According to film and animation historians, Bugs Bunny first appeared in the cartoon short Porky's Hare Hunt, first released on April 30, 1938. The short was co-directed by Cal Dalton and Joseph Benson Hardaway, the latter better known as Ben Hardaway and nick-named "Bugs". The cartoon was more or less a copy of Porky's Duck Hunt, first released on July 7,1937, directed by Tex Avery and introducing Daffy Duck. Following this earlier film, the short cast Porky Pig as a hunter against an equally nutty prey, who was more interested in driving his hunter insane than running away. But instead of a black duck, his current prey was a tiny, white rabbit. This unnamed new character , with Mel Blanc already acting as his voice actor, would hardly be recognizable to today's audiences. And his introductory words were "Jiggers, fellers!". Perhaps more characteristically he quoted Groucho Marx in saying "Of course, you know, this means war.". Porky was the first of Bugs' opponents to end up hospitalized.
His second appearance was in Prest-O Change-O, first released on March 25, 1939, directed by Chuck Jones. There he serves as the pet rabbit of Sham-Fu the Magician, an unseen character. When two dogs enter the house of his absent master while seeking refuge from a storm, the rabbit starts harassing them. Bugs kisses one of the dogs twice. This is considered the first time where Bugs kisses his antagonist in order to confuse him. This is also the first time where his antagonist manages to defeat him.
His third appearance was in Hare-um Scare-um, first released in August 12, 1939, again directed by Dalton and Hardaway. Gil Turner, the animator for this short, was the first to give a name to the character. He had written "Bugs' Bunny" on his model sheet , meaning he considered the character to be Hardaway's. This short was also the first where Bugs was depicted as a grey bunny instead of a white one. The plot of the short was simple, Bugs was confronting another hunter and his hunting dog. But the short is notable as featuring Bugs' first singing role and also the first time where he dresses in drag to seduce his antagonist. Following this short he was given the name "Bugs" by the Termite Terrace animators in honor of his creator, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway.
His fourth appearance was in Elmer's Candid Camera by Chuck Jones, first released on March 2, 1940. There both Bugs and Elmer Fudd were redesigned to the appearances that would become familiar to audiences. It was the first meeting of the two characters. Elmer is just interested in taking photos of the country landscape but Bugs has found him a convenient victim to harass, just for the fun of it. Bugs true personality would then emerge in Tex Avery's A Wild Hare, first released on July 27, 1940. It was in this cartoon that he first emerged from his rabbit hole to ask Elmer Fudd, now a hunter, "What's Up Doc?". It is considered the first fully developed appearance of the character.
Bugs then made a cameo in Robert Clampett's Patient Porky, first released on September 14, 1940 to announce the birth of 260 rabbits. His seventh appearance, finally introduced the audience to the name Bugs Bunny which up till then was only used among the Termite Terrace. It was Chuck Jones' Elmer's Pet Rabbit, first released on January 4, 1941. It was also the first short where he got top billing. He would soon become the most prominent of the Looney Tunes characters as his calm, flippant insouciance endeared him to American audiences during and after World War II.
Bugs would appear in five more shorts during 1941. The first of them was Tex Avery's Tortoise Beats Hare, first released on March 22, 1941. It was based on a tale of Aesop, where a hare challenges a turtle to a race and loses due to his own overconfidence. But in this short Bugs was simply outwitted by his rival Cecil Turtle. The later had placed identical-looking relatives of his all over the course of the race to convince Bugs that he had outrun him. It was the first short where Bugs found himself at the receiving end of a plan aiming at the humiliation of an antagonist.Tex Avery would later re-use the idea of a large number of identical-looking relatives acting like a single person in his shorts starring Droopy Dog.
The second of them was Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt, first released on June 7, 1941. There Bugs found himself being hunted by "Little Hiawatha", a small version of Hiawatha. The short makes several references to "The Song of Hiawatha" , an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It should be perhaps noted that a cartoon short named Little Hiawatha, had already been released on May 15, 1937 featuring Hiawatha during his early childhood. It had been directed by David Dodd Hand (January 23, 1900 - October 11, 1986) as part of the Silly Symphonies series produced by Walt Disney. In any case "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" was the first short to have Bugs facing an Native American. Perhaps more importantly it was the first of Bugs' shorts to be directed by Friz Freleng.
