TIME movies

Bugs Bunny at 75: Watch the First-Ever ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ Moment

Bugs Bunny first appeared on July 27, 1940

The usual gestation period for a rabbit is a month. But Bugs Bunny, the iconic cartoon character who turns 75 on Monday, took a lot longer to come to life.

Scroll down to read that story–but not before watching a clip from his first official appearance, in the 1940 Tex Avery cartoon A Wild Hare. The Oscar-nominated cartoon has all the classic Bugs favorites: outwitting Elmer Fudd, the signature ears and tail, the “What’s up, Doc?”

(Looney Tunes characters, names, and all related indicia are TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. You can watch the whole thing here.)

Here’s how the world’s favorite cartoon rabbit came to be. Animator Chuck Jones gave credit to Tex Avery for the character, but Warner Bros. had made several rabbit cartoons in the studio’s earlier years. There were cutesy rabbits and wacky rabbits, but those rabbits aren’t Bugs. (One distinction, Jones explained, was that Bugs’ craziness always serves a purpose–in contrast to the unhinged Daffy Duck.)

The Wild Hare bunny is uncredited, though that changed before the year was up. Bugs was an instant star. By 1954, TIME noted that he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. (Mel Blanc, who voiced the character, later claimed that the name was his idea, saying that they were going to call the character Happy Rabbit, but that Blanc suggested naming him after animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Alternatively, the name is sometimes traced to a sketch that designer Charles Thorson did on Hardaways’ request, with the caption “Bugs’ bunny”—as in, it was the bunny that Bugs had asked him to draw.)

Though Virgil Ross was the animator on A Wild Hare, Chuck Jones became one of the more famous hands behind the Bugs Bunny magic. In 1979, when The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie came out, TIME critic Richard Schickel noted that “it is possible that some day Animator Chuck Jones may come to be regarded as the American Bunuel” for the fact that Jones and the groundbreaking surrealist filmmaker so well understood the psychological underpinnings of comedy.

As these images from the late artist’s archives show, Bugs Bunny may have taken a long time to be born—but he sure has aged well.

"Picture the Future" a hand-painted cel art edition by Chuck Jones
Courtesy Chuck Jones Center for Creativity“Picture the Future” a hand-painted cel art edition by Chuck Jones

Read TIME’s take on Warner cartoons’ 50th birthday, in 1985, here in the TIME Vault: For Heaven’s Sake! Grown Men!

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


YOU BROKE TIME.COM!

Dear TIME Readers,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team