Rabbit Fire is a 1951 Looney Tunes (reissued as a Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodie) cartoon starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. Directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese, the short is notable for being the first film in Jones' "hunting trilogy"—the other two films being Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!. It is also the first film to feature a feud between Bugs and Daffy. Produced by Edward Selzer for Warner Bros. Cartoons, Inc., the short was released to theaters on May 19, 1951 by Warner Bros. Pictures and is widely considered among Jones' best and most important films. It is also the first film to star both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
The film marks a significant change in Daffy's style, away from the "screwball" and toward the "foil" for Bugs' jokes.
Daffy Duck lures Elmer Fudd to Bugs Bunny's burrow, and watches from aside when Elmer attempts to shoot Bugs. Bugs informs Elmer that it isn't rabbit season, but instead duck season. Daffy emerges, irate, and attempts to convince Elmer that Bugs is lying. Their conversation breaks down into Bugs leading Daffy to admit it is duck season by a number of verbal plays.
Once Daffy admits it is duck season, Elmer fires his shotgun at Daffy, causing the duck to suffer a temporary setback before he comes back and tries again. This repeats multiple times during the short, with Daffy trying different ploys to get Elmer to shoot Bugs, but Bugs continues to outwit him. After Daffy is shot for the third time, he walks away. Elmer tries to shoot him, but his gun has no more shells. Daffy is then thrilled, grabs Elmer's gun to make sure, but is shot in the face with the last shell.
Daffy then sees a sign that Bugs has nailed to a tree saying "Duck Season Open". As he sees Elmer approaching, he disguises himself as Bugs, telling Elmer that it's 'Duck season'. Bugs then appears disguised as Daffy, complete with webbed feet and a fake bill. Elmer shoots Daffy after seeing a "Rabbit Season" sign on the same tree. After Daffy gets blasted, he goes up to Bugs and says "You're desthpicable!" The two walk away, getting out of their costumes as Daffy rants to Bugs how despicable he is. Bugs then begins to read duck recipes from a cookbook and Daffy does the same with a rabbit recipe cookbook. Elmer tells them he's a vegetarian and only hunts for the sport of it (although, in previous episodes, it has been stated that he was hunting Bugs for rabbit stew or the like). Outraged, Bugs gets in Elmer's face and claims "Oh, yeah? Well, there's other sports besides huntin', ya know!?" Daffy then offers to play tennis. Elmer blasts him again, then begins shooting and chases both of them all the way to the rabbit hole. Bugs comes out of his hole and accuses Elmer of "hunting rabbits with an elephant gun", suggesting Elmer shoot an elephant instead. Just as Elmer is considering it, a huge elephant appears, threatens Elmer in a Joe Besser voice ("You do and I'll give you SUCH a pinch!") and preemptively pounds him into the ground.
Elmer finally loses patience and decides to take out both Bugs and Daffy. Daffy comes into the scene, disguised as a hunting dog and Bugs comes in as a lady hunter. Elmer, however, sees through their disguise and threatens to shoot them. The cartoon climaxes when Bugs and Daffy arguing by a tree with a sign that starts with the words "Rabbit Season"; Bugs and Daffy continue to pull off the sign to alternatively reveal it is "Duck Season" or "Rabbit Season" until they hit a final sign, proclaiming it to be "Elmer Season". The tables turned, Elmer starts running and Bugs and Daffy, dressed as hunters, begin to stalk Elmer.
Rabbit Fire is generally considered among Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese's best works, and is noted for its use of dialogue gags in lieu of the physical gags more typical in animation. Besides the two sequels to this film, a number of other notable Jones shorts, including Beanstalk Bunny and Ali Baba Bunny, paired quick-witted Bugs and self-serving Daffy with (or rather against) each other.
The "duck season/rabbit season" argument from this short became one of the most notable references of the Looney Tunes franchise, and has been analyzed both by scholars and by Jones himself (though it should be noted that this gag was actually used by Daffy against Porky 6 years earlier in the cartoon Duck Soup to Nuts). According to an essay by Darragh O'Donoghue, Rabbit Fire "stands in close relation to human experience, striving and generally failing to grasp an elusive quarry or goal." Richard Thompson said that in the film, there is "the clearest definition of character roles: Elmer never knows what's going on; Bugs always knows what's going on and is in control of things; Daffy is bright enough to understand how to be in control, but never quite makes it." Jones himself refers to Rabbit Fire as a "corner" picture, among his works that, "as in turning a corner in a strange city, reveal new and enchanting vistas."
The short earned an honorable mention for animation historian Jerry Beck's list of The Fifty Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1000 Animation Professionals. Its 1952 sequel, Rabbit Seasoning, made the actual list at number 30. The style, setup, and plot of Rabbit Fire were adapted into the opening sequence of Warner Bros.' 2003 film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
The Elephant from The Major Lied 'Til Dawn reappeared, but redesigned.
Production details Edit
- In two interviews conducted years after this cartoon was originally released, director Chuck Jones fondly recalled voice artist Mel Blanc improvising hilariously as Daffy when he was trying to think of another word besides "despicable". However, in the finished film, only the words from the original dialogue script actually appear. Historians believe that Blanc did indeed improvise, as Jones remembered, but that Chuck Jones decided to use what was originally written instead.
- Rabbit Fire and its two sequels often have two characters in the same frame for some length of time — an atypical aspect of the "Hunting" trilogy. In order to keep budgets under control, most Warner Bros. cartoons would cut back and forth between characters, rather than put two or more in the same shot.
- Interestingly, while the film is introduced by the Looney Tunes music The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, the opening card indicates a Merrie Melodies "Blue Ribbon" release, and the end card is Merrie Melodies, replacing the original orange-red Looney Tunes title sequences.
- It marked the first cartoon where Bugs and Daffy starred and appeared together. While Bugs had made a cameo in Porky Pig's Feat (which co-starred Daffy and Porky Pig), that was the first where both were stars.
- Although this is the first cartoon with Daffy's selfish side replacing his screwball side, he still hollers "hoo-hoo", an old Daffy signature yelp, to show his screwball side.
- Along with its two sequels, on ABC, CBS, the syndicated and Fox network versions of The Merrie Melodies Show, and Kids' WB!, multiple scenes where Elmer fires his rifle upon Daffy's head and beak were edited to avoid showing the gunshots. While the ABC and Kids' WB! version replaced the actual shots of Elmer firing at Daffy's head with a still shot of Bugs Bunny looking off-screen (or, in the case of the end of Rabbit Seasoning, freeze-framed on the shot of the cabin when Elmer and Daffy go inside) and had the audio play normally, CBS and Kids' WB! spliced out any and all scenes (both visual and audio) of Daffy getting shot, which made Duck! Rabbit! Duck! particularly choppy and incoherent.
- On Nickelodeon, the gun scenes for Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit! Duck! were left uncensored, but one scene in Rabbit Fire was cut: Elmer running out of shells, Daffy looking inside the gun to see if there really are no more shells, then the last shell getting shot at Daffy. 
- Produced by: Edward Selzer
- Directed by: Charles M. Jones
- Story: Michael Maltese
- Music: Carl Stalling
- Animation: Ken Harris, Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam
- Background: Philip DeGuard
- Layout: Robert Gribbroek
- Voice Characterisions: Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan (uncredited)
- Jones, Chuck (1989). Chuck Amuck : The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-12348-9.
- Jones, Chuck (1996). Chuck Reducks : Drawing from the Fun Side of Life. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-51893-X.
- Thompson, Richard (January–February 1975). Film Comment.