|First appearance||Bewitched Bunny (1954)|
|Created by||Chuck Jones|
Witch Hazel is an animated cartoon character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Disney, MGM, Famous Studios, and the Little Lulu comic book also had characters named Witch Hazel, and Rembrandt Films had one named Hazel Witch. This article is chiefly concerned with the character who appeared in Warner Bros. films.
"Witch hazel" is a pun on the name of a North American shrub and the herbal medicine derived from it. Animator Chuck Jones, of his own admission, got the idea of Witch Hazel from the Disney cartoon Trick or Treat (1952), which featured a good-natured witch squaring off with Donald Duck. Enamored of the character's voice characterization, provided by June Foray, Jones developed his own Witch Hazel character for the Bugs Bunny short Bewitched Bunny (1954). The story retells the classic Fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", and Witch Hazel, naturally, plays the witch who tries to cook and eat the children. Bugs Bunny witnesses her coaxing the children inside and saves the youths from Witch Hazel's clutches. However, once the witch realizes that Bugs is a rabbit, she chases him to put him into her witch's brew. Bugs eventually uses Hazel's own magic against her and transforms her into a sexy female bunny, to whom he is instantly attracted. As the short ends, he walks away with her while he breaks the fourth wall, and expresses the comment, "Oh sure, I know. But aren't they all witches inside?" As Jones was unable to get Foray to play the role, Bea Benaderet supplied the witch's voice.
Despite their common name, Jones' Witch Hazel is a much different beast from her counterpart in the earlier Disney film. The Looney Tunes character is highly stylized. Her rotund, green-skinned body is wrapped in plain, blue dress and supported by twig-like legs. She has wild black hair from which hairpins fly and spin in midair, whenever she zooms off on her broom or cackles in glee over her next evil scheme, and she wears a crumpled black hat. Her nose and chin jut bulbously from her face, and her mouth sports a single tooth.
She's a more villainous creature than Disney's witch, as well. In Bewitched Bunny the Looney Tunes Hazel lures children into her house to eat them, albeit in comically named recipes like "Waif Waffles" or "Moppet Muffins". Nonetheless, she is jovial and has a strong sense of humor; she frequently says things that cause her to break into hysterical, cackling laughter and can cackle at herself when she makes a blunder (i.e. when the broom she rides goes backwards and crashes into a wall: "Oh, we women drivers... I had the silly thing in reverse!") She also seems to have quite strong maternal instincts.
Jones finally succeeded in wooing Foray into taking on the role of Witch Hazel for the 1956 cartoon Broom-Stick Bunny. Foray had reservations about Jones "stealing" a character from Disney, but Jones knew that there was no way for Disney to establish ownership of the name since "witch hazel" is the name of an alcohol rub. Foray would perform the character for the final two cartoons in the series.
Broom-Stick Bunny is usually cited as Jones' funniest Witch Hazel outing. The cartoon begins with Hazel asking the genie of in her magic mirror who's the ugliest one of all (a plot similar to the one in Snow White, but the opposite). The scene cuts to Bugs trick-or-treating on Halloween dressed as a witch. When he visits the isolated house of Witch Hazel, she mistakes Bugs-in-witch-costume for an actual witch. Jealous that this newcomer is uglier than herself, Hazel invites the "witch" inside her strange home (beautifully rendered by layout artists Ernest Nordli and Philip DeGuard, and including a 'Magic Broom Closet') for some "Pretty Potion" disguised as tea. Bugs removes his mask to drink, sending her into a frenzy and mad dash; a rabbit's clavicle (a bone in the shoulder) is the last ingredient in her witches brew. Hazel then chases Bugs and soon captures him by tricking him with a carrot. Hazel was about to kill Bugs, but when she looked into his big sad eyes, she cried and said that he reminded her of her pet tarantula, Paul. Bugs then tried to calm her down with a beverage (the Pretty Potion from earlier). In the end, Hazel unknowingly drinks the Pretty Potion (it's unknown if it Bugs did this on purpose or by accident), a fate worse than death for a woman who relishes her croneliness. The potion transforms Hazel into a young and beautiful redhead (with a hairdo that, according to Foray, matched her own in a tribute to the actress). Now with a slender but curvaceous figure, Hazel's wearing a tight sea green/teal dress that shows off her legs and the top of her cleavage. Horrified at her appearance, she runs to her magic mirror and (in a newly softened, sexier voice matching her beautiful appearance) meekly asks if she's still ugly. The genie, seeing Hazel's sexy new appearance, instantly falls in love with her and lunges to grab her after giving a Bob Hope-like "ROWR, ROWR." Hazel then flies off into the night on her flying broomstick with the genie slowly gaining on her riding his magic carpet. Bugs then calls Air Raid-headquarters about them. Critics have praised the film's witty dialogue, written by Tedd Pierce, such as Hazel's question to Bugs-in-costume: "Tell me, who undoes your hair?" He replies, "Do you like it?", to which her response is a gleeful "Like it? Why, it's absolutely hideous!" Subsequently, when she leaves the room to prepare the poisonous concoction, she encourages him to "Make yourself homely!"
