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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 16, 1950
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Rabbit of Seville © Warner Bros.‘Rabbit of Seville’ is the second of three superb Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny cartoons on opera, bridging ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949) and ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon starts with an open air opera theater setting with the Elmer-Bugs chase quickly entering the scene. When Elmer hits the stage, Bugs quickly opens the curtains, prompting the orchestra to play ‘The Barber from Seville’ by Gioachino Rossini. This leads to a wonderful aria by Bugs, and even Elmer joins in.

But the best part of the film is the silent comedy that follows on the music of the opera’s overture. During this sequence Bugs Bunny’s expressions are priceless, and the action is beautifully staged to the music, leading to a great finale in which Elmer and Bugs get married.

Throughout the picture Jones’s timing and staging are perfect. It improves on both Charlie Chaplin’s barber scene in ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) and on the vaguely similar Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Barber of Seville‘ (1944). The result is no less than a masterpiece.

Surprisingly, this cartoon about  ‘The Barber of Seville’ does not feature the famous ‘Largo el factotum’ aria from that opera. This is remarkable, for this aria was a staple in cartoons, and used extensively in e.g. ‘Barber of Seville’, the Tex Avery cartoon ‘Magical Maestro’ and Chuck Jones own Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Above, The Mouse Below‘ (1964).

Watch ‘Rabbit of Seville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rabbit of Seville’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 77
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bushy Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare We Go

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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 6, 1957
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:   ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

What's Opera, doc © Warner BrothersOne of the most celebrated animated cartoons of all time, ‘What’s Opera, Doc’ places the typical Elmer Fudd-Bugs Bunny chase routine into the world of Wagnerian opera.

The cartoon’s masterstroke is that it uses all the cliches of the chase, which go all the way back to the first Bugs Bunny Cartoon ‘A Wild Hare‘ (1940), but that they are carried out in the most serious, Wagnerian fashion. The result is ridiculously pompous, mocking Wagnerian opera, as well as playing homage to it. Milt Franklyn’s score quotes music from five Wagner operas: ‘Der fliegende Holländer’, ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’, ‘Rienzi’ and ‘Tannhäuser’.

The cartoon’s operatic character is emphasized not only by operatic singing, but also by featuring Wagnerian magic (a magic helmet), a ballet (a staple of French opera, but only employed by Richard Wagner in his very first operas), and a sad ending, a cliche of 19th century opera in general. Michael Maltese provided new lyrics to Wagner’s pilgrim chorus from ‘Tannhäuser’ and made it into a rather Hollywood musical-like love duet between Elmer and Bugs.

The animation is outstanding throughout, especially in the ballet and love duet between Bugs and Elmer. Indeed, for the ballet sequence the animators studied Tatania Riabouchinska and David Lichine from The Original Ballet Russe, and there’s a genuine seriousness about this scene. Yet, the main attraction of the cartoon lies in Maurice Noble’s extreme background layouts and bold color designs. Especially when Elmer gets furious, there is a startling emotional use of colors that has not been seen on the animated screen since ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

The opening sequence, with Elmer casting a mighty shadow is a straight homage to ‘The Night on Bold Mountain’ sequence from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), while the shots of Bugs being dressed as Brünnhilde and riding an oversized horse are retaken from ‘Herr meets Hare’ from 1945 (which, like ‘What’s Opera, doc?” was also penned by Michael Maltese). In this sense the cartoon is as much a homage to animation history as it is to opera.

‘What’s Opera, doc?’ is a brilliant cartoon of pure grandeur and one of Chuck Jones’s all time masterpieces. What’s most striking is that it was made during the normal grind of a commercial animated cartoon studio. The film took much longer than normal to make, which Jones and his unit could only manage to do by cheating on their schedule, stealing time from a much more ordinary short, the Road Runner cartoon ‘Zoom and Bored’ (1957).

Watch ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 131
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Piker’s Peak
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bugsy and Mugsy

Director: Shamus Culhane
Release Date: October 4, 1944
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Barber of Seville © Walter LantzWoody Woodpecker enters a barbershop to get a ‘victory’ haircut.

When the barber appears to be gone away, Woody himself steps in, maltreating a large chief and giving an Italian construction worker ‘the works’, singing the complete aria ‘Largo el factotum’ from Gioachino Rossini’s opera ‘The Barber of Seville’.

‘Barber of Seville’ is probably inspired by the barber scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which is set to a Hungarian dance by Brahms. The cartoon in its turn probably inspired Chuck Jones, who would use the opera’s overture in ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950), with even better results.

‘Barber of Seville’ was the first Woody Woodpecker directed by Shamus Culhane. Culhane was an animation veteran, who had worked at Max Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Van Beuren, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Culhane obviously understood the character better than his predecessor Alex Lovy did: the gags in ‘Barber of Seville’ are faster and funnier, and the story is more consistent than in most of the earlier Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Moreover, Woody Woodpecker looks better than ever before. Layout man and color stylist Art Heinemann redesigned the character to make him less grotesque, and more appealing. Unfortunately, Culhane would direct only ten Woody Woodpecker shorts, before he left the studio to set up one of his own to make animation films for television.

Watch ‘Barber of Seville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Sabrina Peña Young
Release Date: October 5, 2013
Rating: ★
Review:

Libertaria - The Virtual Opera © Sabrina Peña Young‘Libertaria: The Virtual Opera’ must be one of the most unwatchable animated features ever made.

