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"As ducks go, he's the daffiest."

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator

DAFFY DUCK

Daffy Duck is an animated cartoon character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Daffy was the first of the new breed of "screwball" characters that emerged in the 1930s and supplanted traditional "everyman" characters, such as Mickey Mouse, in popularity in the 1940s.

Daffy is also one of the most difficult cartoon characters to adequately define. Virtually every Warner Bros. animator put his own spin on the duck; Daffy may be a lunatic vigilante in one short but a greedy glory hound in the next. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones especially made extensive use of two very different versions of the character.

Daffy first appeared on April 17, 1937 in Porky's Duck Hunt, directed by Tex Avery with Bob Clampett as uncredited co-director. The cartoon is a standard hunter/prey pairing for which the studio is famous, but Daffy (not more than a bit player in this short) represented something new to moviegoers: an assertive, combative protagonist, completely unrestrained and completely unrestrainable. When audiences left the theaters, they could not stop talking about (as Porky Pig puts it) "that crazy, darnfool duck."

This early Daffy is not a handsome creature; he is short and pudgy, with stubby legs and beak. His voice (performed by Mel Blanc and patterned after Warners producer Leon Schlesinger's) is about the only part of the duck that would stay with him.

Animator Bob Clampett immediately seized upon the duck and cast him in a series of cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s. Clampett's Daffy is a wild and zany screwball, perpetually bouncing around the screen with cries of "Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!" Clampett also redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier, and rounding out his beak and feet. He was often paired with Porky Pig.

By the early 1940s, director Robert McKimson tamed Daffy a bit, redesigning him yet again to be rounder, less elastic. The studio also instilled some of Bugs Bunny's savvy into the duck, making him as brilliant with his mouth as he was with his battiness. This era also saw Daffy teamed up with Porky Pig, the duck's one-time rival now his straight man. Daffy would also feature in several war-themed shorts during World War II. Daffy always stays true to his unbridled nature, however, attempting, for example, to dodge conscription in Draftee Daffy (1945) and battling a Nazi goat intent on eating Daffy's scrap metal in Scrap Happy Daffy (1943).

As Bugs Bunny supplanted Daffy as the Warners' most popular character, the directors still found ample use for the duck. Several cartoons place him in parodies of popular movies and radio serials. For example, Drip-along Daffy (released in 1951 and named after the popular Hopalong Cassidy character) throws Daffy into a Western, while Robin Hood Daffy (1958) casts the duck in the role of the legendary outlaw. In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953) Daffy trades barbs (and bullets) with Marvin the Martian. Porky Pig retains the role of Daffy's sidekick.

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Bugs' ascension to stardom also prompted the Warner animators to recast Daffy as the rabbit's rival, intensely jealous and determined to steal back the spotlight. Chuck Jones would most successfully use the idea. Jones redesigned the duck once again, making him scrawnier and scruffier. In Jones' famous "Hunter's Trilogy" of Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (1951–1953) Daffy's vanity and excitedness provide Bugs Bunny the perfect opportunity to fool the hapless Elmer Fudd into repeatedly shooting the poor duck's bill off. Jones' Daffy sees himself as self-preservationist, not selfish. However, this Daffy can do nothing that does not backfire on him, singeing his tailfeathers as well as his dignity.

In fact, it is in the cartoons of Chuck Jones that this new, self-centered Daffy becomes fully realized. Many critics consider Jones' metafictional Duck Amuck (1953) to be Daffy's (and Jones') finest cartoon. In it, Daffy is plagued by a godlike animator whose malicious paintbrush alters the setting, soundtrack, even Daffy himself. When Daffy demands to know who is responsible, the camera pulls back to reveal none other than Bugs Bunny. Duck Amuck is widely heralded as a classic of filmmaking for its illustration that a character's personality can be recognized independently of appearance, setting, voice, and plot. In 1999, the short was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Friz Freleng would use the Jones idea for Daffy in Show Biz Bugs (1957) wherein Daffy's trained pigeon act is played to nothing but crickets chirping in the audience, while Bugs' song-and-dance numbers thrill the spectators.

After the Warner Bros. animation studio reopened in the 1960s, Daffy would become a true villain in several Speedy Gonzales cartoons. For instance in one cartoon set in the desert, Daffy Duck is determined to keep the mice away from a desperately needed well for seemingly its own sake to the point where he attempts to destroy it after getting the water he needs, forcing Speedy to stop him. The Warner Bros. studio was entering its twilight years, and even Daffy had to stretch for humor in the period. Some fans consider this the most controversial interpretation of the duck, who is openly malicious.

Daffy continues to live on in a number of cameo appearances and later cartoons such as a piano duel with fellow fowl Donald Duck in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Daffy has also had major roles in films such as Space Jam in 1996 and Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. That same year, Warner Bros. cast him in a brand-new Duck Dodgers series, which some critics saw as a return to the grand, crazy days of old for the character. In the TV series Tiny Toon Adventures, Daffy appears as the mentor of Plucky Duck and a teacher at Acme Looniversity. Daffy is shown as a baby in the Baby Looney Tunes show.

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