A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Did Bugs Bunny appear in a racist cartoon during World War II?

February 5, 2002

Dear Straight Dope:

Here's something I've been intensely curious about ever since I caught wind of it. You obviously know that many of the older Warner Bros. cartoon shorts that were shown in the 50s had references to food/fuel rationing, war bonds, etc. You also surely know of all the fairly racist short films decrying the Japanese as a tiny, yellow, warmongering people. Here's my question: I've been told that even Bugs Bunny was unable to escape being put into one of these films, and that there's a now-banned Warner Bros. short where our favorite rabbit puts it to some shoeless Japanese antagonist who naturally speaks in slurred "Japanglish." I can't seem to dig up anything besides vague references to "racist" cartoons, and most of those are referring to Speedy Gonzales being removed from the air because of the WB's worries that people might be offended. So, did this thing exist or not? Were there more?

You're not hallucinating. The cartoon you're looking for is called "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," directed by Friz Freleng and released back in 1944. In it, Bugs is trapped on a deserted island and has to grapple with a ridiculously stereotyped Japanese--short, buck teeth, big round glasses, slanty eyes and all. Bugs also went up against Hermann Göring in "Herr Meets Hare" (1945). Even earlier, Stalin, Hitler and Hirohito came in for some fairly extreme stereotyping in 1941's "The Ducktators."

The people at Disney also got into the act and although they didn't have quite the taste for racial or national stereotypes, they did win the awards. "Der Fuehrer's Face" in 1943 featured Donald Duck as a Nazi munitions worker forced to alternate between screwing the tops onto bombs and saluting pictures of Hitler. It featured the title song, written by Oliver Wallace, which went on to become a major wartime hit later performed by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. It also won the Oscar for best short cartoon for that year.

"Banned," however, is a pretty strong word and tends to indicate some sort of government intrusion or censorship. That didn't happen, but you would be hard pressed to find some of these shorts on television these days. The reason for this dates back to 1968 when most Warner shorts were owned by United Artists, which created the "Censored 11" list of shorts it refused to air or, later, put on videotape or laserdisc. For the most part these shorts dealt in insulting racial stereotypes, mostly directed against blacks. The list includes :

  • "Hittin' the Trail to Hallelujah Land" (1931)
  • "Sunday Go to Meetin' Time" (1936)
  • "Clean Pastures" (1937)
  • "Uncle Tom's Bungalow" (1937)
  • "Jungle Jitters" (1938)
  • "The Isle Of Pingo Pongo" (1938)
  • "All This and Rabbit Stew" (1941)
  • "Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs" (1943)
  • "Tin Pan Alley Cats" (1943)
  • "Angel Puss" (1944)
  • "Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears" (1944)

In 2001 the people at Cartoon Network announced a "June Bugs" marathon in which they stated that every single Bugs Bunny short would be shown. They were wrong--they were asked to remove some shorts by Warner Bros. (AOL Time Warner is Cartoon Network's parent company.)  The list of shorts you may never see again has been augmented by another 11 that the current owners refuse to show. They are :

  • "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" (1941)
  • "All This & Rabbit Stew" (1941)
  • "Any Bonds Today" (1942)
  • "What's Cookin' Doc" (1944)
  • "Herr Meets Hare" (1945)
  • "A Feather in his Hare" (1948)
  • "Mississippi Hare" (1949)
  • "Frigid Hare" (1949)
  • "Which is Witch?" (1949)
  • "Bushy Hare" (1950)
  • "Horse Hare" (1960)

But there is hope. According to an E Online article at www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1 ,8217,00.html, "the Cartoon Network is planning a separate program about Bugs Bunny cartoons made during World War II, unflattering portrayals and all."

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