Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bugs Bunny Does Opera: Notes On Adaptation and Censorship in Musical Storytelling

Over on Z Recommends today we reviewed Music Tales, an album of drawn-and-quartetered versions of classical compositions used to sound-illustrate fairy tales and children's stories. A subsequent interview led us briefly to Warner Brothers' fantastic operatic adaptations, "The Long-Haired Hare" and "What's Opera, Doc?" which have Rossini and Wagner spinning in their graves to this day.

What strikes me as most interesting about the comparison has hit me only in hindsight. In our review I gently criticized the album for its inclusion of moments of graphic violence in some of the stories, elements that have been easily and deftly removed by other authors; in Tomie de Paola's Favorite Nursery Tales, for example, the story of the Three Little Pigs is no worse off for having the wolf give up and go home rather than being "boiled to bits" in the pigs' pot.

I missed the Bugs Bunny connection from the outset when I asked the group's violinist if their "mashups" had any antecedents in the modern era, so I'm grateful she mentioned the cartoons. But even then I didn't recognize the other parallel, which is their willingness to display violence. Fairy tales may contain more visceral violence than classic cartoons, but the thread certainly runs through them both, and some fairy tales have been so thoroughly sanitized that some critics are beginning to welcome the reintroduction of at least a touch of violence in stories old and new. I'll stand by my criticism, though, to the extent that I'm talking about a toddler audience, not one of older children. When our daughter Z is a bit older we will enjoy the old Bugs Bunny cartoons together. At three, not a chance!

Apparently some networks took their concern about cartoon violence even further when it came to "The Long-Haired Hare." From Wikipedia:

The ABC version of this cartoon cuts the entire sequence where Bugs is dressed as a bobby-soxer looking for Giovanni Jones's autograph and gives him a dynamite stick disguised as a pen.

The CBS version of this cartoon is a little more heavily edited (as the censors hated the cartoon due to its violence). Not only is the bobby-soxer sequence that was cut from ABC also cut here, but also the scenes where Giovanni Jones beats Bugs up every time he ruins his singing lessons (i.e., Jones breaking, then smashing Bugs' banjo over his head; Jones slamming Bugs' harp on his neck; Jones pulling Bugs from the tuba, tying his ears to a tree branch, and pulling his body back so it'll snap back and have his head hit the branch).
Most websites don't list the cartoon titles included in Looney Tunes collections, but after a lot of digging I confirmed that "Long-Haired Hare" is included in Looney Tunes' Golden Collection Vol. 1. I couldn't find the studio's lesser-known Wagnerian masterpiece mentioned as being included in any collection - if you know where to purchase it, let me know in the comments!

Both cartoons can currently be viewed on YouTube, so why not settle in to watch a couple of hilarious, not to mention history-making cartoons?

Long-Haired Hare

What's Opera Doc

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