Movie audiences are howling over a 43-year-old Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring a carpet-riding rabbit's Persian Gulf encounters with a mustachioed character named Mad Man Hassan.

"It's one of those things - art imitating life," said Vivian Boyer of Warner Bros. studios, which distributes 120 Looney Tunes in an exclusive arrangement with the nationwide American Multi-Cinema theater chain.But the seven-minute cartoon, "A-lad-in His Lamp," made in 1948, is replete with age-old Arab stereotypes some have striven to have banished from Hollywood.

"It is too bad that Hollywood continues to perpetuate this stereotype, even in cartoons," said radio personality Casey Kasem, who is of Arab descent and works actively to improve the Arab image.

"It seems sad that they continue to defame and denigrate Arabs," Kasem said. "If we do what we did to the Japanese and the Hispanics by denigrating Arabs, it will dehumanize the populace as a whole."

Gary Hahn, a spokesman for the Warner Bros. animation division in New York, called the timing "an incredible coincidence." Theaters started showing the cartoon two months before Iraq invaded Kuwait.

At a Thursday evening screening at the Burbank AMC theaters, the audience paying to see the thriller "The Silence of the Lambs" was first shown the cartoon. Moviegoers laughed and cheered.

In the cartoon, the carrot-chomping rabbit best known for his "Eh, What's up doc?" question, rubbed a magic lamp that produced a genie.

The voice of the late Jim Backus as the genie mentions his "fabulous estate in Bagdad" and Bugs says: "I wish I could go to Bagdad." The audience laughed.

Once there, Bugs comes upon a sign reading, "Mad Man Hassan." Of a turbaned, sabre-wielding Hassan, Bugs asks, "Eh, What's up beaver puss?"

The cartoon features flying carpets and a harem and ends with Bugs luxuriating with a bevy of beauties catering to his whims.

"It was never intended to be a racist cartoon," said Boyer.

On Friday, Warner Bros. issued this statement: "To see the short is to recognize it as simply a classic cartoon, produced 43 years ago, satirizing a classic children's fairy tale, intended - as all our cartoons are - only as good-natured fun."

In fact, the vintage Looney Tunes, featuring such characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat, were closely scrutinized by AMC and Warner Bros., said AMC Entertainment Inc. spokesman Jack Holland.

Many cartoons from the Warner Bros. vault were scrapped because of racist overtones, he said. The titles and nature of those cartoons weren't disclosed.