Every Bugs Bunny Ever: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1941)

2023 marks the 85th Anniversary of Bug Bunny’s first animated appearance in 1938’s “Porky’s Hare Hunt.” Debuting originally as Happy Rabbit, Bugs eventually became one of the most iconic animated characters of all time. In honor of the landmark anniversary, we’re discussing every animated appearance by Bugs Bunny. We’re big fans of Bugsy and we hope that you are, too.

Follow us on this massive journey where we discover and re-discover Every Bugs Bunny Ever.

Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1941)
Directed by Charles M. Jones
Produced by Leon Schlesinger
Music by Carl W. Stalling
Animation by Rudy Larriva

I hate to say it, but “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit” is one of my least favorite shorts from Bugs massive library. While it’s not the worst of its kind, it really is weak in both its execution and premise. Bugs goes from wacky taunter, to inadvertent hero, right back to wacky taunter all over again. It’s almost like he takes a step back in his development here, even with Elmer Fudd playing the protagonist to Bugs. He’s basically the foil, but he’s also the more innocent of the pairing, playing a basic bachelor in a derby, who simply buys a wabbit one day.

“Elmer’s Pet Rabbit” begins with Elmer Fudd walking along the street and decides on a whim to adopt a pet rabbit. That happens to be Bugs, who by this time hasn’t sold at all. His price on his sign goes from 150 dollars down to 98 cents, a rare hilarious gag in this short. Of course while Elmer is good to Bugs, when he takes him home, Bugs is not content with living in a cage and eating vegetables. He wants in on Elmer’s bachelor pad, and the two basically try to outwit one another for seven minutes.

This is notably the first cartoon in which Bugs Bunny is named, and his evolution continues as he sports a completely different voice this time out. He also dons yellow gloves, and he has no trademark buck teeth. He also has a different personality this time around. Where as he was maniacally wacky in previous shorts, here he’s more difficult and antagonistic; it’s really no wonder no one really wants to adopt him, when all is said and done. That’s not to say that the short isn’t completely without its pros. I’ve seen so much worse from Bugs (we’ll get there, just you wait); there are some pretty fun gags.

There’s the hilarious moment where Elmer attempts to wrestle with Bugs, which devolves in to a tango. This prompts Bugs to dole out a Katharine Hepburn impression. I love the subtle suggestive humor, too, as when Elmer is singing “Strolling Through the Park,” he punctuates “I was taken by surprise…!” as he stops to admire a lingerie shop display window. It’s great raunch like that that always added to the replay value of these shorts. There’s also the usual breaking of the fourth wall, with Bugs conferencing with the audience about how nice Elmer is, even after putting him through so much torture.

Ironically Bugs’ shtick here is similar to Charlie Dog’s, who would debut in 1947 (technically debuting in “Little Orphan Airendale”). He’s a pet who insinuates himself with Elmer’s house, annoying him with his entitlement and expectations of luxury. Again, Bugs is essentially a nuisance and sometimes a bully, here, one of the big No-No’s for his character on future shorts featuring him and Fudd going at it. In fact this is one of the last times Bugs outright antagonizes one of his nemeses, and spends the rest of his screen life defending himself from predators and hunters. This makes him much more empathetic, as Chuck Jones would proclaim. And I tend to agree.

That said, “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit” is a pretty good early short from Bugs as Chuck Jones and co. are still basically testing the playing field and seeing what they can do with the character.

Find out what we think are the BEST and WORST Bugs Bunny shorts of all time!