When we learn that the Martians are predatory toward humans in War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells offers us a bit of perspective by having his narrator remind us: “how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.”
No doubt, but this time of year even the vegans enjoy eating rabbits, of the chocolate and marshmallow variety delivered by the Easter Bunny. Perhaps it’s an attempt to steer humankind away from our repulsive carnivorous habits? Although his ancestry is in pagan folklore – a fertility symbol, probably – the E.B. is an unthreatening sort. But it’s striking how many of his fictitious cousins from nerdy pop culture are fiercely formidable, even sinister and scary, and how often they even the score with humankind for our lapine cruelties.
A few examples…
18. E. Aster Bunnymund
Maybe the toughest version of the EB per se was the one in the 2012 animated film Rise of the Guardians, a conflation of William Joyce’s children’s book series. Along with a Santa Claus who sounds like a radio-comedy Russian, a half-woman/half-hummingbird Tooth Fairy, and a rotund and silent Sandman who communicates by shaping his thoughts in sand over his head, the Bunny is one of the Guardians, a sort of Justice League defending children’s hopes and dreams.
An Aussie badass voiced by Hugh Jackman, the Bunny wields a boomerang and bears a grudge against aspiring Guardian Jack Frost, for the “Blizzard of ’68” on Easter Sunday. His cute little bunny nature sneaks out, however: when he exits via burrow, he tends leave a little flower behind.
17. Bucky O’Hare
“Get the funky fresh rabbit who can take care of it!” So we are advised, in the event that we’re having a rough day, in the rousing theme song of this short-lived but fondly-remembered early-’90s cartoon, based in turn on the mid-’80s comic by Larry Hama. Bucky was a space adventurer who led a crew of mammals against the Toad Empire controlled by the sinister computer KOMPLEX.
Bucky, whose fur was green, also manifested himself in the form of Hasbro action figures, a Nintendo video game and an arcade game. There was even talk of a movie adaptation, to be directed by Neal Adams, but it has yet to materialize. Maybe the studios fear that lines like “Let’s croak us some toads” will lead to animal cruelty, or even to Amphibian Anti-Defamation League protests.
Also from the pages of the comics, and also, oddly, green, this gangly, meat-eating, hard-fighting “Lepi” smuggler hails from the planet Coachelle Prime, part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Jaxxon made his debut in issue #8 of Marvel’s Star Wars title of the ’70s and ’80s, in February of 1978, and recurred in several subsequent issues. Though intended as an homage to a certain Warner Brothers star who shall be mentioned later in this list, he’s often been regarded as the Jar Jar Binks of Marvel’s Star Wars Universe.
The character’s signature line is his angry snarl of “I ain’t no rodent!” Zoologically, if not grammatically, he’s right, and would be even if he were an earthly cottontail. Rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents.
15. The “Shore Leave” Planet White Rabbit
A Star Wars rabbit deserves a Star Trek rabbit, so how about the one that blows Dr. McCoy’s mind at the beginning of the Original Series episode “Shore Leave?” McCoy is just saying the paradisiacal looking planet is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and seconds later, there’s the fretful Victorian bunny, checking his pocket watch and bemoaning his lateness. Alice herself trots up seconds later, politely asking poor Bones if he’s seen the creature. The whole planet is rigged to bring to life whatever pops into your head, which sounds like fun until you think about it, and then the possible implications start to seem really horrible.
The rabbit was played, under a costume reportedly borrowed from the Ice Capades, by Star Trek utility actor William Blackburn, a onetime professional ice skater. The character pops up again, briefly, in the Animated Series sequel episode “Once Upon a Planet,” where he is voiced by animated series utility actor James Doohan.
