Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: March 15, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle
Rating: ★★★½

Tortoise Beats Hare © Warner Brothers‘Tortoise Beats Hare’ starts with one of the greatest openings of all Warner Brothers cartoons: Bugs walks along the title card, reading it aloud, mispronouncing all the names (Fred a-VEry).

When he reads the title, he gets angry, tears the title card apart and immediately looks up Cecil Turtle to make a bet. Cecil Turtle accepts, but when they’ve started off, he phones all his friends and relations to be his duplicate. This trick make the humble turtle seem to appear everywhere, driving Bugs mad.

‘Tortoise Beats Hare’ is Tex Avery’s first Bugs Bunny cartoon after Bugs Bunny’s debut in ‘A Wild Hare‘ (1940). In it Tex Avery immediately does a surprising experiment to his beloved character by letting him play the role of the straight guy. In ‘Tortoise Beats Hare’ it’s the humble Cecil Turtle who gets all Bugs’s routines, like kissing the rabbit at unexpected moments and addressing the audience with a “we do this kind of stuff to him all through the picture”. As Chuck Jones writes in his book ‘Chuck Amuck’:

‘The Tortoise in fact becomes Bugs, and Bugs becomes Elmer Fudd, outwitted and outacted, thereby losing control both of the tortoise-hare race and of the picture itself’.

This experiment is not a success: watching Bugs Bunny being humiliated gives the viewer an uncomfortable feeling, and outside the Cecil Turtle cartoons it was rarely repeated. Nevertheless, Bugs’ first double take is a delight, and so is the animation on the slow hopping Cecil.

”Tortoise Beats Hare’ was only Bugs Bunny’s third screen appearance, and it shows: his design is still somewhat unsteady, and so is his voice. When Bugs addresses Cecil for the first time, it sounds like we hear many Mel Blanc voices after another.

At MGM Avery would reuse the idea of a guy popping up everywhere driving his opponent mad to greater effect, in two Droopy cartoons, ‘Dumb-Hounded‘ (1943) and ‘The Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946). In both cartoons Avery skips the explanation how the guy could be everywhere, making the result way funnier.

Meanwhile, Cecil Turtle would return in the Bob Clampett cartoon ‘Tortoise wins by a Hare’ (1942) and in the Friz Freleng cartoon ‘Rabbit Transit’ (1947).

Watch ‘Tortoise Beats Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 3
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt