Article content: © Matthew Hunter. Daffy Duck: © Aol/Time Warner inc.
What Makes Daffy Duck?
A History of Daffy Duck
-by Matthew Hunter
One of the most popular cartoon characters ever
is Daffy Duck. Daffy was the second hit star from the Warner Bros. cartoon
shop, appearing two years after Porky Pig. Before Daffy and Porky, Warner
Brothers had only hoped to beat the Disney studio in popularity, with the
black-and-white Hugh Harman/Rudolph Ising Bosko cartoons of the early
30's, and later the horrible Buddy
Bosko had potential, but his creators got a better opportunity to work at the MGM cartoon studio. They took Bosko, a little inkspot character with the characteristics of a little black boy, with them after 3 years at Warners, working for independent producer Leon Schlesinger.
In 1934, the cartoonists remaining, including Friz Freleng, decided to continue the Bosko formula with a white song-and-dance kid named Buddy, one of the most boring characters ever created. These recieve trashing from modern critics, and are among, now, the rarest of all Looney Tunes.
Warner Bros. Goes Looney
This would not last long. Friz Freleng absolutely despised Buddy, and decided to experiment with a group of funny animals, lightly based on the Little Rascals/"Our Gang" scenario. His first film with this idea, "I Haven't Got a Hat", introduced Porky Pig, a shy, stuttering school kid with a passion for patriotic poems and a lack of pants. His classmates, most of which would reappear only on title cards, included a cat named Beans, an owl named Oliver, and "Little Kitty", a sort of female counterpart to Beans. Jack King, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Tex Avery would continue to work with the Porky and Beans series through 1936, and they had a popular character for the first time in 4 years. These cartoons still, however, showed a Disney influence. Tex Avery, who was not exactly a master at creating Disney-esque cartoons, decided to change things for the better and actually make his cartoons FUNNY. He began, around this time, to cross unusual boundaries with gags in the Porky series, creating a concepts still used in comedy films today, the "everywhere-I-turn -he's there" and "talking-to-the-audience". He wanted a character so incongruous, so nuts, so out-of place that it would put Walt Disney's cute "Silly Symphonies" to shame. He got one, in the 1937 cartoon "Porky's Duck Hunt."
Along Came Daffy
The elements were finally in place, the hunt (which would become a classic cartoon situation for decades to come), the gags, and the crazy, off-the-wall character, Daffy Duck. If Mickey Mouse was the character that brought animation to the public, it was the team of Porky and Daffy that made it truly funny.
Daffy, although at this point nameless, a little black duck with a white ring around his neck and a twisted twinkle in his eye, turned a black and white cartoon world upside down, woo-hooing and laughing wildly, bouncing on top of his lake like a jumping bean, and fearlessly standing up to the hunter Porky Pig. A person could say that Daffy Duck single-handedly let the looniness into the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
Many fans say that the best Daffy Duck cartoons were those of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett in the 1930's, most of which were in black and white. Such cartoons as "Porky's Duck Hunt", "Daffy Duck and Egghead", "Porky and Daffy", "The Daffy Doc", developed Daffy into a sort of wiseguy lunatic who, as he put it in "Daffy Duck and Egghead", "Just don't give a darn!" Bob Clampett's Early Daffy was particularly screwy, and he favored a gigantic mallet (perfect if you want to clobber an innocent pig.)
The voice of Daffy was developed to be a high pitched impersonation of producer Leon Schlesinger, who, apparently, found it to be an extremely funny voice and asked where the animators got it from...he never did get the joke.
Beginning in 1940, Daffy Duck began to develop into the Daffy that theatergoers would know for ten years. In Friz Freleng's "You Oughtta Be In Pictures", Daffy visits the office of a live-action Leon Schlesinger and tries to take Porky Pig's job. Rather symbolic, because after the early 40's, Porky would become little more than a straight man.
on through the 1940's, the crazy black duck starred in over 40 films in setting ranging from the unhappy household ("The Henpecked Duck") to the frozen North ("Daffy's Southern Exposure", "Along Came Daffy") with such costars as Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and even Chuck Jones' short-lived character Conrad Cat. His personality changed slightly, from uncontrollable maniac to maniac with brains, who was insane but in control of the situations he found himself in.
