Christopher P. Lehman
February 3, 2018 posted by Christopher Lehman

The Censored 11: “All This and Rabbit Stew (1941)”

The seventh cartoon of the Censored Eleven is the third and final one from director Tex Avery, and it is also the only film of the series to star Bugs Bunny. In the “Merrie Melodies” episode All This and Rabbit Stew (1941), an African American hunter tries repeatedly and fails to shoot the bunny The hunter has large lips and feet, and he speaks in the standard ethnic dialect for African American fictional characters in popular culture at the time. Just when the hunter has a close range to shoot as the film ends, Bugs entices him to gamble and proceeds to literally win the clothes of his adversary’s back. Then, the bunny derisively imitates his humiliated predator’s shuffle and dialect.

The cartoon has some novel approaches to the hunter-prey formula that Avery had initiated in Bugs’s debut
A Wild Hare just one year earlier. The hunter transforms into a fireball when fleeing a bear at top speed, and he changes into a lollipop after Bugs suckers him into running off a cliff. Bugs does a take in which his limbs briefly separate from his body in all directions while he screams in fright at the hunter’s gun. Carl Stalling’s use of boogie-woogie jazz for the hunter’s scenes is ethnic musical symbolism, but it is at least an updating that moves away from the minstrel songs of previous Censored Eleven films.

All This and Rabbit Stew did well before its placement among the Censored Eleven. During the film’s first-run theatrical distribution in 1941 and 1942, exhibitors gave positive feedback. However, it was not placed in the “Blue Ribbon” series of theatrical reissues. A new generation of viewers saw Bugs tangle with an African American when the cartoon came to television in 1957, and there it stayed for the next eleven years.

So, why was it censored in 1968? The image of the rural, shuffling African American in dialect was out of step with the times, and Bugs’s mimicking of the shuffle and dialect did not help matters. The dice game and the hunter’s weakness towards it also smacked of ethnic stereotyping. By 1968, however, The Bugs Bunny Show allowed post-1948 episodes of Bugs to appear on network television, and he had no other pre-1948 episodes on the Censored Eleven list. The removal of one cartoon, therefore, had little effect on his television stardom. Still, Bugs may have vanquished the hunter, but United Artists exiled him to history.

Next month, I will not be discussing Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs. I’ll save that one for my eleventh installment.

22 Comments

  • This is one of the Censored Eleven that along with Jungle Jitters that made the Public Domain market with showings on XHGC TV 5 in Mexico in the 1990s, part of a boxed VCR set sold in stores and part of the Cartoon Craze series sold in Walmart in both English and Spanish.

  • Probably the only positive thing that can be said about this hunter is he more immediately recognizes Bugs Bunny as a rabbit upon first encounter. That’s more than can be said about Elmer Fudd. But, it’s unfortunate that instead of trying to come up with a distinctive personality for an African-American character, much like Elmer Fudd’s distinctive character and voice, Avery went the stereotype route. Also, while I know the hunter is partially inspired by Stepin Fetchit, but where the heck did this “lazy” stereotypical persona originate?

    Also of note, the hunter resurfaced later in Jones’ (terrible) short Angel Puss, also on the Censored 11. He also appeared in at least one comic book story with Elmer Fudd, and was named Sombo.

  • I’m going to be honest on this cartoon: I wasn’t offended by it, but at the same time, wasn’t very remarkable aside from the racially insensitive hunter.

  • I remember my surprise at coming across this one on television not once, but twice. When I was a teenager, it (along with ‘Jungle Jitters’) turned up on ‘Cartoon Junction,’ a public domain cartoon show airing on some low-budget TV channel our cable company picked up.

    My next sighting was several years later, after I joined the military. I was part of a media team covering an exercise in Montenegro we held a press day where the local TV station came out to interview us. That afternoon, my officer-in-charge and I were waiting for the evening news to start so we could see the coverage and what should be just ending but some kids show airing a dubbed copy of this short! My jaw hit the floor and I tried to explain why I was so surprised. I don’t think I got the message across though…

    • Hey David, did you see “Cartoon Junction” in either NY or NJ?

    • Neither, I lived in Virginia at the time.

  • Censoring cartoons is stupid. The black guy in this cartoon doesn’t represent all black people anymore than Elmer Fudd represents all white people. It basically boils down to if you don’t like it don’t watch it.

    • Or the bunny represents all rabbits. Yeah, right, we get it. But do you really want this to be part of a program of shorts marketed to kids? There’s a good reason it has been out of circulation.

      Or was, but now of course it’s easy to find online. An informal, unscientific count of comparable cartoons (all 1941 with Bugs Bunny, complete versions only) turns up:
      Elmer’s Pet Rabbit, 9
      Tortoise Beats Hare, 14
      Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt, 6
      Heckling Hare, 8
      Wabbit Twouble, 9
      All This and Rabbit Stew, 50 and I stopped counting.

      Many of these are teased with headers like “BANNED! CENSORED! RACIST CARTOON! RARE!” and such. Sort of like saying “I dare you to watch this.” And people do. Maybe because they like being naughty, but then again, racism is alive and people will indulge and then excuse themselves by saying hey, it’s just a cartoon, lighten up. But I think the fact that this and similar cartoons seem to get passed around a lot speaks for itself, and it ain’t pretty.

    • To Peter Mork, sorry there is nothing racist about this cartoon. At the most you can say it’s a stereo type. And yes, I wouldn’t care if my kids say it. Racism is not hiding under any bush.

    • Just get Whoopi Goldberg or Leonard Maltin to tape a brief disclaimer to show ahead of it.