The third was Tex Avery's The Heckling Hare, first released on July 12, 1941. In this case he faced not another hunter but instead a hound called Willoughby. In style that was at the time becoming typical of the character Bugs easily outwitted and tormented his antagonist through the short and there was only one thing puzzling him:"Let's see...what can I do to this guy next?".
Avery also directed the next of Bugs' shorts All this and Rabbit Stew first released on September 20, 1941. Bugs faces yet another hunter but this time he is an African American caricature, based on the tradition of Blackface performance. After outwitting, tormenting and humiliating his opponent Bugs convinces him to decide the outcome of their confrontation by throwing dice. Bugs strips the man of everything he has, including his clothes. At the end the man is left naked except of a fig leaf. He comments at his situation:"Just call me Adam", a reference to the story of Adam and Eve included in the Genesis. This was the last short starring Bugs to be directed by Avery who soon left the Studio after an argument of uncertain content with producer Leon Schlesinger. He would continue his career in the animation studio of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Bugs made his sixth and last appearance during the year in Wabbit Twouble, first released on December 20, 1941. It was directed by Robert Clampett who up till that point had only used Bugs in a cameo appearance made the previous year(see above). Bugs again became the unprovoked tormentor of Elmer Fudd. The latter was just seeking peace and relaxation during his vacation at "Jellostone National Park" (a play on the name of Yellowstone National Park). Besides Bugs, Elmer is also disturbed by an angry bear. By the end of the short all three of them have been arrested and jailed by the park ranger for disturbing the peace. The short is mainly noted for another redesign of Elmer as a somewhat taller and significantly fatter man than usual. The new appearance was modelled after his voice actor Arthur Q. Bryan.
Bugs then made a cameo in the travelogue short Crazy Cruise, first released in March 26, 1942. Tex Avery and Robert Clampett shared the credits for its direction. It is notable only because it was the last short Tex Avery directed while working for the Termite Terrace.
Bugs and Elmer met again in Friz Freleng's The Wabbit Who Came to Supper, first released on March 28, 1942. Elmer is hunting Bugs when a telegraph informs him that he is going to inherit $3,000,000 dollars from his uncle Louie in condition that he never harms any animals and especially rabbits. Bugs takes advantage of the situation to settle in Elmer's house and being a rather demanding house guest. At some point Elmer is informed that his uncle Louie died but due to inheritance taxes, he actually inherits nothing. Bugs finally leaves the house but soon sends a present for Elmer through mail. A box containing countless baby rabbits who crowd Elmer's house.
Bugs' next appearance was in a commercial short named Any Bonds Today, directed by Robert Clampett first released in April 2, 1942. During the short Bugs promotes the sale of government bonds to help finance USA's efforts in World War II. Bugs gives a song and dance number, then gives a blackface performance in parody of Al Jolson and he is joined at the finale by Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig. It is notable as the first musical short where Bugs appears. The fact that he is given top billing over both Elmer and Porky is evidence of his rising popularity at the time.
It should be noted that Bugs was not at all immune from the trend during WWII which placed popular cartoon characters from Disney, Fleischer (the creators of Popeye) and Warner Brothers studios in opposition to the time's biggest enemies: Hitler, Mussolini, Goring, and the Japanese. He was in "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips", put out in 1944, where he ends up on an island in the Pacific and he fights an entire fleet of horribly stereotyped Japanese soldiers. Released in 1945, there is also "Herr Meets Hare" which features both Goring and Hitler. Interestingly a scene in this short would later be duplicated for the "What's Opera Doc?" short with Elmer Fudd.
Bugs made six more appearances during 1942. The first of them was Robert Clampett's The Wacky Wabbit, first released on May 2, 1942. Bugs again takes pleasure in tormenting Elmer Fudd, who is cast as a gold prospector in the desert. The second of them was Hold the Lion, Please, first released on June 13, 1942. In it a lion tries to prove he is still "King of the Jungle" by hunting a small, defenseless animal and chooses Bugs as his intended victim. The lion soon finds out than in a battle of wits he is the defenseless one. But also discovers that Bugs has someone he answers to:his wife. It was the first and last appearance of Mrs. Bugs Bunny as Bugs is later again depicted as a bachelor. The short is more notable in being the first Bugs' short in two years to be directed by Chuck Jones.
