A Year in Shorts Day 71: "The Tortoise and the Hare"
While Daffy Duck is, objectively, the best of the Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny ranks in a very respectable second place. If Daffy’s never ending supply of impotent rage against a world designed purely to torment him serves as a mirror for our deep seated fears and resentments, Bugs’ effortless cool and laid back control over even the most tense situations make him an aspirational figure. But Bugs Bunny wasn’t always the lovable wiseass we know and love, and to truly understand him, we must journey back to his roots. And according to some, that means taking a look at a Disney short, with 1935’s The Tortoise and the Hare.
Wilfred Jackson's The Tortoise and the Hare is another entry in Disney's Silly Symphonies, loosely based on the classic Aesop's fable. It's definitely one of the sillier entries in the series we've covered, focusing more on cartoonish sight gags than beautiful animation. Which is perfectly fine of course (what else are cartoons for?), and it makes for an amusing, if not exactly spectacular short.
As for the Bugs Bunny connection, I can see where people are coming from. Design wise, Max Hare does look like he could be Bugs' cousin, and he's a bit of a wiseass. The key difference between the two is that Max is more of a villain than Bugs ever was, and as a result, less successful. Bugs also doesn't have Max's obnoxious laugh, which probably went towards making him a much more beloved character.
Of course, every animated antagonist needs a hero to antagonize, and in this short we've got Toby Tortoise. As far as cartoon heroes go, Toby is fine. There's nothing particularly memorable about him, but he's not annoying either. We root for Toby not so much because we like him but more because we dislike Max. Toby is polite, hard-working and doesn't waste a great portion of the race flirting with schoolchildren, so we celebrate his victory and reflect on how casually gross old movies can be sometimes.
The Tortoise and the Hare has not gone down in history as one of the all time great Disney shorts. You won't see Toby Tortoise walking around Disney World any time soon, and I think it's fair to say that its Oscar win had more to do with Disney's early domination of the Animated Shorts category (as well as the fact that its competitors were just awful). But it's a perfectly entertaining short regardless, and if you're in the mood for a simple story and some solid sight gags, you can certainly do worse.
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"The Tortoise and the Hare" is available on Disney +
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