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."
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.
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! (19511953)
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
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.