Cecil Turtle is an animated cartoon character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of films. Though he made only three theatrical appearances, Cecil is remarkable in that he is one of the very few characters who was actually able to best Warners' studio star, Bugs Bunny, and the only one to do so three times in a row and at the rabbit's own game.
Director Tex Avery debuted Cecil in the cartoon Tortoise Beats Hare, released on March 15th, 1941. Even from the cartoon's opening titles, Tex lets on that Bugs Bunny is about to meet his match. Bugs wanders onto the screen munching his obligatory carrot and absent-mindedly begins reading the title card, grossly mispronouncing all of the credits, such as [əˈvɛɹɪ] for "Avery" rather than the correct [ˈeɪvəɹɪ]. When he finally gets to the title itself, he becomes outraged, tears apart the title card, and rushes to Cecil Turtle's house. He then bets the little,
sleepy-eyed turtle ten dollars that he can beat him in a race. Cecil accepts Bugs' bet and quickly (for him, anyway) calls up Chester Turtle and eight other cousins, all of whom look and sound like Cecil (some have deeper voices, some have higher voices)
After talking to Chester about the bet, he tells him to call the other cousins and tell them to be ready when he comes to their position, and to "give him the works". Fade to black (he possibly says goodbye and hangs up). The race begins several days later, and as Bugs runs relentlessly toward the finish line, Cecil and his relatives take turns showing up at just the right moment to baffle the bunny. In the end, Bugs is convinced he has won, only to see Cecil (or one of his kin) across the finish demanding the money. Bugs suggests that he has been tricked, and all ten turtles approach and reply, "It's a possibility!" Voice actor Mel Blanc supplies Cecil's drowsy drawl, which is like a slowed-down version of Blanc's later characterization of Barney Rubble from The Flintstones.
Tortoise Beats Hare is, of course, a take off of the Aesop fable The Tortoise & The Hare, but even more directly, it is Tex's parody of the 1934 Disney Silly Symphony, The Tortoise & The Hare. Interestingly, Max Hare from the earlier Disney film is often cited as one of the inspirations behind Bugs Bunny. Avery left Warner Bros. before he could produce any new cartoons featuring Cecil. However, he created a similar character in 1943 named "Droopy Dog." Droopy would even take some of his tricks from his slow-and-steady predecessor, such as using his relatives to help him outsmart a wolf.
Tortoise Wins by a Hare
Robert Clampett took Fred's main problem and altered it for his film Tortoise Wins By A Hare, released on February 20th, 1943. The title is a suitable pun on "hair." Bugs again challenges Cecil to a race after viewing footage from their previous encounter two years earlier (which seems to depict Cecil as having won fairly instead of by cheating Bugs with his cousins). Bugs then goes to Cecil's tree home disguised as an old man (a parody of Bill Thompson's "Old Timer" character from Fibber McGee and Molly) to ask the turtle his secret.
Cecil, not in the least bit fooled by the disguise, remarks that his streamlined shell lets him win, and produces a set of blueprints for his "air-flow chassis". The turtle ends the conversation with the comment, "Oh, and another thing... Rabbits aren't very bright, either!" just before slamming the door in the enraged bunny's face. Not getting the hint that the turtle's story is a humbug, Bugs builds the device and prepares for the race. Meanwhile, the bunny mob learns of the upcoming match-up and places all its bets on Bugs. ("In fact, we don't even think that the toitle will finish... Do we, boys?" "Duh, no, Boss, no!")
The race begins, and Bugs still outpaces his reptilian rival. However, in his new get-up, the dim-witted gangsters mistake him for the turtle. Cecil reinforces this misconception by dressing in a gray rabbit suit and munching on some delicious carrots. The mobsters thus make the shelled Bugs' run a nightmare, ultimately giving the race to Cecil (in an aside to the audience, as the rabbits cheer him, Cecil remarks, "I told you rabbits aren't very bright!"). When Bugs removes the chassis and sobbingly reveals that he's the rabbit, the rabbit gangsters remark, in mock-Bugsy style, "Ehhh, now he tells us!" and commit suicide by shooting themselves with a single bullet that goes through the sides of all four of their apparently soft heads.
Cecil and Bugs would have one final match up in Friz Freleng's cartoon, Rabbit Transit, released on May 10, 1947. The cartoon's title is a pun on "rapid transit". Unlike Tortoise Wins by a Hare, this cartoon presumes that Bugs and Cecil have never met before now. While relaxing in a steam bath, Bugs reads about the original fable and, as he did reading the credits of Tortoise Beats Hare, becomes incensed at the idea of a turtle outrunning a rabbit.
Cecil, also in the steam bath, claims that he could outrun Bugs, prompting Bugs to challenge him to a race (again, as in Tortoise Beats Hare, although at least here Bugs receives some provocation). This time, Bugs and Cecil agree to no cheating. Cecil, however, quickly reveals that his shell is now rocket propelled, allowing him to go a surprising combination between fast and slow. Bugs does his best to steal, dismantle, and destroy the device, but all to little effect.
In the end, however, Bugs does manage to top the turtle and crosses the finish line first. Nevertheless, it is Cecil who has the last laugh when he rooks the rabbit into confessing to "doing 100 easy"—in a 30-miles-per-hour zone. Bugs is taken away by the police to enjoy his victory—behind bars. Cecil closes out the cartoon by saying Bugs' famous line, "Ain't I a...um...stinker?". Iris-out.
The Warners directors retired Cecil after his third showdown with Bugs. Nevertheless, Cecil has made occasional cameos in later projects. He is seen briefly in the 1996 film Space Jam and the 2003 DVD Looney Tunes: Reality Check, his voice now provided by Joe Alaskey. He also features in some issues of the Looney Tunes comic book series. also he appeared as a villain on Animaniacs and The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. He also appears in The Looney Tunes Show episode Customer Service, voiced by Jim Rash, as an a customer service representative for a television company. He shuts down Bugs's cable and mispronounce Bugs's name, until Bugs confronts him and tricks Cecil into restoring his cable. This the only time to date that Bugs has managed to successfully outwit Cecil.
- Cecil is actually a tortoise since turtles are primarily water dwellers with webbed feet while tortoises are land dwellers with shorter legs with non-webbed feet.