It’s the first of “All-Warners Wednesday” which means we breakdown a Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies short each Wednesday this month. Today’s initial installment presents the debut of the Tasmanian Devil!
As Warner Bros.’ animation department searched for a new adversary for Bugs Bunny in the early ‘50s, director Bob McKimson believed they used up every conceivable animal character, except a Tasmanian Devil. His writer, Sid Marcus, didn’t have knowledge of the creature but McKimson’s love of crossword puzzles gave him inspiration. In reality, the Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial—the largest of its kind—known for its intensity when feeding. McKimson designed the creature as a small, unruly monster with a gargantuan appetite. Upon his first entrance (animated by Phil De Lara), he spins like a whirlwind and is able to split a boulder in two, cut through trees and burrow himself into the ground and resurface again to a standing position, hunting for his next prey.
No records exist as to when the dialogue track or orchestral score occurred for Devil May Hare. It’s probable the dialogue sessions with Mel Blanc were recorded between October and November 1952; this film was in production in between Jones’ Bewitched Bunny (1954) and Freleng’s Lumber Jerks (1955) — Bea Benaderet recorded her lines in October for Jones, and Stan Freberg voiced for Freleng in November. Around this period — shortly after UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing won an Academy Award — the Warners cartoons were influenced by the studio’s modern, geometrical method in their backgrounds, with layouts by Bob Givens and backgrounds by Richard H. Thomas. Bugs and the Tasmanian Devil are full and dimensional, but the foliage in the backgrounds is painted as abstract stylizations with leaves mere lines in their representative colors, or in some cases, drawn lines with no filled color.
Devil May Hare was one of the last cartoons animated by the four principal animators in McKimson’s unit of animators before the studio shut down its animation department in 1953. Charles McKimson and Phil De Lara left Warners to work on comic books for Western Publishing. Herman Cohen left for Walter Lantz, and Rod Scribner moved to UPA. Their migration took an effect on McKimson’s cartoons after the studio reopened (beginning with Weasel Stop, released in 1956). The animation often couldn’t match the vitality of the earlier efforts, indicative that the new unit followed the director’s layouts precisely.
Charles McKimson isn’t assigned much footage in the film — he’s only credited for the opening scenes, with Bugs and the menagerie fleeing from the Tasmanian Devil, and the closing scenes where Bugs officiates the wedding between the Tasmanian Devil and the “lonely Lady-Devil,” dressed as a minister.
By comparison, Herman Cohen animates his scenes in a more flexible manner. In scene 43, even Bugs knows his ultimate scheme of seeking a female counterpart to marry the repulsive brute is twice as sickening. It’s telling in Bugs’ facial expressions as he quickly remarks to the audience before reaching the Tasmanian Post-Dispatch via telephone, “What I got up my sleeve shouldn’t happen.”
Phil De Lara and Rod Scribner animate their own sections that display the Tasmanian Devil’s voracious hunger. Scribner handles the sequence of Bugs melding a chicken with a mixture of liquid bubble gum and bicarbonate of soda (commonly known as baking soda). Before chewing—and suffering a hiccupping fit from—the fake poultry, the Devil scurries into the frame and whimpers like a restless dog. Scribner also animates Bugs using an inflatable raft to craft as a pig for the Devil’s next meal. De Lara animates the next sequences of Bugs preparing another course—a deer, with a barrel used for most of its body. The Devil is enraged by Bugs’ trickery and chases him up a tree. As Bugs tries to pacify him, the Devil takes large chomps from its trunk, lowering the tree with each bite.
After the cartoon was finished, producer Eddie Selzer felt the Tasmanian Devil was a violent, obnoxious character. He ordered McKimson not to make any more cartoons with the character, in the midst of production of another film. The reaction to the Tasmanian Devil was sensational; Jack Warner notified Selzer about numerous fan letters and demanded more appearances. Only four more cartoons (Bedevilled Rabbit, Ducking the Devil, Bill of Hare, and Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare) were produced with the Tasmanian Devil during the Warners theatrical era. He later became known as “Taz” (or “Taz Boy,” as some model sheets indicated). His popularity grew when the theatrical cartoons were shown on television, in addition to different merchandise sales. Taz played a bigger role with viewers when Warner Bros. Animation produced the animated show, Taz-Mania, which ran from 1991-95.
The draft for Devil May Hare reveals in scenes 10-16—in brief, vague descriptions—a deleted section where Bugs inflates a fake moose for the Tasmanian Devil to devour. He throws a large rock at the moose, but it bounces off and crushes the Devil, which leads to a chase. If the scenes had been kept, it would seem unnecessary for the Devil to have an appetite for larger game after being duped into digging for groundhogs as an appetizer.
The finished cartoon has some slight sound editing goofs: the opening of Bugs humming “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” as he empties his vacuum cleaner, is out of sync. During the wedding ceremony between the Devil and She-Devil, the voices for the two are switched before Bugs pronounces them “Devil and Devilish.”
(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Thad Komorowski, Keith Scott and Frank Young for their help.)