Gossamer, Witch Hazel, Rocky and Mugsy, The Crusher, Beaky Buzzard, Willoughby, Count Bloodcount, Daffy Duck and a host of others. The only one to consistently beat Bugs is Cecil Turtle, who defeats Bugs in three consecutive shorts based on the premise of the Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare.
According to Chase Craig, who was a member of Tex Avery’s cartoon unit and later wrote and drew the first Bugs Bunny comic Sunday pages and Bugs’ first comic book – “Bugs was not the creation of any one man but rather represented the creative talents of perhaps five or six directors and many cartoon writers.”
Happy Rabbit, a hare with some of the personality of Bugs (though looking very different), made his first appearance in the cartoon short “Porky’s Hare Hunt”, released 30 April 1938.
“A Wild Hare”, directed by Tex Avery and released 27 July 1940, is widely considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is the first film where both Elmer Fudd and Bugs, both redesigned by Bob Givens, are shown in their fully developed forms as hunter and tormentor, respectively – the first in which Mel Blanc uses what would become Bugs’ standard voice – and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?” A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject.
Bugs’ popularity soared during World War II because of his free and easy attitude, and he began receiving special star billing in his cartoons by 1943. By that time, Warner Bros. had become the most profitable cartoon studio in the United States.
When Warner Brothers discontinued its production of cartoon shorts for theatres in 1963, Bugs Bunny continued to appear in television commercials and feature-length compilations of classic shorts such as The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981) and 1,001 Rabbit Tales (1982).
Like Mickey Mouse for Disney, Bugs Bunny has served as the mascot for Warner Bros. and its various divisions. According to Guinness World Records, Bugs has appeared in more films (both short and feature-length) than any other cartoon character, and is the ninth most portrayed film personality in the world. On December 10, 1985, Bugs became the second cartoon character (after Mickey) to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1997, Bugs appeared on a US postage stamp, the first cartoon to be so honored, beating the iconic Mickey Mouse. The stamp is number seven on the list of the ten most popular U.S. stamps, as calculated by the number of stamps purchased but not used. The introduction of Bugs onto a stamp was controversial at the time, as it was seen as a step toward the ‘commercialization’ of stamp art. The postal service rejected many designs and went with a postal-themed drawing. Avery Dennison printed the Bugs Bunny stamp sheet, which featured “a special ten-stamp design and was the first self-adhesive souvenir sheet issued by the U.S. Postal Service.”
In 2011, Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang returned to television in the Cartoon Network sitcom, The Looney Tunes Show.