    • To Jeff Haynes, it IS racist. Sorry, but no frickin’ way in hell would I allow this to be shown to my kids without an explanation. The depiction of the hunter was wrong then and it’s sure a hell wrong now.

  • I came across this short one afternoon when I was “working” from home on the local Telemundo channel here in Chicago back in the early 1990s. The dubbing was horrible enough to ruin the great Carl Stalling music and was glad to find a print on a PD tape.
    While I can understand it being suppressed from television in this day and age, it should be brought back to the Bugs Bunny film canon and find its way on DVD or Blu-ray at some point.

  • The hollow log gag would be used again in “The Big Snoooze”, with the character redrawn as Elmer.

  • While I enjoy this series on Cartoon Research I would like to make a comment on the word censorship. The phrase Censored 11 is nice and pleasing of a phrase and that’s fine as far as that goes. These cartoons we’re not censored. They we’re not removed from air by government police action. United Artist made an editorial decision to be sensitive to the feelings of African Americans to pull these out of circulation. Something that wasn’t thought about when these we’re made. And since we still have bigots in the US I think that was a progressive. Whether UA pulled them from air for that reason I won’t hazard a guess. Please keep coming with these articles and all of the great articles on this website.

    Thank you

    Joseph McGuire

    • Amen

  • One of the problems with the use of stereotypes in the cartoon — just from a pacing standpoint — is the action just dies when we get to the end gag with the dice game. Coming after the log gag that both Clampett and Freleng would reuse three more times with Bugs over the next 19 years, and Bugs literally flying apart when he sees the bandaged hunter, there’s no big finish to the short, because Avery and Dave Monahan go the easy route, based on the racist notion that blacks can’t resist a dice game.

    • It certainly was lazy the way this cartoon ends, and you do feel ashamed for both Avery and Monahan to have left their mark on this. I do wonder if people ever asked either of them what they thought about having done a cartoon like this years later (I noticed Dave passed away in ’03, though I did wonder what led to him doing the live-action bits for Chuck’s The Phantom Tollbooth, long after he got out of writing cartoons)?

  • I prefer the log gag as done in “The Big Snooze”.

    “Person to Bunny” also had a funny variant, mainly for Bugs’s line at the end when Elmer hides inside the log:

    “Hehehe… It’ll take him all day to figure this one out.”

  • This cartoon was one of the first WB shorts I recalled seeing as a kid. It was on a public domain tape that my mother bought somewhere, and it was on the same VHS as “To Duck Or Not To Duck” and “An Itch in Time,” if I recall correctly.

    Where was that particular image of Bugs and the hunter taken from? It looks so vibrant that it’s either a production cel or still from a really good print of the cartoon. I’ve seen that still before but want to know where it’s from.

  • This isn’t as bad as some-Jungle Jitters for example is unwatchable at any speed-but it’s still-bad. Great high concept here-replace Fudd with Steppin Fetchit. Oh and he plays craps. Super. It’s not worth your time otherwise, you’ve seen the same old gags 200 times elsewheres and you don’t have to trip over the embarrassing racist stuff you see here.

  • As I’ve said other times, this is perhaps the most Avery-esque of all his Warner Brothers cartoons, regarding the wild takes when, say, Bugs sees the hunter or the two realize that a big bear is in the cave with them. It almost seems like one of Avery’s MGM cartoons.

    I understand why it isn’t widely seen anymore, but because it is part of a larger whole, it should remain available on at least one LOONEY TUNES release, perhaps a set of the entire output of the Warner Brothers cartoon studio, and that is where it can remain. I don’t claim to be historically accurate, here, but the “world’s laziest man” persona was part of the onstage antics by the comedian who called himself Stepin Fetchit, and it is exaggerated further here, only in the voice characterization. The hunter aggressively pursues Bugs, but still has a slightly sped up version of the lazy gait, complete with Carl Stalling accompaniment.

    Stalling would also orchestrate the walks of many a bulldog or smaller dog breed with hilarious results. As for the dice game closing gag, I first read about this in one of the books on Warner Brothers cartoons that gave full credits and plot synopsis for each of the titles created during the theatrical golden age. I just cannot recall seeing this cartoon in heavy rotation on local TV, but I could be misremembering. There were cartoons now deemed taboo that were shown regularly on local TV airwaves, but most theatrical cartoons were gone from the local feeds of the major networks by the mid-1960’s and replaced by the dawning of Saturday morning as kids’ TV time, and I think that most of such titles vanished from rotation on syndicated networks as well, save for some SPEEDY GONZALES cartoons.

    As for Bugs Bunny “mocking” the hunter’s talk and gait at the close of the cartoon, well, he mocked just about everyone who decided to hunt rabbit or invade his space in individual cartoons. I don’t know how popular Lincoln Theodore Perry’s Stepin Fetchit character was in the 1940’s, and I wonder how the comedian thought about the caricatures, if he’d ever seen these. Since no one is made aware of the films that feature Stepin Fetchit in cameo, obviously this cartoon would seem as if it is obnoxiously mocking an entire race, but it has to be seen in proper context and, if you were to see all Warner Brothers cartoons through the years you can see where the caricature comes from.

    Thanks for talking about this in depth, and I hope that Bosko is further discussed in future such columns, from his LOONEY TUNES to MGM days.

  • If it helps, former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, was a fan of probably the most famous of the so-called Censored 11: “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.” I can’t seen him having a problem with this one. (It tends to be white liberals who make the biggest fuss over supposedly “racist” imagery of decades past, as if vying for a Most Offended prize–and also as if members of the social group represented by the “racist” image can’t speak for themselves.)

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