THE GUILLOTINE: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 15: BUGS BUNNY

With Bugs Bunny we find ourselves in completely uncharted terrain. Animation being an (almost) exclusively contemporary phenomenon, we're unable to call on precedents from earlier centuries when attempting to measure his eligibility for posterity. And if we turn for guidance to the movie cartoon's direct antecedent, the newspaper-syndicated "funnies", the evidence is inconclusive, to say the least. Have the Katzenjammer Kids survived? Have Jiggs and Maggie survived? Can Winsor McCay, creator of one of the undisputed masterworks of the genre, the sumptuous Little Nemo in Slumberland, be described as a household name? Has anyone lately been known to laugh at a Punch cartoon circa 1900 - or, for that matter, circa 1999?

So it's not only poor Bugs who is facing oblivion. However biologically disparate they might have been, the entire menagerie of squeaking, squawking, incontinent and licentious animated creatures whose function it was to divert us before the unfurling of the "big picture" - Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Tweety Pie ("I tot I taw a puddy cat"), Tex Avery's sublime Droopy, slow on the uptake but quick on the downtake, the Roadrunner et al - all now belong to a single culturally endangered species. The concept of a "supporting programme" has long since been made obsolete in the cinema; and cartoons, even if more popular than ever, have an increasing tendency to be earnest, lengthy, politically correct affairs utterly devoid of the demented energy that once so enchanted us.

Are none at all destined to outlive the century which engendered them? Just one, alas, the inevitable Mickey Mouse. Such durability, though, has absolutely nothing to do with personal allure. Except in the early, anarchic, black-and-white shorts, before both he and Disney became an institution - an international treasure, as we refer to "national treasures" - Mickey was, of all the celebrated cartoon characters, by far the least amusing and charismatic. He had a creepy falsetto voice, wore horrid knickerbockers and clownishly bulging shoes and looked like no rodent one had ever seen. Nevertheless, in an industry in which franchising is often more profitable than film-making itself, he did have one supreme advantage over his rival toons. He became not just an icon but a logo.

The mouse - there, surely, is the great cryptic motif of the new millennium, be it Bill Gates's Microsoft mouse or Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse.

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