What's Opera, Doc?

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What's Opera, Doc?
Merrie Melodies (Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd) series
What's Opera Doc Lobby Card.PNG
Lobby card
Directed by Chuck Jones
Produced by Edward Selzer
Story by Michael Maltese
Voices by Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny)
Arthur Q. Bryan
(Elmer Fudd-uncredited)
Music by Richard Wagner
Milt Franklyn
Michael Maltese
(lyrics: "Return My Love")
Animation by Ken Harris
Richard Thompson
Abe Levitow
Layouts by Maurice Noble
Backgrounds by Phillip DeGuard
Studio Warner Bros. Cartoons
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)
  • July 6, 1957 (1957-07-06)
Color process Technicolor
Running time 6:53 (one reel)
Language English

What's Opera, Doc? is a 1957 American animated cartoon comedy musical short in the Merrie Melodies series, directed by Chuck Jones for Warner Bros. Cartoons.[1] The Michael Maltese story features Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny through a parody of 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), Der Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser. It borrows heavily from the second opera in the "Ring Cycle" Die Walküre, woven around the standard Bugs-Elmer conflict.

Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What's Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as Bugs and Elmer, respectively. The short is also sometimes informally referred to as ''Kill the Wabbit'' after the line sung by Fudd to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", the opening passage from Act Three of Die Walküre (which is also the leitmotif of the Valkyries).

In 1994, 1,000 members of the animation industry ranked What's Opera, Doc? first in a list of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time.[2]

This is the third of the three Warner Bros. shorts (the others being Hare Brush and Rabbit Rampage) in which Elmer defeats Bugs, as well as the only one where the former shows regret for defeating the latter, and the last Elmer Fudd cartoon that Jones directed.


The screen pans on the silhouette of a mighty Viking (Possibly Thor) arousing ferocious lightning storms, but then zooms in to reveal that it is only Elmer Fudd in armor (as the demigod Siegfried). Elmer sings his signature line "Be vewy qwiet, I'm hunting wabbits" in "wecitative" (recitative), before he finds "wabbit twacks" (rabbit tracks) and arrives at Bugs Bunny's hole. We watch as Elmer jams his spear into Bugs' hole to "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!" Bugs sticks his head out of another rabbit hole, and, appalled, sings his signature line "What's up, doc?" to the theme of Siegfried's horn call from the Ring Cycle. He asks Elmer how he will kill the rabbit, then taunts Elmer about his "spear and magic helmet". This prompts a display of Elmer-as-Siegfried's "mighty powers", set to the overture of The Flying Dutchman, which causes lightning to strike the tree next to Bugs. At that, Bugs flees, Elmer realizes "That was the wabbit!", and the chase begins.

Suddenly, Elmer stops in his tracks at the sight of the beautiful Valkyrie Brünnhilde (Bugs in a drag queen disguise), riding in grandly on her horse Grane, who is enormously fat (in Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist, director Jones notes that the production team "gave the horse the operatic curves we couldn't give Bugs"). "Siegfried" and "Brünnhilde" exchange endearments, set to the "Pilgrims' Chorus" theme from Tannhäuser as orchestrated in the opera's overture.

After the usual "hard to get" pursuit they perform a short ballet (based on the Venusberg ballet in Tannhäuser), capping it off with the duet "Return My Love" set to another section of the Tannhäuser overture as the pair meet at a gazebo. Bugs' true identity is suddenly exposed when his headdress falls off, enraging Elmer. Bugs yanks Elmer's helmet down over his head and uses it as a chance to escape, discarding his disguise. A crescendo drum roll is playing while Elmer struggles to fix his helmet. When Elmer puts his helmet into the right position, the "Ride" overture plays once again and the white gazebo turns red (reflecting Elmer's anger), resolving to himself "I'll kill the wabbit!" prompting him to command fierce lightning, "typhoons, huwwicanes, earthquakes" and, finally, "SMOG!!!" (a word Elmer screams which was not done by Bryan, but by Blanc[3]) to "stwike de wabbit!" while music from The Flying Dutchman plays in the background.

Eventually, the ensuing storm tears apart the mountains where Bugs has fled. Elmer triumphantly rushes to see his victory, but upon seeing Bugs' intact yet seemingly lifeless body, Elmer immediately regrets his wrath and tearfully carries the bunny off, presumably to Valhalla in keeping with the Wagnerian theme, per Act III of The Valkyries (although the music again comes from the overture to Tannhäuser). Bugs suddenly raises his head to face the audience, breaking the fourth wall, and remarks, "Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?", before going back to playing dead, undoing the intended sad conclusion. The Merrie Melodies end title card then appears.


