BOOTLEG FILES 224: “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” (1944 animated short).
LAST SEEN: Available for viewing on numerous web sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Included in a Warner Bros. laser disc and VHS in the early 1990s.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Kept from official release due to racist content.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not!
Wartime brings out the best and worst in people, which explains the weird and nasty 1944 cartoon “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.” In this case, we are talking about the worst. As its coarse title suggests, this animated short was designed to bolster America’s wartime morale by demeaning and humiliating the Japanese enemy through racist humor.
In a way, it is surprising that it took Warner Bros. so long to find the Japanese. Up until that time, nearly every racial and ethnic group was the target of animated stereotyping – African-Americans were the most prominent butt of the Termite Terrace jokes, but there were plenty of nasty yuks aimed at American Indians, Jews, Arabs, Mexicans and Chinese.
“Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” is not an amusing cartoon, but not because of the racial elements. Even if you replaced the Japanese characters with, says Nazi enemy forces, the humor would still be diluted with stale jokes and lethargic pacing. This is among the relatively few laugh-free Bugs Bunny duds.
In fact, the film starts with a sense of been-there/done-that. Bugs is in a crate floating across the Pacific. He talks to the viewer about waiting for “the island that inevitably turns up in this kind of picture.” The island, however, is occupied by Japanese forces, and Bugs is quickly being pursued by a soldier who typifies the Japanese racist stereotype: oversized eyeglasses, absurdly bucked teeth, a physique that is closer to simian than human, and a non-stop chatter in broken English.
Bugs escapes down a rabbit hole, and the soldier tries to blast him out with a bomb. Naturally, the soldier winds up blowing himself up. Bugs then emerges dressed as a Japanese general. The soldier is initially fooled, but then confides to the camera that he recognizes Bugs from the “Leon Schlesinger cartoons.” (Ah, nothing like in-jokes to telegraph a lack of genuine mirth.)
Bugs escapes to an airbase and jumps into a plane, flying off immediately. The soldier gets into his own plane to pursue his foe, but Bugs is suddenly on the ground tying the rear of soldier’s plane to a tree. The plane is yanked out from under the soldier during mid-flight, causing him to parachute for safety. Bugs then emerges in his plane, greeting the soldier with a gift of “scrap iron” that causes the soldier to speed to a rapid descent. The “scrap iron” reference involves Japan’s 1930s purchase of U.S. scrap iron, which was used to create the war machinery that conquered the Pacific Rim.
The film then gets rather strange as Bugs returns to the island and encounters a sumo wrestler (whether audiences in 1944 understood the reference is unclear). Incredibly, the sumo wrestler ties Bugs into knots. But Bugs gets his revenge by dressing as a geisha and knocking out the sumo wrestler, who has fallen instantly in love with the cross-dressing (and now hammer-swinging) rabbit.
Bugs then spots the Japanese fleet coming to the island. He disguises himself as an ice cream vendor, driving a “Good Rumor” truck. The ice cream bars, however, have hand grenades at their centers. Bugs hands them out to the hungry Japanese, calling them “monkey face” and “slant eyes” while distributing the goodies. After all of the ice creams are gone, there’s a pause as the hand grenades blow up the enemy. However, the original soldier returns, noting that his ice cream had a promotional stick stating he could receive a second free ice cream. Sure enough, he gets another ice cream bomb and meets his fate.
Bugs is now alone on the island, initially savoring its peace and quiet. He then starts screaming: “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s peace and quiet!” He spies an American troop ship on the horizon and tries to get its attention, but something else gets his attention: a female rabbit in a sarong, obviously a comely resident of the island. Bugs decides to stay and chases his tropical cutie into the closing credits.
Judging this cartoon today is impossible, since it was clearly the product of a very different era. One might excuse the blatant racism of the Japanese character as a result of the wartime need to unite the population against a demonized enemy. But there’s no excuse for the warmed-over rehash of bad jokes and sight gags that fills the eight minutes of running time. One gets the feeling that director Friz Freleng and writer Tedd Pierce just ran out of original ideas with this project and opted to repeat themselves, hoping no one would notice.
“Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” was shown in theaters in 1944 and probably stayed on screens until the war ended the following year. It was part of the syndicated package of pre-1948 cartoons that Warner Bros. sold to Associated Artists Productions in 1956 for TV presentation. Since it was not part of the infamous “Censored Eleven” list of racially offensive cartoons that were barred from TV viewing, it turned up on the small screen without incident.
In the 1970s, though, Asian-American civil rights groups lodged protests over racial stereotyping in cartoons. “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” was among the films that raised their ire, so TV programmers voluntarily kept it off the air. In 1991, however, the film re-emerged as part of “The Golden Age of Looney Tunes” anthology on laser disc; it was later part of the VHS release of that title. Asian-American groups complained anew about the inclusion of the title in the collection, and Warner Bros. withdrew the title from the set when “The Golden Age of Looney Tunes” was re-released. In June 2001, responding to concerns about racism, Cartoon Network would not allow the film to be part of its Bugs Bunny marathon.
To date, there has been no official DVD release of this cartoon. However, “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” has turned up in bootleg video anthologies of banned animation, and the short is easy to locate on the Net.
Nonetheless, the only reason to seek this cartoon out is to satisfy the sense of having watched every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made. Otherwise, this noisy and dinky little effort reflects an enervated low in an otherwise classic animated series.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on March 14, 2008 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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