In 1948, Daffy Duck would change dramatically, and the start of that change came from Chuck Jones. While Daffy would remain his usual 1940's self in comics through the 1950's, the cartoons would venture into entirely different ideas. Jones began experimenting with Daffy's lust for money in his 1948 cartoons "You Were Never Duckier" and "Daffy Dilly", although he kept the duck more cheerful than he would later become. In "The Scarlet Pumpernickel", Chuck Jones decided to do a picture in which Daffy would try, and fail, to be a swashbuckling hero, ala Errol Flynn movies. His hunger to succeed and failure to do so began to change the character from a hyperactive, carefree, if not patriotic, duck into a more power-hungry and greed-driven loser. Perhaps the principal differences were in design, (Jones made him taller, skinnier, beakier and scruffier-looking) and personality (While he had been a winner before, and happier, Jones made him him a loser who was never satisfied). This is the Daffy Duck we all know today, and the character that would star in some of Chuck Jones' greatest cartoons.Among the best were movie genre spoofs featuring Daffy and Porky, like one in which Daffy tries to be Buck Rogers ("Duck Dodgers in the 241/2 Century") and an attempt at Westerns ("Dripalong Daffy", My Little Duckeroo").
The change didn't take hold with everyone at first. Even into 1952, although he changed over to Jones' design, Robert McKimson used the annoying, crazy-but-sneaky version of Daffy he'd been using before. Friz Freleng was just the opposite, he changed the personality to what Jones was using, his "His Bitter Half" still uses the 1940's design. By the mid 50's, though, Chuck Jones' remodeled Daffy Duck was here to stay.
At first, Daffy remained unsuccessful, but at least happy about it. Jones gave Daffy such foes as Nasty Canasta, Marvin Martian, Elmer Fudd, himself (In the masterpiece of animation, "Duck Amuck") and....Bugs Bunny. In three cartoons, "Rabbit Fire", (1951), "Rabbit Seasoning" (1952) and "Duck Rabit Duck"(1953), Chuck Jones got Daffy mixed up in the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd series, and made "Rabbit Season! Duck Season"! one of the best known arguments in history. The concept of Bugs meeting Daffy was not new, it had been done a as early as the 1940's, in Frank Tashlin's "Porky Pig's Feat", but the characters had no true interaction.
The Nuttiness Continues....
After this period, Jones would change Daffy yet again. Roughly 1954, Daffy's exclusive motivation in life became greed, and in several pairings with Bugs Bunny, he was UNCONTROLLABLY avaricious. He goes wild when he sees a huge treasure in "Ali Baba Bunny", pushing Bugs Bunny and a genie aside to get at it. This has consequences...the duck ends up shrunken by the magical genie, and the film ends with him clutching a tiny pearl before being sealed into an oyster. The period between 1954 and 1957 has been called Daffy's "greedy bastard years", and there is something about these films that makes them only slightly less enjoyable than the earlier ones, although most all are masterpieces.
The Rabbit/Duck teamups would give the other directors at Warner Brothers, at the time Robert McKimson and Friz Freleng, a chance to try out the concept, and Daffy would be paired with Bugs throughout the 50's and early 60's, in competition for everything from movie stardom (Friz Freleng's "A Star is Bored") to game shows (Robert McKimson's "People are Bunny."). In fact, the cartoon that is considered the definitive teamup of Bugs and Daffy, 1957's "Show Biz Bugs",in which each character tries to prove himself better than the other in a vaudeville act, was directed by Freleng. Daffy is still most commonly paired with Bugs today, in marketing, new productions, commercials, nearly every bit of merchandise including Daffy.
Daffy and Speedy
Once Chuck Jones left the studio in the early 60's, it wasn't long before the studio closed down and re-opened again in 1964 as DePatie/Freleng enterprises. Friz Freleng and David H. DePatie produced a whole series of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies through 1967, in which the principal characters were the Road Runner (a new take on the series directed by Rudy Larriva), Speedy Gonzales, and Daffy Duck. It has been speculated that the reason so many of these low-budget, troubled productions paired Speedy with Daffy was that most of the movie-going crowd was now reduced to the southwest, (thanks to television) and the most popular theatrical cartoon characters in that region were Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales. It was not a bad idea to team up the favorites...in theory. They didn't work well for a number of reasons.
For one thing, distributors began paying less and less for cartoons, due to television displacing movies as the more popular entertainment and theaters not being able to afford cartoon shorts. Thus, the post-1964 WB/Depatie-Freleng, and later the Warner Bros./7-Arts cartoons, are quite cheaply produced compared to the cartoons of the 40's and 50's.