This science fiction film is utterly pretentious, using heavy texts to tell a dystopian story about some post-apocalyptic America. The film makes use of some interesting split-screen techniques, but is hampered by erratic storytelling and the most primitive computer animation techniques. The animation of the characters is appallingly poor and amateurish, and the designs hideously ugly. The emotions of the songs are not mirrored in the images, at all. Even the cheapest video game looks better than this.

This combination of dead serious pretentiousness and extremely poor execution make the film a nightmare to watch. Its best aspect is its music, because that, at least, has some quality. Indeed, Sabrina Peña Young is a composer, not an animator, and it remains puzzling why she wanted to make this film in the first place.

Cobbler, stick to your last!

[UPDATE: Sabrina Peña Young reacted to this blog post to explain why she made this film. Please read her response below]

Watch ‘Libertaria: The Virtual Opera’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: June 25, 1949
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Long-Haired Hare © Warner BrothersBugs Bunny is singing nearby a villa, where a huge opera singer, called Giovanni Jones, is practicing.

The singer is heavily disturbed by Bugs’s performance and without arguing destroys our hero’s banjo, his harp and his tuba. Only then Bugs is prompted into war, which he reserves for the opera singer’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

What follows are great blackout gags featuring a string of opera tunes, with Bugs as ‘Leopold’ as a major highlight. This impersonation is an obvious reference to star conductor Leopold Stokowski, famous for conducting ‘Fantasia’ (1940). Bugs destroys the conductor’s baton, to direct with his hands only, like Stokowski does. From now on he controls the singer almost like a puppeteer. Bugs finally destroys his opponent by making him sing a ridiculously long high note, which tears the complete bowl down.

With cartoons like ‘Long-Haired Hare’ director Chuck Jones really came into his own: it shows Jones’ attitude to Bugs Bunny, who, in Jones’s cartoons, is only a misschief when provoked. Giovanni Jones is one of Bugs Bunny’s particularly large adversaries, following The Crusher (‘Rabbit Punch‘, 1948), and the warehouse manager in ‘Hare Conditioned‘ (1945).

‘Long-Haired Hare’ also shows Jones’ love for high culture, like opera. For instance, we can clearly detect a painting by Roussau le douanier decorating the opera singer’s villa. Jones’s love for opera would lead to two of his most famous and best cartoons, ‘The Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950) and ‘What’s Opera, doc?‘ (1958), which also feature Bugs Bunny.

In 1950, the Hollywood Bowl would be visited by cartoon characters again, when Tom & Jerry both tried to conduct in ‘Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl‘.

Watch ‘Long-Haired Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 61
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bowery Bugs
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Knights Must Fall

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 25, 1964
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Cat Above, The Mouse Below © MGMIn ‘The Cat Above, The Mouse Below’ Tom is a successful opera singer performing Figaro’s famous aria ‘Largo el factotum’ from Gioachino Rossini’s ‘Il barbiere de Sevilla’ (what else?) at a grand theater, but awakening Jerry by doing so.

In this short Tom displays some fantastic facial expressions, director Chuck Jones’ trademark. It’s also probably the best of all Chuck Jones’s Tom & Jerry cartoons, albeit not as funny as Jones’ earlier ‘Long-haired Hare‘ (1949) or Tex Avery’s ‘Magical Maestro’ (1952), which both use the same theme.

Watch ‘The Cat Above, The Mouse Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 129
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Penthouse Mouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Is There a Doctor in the Mouse?

Director: Gene Deitch
Release Date: December 1962
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★
Review:

Carmen Get It © MGMTom chases Jerry into an opera house, with remarkably unfunny results, making ‘Carmen Get It’ probably the worst of all concert cartoons.

This is a sad irony, because Tom & Jerry are also responsible for one of the all time best: ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947).

‘Carmen get it’ was the last of the Gene Deitch Tom & Jerries, a poor and unfunny series of cartoons, which during their short existence never came even near the quality of the original ones by Hanna and Barbera. Gene Deitch had outlasted its welcome within one year and moved over to produce cartoons for Paramount, directing a.o. Popeye and Krazy Cat cartoons.

Tom & Jerry were already revived once again the next year, by Chuck Jones, whose Tom & Jerry cartoons were to be a great improvement on Gene Deitch’s ones, albeit nowhere near the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons…

Watch an excerpt from ‘Carmen Get It’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 127
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Buddies Thicker than Water
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Penthouse Mouse

Director: Jack King
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Farmyard Symphony © Walt Disney‘Farmyard Symphony’ is the only Silly Symphony directed by Donald Duck director Jack King.

Unfortunately, the cartoon just doesn’t deliver what it seems to offer. Literally stuffed with classical music themes (from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Wagner’s Tannhäuser), it’s mainly filled with animals just doing things.

One can detect two weak story lines: one about a piglet looking for food and the other about a rooster falling in love with a slender white chick. The latter story leads to the most symphony-like part of the cartoon in which all animals join the rooster and the chicken in their duet from Verdi’s La Traviata.

This remains one of the less interesting entries in the Silly Symphonies series, despite its sometimes stunning and convincingly realistic animal designs. It is very likely that these have influenced the animal designs of ‘Animal Farm‘ from 1954, which also features scenes of singing animals. Especially the pigs look very similar.

Watch ‘Farmyard Symphony’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 71
To the previous Silly Symphony: Wynken, Blynken and Nod
To the next Silly Symphony: Merbabies

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