The third was Robert Clampett's Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, first released on July 11, 1942. In it Mama Buzzard encourages her fledglings to learn to hunt for themselves. Beaky Buzzard, both physically and mentally the runt of the litter chooses Bugs as his target. Not only he fails but Bugs has to return him to his mother. The diminutive vulture made his debut in this film and would re-appear later. He was based on Mortimer Snerd, a puppet character voiced by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Beaky also somewhat resembled Goofy and the voice provided by his voice actor Kent Rogers (died in July, 1944) was also somewhat reminiscent of that of Pinto Colvig, Goofy's voice actor. In any case his creator Robert Clampett seemed to be getting the hang of directing Bugs Bunny by this point. This short also marks a slight redesign of Bugs, making less prominent his front teeth and making his head look rounder. The man responsible for this redesign was Robert McKimson at the time working as an animator under Robert Clampett. The redesign at first was only used in the shorts created by Clampett's production team but in time it would be adopted by the other directors and their units as well.
The fourth was Friz Freleng's Fresh Hare, first released on August 22, 1942. In it Bugs is hiding in the Northern Woods of Canada, while he is pursued by officer Elmer Fudd of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. According to the notice he holds, Bugs is wanted dead or alive, preferably dead. Despite his efforts Bugs is at last captured and sentenced to execution by firing squad. But as he is about to be executed, Bugs starts singing "Dixie's Land", a song written in 1859 by Daniel Decatur Emmett (October 29, 1815 - June 28, 1904). The execution field turns to a field of cotton and the mounted officers start performing a minstrel show.
Friz Freleng also directed the next of Bugs' shorts The Hare-Brained Hypnotist, first released on October 31, 1942. In it Elmer Fudd practices hypnotism in order to be able to finally capture Bugs. But during their confrontation, Bugs manages to hypnotize him into thinking he is a fellow rabbit. Believing apparently that he is Bugs, Elmer briefly introduces Bugs to the receiving end of some of his own tricks. Then they resume a battle in which they constantly try to hypnotize their opponent. At the end Elmer returns to normal but Bugs is left flying in search of an airport, believing he is a B-19 Bomber. The short is notable in being the first to turn the tables in the duo's relationship having Elmer act as the aggressor though briefly.
The ninth and last appearance of Bugs during the year was Chuck Jones' Case of the Missing Hare, first released on December 12, 1942. In it Bugs has made his home in a hollow tree and gets annoyed when the pompous stage magician Ala Bama (a play on the name of Alabama) places posters advertising his show around the tree. Bugs follows Ala Bama to his performance and gives a performance of his own, publicly humiliating and devastating the stage magician.
Bugs made seven more appearances during 1943. The first of them was Robert Clampett's Tortoise Wins by a Hare , first released on February 20, 1943. In a sequel to Tex Avery's Tortoise Beats Hare, Bugs challenges Cecil Turtle to a rematch. Following Cecil's suggestion Bugs constructs an aerodynamic suit for himself, which looks like a turtle shell. In contrast to it, Cecil plans to run disguised as a rabbit. What Bugs is unaware of is that a gambling ring of the rabbits' version of organized crime have bet on the rabbit's victory and want to make sure he wins. Cecil is aware of it and lets Bugs face whatever tricks the gamblers had prepared for him. Bugs gives his best running effort but as he is about to approach the finish line and already tastes victory, he is attacked by a group of Rabbit Thugs. While they are busy beating him , Cecil has all the time he needs to reach the finish line and have another easy victory over Bugs. The later is reduced to sobbing on the ground. On a bit of what was at the time wishful thinking the newspaper announcing the rematch also has an article announcing that "Adolf Hitler Commits Suicide". Ironically Adolf Hitler would actually commit suicide on April 30, 1945, more that two years after the shorts' release. By coincidence this suicide would happen at the anniversary of Bugs' own early debut in Porky's Hare Hunt (see above). In any case this short is also notable for the passion for victory that Bugs exhibits during it. Even his voice, again provided by Mel Blanc, is far from the somewhat disinterested tone and the wise-cracks that are usual for him. It has been commented that this only added to the audiences' empathy for the character.