14. Jazz Jackrabbit
The headband-wearing hero of this popular 1994 video game, a modern spin on Aesop, tangles with tortoise Devan Shell over the Princess Eva Earlong. Jazz is athletic, lean and…
Like Jaxxon, like Bucky O’Hare, he’s green. Which leads to the fundamental question…what’s with the freaking green rabbits? Are they progressive acts of plagiarism, or homage, or was there some turbulence in the great Jungian Unconscious that led to multiple isolated inspirations that warrior rabbits ought to be green?
13. Crusader Rabbit
Bucky O’Hare has nothing on this adventurous bunny. A creation of Jay Ward, Crusader Rabbit, who debuted in syndication in 1948, lays claim to being the first cartoon character specifically created for TV.
Crusader is highly endearing; he also seems prototypical. Students of Ward’s work might note a similarity between Crusader and Rocky, and between sidekick Ragland T. Tiger, aka “Rags,” and Bullwinkle. Their frequent villainous nemesis Dudley Nightshade perhaps bequeathed some character traits to Dudley Do-Right’s enemy Snidely Whiplash.
But Crusader, in his turn, has nothing on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created in 1927 by Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney for Universal. The following year Disney, weary of wrangling with studios, conceived the very similar Mickey Mouse as a property he could control himself, and the rest is quite literally history. Had he decided to make that move a little earlier, generations of people might have returned from trips to Anaheim or Orlando wearing rabbit ears instead of mouse ears.
The intrepid Oswald nevertheless had a long career, often alongside his Pluto-esque dog Elmer, in nearly 200 cartoons, some directed by luminaries like Walter Lantz and Friz Freling. For a brief period in the early ’30s he was voiced by Mickey Rooney. He’d been forgotten by all but cartoon buffs, but this may be changing: In 2006 Disney re-acquired the rights to Oswald from NBC Universal, in what amounted to a trade for the services of sportscaster Al Michaels. He was featured in the 2010 Wii game Epic Mickey (Oswald, that is, not Michaels), and also turned up in last year’s excellent, Oscar-nominated Mickey short Get a Horse! He’s proved a survivor.
11. Saber Tooth Rabbit
This creature was originally a bit player in the Aurora Monster Scenes model line of the early ’70s, which featured generic horror characters like “Dr. Deadly” or a scantily clad terrified victim known only as “The Victim” (except in Canada, where for an extra unsavory touch the poor woman was known as “Dr. Deadly’s Daughter”). The kits were seen as glorifying instruments of torture and sadistic scientific apparatus, notably in the “Gruesome Goodies” kit of 1971, in which the rabbit first appeared, thus providing grist for editorial writers and headaches for Aurora and its retailers.
In the decades since, it need hardly be said, the Monster Scenes have become objects of nostalgic affection, and have been reissued and even expanded upon. Thus the Saber Tooth Rabbit, presumably a product of Doc Deadly’s biological tinkering, now gets his own kit, as does his fellow abomination the Feral Cat, with whom his head is interchangeable!
10. The Sexy Beast Beast
This terrific 2000 British noir, if any movie so sunlit can properly be called a noir, stars Ray Winstone as Gal, a professional thief who has taken his loot and retired to sunny Spain with a beautiful ex-porn-star wife. Poor Gal is plagued now and again by visions of a terrifying bipedal rabbit, arguably the title character, who menaces him with firearms. Apparently it’s meant to symbolize Gal’s un-expiated shady past.
Two different people I know have furrowed their brows, by the way, when I referred to this creature as a rabbit. To them, it was just a monster of no specific species. But I say, if it has long ears and fur…
9. Night of the Lepus
Thanks to a laboratory snafu, rabbits the size of Volkswagens wreak havoc in the desert. Through its editing, the trailer tries valiantly to disguise the nature of the monsters, likely on the grounds that audiences wouldn’t find them all that terrifying.
This proved to be the case, but that’s not to say that this (loose) adaptation of Russell Braddon’s satirical 1964 Australian novel Year of the Angry Rabbit isn’t entertaining. A wonderful veteran cast, including Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, Stuart Whitman, Paul Fix and I. Stanford Jolley, liven up this late-show laugh-riot, filmed in Arizona. DeForest Kelly is in it too, once again getting flabbergasted by oversized rabbits.
