Warner Bros. cartoons are still amazingly enjoyable, especially considering they all had the same basic plot: Wile E. Coyote chases Road Runner. Sylvester chases Tweety Bird. And Elmer Fudd hunts for his ultimate prey: the uncatchable Bugs Bunny. Obviously, the scenario changed up a bit from time to time, but never so successfully as in Chuck Jones’ 1957 faux opera, “What’s Opera, Doc?”
A new article on animation website The Dot And Line tells the story of the cartoon that 1,000 animators rated the greatest of all time in 1994. Dot And Line calls it “a laughably loose adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre; Jones took the operatic pomp of Norse mythology and superimposed it onto the classically cartoonish circumstance of Elmer Fudd attempting to kill Bugs Bunny.” Valuable perspective comes from Stephen Fossati, director Chuck Jones’ last protégé. For his masterpiece, as well as his final Elmer Fudd cartoon, Fossati says that Jones was a rarely satisfied perfectionist, who spent his later years watching his own work and pointing out various flaws. For example, when Elmer Fudd is upside down while digging for Bugs, his suit was supposed to have a sound effect:
[Chuck] had always intended that those plates fell, inverted, fell on Elmer Fudd’s skirt. That they would go “Dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink,” but Treg Brown [the sound editor responsible for the short] forgot to put the sound effects in. He would watch it, and every time he would watch it, he’d give a, “Hurgh.” Sort of like, “Goddammit. I can’t believe that happened.” It was quite remarkable.
To make the surreal masterpiece, which pokes fun at Fantasia, ballet, Wagner, as well as opera, Jones’ production staff, “reportedly spent six times the amount of labor on ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ than they would on a typical cartoon, with Jones having them cook the books by listing the title of a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon on their time cards to make up the difference.” The result was certainly worth the extra effort, even with the missing sound effect. You can read more at The Dot And Line.