Saturday, July 20, 2013

Non-Nominated Highlight - Rhapsody Rabbit (1946)

So I'm sure you've noticed in my last review that I kept alluding to a great controversy, the greatest in the history of the Best Animated Short category and one of the greatest in animation history. As you know, The Cat Concerto took home the Oscar. Unfortunately, it was not the only film that year from a major studio that featured a popular mascot character playing Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" only to be bothered by an uninvited guest. For at the very same time Friz Freleng and his crew at Warner Bros. was making their own film of a similar nature: Rhapsody Rabbit.

In Rhapsody Rabbit it was Bugs Bunny that was playing the piano. After disposing of an annoying spectator with a hacking dry cough, he settles into his performance. At first things were going smoothly except for when he was interrupted by a phone call. However, then a mouse living inside the piano appeared and began trying to join in on the performance, much to Bugs's displeasure. Can he complete the performance successfully?

Whether it was due to simple alphabetical order or some string pulling behind the scenes, but The Cat Concerto got to play first whenever the eligible films were screened for Academy members. The audience got a kick out of the gags from Hanna and Barbera. And when Rhapsody Rabbit finally played it seemed like it was the same film again. And when the nominations were announced, Rhapsody Rabbit was left off. Then word came out that Technicolor erred by sending footage of Rhapsody Rabbit to MGM by mistake. While Freleng himself never accused Hanna and Barbera of plagiarizing their work, the possibility of it was there, and several animation fans have jumped to that conclusion. I'm not well versed enough in animation history to tackle this controversy with authority (especially not after historian Thad Komorowski wrote a great post about it earlier in the year), but I do think that no plagiarism occurred.

Still the outrage over the snub was enough that many have posited that Rhapsody Rabbit was a superior film to The Cat Concerto, but I don't buy that. Even though the two films have similar premises, they're different in that the The Cat Concerto takes more of a focus on the bickering between Tom and Jerry, while Rhapsody Rabbit spends much more time on visual gags on the strange ways that Bugs plays the piano. The gags themselves are decent, such as showing Bugs playing the piano as though he was working on a typewriter, complete with moving keys and having to push the keys back. However, the the gags don't seem to flow very nicely, making them seem kind of disjointed. The funniest part to me may be Bugs shooting the audience member, just because of how un-politically correct it is in this day in edge. Who knows? Perhaps I'm reacting just like the Academy members and biased toward the film I saw first.

In the end Edward Selzer still got an Oscar nomination from the hard work of his staff at Termite Terrace with the film Walky Talky Hawky, which I feel is better than Rhapsody Rabbit. Perhaps even if Rhapsody Rabbit had gotten nominated Selzer would have withdrew one of the nominations like he would do with Canary Row three years later. At any rate I thought the Academy got it right, but the controversy does provide some good publicity for the Best Animated Short category.

Anyways, we'll let you be the judge. Here's the film in its entirety, even with the oft-cut shooting scene.

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