Bugs is unnamed in this film, but would be named for the first time in his next short, Elmer's Pet Rabbit, directed by Chuck Jones. The opening lines of both characters—"Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits" for Elmer, and "Eh, what's up Doc?" for Bugs Bunny—would become catchphrases throughout their subsequent films.
This cartoon was first theatrically released with the Warner Bros. film Ladies Must Live.
Elmer approaches one of Bugs' holes, puts down a carrot, and hides behind a tree. Bugs' arm reaches out of the hole, feels around, and snatches the carrot. He reaches out again and finds Elmer's double-barreled shotgun. His arm quickly pops back into the hole before returning to drop the eaten stub of Elmer's carrot and apologetically caress the end of the barrel. Elmer shoves his gun into Bugs' hole, and thus causes a struggle in which the barrel is bent into a bow.
Elmer frantically digs into the hole while Bugs emerges from a nearby hole with another carrot in his hand, lifts Fudd's hat, and raps the top of his head until Elmer notices; then chews his carrot and delivers his definitive line, "What's up, Doc?". When Elmer replies that "he's hunting 'wabbits'", Bugs chews his carrot and asks what a wabbit is; then teases Elmer by with every aspect of Fudd's description until Elmer suspects that Bugs is a rabbit. Bugs confirms this, hides behind a tree, sneaks behind Elmer, covers his eyes, and asks "Guess who?".
Elmer tries the names of contemporary screen beauties whose names exploited his accent, before he guesses the rabbit. Bugs responds "Hmm..... Could be!", kisses Elmer, and dives into a hole. Elmer sticks his head into the hole and gets another kiss from Bugs; whereafter he wipes his mouth and decides to set a trap. When Bugs puts a skunk in the trap, Fudd blindly grabs the skunk and carries it over to the watching Bugs to brag; and when Elmer sees his mistake, Bugs gives him a kiss on the nose, whereupon Fudd looks at the skunk, who winks and nudges Elmer. Fudd winces and gingerly sends the skunk on his way.
Bugs then offers a free shot at himself; fakes an elaborate death; and plays dead, leaving Elmer miserable with remorse; but survives the shot and sneaks up behind the despairing Fudd, kicks him in his rear, shoves a cigar into his mouth, and tiptoes away, ballet-style. Finally, the frustrated Elmer walks away sobbing about "wabbits, cawwots, guns", etc. Bugs then begins to play his carrot like a fife, playing the tune The Girl I Left Behind Me, and marches with one stiff leg towards his rabbit hole (recalling The Spirit of '76).
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. Another nominee was Puss Gets the Boot (the first Tom and Jerry cartoon), directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and produced by Rudolf Ising. Both nominations lost to The Milky Way, another MGM Rudolph Ising production.
On June 17, 1944, Warner Bros re-released this cartoon as a Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies short.
In the original version, when Bugs plays "Guess Who" with Elmer, Elmer's second answer was Carole Lombard. In the reissue prints released following Lombard's death in a plane crash, "Carole Lombard" was redubbed with "Barbara Stanwyck."
In a rare promotional broadcast, A Wild Hare was loosely adapted for the radio as a sketch performed by Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan on the April 11, 1941, edition of The Al Pearce Show. The sketch was followed by a scripted interview with Leon Schlesinger.
Although the script is available for public online viewing, as of June 2010 no recording of the broadcast is known to exist.Bugs's nonchalant stance, as explained many years later by Chuck Jones, and again by Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett, comes from the 1934 movie It Happened One Night, from a scene where Clark Gable's character is leaning against a fence eating carrots more quickly than he is swallowing (as Bugs would later do), giving instructions with his mouth full to Claudette Colbert's character. This scene was so famous at the time that most people immediately saw the connection.
The line, "What's up, Doc?", was added by director Tex Avery for this film. Avery explained later that it was a common expression in Texas where he was from, and he didn't think much of the phrase. But when this short was screened in theaters, the scene of Bugs calmly chewing a carrot, followed by the nonchalant "What's Up, Doc?", went against any 1940s audience's expectation of how a rabbit might react to a hunter and caused complete pandemonium in the audience, bringing down the house in every theater. As a result of this popularity, Bugs eats a carrot and utters some version of the phrase in almost every one of his cartoons; sometimes entirely out of context.
In the scene where Bugs talks to Elmer after he comes out of the second hole, he settles down on his knees. There, when we see his feet, he usually has his black paw pads, but in this shot he doesn't. The paw pads on his feet are back in the rest of the shots. The lobby card for this cartoon also doesn't have the paw pads on his feet.
An early restoration with the original titles first surfaced on The Golden Age of Looney Tunes, with the 1941-45 opening theme, the closing was the original 1939-40 theme, used instead of the usual opening theme found on most 1939-40 Merrie Melodies shorts. This version now has its original music restored for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection.
The film occurs (unrestored) in its entirety in two documentaries available as bonus material in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series. One documentary is What's Up, Doc? A Salute to Bugs Bunny, which is available as a special feature on Discs 3 and 4 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3, with the original title cards. The other documentary is Bugs Bunny: Superstar, which is available as a special feature on Discs 1 and 2 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4, although it has not been refurbished or released independently in that series.
An uncut, restored version appears on the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection DVD, but did not surface on the Golden Collection series. The restored version is also featured on Disc 1 of The Essential Bugs Bunny and on Disc 1 of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2.
It can also be found on videos released by MGM/UA Home Video, such as the "Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd Cartoon Festival" VHS, and the "Here Comes Bugs" VHS.