Total Recall

Total Recall: Memorable Movie Rabbits

With Hop hitting theaters, we run down some of cinema's most notable bunnies.

by | March 31, 2011 | Comments


What has two long ears, a pair of drumsticks, a vendetta against Easter chicks, and a habit of pooping jelly beans? Why, it’s E.B., the Russell Brand-voiced star of the brand new Easter comedy Hop — and the latest example of Hollywood’s long-standing fascination with rabbits. As main characters and supporting players, they’ve shown up in comedies and dramas, children’s animation, and even a horror movie or two. With that in mind, we decided to take a cue from this weekend’s release schedule and honor rabbits in the movies with a very special cottontailed edition of Total Recall!



Among cinema’s rabbits, Bugs is the wascalliest, but Thumper is our most irascible — a good-natured young troublemaker whose irrepressible humor and infectious laugh (memorably provided by the then-four-year-old Peter Behn) helped provide a sunny element to a story that had some rather, shall we say, dark overtones. The character that coined the term “twitterpated” and taught generations of kids that if they couldn’t say anything nice, they shouldn’t say anything at all, Thumper may not have been the star of Bambi, but he’s a big part of why critics have always loved it — and why Alex Sandell of Juicy Cerebellum wrote “It still brings tears to my eyes,” calling it “Disney at its finest.”

The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie


The most famous rabbit in showbiz, Bugs Bunny made his official theatrical debut in 1940, but didn’t get his full-length due until 1979, when Warner Bros. bundled 25 classic shorts into The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie. Reheated leftovers? Absolutely. But America loves it some Bugs, and with or without the newly developed stitched-in bridging segments, audiences were happy to have him back on the big screen — in fact, this approach was so successful that the studio repeated it for The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981) and 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982). As TIME’s Richard Schickel wrote, “This modest retrospective provides a fine occasion to salute an American original working in a medium that will never get its critical due, but continues to exercise a mighty claim on affectionate memory.”

Donnie Darko


When is a rabbit not a rabbit? When it’s Frank, the evil, man-sized creature who uses his supernatural powers to manipulate Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) into breaking all sorts of laws — and ultimately saving the world, or something, depending on how you choose to interpret Donnie Darko. Its dense, violent plot certainly didn’t do the movie any favors at the box office, but Darko quickly became a cult favorite, marking writer/director Richard Kelly as one to watch and impressing critics like Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called it “A stunning technical accomplishment that virtually bursts with noise, ideas and references.”

Fatal Attraction


When you think “rabbit movies,” you may not think of Fatal Attraction. But when you think of Fatal Attraction, what’s one of the first things that comes to mind? Yes, that’s right — a poor little rabbit-shaped prop, boiling in a pot of water brought to temperature by a love-mad Glenn Close. Blending sexual politics with animal cruelty, Attraction was one of the decade’s biggest hits; as Janet Maslin observed for the New York Times, “Years hence, it will be possible to pinpoint the exact moment that produced Fatal Attraction, Adrian Lyne’s new romantic thriller, and the precise circumstances that made it a hit.”



Think of rabbits in the movies, and it probably isn’t long before Harvey comes to mind — even though he isn’t technically a rabbit (or maybe even real, for that matter). Technicalities aside, he looks like one — to those who see him, anyway, a group that includes the good-natured Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart), whose lifelong attachment to Harvey threatens to get him sent to the loony bin by his well-meaning sister (Josephine Hull, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work). It’s an ode to nonconformity whose sweet lightheartedness has resonated with audiences from the buttoned-down Truman years right on through to the present day. “Regardless of whether or not we ‘believe’ in Harvey,” argued Brian Webster of the Apollo Guide, “and regardless of whether or not we choose to watch the movie for its good-natured low-key humour or for its smart social commentary, this is a fine film.”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail


This isn’t a movie about rabbits. In fact, for 95 percent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, rabbits aren’t seen or mentioned. But in that other five percent? Well, we’ve got ourselves a long-eared doozy: the Rabbit of Caerbannog, a bloodthirsty bunny whose legendary rage separates Knight Bors from his head and prompts King Arthur’s entire Round Table to famously “RUN AWAY!” If you’ve never laughed your way through it, it might sound irredeemably silly, but don’t be so quick to judge: as Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times writes, “For all its shenanigans, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a sense of humor that is intellectual, even academic, at heart.”

Night of the Lepus


Pretty much everyone agrees that bunnies are adorable, which should have been enough to make MGM think twice about trying to put together a film about a town terrorized by carnivorous killer rabbits. You sort of have to give them points for chutzpah, but that’s about it — 1972’s Night of the Lepus scores high marks for unintentional humor and not much else, chiefly because the rabbits aren’t scary, in spite of director William F. Claxton’s best efforts (turns out making them bigger doesn’t really dial down their cuteness quotient) and the visible straining of a cast that included Janet Leigh and Stuart Whitman. Though it’s become a favorite among the so-bad-it’s-good crowd, Filmcritic’s Christopher Null summed up the cheerless response of his peers when he dismissed it as “one of the worst films ever made.”

Watership Down


One of a few animated efforts from the late 1970s and early 1980s that dared to subject its adorable talking animal protagonists to genuine darkness, violence and peril, Watership Down slightly rejiggered the plot of Richard Adams’ book, but retained its thoughtful, unflinchingly honest spirit — and emerged as not only one of the biggest British hits of 1978, but something of a cult classic among fans of sophisticated animation. Of course, using cute hand-drawn rabbits to tell a story about sacrifice, respect for tradition, and the fight for freedom has its pitfalls; some viewers were shocked by Watership‘s frank treatment of death and violence, while others assumed it was just another movie about talking animals. Cautions Jeffrey Overstreet of Looking Closer: “Don’t listen to anybody who writes it off as a ‘cartoon about bunnies.’ Stunning beauty, smart scripting, a splendid score … this is a serious film for serious moviegoers.”

Who Framed Roger Rabbit


Bugs Bunny’s floppy ears cast such a long shadow that an animation studio would have to be crazy to try and launch another cartoon rabbit — unless he’s Roger Rabbit, the plaintively sputtering, overalls-wearing little guy whose legal troubles formed the basis for one of 1988’s biggest (and best-looking) hits. Sure, he was framed for the murder of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), but nobody really thought he did it — he was so sweetly likable that Bugs Bunny himself turned up for a cameo. And the movie itself? It inspired Combustible Celluloid’s Jeffrey M. Anderson to call it “a rare big budget blockbuster that concentrates on a clever story, crisp performances, and brilliant jokes while using its groundbreaking special effects only as window dressing rather than as the main event.”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Hop.

Finally, here’s the Jefferson Airplane With a hare-raising tribute to, ahem “chasing rabbits”:

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