So many friends of mine are Disney fanatics, but I’ve always been partial to Warner Brothers cartoons. Most of the classic Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck cartoons still make me bust a gut. When I watch the 70-year-old “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” however, it just makes my face burn and sweat pool in my shoes. It’s a long, uncomfortable, ugly eight minutes. Caveat spectator.
For reasons that will be immediately apparent, you probably did not see this extravagantly racist WWII-era propaganda cartoon during the Saturday mornings of your childhood. Wikipedia says it was released on home video collections in the early ‘90s, but these were quickly withdrawn after the studio received complaints. In any event, it was conspicuously absent from Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons and the Looney Tunes DVD set that covers this period.
I first saw it on a millionth-generation VHS I rented from a video store in Berkeley, the same place I first found a copy of Robert Frank’s famously unreleasable Rolling Stones documentary, Cocksucker Blues. That bootleg of “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” looked and sounded about as bad as the “restored” version Spike TV posted several years ago, only the color was even more washed-out.
Recently, a much higher quality copy has surfaced online. While it’s not crystal clear, and the top of the frame is still cut off, at least the headache you get watching it will be attributable to racism alone. The wretched quality of the bootleg wouldn’t let you forget the cartoon’s contraband status, which—for me, at least—made the short slightly less disturbing: it was marked as a banned film, never to be screened again. Here, it just looks like another Saturday morning with Bugs.