Monday, April 14, 2014

Bugs Bunny and Classical Music

Ever noticed the use of classical music in cartoons? It abounds in the old Merrie Melodies cartoons! This week, let’s watch a few classic episodes and explore the use of classical music!

Do you remember the old Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips from 1944? The anniversary of its release date is actually this month! This cartoon was created during WWII and thus strongly reflects the United States’ attitude toward Japan at the time, showing Bugs Bunny’s dehumanization of the Japanese soldiers. In his article titled “Reading Wagner in Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips (1944)” Neil Lerner mentions that the title of the cartoon itself is significant in referencing the slang term in the U.S. for Japanese people as well as the verb for “bite.” The cartoon also significantly uses two Wagner quotations from Die Walküre. 

Take a glance at the cartoon here before reading further.

Before discussing the significance in the use of Wagner, it is first important to note how the Japanese are portrayed. The Japanese soldiers all appear with buck teeth and barefoot and Bugs refers to them using names such as “Monkey Face” and “Slant Eyes.” They are also depicted as lacking intelligence as Bugs seems to rule over them as he hands out ice cream treats that contain explosives. Bugs Bunny was a well-known character by this time who always acted in retaliation to being provoked. He always came out on top in the end, his opponents being inferior to him. These traits are important in paralleling the action of the cartoon to real-world relations between the U.S. (represented by Bugs Bunny) and Japan.

Looking at the music, the first Wagner quotation occurs when Bugs is declaring that he cannot stand peace and quiet following the removal of the Japanese from the island. Here, notice an excerpt from the third act of Die Walküre, the “Ride of the Valkyries.” The quotation of “Ride of the Valkyries” refers to the Valkyries in Wagner’s opera taking the fallen warriors to Valhalla.  This is ironic in that Bugs “did not view the Japanese soldiers as honorable warriors worthy of an afterlife paradise,” as stated by Lerner in his article.

The second Wagner quotation occurs when Bugs spots the U.S. ship coming his way and yells that he is now saved. “The tragic motif” from Die Walküre is heard possibly relating Siegfried’s name, (meaning peace through victory) to Bugs’ situation.

What are your thoughts on this cartoon? Do you think the use of Wagner effectively parallels the narrative?

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