Hare Ribbin’ is not a Looney Tunes cartoon I particularly dig. Not that it’s bad, it’s a perfectly fine Clampett-directed Bugs Bunny toon: it’s briskly paced, there’s plenty of excellently expressive animation by Bob McKimson, Rod Scribner, Manny Gould and Gil Turner, and it has one hell of an ending – in which Bugs gets a dog to shoot himself/Bugs shoots a dog point-blank in the face.
Hang on, what?
The part about Hare Ribbin’ that’s most interesting to me is that there’s actually two versions that exist: the theatrical cut that serves as the basis for any TV airing and standard home video releases, and the original “director’s cut” which went unreleased for decades until a 35mm reel was found in the possession of film collector Phil Johnson and subsequently featured on the The Golden Age of Looney Tunes and Looney Tunes Golden Collection releases.
The theatrical cut made a handful of edits to the original version – a few sequences were trimmed down, a brand new shot was added, and the ending was famously (and somewhat hastily) redone to try and make it less violent. I’ve always been fascinated by comparing different versions of a work, seeing how the changes in one inform my understanding of the other, and I thought it’d be fun to talk about those edits.
I’m gleefully riffing on the style of edit comparisons as featured on the excellent Dirty Feed blog, so I’ll be including time-codes to show where the edits occur, accompanied by videos comparing both versions.
Since the “director’s cut” is the longer version, I’ll be using that as the basis for the timecodes.
(00:50) Trim: Rabbit Sniffing
About eleven seconds are cut from the sequence where the dog runs into Bugs and sniffs him for an extraordinarily long time, ending with the dog exclaiming the Lifebuoy foghorn “B.O.”
It’s a small trim, making it so the dog only gives Bugs the full-body sniffover once instead of twice. I’m rather confused as to why the edit was made, but it does pick up the pace in what’s an admittedly slow introduction. At the same time, I think the original being so long compliments the joke of the dog taking so long to realize Bugs is a rabbit. Either way works.
Something that I picked up on after a while is that the edit has been timed so that it fits naturally into Carl Stalling’s score, both in terms of the music’s tempo and the melody. The score for the short would have already long since been recorded, and there wouldn’t be enough time to go back and re-record given the overall hastiness of the edits and how brief the added/re-done cuts are.
This consideration for editing to the music’s tempo also occurs for the other edits, making sure it’s as invisible as it can be despite resulting in some visually abrupt cuts. Case in point, the jump cut from the dog sniffing the ground to sniffing Bugs at the tree. Both versions actually have this, but the theatrical version is more noticeable due to removing the dog’s build-up to sniffing Bugs. Here, he’s already in the thick of it.
(03:23) Cut: Horny Dog Panting
A brief two-and-a-half second cut is made to the scene where the dog sees Bugs as a mermaid, removing the shot where he lustfully pants after her.
Again, I’m not really sure what the point of this specific cut was. I think it helps to build up the dog’s lusting for the mermaid, but him going straight for her after her close-up shot works fine enough. The editing is again done to respect the timing of the music, and thanks to the removed shot being a close-up, it manages to be the most seamless of the trims.
(As a side note, the cut is identical to one seen in The Hep Cat produced a couple years earlier – Thanks to Gastón A. Guzman from YouTube for pointing this out in the comments of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ_Nww7gpCQ)
(04:01) Trim: Playing Tag
The most substantial trimming, in which the first 13 seconds of the dog and Bugs’ tag game is removed.
This is the one trimming I feel works against the short. There’s a progression the severity of Bugs’ “tags”, which is complimented immensely by the music playing out and completing its melody, and this gets lost when you only have the back half of the sequence. And unlike the other trims, I can’t really think of anything positive to be gained from it. The world is a lesser place for having less of the dog and Bugs’ coyly prancing about.
The editing tries its best, but the jump cut is abrupt and this even affects the music just enough to be noticeable. Though that can be rather funny too in its own way.
(06:50) Addition: Sandwich Surprise
A newly animated two second-long cut is placed during the sequence where Bugs is now in the sandwich, “awaiting” to be eaten by the dog. In this shot, Bugs looks to the audience as he secretly opens up the sandwich and shows us that he’s tucked his legs in.
(Note: unlike the previous three clips, I’ve left the audio to both versions playing so you can tell that they use the same music/sounds/vocals despite the newly added cut)
I won’t talk about the implications of this shot just yet, since I think it’s better served to explain my thoughts on the ending shortly. But it is interesting how this shot was essentially placed over part of the original, not changing the timing of the music or the dog’s sounds. It’s rather abrupt in how quickly it appears, but it does do a surprisingly solid job at conveying its information within just two seconds.
(07:38) Change: Ending
The most infamous change, in which the ending is drastically altered. The dog is in despair over having killed Bugs, howling that he wishes he were dead, when Bugs asks him if he means it. In the original cut, Bugs pulls out a gun and SHOOTS THE DOG POINT-BLANK IN THE FACE. While in the theatrical cut, Bugs hands the dog the gun and the dog shoots himself through the head.
