Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!

Two rare hand-inked and hand-painted production cels from the classic 1957 Warner Brothers cartoon What’s Opera, Doc? in which Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd exposed many children to the first and possibly only Wagner arias they’d ever known, will be going under the hammer at Heritage Auctions on April 9th, 2015. Only a handful of cells from this instant classic have survived the callous treatment they received in their time. These two have the advantage of being iconic images and having been rescued by a legendary animator who has kept them safe at home for all these decades.

What’s Opera, Doc? was directed by Chuck Jones (legend), voiced by Mel Blanc (legend) as Bugs with animation by Ken Harris (legend). Just six minutes long, the cartoon took seven weeks to produce, two weeks more than scheduled. Jones was so committed to this story that he made his crew falsify their time cards to say those extra two weeks were spent on a Road Runner cartoon that wasn’t in production yet. “For sheer production quality, magnificent music, and wonderful animation,” Jones said, “this is our most elaborate and satisfying production.” His instincts were unerring. Voted number one of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by 1,000 members animators in 1994, What’s Opera, Doc? was also the first cartoon Congress deemed worthy of preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992.

One lot captures Elmer in his Siegfried outfit lifting up Brünnhilde Bugs during their dance inspired by the Bacchanal ballet in Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. It’s seven inches tall and while there is some paint loss and paint separation, it’s still graded in Good condition.

The second cel is from the beginning of the cartoon and features Elmer as Siegfried holding on to his helmet and spear. It’s 6.5 inches square and only has slight spots of paint separation in the horns and spear. There is no paint loss so it’s graded in Very Good condition. Both cels have pre-sale estimates of $5,000 and up.

The animation cels were saved from the dustbin of history by another animation legend, Jerome Eisenberg, who worked as an animator on Jones’ unit at Warner Bros. in the mid-to-late-1950s, the Golden Age of Looney Tunes cartoons and who has held on to the cels for almost six decades.

Eisenberg moved from MGM Studios cartoon unit and joined Jones’ Warner Bros. unit just after “What’s Opera, Doc?” was completed, coming to Warner specifically to work with Jones.

“It was special to me to work in his unit,” said Eisenberg. “We had tremendous fun.”

One afternoon, to the best of his recollection, he was in one of the artists’ rooms, or in the room of the unit’s layout man, when he saw a group of cels on a table. The art appealed to him and, knowing that most animation art was simply stored and eventually trashed, he took a few.

“In those day I never thought much about saving them,” he said. “I really just saved them for the artwork.”

Bless his good taste.


29 thoughts on “Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!

  1. Wah, broken link. “This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

  2. Kill the Wrabbit, not the wideo! It’s wonderful to think that the fun and accomplishment were what made him take those cells, not other motives as one hears so much about today.

    Thank you for reminding me of a childhood favorite.

  3. “$5,ooo and up.”
    Ya think?
    They’ll go for no less than $25,000 … each.
    I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they see 6 figures each.

    1. I think the one with Elmer and Bugs dancing will go for significantly more than the one of Elmer alone. Online bidding is open and the dancing cel is already at $3,500 while Elmer is at $1,100. Those figures are sure to skyrocket on auction day, of course.

  4. A good book about Jones and those guys is “Chuck Amok”. The other opera one I love is where bugs conducts: Leopold, Leopold!

  5. Thank you, livius! I am happy now. Just need a box of popcorn to make it perfect. Oh, and I get to watch it without my little brothers bugging me. Er, so to speak…

    Imagine how much fun the animators had making this!

    1. You always want these kinds of artistic endeavours to be full of fun and experimentation and creativity, but so many times you find out that behind the scenes it was a horrible nightmare or an assembly line devoid of spirit or some other tragedy. It’s great to hear from people who were there that Chuck Jones’ shop really was as joyful and brilliant as their work suggests.

  6. Wow. Look at all the comments.
    I remember going to the movies to see the film version of La Triviata. In front of me sat two elderly dames, apparently opera lovers who hadn’t been in the cinema in a while. Prior to the movie, they ran “What’s Opera, Doc?” the women cracked up. After it ended, they got up to leave. I asked why. They said that was so wonderful they couldn’t stay for anything so sad and familiar as Verdi.


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  8. Many don’t realize this was a way for the Jewish Warner Brothers to poke fun at National Socialism’s favorite opera.

    Sieg Hahahahahahaha….

    Idiot Nazi Scum!

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