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Daffy Duck

Daffy Duck is an animated cartoon character in the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Daffy was the first of the new breed of "screwball" characters that emerged in the late 1930s to supplant traditional everyman characters, such as Mickey Mouse and Popeye, who were more popular earlier in the decade. Daffy is known as the best friend and occasionally self-imagined rival of Bugs Bunny.

Virtually every Warner Brothers animator put his own spin on the Daffy Duck character, who may be a lunatic vigilante in one short but a greedy gloryhound in another. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones both made extensive use of these two very different versions of the character.

Origin

Daffy first appeared on April 17, 1937, in Porky's Duck Hunt, directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett. The cartoon is a standard hunter/prey pairing for which Leon Schlesinger's studio was famous, but Daffy (barely more than an unnamed bit player in this short) represented something new to moviegoers: an assertive, combative protagonist, completely unrestrainable. As Clampett later recalled, "At that time, audiences weren't accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.

This early Daffy is less anthropomorphic and resembles a 'normal' duck. The Mel Blanc voice characterization, and the white neck ring contrasting with the black feathers, are about the only aspects of the character that remained consistent through the years. Blanc's characterization of Daffy holds the world record for the longest characterization of one animated character by his or her original actor — 52 years. Daffy's catchphrase is "you're despicable."

The origin of Daffy's voice is a matter of some debate. One oft-repeated "official" story is that it was patterned after producer Schlesinger's tendency to lisp. However, in Mel Blanc's autobiography, That's Not All Folks!, he contradicts that conventional belief, writing "It seemed to me that such an extended mandible would hinder his speech, particularly on words containing an s sound. Thus 'despicable' became 'desthpicable'."

Daffy's slobbery, exaggerated lisp was developed over time, being barely noticeable in the early cartoons. In Daffy Duck and Egghead, Daffy does not lisp at all, except in the separately-drawn set-piece of Daffy singing "The Merry Go Round Broke Down", in which just a slight lisp can be heard.

Blanc's early version of Daffy was actually closer to his characterization of Woody Woodpecker than any other voice. In time he developed the slobbery, lispy sound, supposedly based on Warner cartoon producer Leon Schlesinger, that was essentially the same voice as Sylvester the Cat except that it was played back at a faster-than-recorded speed. (Incidentally, Sylvester's voice was actually Mel Blanc's own voice, plus the heavily exaggerated, slobbery lisp for which Sylvester and Daffy are famous for.) In one of the features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set, there is a rare audio of Blanc discussing a set of recordings he is about to make for the 1960s TV program, The Bugs Bunny Show. In that audio he states, "We record Daffy separately, because his voice is sped." In his later years, Mel would claim — and in personal appearances would even perform — separate voices for the cat and duck. In the DVD commentary for Scrap Happy Daffy, narrator Greg Ford reported that Blanc had once told him he sometimes played Daffy as if he were a Jewish comic, while playing Sylvester as if he were Gentile.

Different interpretations

Avery's Daffy

It was Tex Avery who created the original version of Daffy in 1937. Daffy established his status by jumping into the water, hopping around, and yelling, "Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Hoo-hoo! Woo-hoo!"

Clampett's Daffy

Animator Bob Clampett immediately seized upon the Daffy Duck character 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!" (In his autobiography, Mel Blanc stated that the zany demeanor was inspired by Hugh Herbert's catchphrase, which was taken to a wild extreme for Daffy). Clampett physically redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier, and rounding out his feet and bill. He was often paired with Porky Pig. Daffy would also feature in several war-themed shorts during World War II. Daffy always stays true to his unbridled nature, however: for example, attempting to dodge conscription in Draftee Daffy (1945), and battling a Nazi goat intent on eating Daffy's scrap metal in Scrap Happy Daffy (1943).

McKimson's Daffy

For Daffy Doodles (his first Looney Tunes cartoon as a director), Robert McKimson, Sr. tamed Daffy a bit, redesigning him yet again to be rounder and 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. Daffy was teamed up with Porky Pig; the duck's one-time rival became his straight man. Art Davis, who directed Warner Bros. cartoon shorts for a few years in the late 1940s until upper management decreed there should be only three units (McKimson, Friz Freleng and Jones), presented a Daffy similar to McKimson's. McKimson is noted as the last of the three units to make his Daffy uniform with Jones', with even late shorts such as Don't Axe Me (1958) featuring traits of the 'screwball' Daffy. While Daffy's looney days were over, McKimson continued to exploit the duck's versatility and charisma however, making him as ruthless or benevolent as his various roles required him to.

Jones' Daffy

As Bugs Bunny supplanted Daffy as Warner Bros.' 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 Robin Hood. In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953) — a parody of Buck Rogers — Daffy trades barbs (and bullets) with Marvin the Martian, with Porky Pig retaining the role of Daffy's sidekick. Other parodies were Daffy in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) as "Duck Twacy" (Dick Tracy) (by Bob Clampett) and as Stupor Duck (Superman, now a WB property himself) (by Robert McKimson).

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, while Bugs either remained indifferent to the duck's jealousy or used it to his advantage. Daffy's desire to achieve stardom at any cost was explored as early as 1940, in Freleng's You Ought to Be in Pictures, but the idea was most successfully used by Chuck Jones, who redesigned the duck once again, making him scrawnier and scruffier. In Jones' famous "Hunting Trilogy" (or "Duck Season/Rabbit Season Trilogy") of Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (each respectively launched in 1951, 1952 and 1953) Daffy's vanity and excitedness provide Bugs Bunny the perfect opportunity to fool the hapless Elmer Fudd into repeatedly shooting the 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, more likely to singe his tail feathers as well as his dignity than anything.