One of James Stewart’s signature roles was in this 1950 film version of Mary Chase’s Broadway play. The family of Stewart’s eccentric Elwood P. Dowd wants him tossed in the nuthouse just because he keeps introducing people to his good pal, a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit-spirit he calls Harvey.
Sorry, make that six-foot three and a half inches. As Elwood says, let’s stick to the facts.
7. Uncle Walt’s Rabbit
Joe Dante’s remake of “It’s a Good Life” for 1983’s anthology film Twilight Zone: The Movie wasn’t as creepy as the original TV episode. But it did have this moment in which the wonderful Kevin McCarthy, as Uncle Walt, gets a surprise while performing the classic rabbit out of a hat trick for his scary nephew’s entertainment.
If Ed “Big Daddy” Roth of Rat Fink fame had drawn a rabbit instead of a rat, it might have looked a bit like Uncle Walt’s friend.
6. The Trojan Rabbit
One of the great movies comedies of all time, 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail features not one but two deadly rabbits. First is the huge wheeled animal with which King Arthur and his knights try to infiltrate the castle of the verbally abusive French.
Alas, they neglect an essential element of the stratagem, and the rude French catapult their gift back at them, prompting cries of “Run away! Run away!” One of their number isn’t quick enough, however.
5. The Rabbit of Caerbannog
Later in that same Arthurian travesty, Arthur and his Knights fail to heed the warnings of Tim the Enchanter, and the sweet-looking little white bunny guarding the mouth of the cave inflicts gory mayhem.
This Rabbit proves no match, however, for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
4. General Woundwort
Another badass British bunny, the tyrannical General is the villain of the 1972 Richard Adams novel Watership Down. That gripping yarn followed the adventures of a band of tough-as-nails displaced rabbits searching for a place to call their own in the Hampshire hills; Woundwort tries to foil their attempts to supply a new warren with females from his.
There was an animated feature version in 1978. It pales beside the book, but on its own merits, it is a decent, hard-edged piece of work. (Probably not for younger kids, however.) Harry Andrews provided Woundwort’s voice in the film; in a 1999 animated TV series John Hurt, who had voiced the hero of the ’78 film, had roughened up in the larynx to the point that he was asked to provide the General’s voice.
3. The Were-Rabbit
One more UK rabbit menace: 2005’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the first feature-length adventure of Nick Park’s inventor Wallace and his stoically competent dog Grommit, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s a mystery about the identity of the long-eared monster.
Unlike Watership Down, this one’s a great choice for little kids.
2. Frank the Bunny
The title character (Jake Gyllenhaal) of the complex and fascinating 2001 psychodrama Donnie Darko is afflicted by visions of a tall, fanged rabbit, staring blankly at him. Gradually, we come to understand, more or less, what it all means. But along the way, Frank becomes one of the creepiest movie monsters so far in the 21st century.
Indeed, Frank might just keep you from looking over your shoulder in a movie theater.
1. Bugs, Right?
Can there really be any doubt as to the top spot on this list? It’s true, of course, that Bugs is by far the greatest of all pop-culture rabbits, and for my money the greatest of all cartoon characters, too, but I’m still not sure that’s saying quite enough. The subtly androgynous alpha male of the Warner Brothers cartoon repertory company is one of the iconic fictional characters America has produced, a 20th-Century Brer Rabbit who transcends race, region and even gender. He’s the hip, unflappable embodiment of American native wit and resourcefulness.
He’s also preposterously magnetic. When I say that Bugs is a rabbit who might haunt the dreams of nerds, in this case I don’t necessarily via nightmares. Nerds from R. Crumb to Wayne’s World‘s Garth suggest that they have found him attractive.
Previously by M.V. Moorhead: