What Steamboat Willy was to Disney, A Wild Hare was to Warner Bros. Created in 1940 under the leadership of legendary cartoonist Tex Avery, it was the first short produced by the up-and-coming entertainment conglomerate to feature two of its most iconic Looney Tunes characters: Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
The image of a short and pudgy man poking through rabbit holes with his comically over-sized rifle, only to be outsmarted by the innocent little creature that he’s trying to hunt down, has since become one of the most iconic images in the history of the medium. For close to a century, distributor WB reproduced this setup without alteration – that is, until now.
In an attempt to check the spread of gun violence, WB has decided to replace Fudd’s rifle with a scythe in the new series of cartoons airing on HBO Max. “We’re not doing guns,” an executive producer of the show told The New York Times. “But we can do cartoony violence – TNT, the Acme stuff.”
This tinkering with Fudd’s arsenal is only the latest development in a long campaign to make children’s cartoons less violent. Those of you who grew up on original Looney Toons shorts and other animated classics may remember the excessive brutality with fondness, but those that never did will surely be shocked to learn what WB and their contemporaries managed to get away with.
For a clear example, look no further than Disney. From cartoons centered around Goofy’s struggle to give up smoking, to wartime pictures that show Donald Duck living in Nazi Germany while wearing a Swastika and quacking ‘Heil Hitler!’ to the 1940 classic Pinocchio which depicts the titular wooden boy drinking beer and smoking cigars whilst playing pool – its library contains a limitless supply of shock-factor.
Although these little adult-oriented details made cartoons more realistic, their removal was probably for the benefit of younger viewers. Nowadays, most of us don’t think that tobacco belongs in children’s animation, after all, so maybe – in a few years’ time – we’ll feel the same way about guns as well.