Bugs Bunny was pitted against Witch Hazel in one final cartoon, A Witch's Tangled Hare (1959), a parody of Macbeth. This short was directed by Abe Levitow, as Jones was probably off sick during production. Rabbit is once again the missing ingredient to Witch Hazel's brew, and Bugs happens to be in the area. Meanwhile, a William Shakespeare look-a-like observes the action in search of inspiration. At the end of the short, Bugs finds out that that the man is not William Shakespeare, but is actually a man named Sam Crubish. Witch Hazel hears this and it appears that the two know each other but haven't seen each other in a while because Crubish had the wrong apartment number (2B). The poet and Witch Hazel leave talking about who made the mistake of saying "2B" and the cartoon closes with Bugs Bunny quoting the famous line from Hamlet - "To be, or not to be."
The 1963 Bugs Bunny short Transylvania 6-5000 features a brief, silent cameo appearance from Witch Hazel (or a character very similar to her), as Bugs transforms Count Bloodcount, the cartoon's vampire antagonist, into her through the use of a magic spell.
Witch Hazel has since appeared in cameos in various Warner Bros. productions, such as the movie Space Jam (1996), the video games Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time (in which she appears as a bossand also appears on the cover of the game) and Looney Tunes Collector: Alert! (2000), and one episode each of Animaniacs (in a Rita and Runt episode), The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Pinky & The Brain, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Duck Dodgers (which references Broom-Stick Bunny and where June Foray returns to do her voice). She was also featured as the lead antagonist in DC Comics' 3-issue Bugs Bunny mini-series from 1990 (though at the end of the storyline, her appearance there is actually revealed to be a disguised Wile E. Coyote). She even made a cameo in the deleted "pig head scene" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which she can be seen flying around on her broomstick before she gets struck by lightning. She was used as an enemy in Scott Lowenstein's Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 4 and her silhouette can be seen on the cover of the game. Witch Hazel has a cameo in the video game adaptation of Looney Tunes: Back in Action as a painting parodying the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum. Witch Hazel was also spotted in a MetLife commercial in 2012.
The 2011 animated series The Looney Tunes Show introduces an identically designed character named Witch Lezah. Lezah ("Hazel" spelled backwards) is voiced by Roz Ryan, who gives the character a pronounced African-American patois. In the series, she is Gossamer's mother. Unlike the other characters and her original character, she is 100% serious all the time and gives advice that is not nonsensical and is more calm. She has a contradictory relationship with Daffy as she once asked (and threatened) him into helping Gossamer make friends. However, once Gossamer has friends she asks Daffy to stay away from her son despite all his hard work in helping Gossamer gain friends, although the tone she says this in is one that could suggest she was just annoyed by Daffy demanding a reward for helping Gossamer. She has also provided Sylvester with hypnotherapy services when he was in denial about his relationship with his mother. In "Best Friends Redux," it is revealed that Witch Lezah has a time portal in her home which Daffy uses so that he can ensure that Bugs Bunny and Rodney Rabbit (never meet each other out of jealousy. When it is changed to the point where nobody knows Daffy, Witch Lezah (who was unaffected by the time change) sends Daffy back in time to correct it since Rodney is the reason that Bugs first met Daffy. Daffy was successful in this. In the final scene, Daffy uses Witch Lezah's time portal again to make sure he and Porky Pig meet which actually works.