Wagner's music

When presented in the 1979 compilation The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, Bugs Bunny claims that the short was the whole of Wagner's 17-hour Opera Cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung, which he mispronounced as "The Rings of Nibble-lung" in his Brooklynese accent), condensed into only 7 minutes. He also pronounced Richard Wagner as it would be pronounced in English (wag-ner), instead of its usual German pronunciation Rikard Vagner. Besides the second opera of Ring, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and the third opera of the Ring, Siegfried, other Wagnerian music present in the cartoon comes from Tannhäuser, The Flying Dutchman and Rienzi. Specific excerpts include:

  • The overture from The Flying Dutchman: opening storm scene
  • Siegfried's horn call from Siegfried: "O mighty warrior of great fighting stock"
  • The overture and "Pilgrims’ Chorus" from Tannhäuser: "O Bwünnhilde, you'w so wuvwy", "Return my love", and the closing scene
  • The overture from Rienzi: as Elmer is chasing Bugs.
  • The Bacchanal from Tannhäuser: ballet scene between Elmer and Bugs


The cartoon is widely regarded as Chuck Jones’ masterpiece, and many film critics, animation fans and filmmakers consider it to be the greatest of all the cartoons Warner Bros. released. It has topped many Top Ten lists of the greatest animated cartoons of all time. It was rated by a panel of over 1000 animators in Jerry Beck's 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals as the #1 greatest cartoon of all time.[4]

In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, making it the first cartoon to receive such honors. Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening were later inducted into the registry, making Chuck Jones the only animator with three shorts thus recognized.[5]


What's Opera, Doc? required about six times as much work and expense as any of the other six-minute cartoons his production unit was turning out at the time. Jones has admitted as much, having described a surreptitious re-allocation of production time to complete the short.[6] During the six minutes of What's Opera, Doc?, Jones lampoons Disney's Fantasia, the contemporary style of ballet, Wagner's perceived ponderous operatic style, and even the by-then clichéd Bugs-and-Elmer formula.

Michael Maltese devised the story for the cartoon, and also wrote lyrics to Wagner's music to create the duet "Return My Love". Art director Maurice Noble devised the stylized backdrops. The cartoon drew upon previous Warner studio work: Maltese originated the concept of Bugs in Valkyrie drag riding a fat horse to the Tannhäuser Pilgrim's Chorus in the suppressed 1945 wartime cartoon Herr Meets Hare, directed by Friz Freleng.


See also



  1. ^ What's Opera, Doc? at the Big Cartoon DataBase
  2. ^ Beck, edited by Jerry (1994). The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected By 1,000 Animation Professionals (1st ed.). Atlanta: Turner Pub. ISBN 1-878685-49-X.
  3. ^ What's Opera, Doc? at the Internet Movie Database. Although Arthur Q. Bryan was the voice of Elmer at the time and performed the character for all but a single one-word line of the cartoon, Mel Blanc voiced the character for one word "SMOG!!!" because Blanc could scream the line better than Bryan. Blanc did not take over as the voice of Elmer until 1972; in the interim, Hal Smith voiced Elmer after Bryan's death in December 1959.
  4. ^ Turner Pub; 1st ed edition (October 1994); ISBN 978-1-878685-49-0
  5. ^ "National Film Registry: 1989–2007". LOC.gov. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  6. ^ Cartoons were scheduled for a five-week production, according to producer Eddie Selzer. Jones did this cartoon in seven weeks instead. To cover up for the extra time spent, he had his entire unit doctor their time cards to make it appear as if they working on the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short Zoom and Bored (1957) for two weeks before production of that cartoon actually started.


  • Beck, Jerry and Friedwald, Will (1989): Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company.
  • Richard Freedman, What's Opera, Doc?, Andante Magazine, March 2002
  • Goldmark, Daniel (2005): "What's Opera, Doc? and Cartoon Opera", in Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon, University of California Press.
  • Thomas, Todd and Barbara, WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? – An analysis of the various Richard Wagner operas used throughout the cartoon

External links

  • What's Opera, Doc? at The Big Cartoon DataBase
  • What's Opera, Doc? on IMDb
  • Andante Magazine article on What's Opera, Doc? and Rabbit of Seville
  • Intimate Enemies: What's Opera, Doc? followed by Bugs Loves Elmer Redux analyze the cartoon at New Savanna blog.
Preceded by
Piker's Peak
Bugs Bunny Cartoons
Succeeded by
Bugsy and Mugsy
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