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"What's Opera, Doc?" is a 1957 Looney Tunes short famously described by director Chuck Jones as "our attempt to squish the entire Ring Cycle down to six minutes." The incredible part is that they succeeded.
Specifically, the short is an ambitious parody of the operas of Richard Wagner, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (especially Die Walküre), and (musically) Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhaeuser. It was written by Michael Maltese, who twelve years earlier had warmed up for the task with Friz Freleng's similar Herr Meets Hare, with Hermann Göring (!) in the Elmer Fudd part.
The plot follows Siegfried Fudd as he attempts to (what else?) kill innocent little forest critter Bugs Bunny with his "speaw and magic hewmet." Along the way Fudd manages to fall in love with what he does not realize is Bugs in drag as Brünnhilde; when he discovers he's been tricked, his tewwib — er, terrible wrath unleashes the full force of the helmet's awesome might: "Nowth winds bwow! South winds bwow! Typhoons! Huwwicanes! Eawthquakes! SMOOOOOOGGGGG!!"
As the tempest dies down, it reveals the broken form of the 'poor wittle wabbit', which he has to all appearances finally killed. Overcome by remorse, Fudd tenderly scoops up the body and marches sniffling into the sunset... at which point Bugs raises his head and inquires briskly of the audience: "Well what did ya expect in an opera — a happy ending?"
Naturally, as this is an opera, almost all of the dialogue is sung ("O mighty warrior of great fighting stock, / Might I inquire to ask, 'Ehh, what's up Doc?'" to the tune of Siegfried's "Horn Call"). Most famous is Elmer's continual refrain of "Kill da wabbit!" to the tune of the "Ride of the Valkyries". The brief ballet sequence between Siegfried and "Brünnhilde" was painstakingly choreographed by animators who studied film of actual dancers. There's even a duet, "Return, My Love", with original words by Maltese, to the tune of the "Pilgrims' Chorus" from Tannhaeuser.
Having taken roughly six times as much time and money to produce as most contemporary Looney Tunes shorts, this is possibly the most beloved and critically-acclaimed animated short of all time, topping numerous lists compiled by film critics and professional animators. In 1992, it became the first cartoon short to be deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and thus was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Moreover, it was chosen by a number of animation industry insiders for the Number One spot on the list of The 50 Greatest Cartoons. It has also earned a position on The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.
Tropes in this cartoon:
- Affectionate Parody: Of everything Wagnerian and Romantic in general.
- Amusing Injuries: This most-favored-Trope of Looney Tunes is surprisingly averted at the end.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Typhoons! Huwwicanes! Earthquakes! SMOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGG!"
- The Bad Guy Wins: Yes, you read that correctly. Lampshaded as well.
- Berserk Button: When Elmer catches on to Bugs' tricks, all hell breaks loose.
- Big Shadow, Little Creature: The opening, when Elmer Fudd first appears.
- Brawn Hilda: Averted; Bugs as Brünnhilde is really quite petite.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: "Well, what did you expect in an opera — a HAPPY ending?"
- Clothes Make the Superman: Elmer Fudd's "spear and magic helmet" allow him to control the weather and finally kill da wabbit... kind of.
- Cool Helmet: Elmer's magic helmet.
- Cradling Your Kill: What Elmer does after he has killed da Wabbit.
- Downer Ending: Lampshaded by Bugs.
- Hat of Power: The magic helmet, of course.
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- Nerd in Evil's Helmet: Elmer Fudd wearing a magic helmet instead of his usual hunter cap.
- Oh Crap: When Bugs realizes Elmer wasn't bluffing about his Helmet's powers, complete with doe eyes and drooping ears.
- Pun-Based Title
- Wecycled IN SPACE!: This short is basically just your typical Bugs Bunny being hunted by Elmer Fudd scenario...but this time, AS AN OPERA! And ELMER WINS!
- Alternately, The Ring Cycle Abridged WITH BUGS BUNNY!
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Elmer gets this as well as everything around him glowing red with rage when he catches on to Bugs' tricks.
- Scenery Porn: Particularly when Elmer carries Bugs away.
- Shock and Awe: "Stwike, wightning! Stwike da wabbit!"
- Siegfwied Fudd Syndwome
- Sophisticated As Hell: Opera motifs. Ballet. Love duets. Wagnerian motifs. Yet Siegfried is still out to "kill da wabbit."
- Stylistic Suck: Not the cartoon itself by any means, but the song "Return My Love" was deliberately written to be as sappy and cliche as possible.
- Team Rocket Wins
- Unexplained Recovery: Bugs suddenly recovers, to deliver the Punch Line.
- Unsettling Gender Reveal: Brünnhilde was da wabbit! Leading to Elmer's Villainous Breakdown.
- Valkyries: Bugs as Brünnhilde, obviously.
- Villainous Breakdown: When Elmer discovers who his love really is.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Bugs at one point in the short.
- Chuck Jones wrote that, since Road Runner cartoons were faster and cheaper to make, the animators were able to complete all of them within the studio's time and budget constraints