THE BOOTLEG FILES: THE GREAT CARROT-TRAIN ROBBERY Image

BOOTLEG FILES 553: “The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” (1969 animated short directed by Robert McKimson).

LAST SEEN: The film is on several Internet video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is part of the much-maligned final stretch of the Warner Bros. animated output.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Maybe sometime in the distant future.

By the 1960s, the theatrical market for animated shorts had begun to evaporate. Despite the limited commercial potential for this market, the Warner Bros. studio continued to churn out cartoons – but budget limitations and a shortage of creative talent resulted in an output that can charitably be described as mediocre.

But that’s not to say the studio was totally lacking in good ideas. In response to the controversial success of Warner Bros.’ 1967 feature “Bonnie and Clyde,” the animation unit decided to come up with a parody called “Bunny and Claude: We Rob Carrot Patches.” In concept, it was amusing to recast the Arthur Penn film by having rabbits dressed up like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. There was even a funny new ballad, sung by Billy Strange, that played in the film’s opening credits. Oddly, the animation unit did not go with the studio’s prize creation, Bugs Bunny, to play Claude – a new rabbit character with a slight Southern drawl was invented for the cartoon.

As a one-off parody, “Bunny and Claude: We Rob Carrot Patches” was a mildly entertaining, family-friendly riff on “Bonnie and Clyde,” with the title characters pulling miscreant pranks on a hot-tempered Dixie sheriff. And while the short did not generate any great enthusiasm with audiences, the studio decided that Bunny and Claude warranted additional adventures. The second entry in the Bunny and Claude series, “The Great Carrot-Train Robbery,” also proved to be the last in the line-up.

“The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” opens at a train depot where Bunny and Claude arrive to hijack an express train carrying carrots. “What time is the 5:15 due?” they ask the depot clerk. “4:50” he replies. When the depot clerk realizes who Bunny and Claude are, he becomes endlessly nervous, even offering them his boxed lunch.

The depot clerk, under Bunny and Claude’s orders, force the express train to stop. The rabbits hop on the train, which takes off. The depot clerk then calls the sheriff who was the rabbits’ nemesis in the earlier cartoon. The sheriff is asleep at his desk – and when the ringing telephone interrupts his slumber, he groggily picks up a gooseneck lamp, mistaking it for the telephone’s receiver.

The sheriff, finally awake and cognizant of the crime, runs from his office and tries to jump into his convertible car – but he misses the vehicle and lands with a thud on the ground. Once he manages to get in the vehicle, he hits a bumpy road that causes him to bounce all about the car. At one point, he hits a cow and the poor bovine winds up riding in the car’s rumble seat.

The sheriff attempts to jump from a bridge and land on top of the train carrying Bunny and Claude, but he lands in the smokestack instead. After emerging from his hot ash landing spot, the sheriff gives a brief chase to Claude. Claude outruns the sheriff and he instructs Bunny to hide in a barrel in the cabin containing the carrots. The sheriff emerges into the cabin and hides in another barrel. Claude quickly hammers nails into the lid of the barrel containing the sheriff while Bunny pushes a lit dynamite stick into a hole in the barrel – which is then pushed out of the train and down a steep hill. Needless to say, the sheriff fails to emerge from the barrel before the dynamite explodes.

The sheriff resumes his pursuit via a rail car, but Claude unlocks the train’s caboose, which forces the sheriff into another crash. The sheriff then pays a farmer for a horse that is being used to plow a field. The sheriff jumps on the horse’s back and gallops off – with the plow still attached to the animal and with the farmer holding on to the plow.

The sheriff eventually catches the train with Bunny and Claude and lectures them about the folly of their criminal ways. But, sadly, the sheriff’s new horse eats all of the carrots that Bunny and Claude were attempting to steal, thus destroying the evidence. Bunny and Claude jump into a car and motor away, with the sheriff behind them on his horse, which has become obese from overeating carrots and is now bouncing along instead of galloping.

Under Robert McKimson’s direction, “The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” moves with some degree of old-style slapstick speed. And a few of the gags are genuinely inventive, especially the one involving the farmer and his plow.

But the problem with the film was that Bunny and Claude had relatively little to do – the sheriff has the bulk of the screen time and the majority of the laughs. As a standalone character, the sheriff isn’t particularly amusing in his own right, and the voice given to him by Mel Blanc is identical to the one used for greater effect with Foghorn Leghorn. (Blanc also voiced Clyde.)

The real waste here is Bunny, who could have been a game-changer in the Warner Bros. cartoon line-up, where female characters were only in supporting roles and were rarely sexy (consider Granny or Witch Hazel). Bunny is a sexpot who smokes a cigar and speaks with a seductive voice via “Petticoat Junction” star Pat Woodell. One surprising moment finds Bunny lying on a pile of carrots – she coos “Come here, Claude!” in a manner that is closer in spirit to the Pre-Code Warner Bros. flicks than to the late-era Warner Bros. animation.

Trivia fans know “The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” to be Mel Blanc’s final film under his theatrical contract with Warner Bros., although he would continue to do voice performing of the studio’s beloved characters until his death in 1989. Robert McKimson directed three more Warner Bros. theatrical cartoons before the studio disbanded its animation unit in 1969; he would later direct made-for-TV productions featuring the Warner Bros. characters, as well as other programming, until his death in 1977.

“The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” was dumped in theaters (or at least whatever theaters were still showing shorts) in January 1969 and was mostly forgotten. It was never included in the studio’s home entertainment releases, although it did turn up a couple of times on Cartoon Network’s broadcasts of the Warner Bros. output. Some enterprising bootleggers have copied the Cartoon Network’s rare presentations of this title and pasted them on various online video sites.

While “The Great Carrot-Train Robbery” is no one’s idea of a good cartoon, it nonetheless offers evidence of a once-great animation unit’s attempt to stay relevant in the face of changing times.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Phil Hall says:

    @Wiley207 – well, whaddaya know. That DVD came out 2 years ago, but either I wasn’t paying full attention what WB was putting out or WB slipped it out minus fanfare. Strangely, the online copies were ripped from TV broadcasts and not from a DVD release. In any event, thanks for the update.

  2. Wiley207 says:

    Uh, this short WAS released on DVD a couple years ago, the “Porky Pig and FriendS” Looney Tunes Superstars DVD from Warner Home Video

  3. Mark Lungo says:

    “The real waste here is Bunny, who could have been a game-changer in the Warner Bros. cartoon line-up, where female characters were only in supporting roles and were rarely sexy…”

    Indeed, and Bunny’s amateurish character design, with that weird triangular blob of lipstick, didn’t help either. (If you want to see a fan pic of Bunny & Claude that vastly improves on the original designs, it’s at http://smithygcn.deviantart.com/art/We-Rob-Carrot-Patches-188791257 .) WB didn’t even begin to address this problem until Lola Bunny was created.

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