The 2023 Lunar New Year observance is Sunday, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit.
The Rabbit, in terms of the zodiac, is an animal of peace and prosperity, giving 2023 a reason to look ahead with hope and happiness.
According to Chinese tourism sites like China Highlights, those born this year are “witty, vigilant, quick-minded, and ingenious.”
If you look at many of the rabbits in pop culture, that description is certainly the case. As Year of the Rabbit bounces in, here are 10 random and geeky facts about just a few of the many pop culture rabbits, hares, and bunnies.
1. By now, many people know Walt Disney’s famous phrase “it all started with a mouse” isn’t entirely true. It actually started with a rabbit: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was created by Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1927 and is a year older than Mickey Mouse. On January 1 of this year, appropriately enough, many of the early Oswald shorts were released in Public Domain. Here’s one:
2. Warner Brothers knew the value of rabbits, however, and their biggest cartoon star, Bugs Bunny, was admitted in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 for the most film appearances by any cartoon character. Voice legend Mel Blanc, who thought a tough Bronx accent would be perfect for Bugs, perfected his “What’s up, doc?” catchphrase by actually eating carrots while recording his lines for Bugs.
3. One of the coolest comic book rabbits out there is the “bodyguard rabbit” Usagi Yojimbo, who debuted in 1984 in Dark Horse Comics. Creator Stan Sakai was influenced by several sources for this rabbit ronin wanderer. These included Edo period swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo, and even Sergio Aragonés’s Groo the Wanderer.
4. Of course, there are always not-so-nice bunnies, too. In the animated series and popular mobile game Subway Surfers, the main baddie is Frank. You never see this well-dressed villain as he always wears a white bunny mask on his face and sometimes a bunny costume. Frank and the rest of the game got a special rabbit-centric overlay (including a new rabbit-masked character) this year for Lunar New Year.
5. Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is constantly the subject of study, as literary scholars try to break down the meaning behind every character and concept. This includes the book’s two famous anthropomorphic rabbits, the White Rabbit and the March Hare. Some interpretations indicate the perpetually in-a-rush White Rabbits represents Alice’s quest for knowledge and adventure, as he leads her down the “rabbit hole.” The March Hare? Well, he’s based on the phrase “mad as a March hare,” because March is in the middle of mating season. Courtship in the countryside can get a little crazy among the wild hares. Of course, every literary mind “in the know” has its own interpretation.
6. One of Disney’s more recent rabbit heroes is a little bunny working as a cop in a big city, Judy Hopps from the movie and series Zootopia. Judy, whose middle name is Laverne for those wanting to know, may be little, but she comes from a big family: 275 brothers and sisters.
7. Rabbits are a big presence in the world of advertising logos and mascots, as bunny spokesmen from Energizer to Trix, Nesquik to Cadbury, to, well, Playboy and Psycho Bunny. One mascot, however, has been officially “killed off.” In 2014, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers admitted their former mascot, “Hip Hop” the rabbit, was dead and buried. When the long-time mascot retired, they first said he had gotten married and started a family in rural Pennsylvania, before admitting the truth. Hip Hop was killed off by the Sixers to make room four years later for Franklin the Dog.
8. There are more prominent rabbit characters in children’s literature than you can count, but in 1972, a generation of young readers was taken in by a book based on a community of rabbits trying to escape the ruin of their warren and find a new home: Watership Down by Richard Adams. The multi-award-winning book inspired the animated movie in 1978, the mini-series in 2001, as well as a series, but it took Adams nearly 25 years to write a sequel, a collection of short stories released in 1996. Not bad for a book that grew from stories Adams used to tell his kids while they were on long drives.
9. There is one storybook rabbit who seems to always stand out, Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Potter, whose love of nature and animals was a driving force of her tales, based Peter on her own pet a bunny named Peter Piper. Potter created Peter Rabbit originally as a character in letters she wrote in 1893 to cheer up her late governess’s often sick son. These stories made their way into her first Peter Rabbit book published 10 years later.
10. Finally, we have to mention there are some killer and horror genre rabbits lurking about. Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s “Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog” is the most famous, and there’s that creepy bunny-like harbinger of the future, Frank, in Donnie Darko. Not to mention the more kid-friendly book series (later a cartoon) of the vampire rabbit Bunnicula. However, if you want a movie based on killer hordes of mutant bunnies terrorizing a small Arizona town, look no further than the terribly cheesy 1972 B-Movie Night of the Lepus.
Watch out, the bunnies are on the move, and they aren’t Radaghast’s Rhogobel Rabbits, either.
Warning: This clip contains some very unconvincing fake blood at the end, yet still not for the squeamish.
And one little bonus…
11. If you live in Vietnam, you likely won’t see what all the fuss about rabbits is. This is because, in the Vietnamese Zodiac, they are celebrating the Year of the Cat. The Chinese and Vietnamese Zodiacs are near identical except for this year and the Year of the Ox, which is the Year of the Buffalo in Vietnam.
To all you cat people, as well as any rabbits out there, Happy New Year! Here’s the hit soft rock song written and recorded by a Scottish musician, Al Stewart, during the Year of the Cat in the 1970s. It’s called, of course, “Year of the Cat” from the album of the same name.