Secondly, Robert McKimson, and later Alex Lovy,used the Chuck Jones version of Daffy, but for some reason made him disturbingly bitter. He clearly doesn't like rodents, Speedy just happens to be wherever he goes, and so cartoon plots were written concerning Daffy, for little reason, being mean to or chasing Speedy. These cartoons do have their moments, and many of them are quite good. Such cartoons as "Spy Swatter", "Quacker Tracker", "Feather Finger", "Go Go Amigo", and "Swing Ding Amigo" are among my favorites, a couple of these were directed by Rudy Larriva, the same director of the 1960's Road Runner films. These cartoons do not, in my opinion, deserve the trashing that they get by critics and historians. One thing I will agree on, however, is that the final theatrically-released film for both Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales was "See Ya Later Gladiator", and it has the honor of being possibly the WORST Warner Brothers theatrical cartoon ever made.
Daffy gains new life
Daffy Duck cartoons were a staple on television packages of Looney Tunes cartoons since the 1960 when the Bugs Bunny show first appeared on television. Various incarnations of the Looney Tunes show appeared on network television through the 60's and 70's, there has been a Road Runner Show, a Daffy Duck Show, a Porky Pig show, A Daffy, Sylvester and Speedy Show, and a Bugs Bunny Road Runner hour, to name a few.
In 1980, things began to heat up again for the maladjusted mallard. George Lucas commissioned Chuck Jones to create a sequel to "Duck Dodgers In the 241/2 Century", to be theatrically released withone of his "Star Wars" films. However, when the finished product appeared somebody had second thoughts, and the cartoon found its way into a TV special instead. The 1970's and 1980's TV specials gave the Looney Tunes characters new life, as did several theatrically released movies, all of which were compilations of classic material linked together with new animation.Two of them directly starred Daffy Duck. The first of the Daffy movies,, made in 1983, was, of all things, essentially a new Friz Freleng Daffy/Speedy cartoon with other LT characters making wishes (ala clips from classic Warner cartoons ) into the duo's well as filler material. The second came in 1988, called "Daffy Duck's Quackbusters." This is considered one of the best of the looney compilation movies, using "Daffy Dilly" and the previous years' theatrical shorts "The Duxorcist" and "Night Of the Living Duck" as the major plotline cartoons. These 1987 cartoons were directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon, who, for a while at least, kept Looney Tunes alive again. The then- unreleased "Blooper Bunny" and the TV special cartoon "Invasion Of the Bunny Snatchers" both included Daffy, and were , in my opinion, quite good.
Daffy Duck today
The Daffy we see today i generally in merchandise, and most of it uses Chuck Jones' 1950's version. In 1996, Warner Bros. released "Space Jam", a rather strange, but still quite good, fully new computer-animation/live action movie starring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Daffy actually hearkens back to his crazy 1940's days in the film, even with hints at "The Daffy Doc". The movie also starred almost the entire major cast of Warner Brothers LT cartoons, and even most of the lesser-known supporting players at least appeared in crowd scenes. One memorable gag starred Sniffles the mouse, a character who hadn't see the light of day since 1946. Daffy Duck has since been involved in yet another re-opening and re-closing of the WB cartoon studio, this time called "Chuck Jones Film Productions." Chuck Jones, even in his eighties, was asked by WB to make new theatrical shorts starring the Looney Tunes characters, and beginning with 1994's "Charriots Of Fur", he attempted to do so. This film was good, it was released theatrically with "Richie Rich", and then to a very successful video compilation of Road Runner cartoons by the same title. After this, several other films were made by Jones' studio, but only one starred Daffy Duck, (1997's "Superior Duck") and only three of them recieved theatrical release, one direct-to-video and the rest never formally released. From what those who have seen the whole bunch have said, they are a mixed bag, ranging from very good to very bad. Like many projects, Warner Brothers must have gotten cold feet and stopped publicizing/releasing these films, and by 1997/98 the shop's contract was cancelled and it was shut down for good. Personally, I would love to see all of these films (I've only see one). Makes me very angry if you ask me, WB cancelling this so quickly, but I'm sure they had *SOME* reason for it.
The most current event to involve the duck at the moment is the 1997 merger between Turner Entertainment and Warner Brothers. Now, for the first time ever, the 1930's and 1940's Daffy Duck cartoons are shown on television alongside the 1950's shorts, and the former line between the pre-1948 releases (formerly owned lock, stock and barrel by Turner) and the post-1948 releases (Warner Brothers) is now rendered obsolete. All Daffy Duck films, except for the Speedy series, most of the TV specials , and "Superior Duck" have been shown on Cartoon Network, now the only television broadcaster of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
Daffy Duck has been involved in almost every era of Warner Brothers animation, the character has adapted to whatever style a time period called for, and has remained one of the greatest and best-loved cartoon stars of all time. Now, the age-old question...who's better, Bugs, or Daffy?!
Article: c. Matthew Hunter