It gets us every time. The state of Florida has once again bedeviled American politics, with every poll being way the hell off and the Sunshine State going handily to Donald Trump. As a result, that Bugs Bunny Florida GIF is making the rounds again, something that inevitably happens every time Florida vexes the American electorate (or whenever some Florida man feeds his grandmother to an alligator). But where does this clip come from and, more importantly, did Florida always have it coming?
The GIF is originally from a 1949 Looney Tunes short named Rebel Rabbit, a cartoon that was directed by one of the most prolific directors of Looney Tunes shorts, Robert McKimson. It also starred the great Mel Blanc, who provided the voices for almost every Looney Tunes character back then. In the year it came out, it ran as a theatrical short with movies like Shirley Temple’s Mr. Belvedere Goes to College and Ronald Reagan’s John Loves Mary (don’t worry, I’ve never heard of these movies either).
In the short, Bugs is walking through the woods in an unspecified state and sees bounties posted for various wildlife. A dead fox would fetch someone $50 and a bear would get $75, but when he spots the rabbit bounty, they’re only offering two cents. Outraged, Bugs mails himself to Washington and reams out the game commissioner on Capitol Hill, demanding an explanation. From there, the commissioner explains that foxes and bears are destructive, but rabbits are “perfectly harmless.”
Naturally, that wascally wabbit sees this as a challenge to be as obnoxious as possible, so he essentially descends into the role of domestic terrorist, declaring a one-bunny war on America. His first act of war is to bat the knees of a Capitol Building guard and claim a private bench for himself — I know, that’s small potatoes so far, but then shit gets serious. He paints the Washington Monument with red stripes before traveling to Manhattan and projecting “BUGS BUNNY WUZ HERE” onto the signs in Times Square. Next, he shuts off Niagara Falls (by use of a simple “off” switch), gives Manhattan back to the Native Americans and then, most famously, cuts loose Florida and shouts, “South America, take it away!” But that wasn’t all: He also swiped the locks off the Panama Canal, filled in the Grand Canyon up with dirt and tied up the American railroads.
After all that, Congress finally takes action against Bugs (fittingly echoing how slow Congress is to react to any problem Americans face). Suddenly, Bugs crashes the session and slaps a senator in the face. As a result, the armed forces are sent after Bugs and a bounty of $1 million is put on his head, to which Bugs proudly declares, “That’s more like it!”
At this point, Bugs is hit with a barrage of gunfire and wonders aloud if he may have carried things too far, before finally deciding that he definitely fucked up once he’s been thrown in jail at the end of the cartoon.
In the years since Rebel Rabbit aired in American theaters, it’s been regarded as sort of a second-tier classic in the Bugs Bunny library of classic cartoons. It was included on the third volume of the “Looney Tunes Golden Collection” DVDs, but it lacked a commentary, something reserved for the most famous of Looney Tunes shorts like What’s Opera Doc? and Tortoise Beats Hare. In recent years though, thanks, in part, to the popularity of “Florida Man” stories, the Florida segment of Rebel Rabbit has become one of the most popular Bugs Bunny references, right up there with the “Bugs Bunny is a Communist” meme.
There are some notable things about the cartoon besides the GIF, though. As explained in the 2014 historical animation book Cartoon Carnival, “This cartoon utterly rejects the Chuck Jones dictum about Bugs Bunny: that the rascally rabbit must be provoked into saying, ‘Of course you know, this means war.’” This was a notion set forth by animation director Chuck Jones, which suggested that, to be sympathetic, Bugs must be provoked into doing bad things — i.e., he can’t just be an asshole for the sake of it. In Rebel Rabbit, of course, Bugs’ actions are completely out of control and not at all justified, and the cartoon is all the funnier because of it.
Or, as voice actor Eric Bauza — who is the current voice of Bugs Bunny — explains, “Rebel Rabbit is jam-packed with so many memorable visual gags and shows us that Bugs can be as crazy as any of the other Looney Tunes characters. I absolutely love this short!” This sentiment is echoed by Robert McKimson Jr, the son of Rebel Rabbit director Robert McKimson and author of I Say, I Say… Son!: A Tribute to Legendary Animators Bob, Chuck, and Tom McKimson. McKimson tells me, “Rebel Rabbit was one of my father’s very best, and it was very creative in the way he had Bugs doing various stunts to become a rebel.”
Cartoon Carnival also notes that Rebel Rabbit would likely not have worked even a year later, when America had entered the Korean War. Bugs straight up attacks America in this cartoon, and that likely wouldn’t have gone over well during wartime, so Rebel Rabbit is interesting in that it only could have been made from about 1946 to 1949, or between World War II and the Korean War.
While Bugs certainly did go too far in some of his actions against our republic — like, the Grand Canyon probably shouldn’t be filled in — I’d like to make the point that some of his actions actually corrected long-standing American injustices, starting with the Washington Monument. It’s an important piece of history, but it was very likely built on the backs of slaves, so what better way to draw attention to that than by painting it blood red? He also returns Manhattan to its rightful owners, the Native Americans (although the gag is sadly accompanied by a racist joke). Bugs slaps a senator as well (which is always justified) and opens up the Panama Canal for the entire world to use without our colonialistic supervision (something we’d do just a few decades later).
And, of course, Bugs did saw off Florida, something that has been 100 percent totally justified since at least the year 2000, so maybe Bugs isn’t such a shit-stirrer after all — maybe he was just setting right some of the things that America has gotten so terribly wrong.