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.
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.
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 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.
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,”.