(Note: this clip also features the audio from both versions, which features slightly different timings on Bugs’ line along with another audio change I discuss below.)
The redone sequence consists of a close-up shot of the dog’s suicide and then cutting back to the earlier shot, but with the dog’s collapse reanimated to be less intense. (Bugs is also redrawn, so he’s just standing there now.)
What’s curious about this edit is that while the music is the exact same, the gunshot is moved a couple beats forward so that there’s enough time to establish the action in the close-up shot.
This ending was reworked to be considerably less “violent” (which is a thoroughly dubious notion considering we’re seeing a dog shoot himself in the head), though I can’t find anything that digs further into this beyond speculation that a studio administrator might’ve made the call to re-edit the short rather than a censor. (At least according to the book “Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America” by Karl F. Cohen)
Regardless, I’m fascinated by how hysterically bleak both endings are, especially the original where Bugs just pulls out a gun and SHOOTS THE DOG POINT-BLACK IN THE FACE. They are deeply grim, certainly more cruel than anything usually associated with Bugs, but I find the audacity causes them to become so grim they shoot the moon and go back round to being funny for exactly those reasons.
I think the reworked ending has a unique kind of awfulness, where Bugs just enables the dog to act upon his wish of despair with the most unnervingly casual smile on his face and coldly watches the dog end himself. And I do admire trying to make a new ending while keeping as much of what had already been done, with that close-up shot acting as a quick and easy way of getting to the new animation.
However, I much prefer the original ending. Part of that is admittedly a gut reaction, from seeing the truly absurd image of Bugs suddenly pulling out a gun with this stone-sold expression, pointing it right at the dog’s face and shooting him without a second’s thought. It’s also beautifully timed, with each line and action given just enough time to register:
1. Bugs isn’t dead! He’s alive!
2. Wait, why’s he asking “ehhh, d’ya mean it?”
3. Hold up, he’s pointing a gun at the dog, wha-
4. BUGS BUNNY JUST SHOT A DOG POINT-BLANK IN THE FACE
Now, that first thought process shouldn’t really be a shock, right? Bugs is infamous for doing these kinds of death fakeouts where he guilt-trips the hunter into thinking they’ve killed him. It’s always played for laughs, cuz we know he’s gonna get up while the hunter’s mourning their actors and screw around with them even more. Well, that’s why I wanted to talk about this added shot from earlier on.
While it may be obvious that Bugs is just messing with the dog, this shot wasn’t included in the original cut. Why? Perhaps it wasn’t needed; considering Bugs literally puts himself into a giant comical sandwich and lets the dog know he’s ready, he’s hardly going to let himself get eaten.
But there’s another thought. What if, for the sake of that ending and its marvellous “1-2-3” punch of revelations, you let the audience think that Bugs has actually died? We never see him showing us what he’s up to, so from our perspective, the dog just takes a big bite out of him and he dies. There’s enough ambiguity in there to make one wonder if Bugs made a mistake somewhere, or got in way over his head this time and actually died.
Like a magic act that tricks the audience into thinking the participant is in genuine danger, the trick is not to show your hand. That way, you keep up the shock and horror until just the right moment, and then release it in a stunning twist where you show the participant is alive after all. That added cut of Bugs showing us what he’s up to removes that ambiguity, but it also removes that same kind of shock and horror.
The ending where Bugs is perfectly fine and messes with the dog yet again now feels like an inevitability, rather than a stunning twist that caps off the whole show. For me, that plays a big role in why the original ending makes me laugh as hard as it does. Meanwhile, the reworked ending is doing the usual Bugs Bunny thing but in a surprisingly cruel fashion that also happens to end the short. It works for what it is, but it’s got nothing on that original ending as far as I’m concerned.
In general, I think the original cut is the better version of Hare Ribbin’. Not because it’s the unaltered “pure artist’s vision” or such guffery, but because I feel it executes its ideas more compellingly than the theatrical edit. The latter version obviously wasn’t produced under the most ideal circumstances and, despite the good intentions to make the best of what they could work within, the hastiness shows through enough that I consider it inferior.
But in spite of everything, the fact that we’ve got two different versions of the same short to directly compare and contrast is incredibly cool! Most of the time, if there are any stories about edits or changes to Golden Age cartoons, we can only work from scraps of the past – interviews, hearsay, maybe production materials if we’re really lucky. Not so with Hare Ribbin’, and that makes for a Looney Tunes cartoon that I find so intriguing in a way like nothing else.
Special thanks go to:
Christoonlover from the World Animation Discord, who posted the Hare Ribbin’ comparsion video that got me interested in researching this to begin with.
Gilition, who made the Hare Ribbin’ comparison video, and Gastón A. Guzman for pointing out the identical cut from The Hep Cat in the comments.
John J. Hoare, the writer of Dirty Feed, for both inspiring the format of this article and for reading the draft and giving feedback.
FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.