The second short of the year was Chuck Jones' Super Rabbit, first released on April 3, 1943. In parody of the influential superhero Superman, who was at the time starring in a series of animated shorts by Fleischer Studios, Bugs gained super powers. This was a result of his consumption of super carrots, developed by Professor Canafrazz. His first mission was to face Cottontail Smith, a Texas cowboy notorious for his hatred of rabbits. This was also the last mission of Bugs as a superhero. In a bit of patriotism prevalent at the time Bugs abandons his colorful costume and proclaims. that "This looks like a job for a real super hero". Then he reappears wearing a uniform of the United States Marine Corps, at the time still involved in World War II.
The third was Friz Freleng's Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk, first released on June 12, 1943. Based on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk it placed Bugs as the tales Giant Killer. The Giant is depicted as quite confident of his superiority over Bugs and notes that: "Well he can't outsmart me, 'cause I'm a moron". At the end Bugs proves his own intellectual superiority over the Giant. It should be perhaps noted that Mickey Mouse had already been cast as a Giant Killer in Brave Little Tailor, a cartoon directed by Burton F. Gillett (October 15, 1891 - December 28, 1971), produced by Walt Disney and first released on September 23, 1938. The Mouse had also managed to outsmart his giant but with considerably different style to the Bunny. This can be seen as further indicating that Warner Bros cartoon shorts were developing their own distinct style of humor and use of comedic characters that was helping their rise of popularity during the 1940s.
Bugs' next appearance was in Chuck Jones' Wackiki Wabbit, first released on July 3, 1943. The short featured two unnamed castaways in a tropical island with no supplies for them. The duo were modelled after Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce who also acted as voice actors for them. Maltese and Pierce had already been responsible for scripting several of Bugs' shorts and in the case of Pierce also this one. The starving castaways consider eating each other, when they are relieved to see Bugs arriving at their island. They see him as the meal they had hoped for but Bugs manages to elude their best efforts , as was already typical of him when being hunted.
Bugs' fifth appearance during the year was in a cameo in Porky Pig's Feat, first released on July 17, 1943. It was the first use of Bugs by director Frank Tashlin. The short featured traveling companions Porky Pig and Daffy Duck. They are staying at the "Broken Arms Hotel" when Daffy makes the mistake of gambling and losing all of their money, leaving them with nothing to pay the bill. The later is overcharged and they are threatened that if they fail to pay it , they will learn the reason for the Hotel's name. The rest of the short is devoted to their efforts to leave the Hotel without paying and without being noticed. The short is notable in being the first where Porky appears with both of his old antagonists, although in more friendly terms. It was also the first where Daffy and Bugs both appear, though briefly.
All three of them made their reappearance in Robert Clampett's A Corny Concerto, first released on September 18, 1943. The short was scripted by Frank Tashlin. In parody of Walt Disney's Fantasia the short features two segments with different characters who act according to the sounds of Johann Strauss II's waltzes. Elmer Fudd introduces both segments acting as an orchestra conductor of Corny-Gie Hall, in parody of Fantasia's Leopold Stokowski and Carnegie Hall. The first segment is "A Tale of the Vienna Woods" (Geshicthen aus dem Wienerwald - 1868). It features Porky Pig hunting Bugs for the first time in five years(see above), this time with the help of his hound. During the confrontation Porky's shotgun accidentally fires while facing all three of them. All of them believe themselves to have been shot. After several melodramatic dying scenes, the segment ends with their relief at realising they are alive. The second segment is "The Blue Danube" (An der schönen, blauen Donau - 1867). It features a duckling version of Daffy Duck in a story based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling - 1843. The duckling is a lonely orphan trying to be adopted in a family of swans but they look down at him. But when a vulture appears and abducts the young swans as his prey, Daffy attacks him, defeats him, rescues them and is accepted into their family. The short marks the first time Bugs, Duffy, Porky and Elmer, who were the most popular Looney Tunes characters at the time, appear together in one short. The two stories are simple enough but effectively presented. The short is considered among the highlights of its time both in animation and choreography.
