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DreamWorks’ Abominable isn’t the first studio animation production to star a yeti, which is the Tibetan word for the mythical abominable snowman.
In 1961, Warner Bros. released the six-minute Looney Tunes cartoon The Abominable Snow Rabbit starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Directed by Chuck Jones, Rabbit had Bugs and Daffy tunneling their way to Palm Springs but somehow ending up in the Himalayas.
“I told you to turn west in East St. Louis,” says Daffy after he dives into a frozen pond. In short order, Daffy meets an abominable snowman named Hugo, who believes the duck is a rabbit and his new best friend. (This is a sly allusion to the bunny-loving Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.)
Mistaken identity jokes go back and forth until Bugs tunnels back to Palm Springs with both Daffy and Hugo in pursuit. Unfortunately, the desert heat gets to Hugo and he melts poolside. “He really was a snowman,” concludes Bugs.
Film historian Leonard Maltin says that while Snow Rabbit wasn’t among the best from Looney Tunes, it was still pretty good. “By 1961, they were hunting for new ideas,” says Maltin. “They’d been crafting stories for Bugs and Daffy for 20 years. Perhaps something in the news triggered the snowman character.”
The Looney Tunes series was created by Leon Schlesinger, who was Warner Bros.’ anti-Walt Disney: He could not care less about the art. Jones once described him as “a sort of snazzily dressed gila monster in a Panama hat.”
In his book, Chuck Down Under, Jones notes Schlesinger usually said, “Roll the garbage,” before viewing a new cartoon. His company made Looney Tunes from 1930 until his death in 1949, and the series went on without him until 1969.
“What’s amazing is that even in 1961, they were still making cartoons to be shown at theaters,” says Maltin. “That meant that when you went to any movie theater, you were guaranteed a cartoon along with the feature.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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