“A Political Cartoon”: Looking back at the 1974 short film featuring Bugs Bunny

By on July 27, 2015

Awhile back we came across this clever 16mm satiric short film, a mix of live-action and cartoon called simply “A Political Cartoon,” which tells of a cartoon character named Peter President who gets elected to the highest office in the land, President of the United States, and honestly, it doesn’t seem too far off from the cartoonish buffoonery we’re going through right now, leading up to the 2016 elections, does it? We thought we’d share it with you today on the anniversary of Bugs Bunny’s birth, July 27, 1940 (and more about that in a sec).

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This 22-minute film was made on an obvious shoestring budget in the Boston suburbs in 1973, and was written and directed by Joseph Adamson, Jim Morrow and cartoonist Dave Stone (the latter two were high school filmmaking friends) and produced by Odradek Productions.

Update (March 28, 2016): Joe Adamson contacted Night Flight to provide some of the background details:

“Jim, Dave and I all knew each other and collaborated on each other’s films (some of which won awards) at Abington High School in suburban Philadelphia. We shot principal photography (all the Lance & Bernie scenes and the CCC) and the Panacea commercial, on the campus of Drew University and around town in Madison, NJ. Only two sequences (the live puppet at the end and the news conference) were shot in Boston environs (actually closer to Nashua, NH) )– other pickups (aerial image animation, etc.) were done in New York City and in State College, Pa. (where I was teaching at the time).”

The animation of Bugs Bunny was provided by Mark Kausler — he later worked on Looney Tunes: Back In Action — who also produced those particular pieces. Kausler jumped at the opportunity to work with the legendary Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs and many of the original Looney Tunes characters. The film stars Alex Krakower, Liam Smith, Marshall Anker, Allen Lieb, George Stapleford, Bob Kingsley and Mel Blanc.

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Made during Nixon’s second administration, the story follows two progressives who decide to run an animated character for President, which of course is a great premise to start with and allowed the filmmakers the chance to go off on several funny tangents. Here’s a breakdown:

0:00 Odradek Logo
0:13 Bugs Bunny Intro
0:26 Opening Credits
1:50 Lance Mungo Meets Bernie Wibble
2:44 Network TV Animated Cartoons
3:32 Lance, the political campaign manager
4:33 Creating Peter President
6:14 Peter President Elected President!
6:33 At The White House
6:47 Peter’s First Press Conference
8:49 Cartoon Characters Revolt!
10:26 Bugs Bunny Interview
10:46 Giving Bernie the Brushoff
11:18 Try New Panacea!
14:28 The Ink Runs Out
17:08 Recycle The President!
18:17 Consolidated Commerce Conglomeration Plays Dirty
18:56 The Wonderful World of Wibble!
20:13 Bubonics
22:01 End Credits

It was shown at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and ultimately released on VHS by Kino Video as a part of Cartoongate! (1996), a compilation reel of similarly-themed animated shorts, which also features: “Cartoongate” (Greg Ford – 1996), “Hell-bent For Election” (Chuck Jones – 1944), a few Eisenhower spots (uncredited – 1952 and 1956), “No Substitute” (Russell Calabrese – 1996), “Popeye For President” (Seymour Kneitel – 1956), an excerpt from Jimmy Who? (uncredited – 1975), Reaganocchio (Ken Kimmelman – 1984), “Now Is The Time For All Good Men” (uncredited – 1960), and “Political Basketball” (Greg Ford – 1992).

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Joseph Adamson has gone on to become a writer and assistant director, as he has a handful of credits to his name, including writing a TV documentary The Chaplin Puzzle (1992), a TV movie doc Tex Avery, the King of Cartoons (1988), a TV doc on the Marx Brothers (The Marx Brothers in a Nutsell, 1982) and he won an Emmy for his PBS documentary on W.C. Fields (W.C. Fields: Straight Up, 1986). His directing credits include some second assistant director work on several projects, including Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (he was a DGA trainee, 1986).

James Morrow — who had graduated from college a few years earlier when he and his friends made “A Political Cartoon” — went on to become a novelist and short-story writer, mostly in the genres of sci-fi and fantasy. He is known for filtering large philosophical and theological questions through his satiric sensibility. He is also the author of two unconventional historical novels, The Last Witchfinder and Galápagos Regained. He variously describes himself as a “scientific humanist,” a “bewildered pilgrim,” and a “child of the Enlightenment.”

David Stone, a Cornell University graduate in Fine Arts, went on to have a career in Hollywood too, beginning in animation at Hanna-Barbera, before moving over to work as a sound editor hundreds of films, including Gremlins, Top Gun, Die Hard, Speed, and Ocean’s 11, among others. He worked as a Supervising Sound Editor for projects as varied as Predator, Edward Scissorhands, Beauty and the Beast, Batman Returns, City Slickers 2, and Dolores Claiborne. He won the 1992 Academy Award for best Sound Effects Editing, for his supervising work on Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He is now a Professor and Chair of the Sound Design department at Savannah College of Art and Design.

(Thanks, Wiki and IMDB)

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Now, as for Bugs Bunny, he made his first appearance in a cartoon on July 27th, 1940, in Tex Avery’s “A Wild Hare.” The Warner Brothers animated short is widely considered to be the first definitive Bugs Bunny cartoon, in which the character’s appearance, personality and voice gelled as a whole. It’s also the first time Bugs, voiced by the inimitable Mel Blanc, uttered his famous catchphrase, “What’s up, doc?”

“The Wild Hare” bunny is uncredited in the film, though by 1954, TIME Magazine noted that he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. (Mel Blanc, who voiced the character, later claimed that the name was his idea, saying that they were going to call the character Happy Rabbit, but that Blanc suggested naming him after animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Alternatively, the name is sometimes traced to a sketch that designer Charles Thorson did on Hardaways’ request, with the caption “Bugs’ bunny”—as in, it was the bunny that Bugs had asked him to draw.)

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Though Virgil Ross was the animator on “A Wild Hare,” Chuck Jones became one of the more famous hands behind the Bugs Bunny magic. In 1979, when the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie came out, TIME critic Richard Schickel noted that “it is possible that some day Animator Chuck Jones may come to be regarded as the American Buñuel” for the fact that Jones and the groundbreaking surrealist filmmaker so well understood the psychological underpinnings of comedy.

In 2011, a matching set of hand-inked and -painted animation cel and final drawing of an animation cell, of Mark Kausler’s Bugs Bunny — used in the production of the film — went up for auction.

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Addendum (3/28/16): Joe Adamson also has five books out, available here.

He says: “Fans of my books have no idea I ever made films or worked on films made by others. One of my books is on Bugs Bunny, and another is on Tex Avery, who created him. My Wikipedia entry says little about me other than that my book on the Marx Bros., which came out in 1973 (while we were finishing this film), is still one of the most important ever written about the team. Also, some of our cels and drawings of Bugs went on the market as early as 1975.”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.