Bugs' seventh and last appearance in 1943 was in Robert Clampett's Falling Hare. Bugs is featured as relaxing at an air field, reading the book "Victory Through Hare Power," while no one else seems to be there. Bugs is amused when his book mentions a creature of World War II folklore, the Gremlin as responsible for "diabolical sabotage" in aircrafts, spreading havoc. But then Bugs hears noises indicating activitie at a near-by bomber plane. When he investigates, he discovers a Gremlin working at sabotaging the airplane. Before he knows it Bugs ends up piloting the plane while the Gremlin continues his work at destroying it. The flight proves disastrous for Bugs and his nerves but at least he manages to stop the plane just before it crash-lands. It is one of the few shorts who feature Bugs not only losing his usual calm but actually panicking.
Bugs made twelve more appearances during 1944. The first of them was in Friz Freleng's Little Red Riding Riding Rabbit, first released on January 4, 1944. In it Bugs finds himself involved in the events of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. The Wolf of the original tale is present as well as a version of the Little Red Riding Hood during her adolescence years. Loud-mouthed and disagreeable she proves more annoying to Bugs than the wolf himself. Her grandmother is absent as she has found employement as a factory worker for the Lockheed Corporation. The short is notable for its chase scenes featuring several gags that would find often use in later shorts of the Looney Tunes series. Otherwise it is another competent comedic addaptation of a well-known fairy tale.
It should be perhaps noted that there were two previous animated version of the story. The first had been directed by Walt Disney as part of his "Laugh-O-Grams" series and first released on July 29, 1922. The second one was directed by Walter Lantz while he was working for Bray Studios and was released on January 4, 1925. But a comparison between this earlier versions and Freleng's version only serves to point the vast developments that had come to the art of animation during the period of less than 25 years that separated them.
The second Bugs' short of the year was Robert Clampett's What's Cookin' Doc, first released on January 8, 1944. It features Bugs present at the 1943 ceremony of the Academy Awards. He is angered to see James Cagney win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his film Yankee Doodle Dandy. Bugs firmly believes he deserves the Award instead of Cagney. He makes his case by featuring to the audience a scene from Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt(see above) and then attempts to prove his acting ability by making mocking impressions of several of the present actors' style of acting. Thinking he has proven the variety of his own talent Bugs demands the Award, only to be met with the disapproval of everyone present. The short is mainly notable for its presentation of distinguished actors of the time and for Bugs' claim of being the greatest actor of his time and his defense of his past performances' quality.
His next appearance was in Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears, first released on February 26, 1944. It was based on the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Tree Bears. The short introduced The Three Bears, a family of three comprised by "Papa Bear", his wife "Mama Bear" and their son Junyer Bear. Papa was rather short, irritable and with a gruff voice, provided by his voice actor for this short Mel Blanc. In later appearances Blanc was replaced by William Bletcher (September 24, 1894 - January 5, 1979) known for his deep, baritone voice.
Since then Bugs has appeared in numerous cartoon shorts in the Looney Tunes series as well as in a Saturday morning and syndicated animated series. Considered an ideal actor, he was directed by Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and starred in feature films, including Space Jam which co-starred Michael Jordan.
He is noted for his feuds with Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, and even Wile E. Coyote, who usually takes on the Road Runner. Almost invariably, Bugs comes out the winner in these conflicts, because that is in his nature. This is especially obvious in films directed by Chuck Jones, who likes to pit "winners" against "losers". Worrying that audiences would lose sympathy for an aggressor who always won, Jones found the perfect way to make Bugs sympathetic in the films by having the antagonist repeatedly bully, cheat or threaten Bugs in some way. Thus offended, (usually 3 times) Bugs would often state "Of course, you realize this means war" (a line which Jones noted was taken from Groucho Marx) and the audience gives Bugs silent permission to inflict his havoc. When Bugs meets other characters who are also "winners", however, like Cecil the Turtle in Tortoise Beats Hare, or, in WWII, the Gremlin of Falling Hare, his record is rather dismal; his overconfidence tends to work against him.
The Bugs Bunny short, Knighty Knight Bugs, in which a medieval Bugs Bunny traded blows with Yosemite Sam (as the Black Knight) and his fire-breathing dragon, was awarded an Oscar. What's Opera, Doc, Chuck Jones' cartoon starring Bugs and Elmer parodying Wagner's Ring, has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was, at the time, the only cartoon short to have achieved this honour.