Film critic Steve Schneider calls Jones' version of Daffy "a kind of unleashed id. Jones said that his version of the character "expresses all of the things we're afraid to express. This is evident in Jones' Duck Amuck (1953), "one of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation," according to Schneider. In the episode, Daffy is plagued by a godlike animator whose malicious paintbrush alters the setting, soundtrack, and even Daffy. When Daffy demands to know who is responsible for the changes, 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 used the Jones idea for Daffy in Show Biz Bugs (1957) wherein Daffy's "trained" pigeon act (they all fly away as soon as Daffy opens their cage) and complicated tap dance number is answered by nothing but crickets chirping in the audience, whereas Bugs' simple song-and-dance numbers brings wild applause.

McKimson made more benevolent use of Daffy, in Ducking the Devil for example his greed becomes a vital tool in subduing the Tasmanian Devil and collecting a big cash reward. McKimson also played with Daffy's movie roles however. In 1959, Daffy appeared in China Jones in which he was an Irish private eye, with an Irish accent, instead of the usual lisp, in his voice.

Daffy in the 1960s

After the Warner Bros. animation studio reopened in the 1960s, Daffy Duck became a villain (or inconsistent friend) in several Speedy Gonzales cartoons, his mean spirit taken to an extreme. For example, in Well Worn Daffy (1965), Daffy is determined to keep the mice away from a desperately needed well seemingly for no other motive than pure maliciousness. Furthermore, when he draws all the water he wants, Daffy then attempts to destroy the well in spite of the vicious pointlessness of the act, 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.

Daffy today

Daffy lives on in cameo appearances and later cartoons such as a piano duel with fellow fowl Donald Duck (from the rival Walt Disney Company) in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In 1987, to celebrate Daffy's 50th Anniversary, Warner Bros. released The Duxorcist. their first theatrical Looney Tunes short in two decades. Daffy Duck also appeared in several feature-film compilations, including two films centering Daffy. The first was released in 1983, Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island; the second came in 1988, Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, which is considered one of the Looney Tunes' best compilation films, and featured another new theatrical short Night of the Living Duck. Daffy has also had major roles in films such as Space Jam in 1996 and Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. The latter film does much to flesh out his character, even going so far as to cast a sympathetic light on Daffy's glory-seeking ways in one scene, where he complains that he works tirelessly without achieving what Bugs does without even trying. That same year, Warner Bros. cast him in a brand-new Duck Dodgers series. He had a cameo appearance in the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries episode, "When Granny Ruled The Earth", first airing on March 27, 1999. Daffy has also been featured in several webtoons which can be viewed online

In the television series Tiny Toon Adventures, Daffy is a teacher at Acme Looniversity, where he is the hero and mentor of Plucky Duck. Daffy is shown as a baby in the Baby Looney Tunes show, and made occasional cameos on Animaniacs and Histeria! In the show Loonatics Unleashed, his descendant is Danger Duck (voiced by Jason Marsden), who is also lame and unpopular to his teammates. In the majority of these appearances, the selfish, neurotic and spotlight-hungry Daffy characterized by Chuck Jones is the preferred version.

More recently, Daffy has been given larger roles in more recent Looney Tunes films and series. Following Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Warner Brothers has slowly moved the spotlight away from Bugs and more towards Daffy, as shown in the 2006 video release Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, where Daffy plays the lead while Bugs Bunny appears in a very minor role.

Interestingly, more recent merchandise of the duck, as well as that featured on the official website, seem to incorporate elements of the zanier, more light hearted Daffy of the 1940s. Producer Larry Doyle noted that recent theatrical cartoons were planned that would portray a more diverse Daffy closer to that of Robert McKimson's design; however, due to the box-office failure of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, these new films ceased production.

Comics

Dell Comics published several Daffy Duck comic books, beginning in Four Color Comics #457, #536 and #615, then continuing as Daffy #4-17 (1956-59), then as Daffy Duck #18-30 (1959-62). The comic book series was subsequently continued in Gold Key Comics Daffy Duck #31-127 (1962-79). This run was in turn continued under the Whitman Comics imprint, until the company completely ceased comic book publication in 1984. In 1994, corporate cousin DC Comics became the publisher for comics featuring all the classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, and while not getting his own title, Daffy has appeared in many issues of Looney Tunes.

Other actors who voiced Daffy

Daffy has been voiced by other actors besides Mel Blanc and Joe Alaskey:

Other media

In 1950, Mel Blanc recorded Daffy Duck's Rhapsody, a comic song written by Warren Foster, Billy May and Michael Maltese.

Daffy plays a piano duet with Donald Duck in the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Daffy made a cameo in The Drew Carey Show, in a method of live-action/animated film.

Daffy appears in the Robot Chicken episode "Rodiggiti" voiced by Bill Farmer. In a segment that parodies 8 Mile, Daffy's role is similar to David "Future" Porter.

A poster of Daffy is prominently displayed in Michael Garibaldi's quarters in the science fiction TV series Babylon 5.

In Family Guy, after holding an exploding bomb from Mayor West, Meg has Daffy Duck’s bill on the wrong side of her head, and then states, “Of course, you realize, this means war,”.

See also

References

Notes

Sources

  • Adamson, Joe (1990). Bugs Bunny: 50 Years and Only One Grey Hare. Henry Holt & Co.
  • Schneider, Steve (1990). That's All Folks!: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation. Henry Holt & Co.
  • Solomon, Charles (1994). The History of Animation: Enchanted Drawings. Random House Value Publishing.

External links

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