Bugs Bunny anniversary: How the rabbit stayed popular for decades

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Bugs Bunny as we know him now. How has the 'Looney Tunes' character stayed recognizable to multiple generations?

Warner Bros./ABC
Bugs Bunny is part of the 'Looney Tunes' cartoon character lineup.

The 'birthday' of a beloved Looney Tunes character is an opportunity to reflect on his cultural cache across multiple generations.

Bugs Bunny, the carrot-chewing cartoon character – one of the most recognized of the Warner Bros. personalities – is celebrating his 75th birthday. In 1940, the cartoon segment “A Wild Hare,” which was directed by Tex Avery, made its first appearance, and the movie short featured Bugs as the world knows him today, with a familiar voice, look, and traditional catchphrase about Doc. (Bugs Bunny was voiced for many years by Mel Blanc.)

Bugs Bunny is part of the cast of characters seen in the “Looney Tunes” cartoons that include his nemesis Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, and many more.

With Bugs having made his first true appearance in 1940, how have he and the other Looney Tunes characters stayed popular? One way has been consistent appearances. While Bugs would have been known to the parents of Baby Boomers from the beginning of the cartoons, Baby Boomers themselves encountered the Looney Tunes characters in the animated shorts that ran in movie theaters and on TV. (One of Bugs’ most famous cartoon appearances, the short “What’s Opera, Doc?,” was released in 1957.) 

How do Millennials know the characters? The Looney Tunes characters have kept up steady appearances in pop culture. The cartoons have run on TV at various points – for example, the Cartoon Network started a new weekend block for the Looney Tunes cartoons in 2013 – and the animated series “Tiny Toon Adventures,” which featured young students learning from teachers like Bugs and Porky Pig, debuted in 1990.

The Looney Tunes personalities made frequent appearances at the movies towards the end of the millennium as well, with starring roles in the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and the 1996 movie “Space Jam,” both of which performed well at the box office. 

A smaller audience was exposed to the Looney cast in 2003 with the movie “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” which did not perform well at the box office. However, the film may be developing a following – multiple media outlets have called the movie “underrated.” 

And Bugs and his friends appear to still be in audiences' minds today, with recent lists rating Bugs as the second-best cartoon character of all time (behind only Homer Simpson) and “Looney Tunes” itself as the third-best cartoon show of all time.

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