“Remember…Keep Smiling!”: It’ll Be Hard NOT To In EASTER YEGGS (1947)

4 Apr

Bugs and the sad-eyed rabbit from EASTER YEGGS

If Bugs knew what he was in for, he'd be even more skeptical than he is in this scene from EASTER YEGGS (1947).

by Rachel Newstead

Easter Yeggs

Release Date: June 28, 1947

Director: Bob McKimson

Writer: Warren Foster

In Short: If you sub for the Easter Bunny, make sure you have a good hospital plan and a bullet-proof vest….

Every Easter, I have a tradition.

I do my hair, put on my makeup, select my best outfit and go to the local Radisson for brunch. Then I come home and watch today’s cartoon.

Like most traditions, the roots for this one are long and deep; decades ago, long before I knew enough about animation to dislike Bob McKimson, Easter Yeggs would make me hold my sides with laughter. For me, such a reaction happens rarely enough that I make note of  it when it does;  if a cartoon makes me laugh repeatedly, I mentally enshrine it among the Classics, to be viewed and viewed again. Easter Yeggs has never failed to raise a laugh from me, not even after thirty-five years of viewing.

Worms-eye view of Bugs and "Dead-End Kid"

EASTER YEGGS not only has funny dialogue, it LOOKS funny: exaggerated perspective--as in the scenes above and below--heighten the humor. It's also a rather clever and original way to vary the scaled-down, two-character shots that were becoming commonplace after the war.

Most Warner cartoons have at least one memorable line. Easter Yeggs has so many, it’s hard to keep track:

  • “It’s the suspense that gets me!”
  • “I’m waiting for the Easter wabbit. When he comes in looking so fwuffy and cute with his wittle basket of Easter Bugs and Easter rabbit, in forced perspectiveeggs–BANG!! Easter wabbit stew!!  Hahahahaha!”
  • ” I can’t miss with my Dick Twacy hat!”
  • “But you can’t quit! You’ll give the Easter rabbit a bad name!”…”I already have a bad name for the Easter rabbit!”
  • “I wanna Easter egg! Bugs thrusts his face forward toward Easter rabbitI wanna Easter egg!”
  • And of course, “And remember, keeeeep smiling!”

Thanks to Chuck Jones, we tend to think of Bugs as a calm, confident character who easily adapts to any situation, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always a hallmark of his character. Warren Foster’s treatment of him was more in the Clampett vein, typically putting him in oddball “fish out of water” situations. Bugs’ eventual victory, though likely, was not absolutely assured–the attraction of a Foster-written Bugs cartoon is not in seeing how Bugs wins, but in discovering if he does in spite of everything Foster throws at him.

...."The happy Easter Rabbit, hooray!" Thought it was impossible to stomp and skip at the same time? Not in this cartoon....

Bugs does have more than his share of hurdles in this cartoon. Not only is he conned into subbing for a sad-sack Easter bunny (based on Mel Blanc’s “Happy Postman”, an equally forlorn Burns and Allen character), he has to contend with a pint-size Dead End Kid as well as the usual nuisance of Elmer Fudd. (Here a little more hot-headed than usual, almost to the level of Yosemite Sam).

(For the younger folks, the term “Dead End Kid” originally referred to the juvenile stars of the 1935 play Dead End–about New York street kids–as well as the subsequent 1937 movie. The play and movie spawned a film series known by various names, but which is generally known as The Bowery Boys.  The play, and the movie series, launched the show-business careers of Leo Gorcey and  Huntz Hall, among others).

So many interwoven plot threads in a mere seven-minute cartoon is a risky move, but Foster manages to accomplish it without causing the entire story to collapse. Mainly, of course, because he doesn’t let us forget about them–the depressive Easter Bunny appears throughout, often in the oddest places (like right in the middle of Bugs’ “magic act”) while the Dead End Kid makes a reappearance at the end, to torment Elmer this time. And of course, Bugs has one final score to settle with Mr. Easter Rabbit.

Easter Yeggs also scores points for recycling a little tune from the 1939 Hare-Um Scare-Um, but with new lyrics more cynical than demented:

“I must be gettin’ looney-tuney, touched in the head,

Dis whole t’ing is gooney, I shoulda stood in bed…

Together, all these elements combine to make a cartoon even more manic than Hare-Um Scare-Um–without requiring Bugs to bounce all over the scenery.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Bugs and Elmer in "Tunnel Of Love"

Poses and expressions like this could still get laughs, but more and more, the dialogue started to carry the burden...

It’s interesting–when I think of Warner Bros. cartoons made prior to 1945, I think of the wonderful animation and sight gags. For anything after 1945, I think of the wonderful dialogue. Even professional animation historians will gush over the unconventional, proto-UPA animation style of Chuck Jones’ The Dover Boys (1942), but are more likely to talk about the memorable lines of the “Bugs-Daffy-Elmer” trilogy, such as “Pronoun trouble!” (Even though the trilogy is every bit as meticulously animated).

I suppose this can partly be explained by the budget cutbacks the various studios were forced to endure in the late forties: lower budgets mean sparser animation. But the period immediately after the war seems to be an era in which the writers of the Warner Bros. finally came into their own. New talent like Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner was coming in; those who had been there for years, like Foster and Maltese, were close to perfecting their craft. Consequently, the characters created in 1945 and beyond, like Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam, are tailor-made for talk. (In the case of  Foghorn, a great deal of talk).

Whatever the reasons, the age of what Chuck Jones would eventually call “illustrated radio” was dawning, and far sooner than most people might think. Long before, in fact, the upstart medium of television would make it a necessity.

However, when  great writing makes as much of an impact on a person’s life as this cartoon’s has made on mine, being remembered solely for the dialogue is no vice.  A well-animated short, such as Disney’s, may be admired for its beauty. But how many become an annual tradition?

(Added picture and caption, 4/4/10).

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