The Looney Tunes are among the most iconic cartoon characters in history, with some of the most famous characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. But while there are many characters, there aren’t many places.
Most of the Looney Tunes cartoons are set in nondescript places like the forest, Granny’s House and the American Southwest. And while Bugs always somehow mistakenly takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque, New Mexico, he never has any adventures there.
But the Looney Tunes do namecheck a few legendary places in the world — New York City, Paris, Rome, Hollywood and La Jolla, California.
And, of course, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
‘1001 Rabbit Tales’
Bugs Bunny’s third movie “1001 Rabbit Tales” was released by Warner Bros. in 1982, a compilation of several Looney Tunes shorts, bridged together by a loose plot between the shorts with new animation and dialogue recorded by the legendary voice actor Mel Blanc.
In the movie’s first bridging segment, Bugs and Daffy are salesmen for Rambling House Books, and each has been assigned a new selling territory. Bugs’ assignment is Pismo Beach, California, which Daffy finds derisively amusing — “What are you gonna do? Sell books to the clams?”
Bugs then asks Daffy about his territory.
“Ther-mop-o-lis, Wyoming,” Daffy says, tripping over the long, unusual name. “Hey, it must be a big place to have such a long name.”
Thermopolis at the time had fewer than 4,000 residents, according to the 1980 U.S. Census.
Bugs says he’s satisfied with Pismo Beach, but Daffy senses conspiracy in everything. He accuses Bugs of “kissing up to the boss again” and forces a switch.
“OK, so I’ll take Thermopolis,” Bugs says. “What’s the difference?’
Daffy takes Bugs’ concession as another underhanded tactic. Since he clearly wanted Thermopolis all along, Daffy takes it back.
“The boss gave me Thermopolis because it’s probably a tough area. Naturally, he’d put his best man on it,” he says.
Like a good friend, Bugs takes Daffy’s paranoia in stride and resolves to burrow his way to Pismo Beach. Daffy takes a flight to Thermopolis.
Daffy Duck could’ve been sent anywhere in the world. Why Thermopolis?
The Honor Of A Funny Name
If anyone can be called a Looney Tunes expert, it’s animation historian Jerry Beck.
Along with teaching animation history in several California schools, Beck was formerly a studio executive with Nickelodeon Movies and Disney. He has curated cartoons for DVD and Blu-ray compilations while lending his expertise to documentaries and audio commentaries.
Beck has also written 15 books on the classic cartoons produced by Disney, Warner Bros. and other studios, including four books on the Looney Tunes.
Beck doesn’t know how Thermopolis ended up in “1001 Rabbit Tales,” but he has a pretty good idea.
“As the snarky New Yorker that I am, I think the town’s name is humorous to outsiders,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I don’t know the history or what it’s named after. It just sounds like a funny name.”
The Looney Tunes team always looked for "kooky places” to set their cartoons, such as Cucamonga, California, and the infamous “wrong turn at Albuquerque.” But for the most part, Looney Tunes usually weren’t set in actual places.
“They did name real places. A Pepe Le Pew (cartoon) would take place in Paris. New York has absolutely been mentioned. There’s a famous cartoon where Bugs Bunny saws Florida off from the rest of the United States,” he said.
When name-checking towns, they were from areas the writers and animators were familiar with, which usually meant nearby California communities. Beck thinks Thermopolis can wear its inclusion in a Looney Tunes movie as a badge of honor.
“Amongst the smaller towns that are name-checked, it's very rare, very few and far between,” he said. “We know they could’ve gone to Pennsylvania or some other states with some pretty wild names for their small towns. To pick an actual town from another state is actually quite an honor.”
Repackaging And Revitalization
“1001 Rabbit Tales” was the third of four anthology-style movies Warner Bros. made using old Looney Tunes shorts. Beck said these films were made when theatrical animation was in decline.
“Animation as a business and an industry went through some doldrums in the 1970s and into the 1980s,” he said. “This was before Roger Rabbit and the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. There was a bump in public awareness and appreciation of the classic old Looney Tunes cartoons.”
That’s when legendary animation director Chuck Jones produced “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie” in 1979. It was a box-office hit and resurrected the public’s interest in the Looney Tunes.
“They paid for 15-20 minutes of new animation in a 90-minute movie that was mainly composed of older scenes from classic Looney Tunes. It was such a big hit, Warner Bros. produced three more movies,” he said.
“The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie” was followed by “The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie” in 1981, “1001 Rabbit Tales” in 1982 and Daffy Duck’s “Quackbusters” in 1988.
In addition to being lucrative theatrical releases, the movies have been aired constantly on TV and streaming websites.
“They’ve never been off the air,” Beck said.
Immortality In Cartoon Comedy
Daffy never makes it to Thermopolis. Shortly after he catches his flight, he decides it's getting too cold and heads south for winter with his duck brethren.
“Thermopolis will have to wait,” he says.
Good effort, Daffy.
The movie then transitions to its first cartoon, originally premiered as the Merrie Melodies short “Cracked Quack” in 1952. In the cartoon, Daffy takes the place of a stuffed duck to mooch off the food and warmth of a hunting lodge owned by tax accountant Porky Pig.
Thermopolis gets one more mention in “1001 Rabbit Tales.”
Mel Blanc dubbed over one line in “Cracked Quack” to fit into the bridging sequence. Daffy's line, "We'll just put it away in the storage for the winter" as he places the stuffed duck he intends to replace in a closet was rerecorded to, "Thermopolis will just have to wait."
Daffy does not attempt to reach Thermopolis for the rest of the runtime. He and Bugs revisit global misadventures from their past before ending up in a Middle Eastern kingdom ruled by Yosemite Sam (it's that kind of movie).
Beck says these movies have exposed millions of people to the Looney Tunes and, by proxy, Thermopolis. This gives Thermopolis a tiny sliver of immortality beyond the town and history.
“(1001 Rabbit Tales) has been seen a lot,” he said. “It’s a convenient way for people to watch some of the great Looney Tunes cartoons in a movie package and was one of the most visible Warner Brothers films. I have a feeling (Thermopolis) will live on forever as long as it's in this film.”
And all because it's a funny-sounding place.
That's all, folks.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at: ARossi@CowboyStateDaily.com