The Looney Tunes series had very few complete clunkers. Unfortunately, "Pre-Hysterical Hare" was one of the few in that category. And it's not just mediocre; it's a total whiff.
The first major problem is that the main premise (that is, prehistoric versions of Bugs and Elmer) takes a good two minutes to get started. By that time, there are room for only a few set pieces before the cartoon abruptly ends. And because the pacing of the gags was slower than in the 40's and early 50's shorts, there are even less gags overall. They really should have started on the prehistoric setting (perhaps with brief narration to describe that the characters are ancestors of the characters we know and love) instead of doing a pointless Bugs/Elmer chase in the present and Bugs discovering and setting up the film reel that showcases the prehistoric Bugs and Elmer.
And what we do get is pretty old hat, even for 1958 when the cartoon came out. Ooh, a gag where Bugs blows into the opposite end of a dart gun so that Elmer swallows his own projectile. Seen that before. Then there's a gag where Bugs teaches Elmer how to load a rifle but puts a component on backwards so Elmer shoots himself. Again, nothing unique there. There was also no creativity to Elmer setting a rope trap but Bugs merely pulling the rope so Elmer falls out of the tree.
But the worst offense of "Pre-Hysterical Hare" is that it's just boring. For starters, there's no energy to the cartoon. There are a few scenes where Bugs and Elmer just stand around, talking. How exciting. And even the gags themselves are executed in a very listless, tired manner. The other reason the cartoon's boring is that instead of Milt Franklyn's always enjoyable orchestral music, we get a series of stock music pieces chosen by John Seely which don't follow the on-screen action as closely. Bear in mind, I have nothing against stock music; for example, I love the music from Ren & Stimpy, and even some of the music used in the other Looney Tunes shorts with Seely's input is catchy (see "A Bird in a Bonnet" and "Weasel While You Work"). But what is used here is just bland, and doesn't accentuate the gags at all. Even the title card music could put you to sleep.
Other problems with this short? There's some brief (yet pretty obvious and jarring) repeat footage from an earlier cartoon, someone else other than Arthur Q. Bryan playing Elmer (and doing a poor imitation at that), a prehistoric Bugs design that isn't really much different than the modern Bugs design (only changes are longer teeth, bad posture, and slightly more shaggy fur), and a glaring goof where Bugs doesn't move his mouth when saying a line. No, I doubt it's an internal monologue, because his lips were moving just a couple seconds earlier.
There's one decent joke in this cartoon, and that's Bugs mocking Elmer's trademark laugh. But it comes at the very end of the short, so by then, it's too little, too late. Overall, "Pre- Hysterical Hare" has a "phoned in" feel that doesn't even come close to taking advantage of its prehistoric setting, which is a shame because Bugs cartoons are often some of the best in the classic cartoon library, and Robert McKimson (who directed this) has done better with the character than this. Worth a look for morbid curiosity, but definitely not one you'll be re- watching over and over.
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