What's up, doc? In honour of the holidays we're pulling on our bunny ears, nibbling on a carrot and taking the measure of our favourite movie rabbits (with a hare or two thrown in).
First, a little history: Easter bunnies have been with us longer than you might think. The word "Easter" derives from "Eastre", a Saxon pagan goddess. Eastre, or Eostre, was the goddess of spring and fertility, and she was celebrated at the vernal equinox, and again on the first Sunday after the next full moon - which is why Easter is so early this year.
What's this got to do with rabbits? Eastre was associated with two fertility symbols: hares and eggs. Over time, the hare was replaced in many countries by the more common (and super-fertile) rabbit, who also took the credit for distributing those eggs. Somewhere along the line the Christians crashed the party.
In the movies, as we'll see, the rabbit comes in all shapes and sizes. The range is impressive. He can be small and cute, small and deadly, or even man-sized and monstrous. The rabbit can be smart and tricky or innocent and helpless. He crops up in children's films, in animation, in straight dramas (Rabbit Proof Fence), documentaries (Roger and Me) and horror movies (Night Of The Lepus) - but his forte is comedy. These days he's mostly stuck in meat-and-potato, blink and you miss him parts - and it must be said, he makes a very adaptable victim (see Fatal Attraction, Raising Arizona, and Local Hero, for starters). But looking back on this illustrious career you'll agree a comeback is definitely overdue.
10 Best Bunns
1. Bugs Bunny
No surprise, really. Bugs Bunny always wins. He's the most famous rabbit on the planet, and the smartest. But is Bugs a rabbit or a hare? It depends on what gag the writers at Looney Tunes wanted to work into a script. It doesn't matter, Bugs is one of a kind. Since his inception in 1939, he's starred in over 175 short films and a handful of features (though Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action do him a disservice). Bugs is a sarcastic New York kind of rabbit, always ready with a quip - some historians suggest he owes his wit (and his trademark carrot) to the example of cigar-toting funnyman Groucho Marx. But the image of the rabbit as trickster goes back to Bre'r Rabbit and Bugs' roots may stretch all the way to Africa. He was created collaboratively on Warner's Termite Terrace by animators Ben "Bugs" Hardaway (whose sketch for the character stuck), Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, and Friz Freleng. For five decades Mel Blanc supplied the wiseacre voice. "Bugs Bunny is a glorious personification of our most dapper dreams," theorized Jones. "We love Bugs because he is as wonderful as we would like to be." Maybe so. But he also makes us laugh.
There's something very unsettling about Frank, the 6' rabbit who foretells the end of the world to Donnie Darko. It's not just the stupid bunny suit - though that grin is pretty disturbing. Frank seems to know all the answers, it's just that he's reluctant to let on. Frank fans should also check out David Lynch's online soap opera Rabbits, which also crops up in Inland Empire. That's Naomi Watts doing the ironing.
3. Roger Rabbit
Roger is a slapstick clown, a toon town star who'll do anything for a laugh. The hilarious short at the beginning of Who Framed Roger Rabbit shows him at his best: agile and lightning fast, he's in the Tom And Jerry league. He's also unexpectedly sexy, at least according to his curvaceous spouse, Jessica. Charles Fleischer, who supplied Roger's voice, was last seen as one of the more sinister suspects in David Fincher's Zodiac.
4. The Were-Rabbit
Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a great rabbit movie, no two ways about it - and most of the little burrowing bounders are desperately sweet. The Were-Rabbit himself is a mutant breed of course, as large as Harvey with teeth the size of axe blades and ears like terrible tombstones; more than enough to make your veggies tremble.
"I'm thumpin'. That's why they call me Thumper." Maybe the cutest rabbit ever, Thumper deserves his own movie. Instead he's cast as sidekick to doe-eyed deer, Bambi. Thumper teaches him to skate, to eat his greens and to talk, though for some reason Bambi doesn't pick up on his lisp.
6. The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog
Looks can be deceiving. The killer rabbit of Caerbannog seems perfectly harmless, but as the knights of the round table discover in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the little fellow goes straight for the jugular. Best pack your Holy Hand Grenade, just in case…
John Hurt supplies the vocal chords for the leader of Richard Adams' band of displaced rabbits in the animated version of Watership Down. This isn't Disney - more like a furry, four-legged Schindler's List. Hazel's near-death experience involves Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes".
Harvey gets the title role in this Jimmy Stewart classic (vintage 1950) but you don't see all that much of him, he's invisible to everyone save his best friend, Elwood P Dowd. Nevertheless, he's a big bunny: 6'3 1/2", Elwood says, and cinematographer William Daniels framed his shots to accommodate his large screen presence. Elwood looks up to him too, even though Stewart was 6'4.
9. The White Rabbit
Lewis Carroll created the white rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date," he warbles in the Disney animated version (no wonder, his watch is exactly two days slow). He also has a key (if small) role in The Matrix.
10. Peter Rabbit
Mischievous Peter Rabbit was the hero of Beatrix Potter's first published book (in 1901), a story told in Miss Potter, in which Peter makes fleeting appearances. He has a starring role in the ballet film Tales Of Beatrix Potter, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton.
Ththththat's All Folks!
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