If you came of age in the middle of the last century, let's say post-1940, you'll be familiar with arch enemies Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
In 1957, animator Chuck Jones pitted them against each other in a classic tale of love and betrayal.
What’s Opera, Doc? is widely considered Chuck Jones’s masterpiece. It condenses Wagner’s Ring Cycle—fourteen hours of opera—plus parts of The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Rienzi into a seven-minute cartoon, and elevates the classic Bugs Bunny-running-from-Elmer Fudd story into a majestic drama.
The“gags” really come from the strangeness of the characters in the setting. And, if that weren't enough, it parodies the use of classical music in Disney’s feature film Fantasia.
Production of What’s Opera, Doc? took longer than any other cartoon Jones made for Warner Bros. He would usually make about 300 character layout drawings for a film, but drew nearly 500 for What’s Opera, Doc?, with an additional 1,500 unused rough sketches.
Given the depth, complexity, and richness of those sketches (in addition to the storytelling), it's not surprising that the film was the first animated short selected for the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress, and 1,000 members of the animation field named it the greatest cartoon of all time. Do you agree?
If you'd like to make up your own mind, original sketches by Jones, as well as Maurice Noble’s design drawings for an unused opening sequence in What's Up, Doc?, are featured in the Smithsonian traveling exhibition What's Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones. Get a sneak peak of the tour schedule and photo gallery.
Character layout drawing, Bwoomhilda on horse, What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)
Courtesy of The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity
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