Why is Mickey Mouse More Popular Than Bugs Bunny?

Baiting title aside, Mickey Mouse really is more popular than Bugs Bunny. He sells a lot more merchandise, appears in far more places around the world and is lauded as a mascot for the company that operates ‘The Happiest Place on Earth.’ Bugs never even got such opportunities and yet as a character, he is far superior to Mickey. Why is that?

Coming by way of Richard OConnor’s Ace & Son blog, is this quote from Rob Long:

People don’t seem to be able to get their fill of that little rat, him with his squeaky voice and gee-whiz attitude. Mickey is completely inoffensive, involved in a long-term, caring relationship, optimistic. Bugs is the opposite: he’s a wild man with a raging carrot-dependency, big with the exploding props and the verbal abuse, and one of these days he’s going to go over the edge. Mickey never will. He and his girlfriend will spend their days in inoffensive, unfunny bliss. But it is Bugs who makes us laugh, and isn’t that, after all, enough?

Is it really down the characterisations though? Bugs is a hugely popular character on his own, as is the rest of the Looney Tunes gang. What it really comes down to is how Bugs’ and Mickey’s respective owners have treated the characters down through the years.

Mickey was turned into a mascot; placed on a pedestal and held up to be admired by all. Disney and Mickey are synonymous with each other, which is exactly how the studio would like it to be. Mickey does represent a wholesomeness and innocence that a corporation such as Disney would be more than happy to exploit. The benefits are too great to ignore. Mickey could never possibly be a bad character, and neither would his owner, right?

Disney have also merchandised the living daylights out of Mickey since day dot. He is anywhere and everywhere and on just about everything too.

Contrast that with Bugs. Even though his character is impeccable, his place as a mascot/spokesman for Warner Bros. is/was limited at best. Sure he appears in the opening logo, but he doesn’t really do anything else for the studio outside of that. He is on merchandise, but nowhere near as many items as Mickey. The proof is in the pudding: Mickey has about 63,500 items on Amazon; poor Bugs can barely crack a tenth of that.

The suspect is that Disney is better at managing Mickey in all his roles as entertainer, mascot and salesman. The mechanisms have been in place for decades and Disney is quite adept at keeping them turning. Warners on the other hand, have permitted the Looney Tunes to stagnate on occasion and despite big-budget feature films in the 90s, the characters required an attitude adjustment for their return to TV. All in all, Bugs should be out there flogging as many things as Mickey, but the truth is that he doesn’t even have that much to sell.

What kind of lesson can be gleaned from this? Bugs and the Looney Tunes gang may have suffered from the old line of thinking at Warners that the animation department existed solely to help sell the live-action stuff (back when shorts were included with features). They never really escaped that down through the years, and to an extent still do today; the mural at the Warners’ lot features mostly superheroes now. Mickey was lucky in that Disney originated and succeeded thanks to animation, and his part in the success hasn’t been forgotten, even to this day. That’s why Mickey is more popular than Bugs, even if he doesn’t deserve to be.

  • zoe

    Maybe there is also the element of “international appeal?” Mickey is hugely popular outside the U.S., I think because of his blank-slate milquetoast personality. He is whoever you want him to be, and nobody in particular. He transcends culture.

    Bugs, on the other hand, is decidedly American, and beyond that, he’s unmistakably a New Yorker! I bet moviegoers in New York in the 30s and 40s loved seeing a scrappy, irreverent, working-class trickster character with a Brooklyn accent — but that specificity makes Bugs more relatable by urban Americans than perhaps others in the U.S. and in other countries.

    • http://animationanomaly.com/ Charles Kenny

      That’s a great point. Mickey’s character is universally inoffensive whereas Bugs might not resonate well in certain cultures at all.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/Mr111989 Kevin Kess

        How might the character of Bugs Bunny be considered offensive in other cultures and in what way?

  • Jon

    A lot of it also has to do with their respective corporate owners. Disney is a huge multi-national one that got it’s start in the animation field, and specifically with Mickey. Bugs’ company was really put on the map by Al Jolson and the Vitaphone recording system, and was already an established A-list studio when they lucked into Bugs via purchase of Leon Schlesinger’s studio (and via Schlesinger’s post-1933 ability to pick and choose talent for his studio and then stand back and let them do their thing). Bugs has provided a huge reservoir of goodwill towards Warner Bros. over the past 73 years, especially among kids who have grown up with the character, but he’s not as essential to the existence of the company as Mickey’s success was to Disney.

    On the other hand, what people buy as a symbol and what people watch are two different things. IIRC, Joe Adamson quoted Robert Klein as essentially saying that Mickey provides comfort to little children, but Bugs makes children and adults laugh. So you might buy more merchandise featuring the mouse, but if you sat people down next to a bunch of DVDs featuring the two characters, the ones they’d end up watching more often are those featuring the rabbit.

  • Andrew

    Because while Disney is a well-run, oiled machine of a media corporation that is always touting a successful franchise even if they lose an insane amount of money, Warner Brothers has yet to run a superhero movie series, and hasn’t done anything right with the Looney Tunes since the 60’s or start a good CGI animated theatrical line-up yet!

  • Andrew

    Also, Warner Bros had the idiotic decision to close down all the Stores due to a merger that ended as soon as it began, while Disney’s merch has existed for decades and never showed signs of slowing down.

    …and for those who think Mickey is wholesome, check out the Mickey Mouse 2013 shorts for the Disney Channel!

  • Martin Juneau

    As long i like Looney Tunes, it’s kinda hard to disagree that Bugs Bunny, despite being a pan of the American culture become overlooked in the pasts 40 years or so. My doubts for this series started 10 years ago when i saw this 1970’s/80’s TV Specials they produced for the first time. The drawings and characters looks sloppy and everything after the definitive WB theatrical shutdown is loaded with censors when they come to re-use the original films for futurs airings. The differences between the original films and the newer sequences are obvious in this specials. To me, Bugs Bunny exist only in the original 1940’s to mid-60’s cartoons films. No more!

    When it come to Mickey Mouse, he’s a much Global pan of the Pop-Culture than the screwy wabbit ever was. Everyone knows him even with his monotonous personality, but his adventurous attitude in comics-books have create a National star in Italy, even for a importation. I’m glad Disney in the US bought their efforts to revive the crazy and cartoony Mickey for the Epic Mickey videogames series or the current cartoons shorts. This shorts worth more our time than anything of Bugs Bunny in the past times.

  • Alex Dudley

    “Mickey was lucky in that Disney originated and succeeded thanks to
    animation, and his part in the success hasn’t been forgotten, even to
    this day. That’s why Mickey is more popular than Bugs, even if he
    doesn’t deserve to be.”
    That’s pretty much it. Mickey Mouse is what led to Disney’s big success and growth, and as the mouse took care of the company, they took care of him, allowing them to flourish, and made Mickey their icon.
    Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes were pretty big hits back in their heyday, with comics and merchandise, and whatnot. But they never expanded it like producing animated movies back then, so they didn’t contribute much to Warner Bros. success.
    Still, though they’re not as famous as Micky Mouse and friends, The Looney Tunes alongside the MGM shorts, are still more well remembered and loved today, compared to the cartoons of the other cartoon tudios (Fleischer, Terrytoons, Walter Lantz).

The Tip Jar

Original Content License