Saturday, June 24, 2006

Daffy Duck

Hey everyone, today is my birthday. However, my way of celebrating this milestone in my life is not to make a blogpost talking about me. Instead, I'd like to spend the next few minutes talking about my favourite character of all time: Daffy Duck

It's not hard to see why Daffy is so appealing. His sleek, angular design allows for him to pull off any sort of insanity while sporting a line of action so fluid the human eyeball has trouble registering it immediately. Check him out scat singing with Little Red Riding Hood in Book Revue (by Bob Clampett c. 1946), sword fighting with Agnus' father in Nasty Quacks (by Frank Tashlin c. 1945), scaring Porky with a fake-schitzophrenic routine in The Prize Pest (by Robert McKImson c. 1951), or diving into a cave full of gold coins in Ali Baba Bunny (by Chuck Jones c. 1957) along with many others and see it for yourself.


However, there is something just below the surface that really makes Daffy the great character that he is. It's his layered personality. Yes, dare I say it, Daffy is about as complex or even moreso than any anime character you could throw at me. ;P You see, Daffy is NOT just the looney duck who suddenly changed into the greedy duck. No, in actual fact, he is both of them at once and more.
Basically, Daffy is based on WB toons co-founder and producer Leon Schlesinger. Leon had a thick lisp which many of the artists and gag writers at the studio found hilarious. But, equally hilarious was Leon's penchant to make himself seem more important than he actually was. For this reason he'd use the profits from the cartooons (which he should have been reinvesting back into the studio) in order to support his luxuriant lifestyle of going to as many expensive Hollywood nightclubs as he possibly could just so he could be near celebrities and hope to be mistaken for one. He also owned a little dinky speedboat that he referred to as his 'yacht' as though calling it that would fool someone into thinking he's a rich bigshot.



This is the very personality quirk they imbued into Daffy. He needed to build himself up and even overcompensate in order to prove to the world (or the other character with him) that he's worth something. It's certainly much more evident in the '50's cartoons such as The Scarlet Pumpernickel (by Chuck Jones c. 1950) or Show Biz Bugs (by Friz Freleng c. 1957) but it was there early on in his wacky days as well. Yes, You Ought To Be In Pictures (by Friz Freleng c. 1940) is the example most often sited so I won't site it here. The one I'm talking about is even earlier than that: Daffy Duck in Hollywood (by Tex Avery c. 1938). Here Daffy actually has the nerve to barge into producer I. M. Stupendous' office and state, "Say, fella! Do you need a good duck actor??" He'd make a similar entrance into a producer's office in A Star is Bored (by Friz Freleng c. 1956) in which he says "Okay, boss, hang up. A star is born and that star is me." He's always had the kahone`s to sell himself big no matter what the situation.



Here, let's watch a bit of Daffy Duck in action. This was made during his looney days during the years of WWII. Note the line of action I mentioned before. By the way, this cartoon also marked Frank Tashlin's triumphant return as a director of WB cartoons as well as the animation debut of Art Davis at WB. (He was brought over by Tashlin from the Columbia Screen Gems studio). I now present Scrap Happy Daffy(by Frank Tashlin c. 1943).
The song near the end points out yet another important aspect of Daffy's personality. He never gives up. Even if the battle sems or is unwinable, Daffy is still in there trying yet one more time. This is seen very clearly in what is now called the "hunters trilogy". These are the cartoons where Daffy and Bugs try to goad Elmer Fudd into shooting each other.

In recent interviews, John (Ren & Stimpy) Kricfalusi has made negative statements towards this series. He does have preference for the earlier Daffy which is understandable. Daffy's filmography from the 1940's is quite awe-inspiring. However, the part where John 's logic fails is when he says "Daffy is not stupid enough to be out-witted by Bugs Bunny all the time. Chuck Jones (the director) is just picking on Daffy." Y'see, not everyone in the history of mankind that has ever been outsmarted had it done because they were stupid. Even the most intelligent college professor has been talked into buying a lemony used car once or twice.
So too, Bugs Bunny does not merely outsmart stupid characters. He has MUCH more skill than that. The reason Bugs wins so many of his battles is because he has an uncanny ability to size up his opponent and find the weakness instantly. That's why Bugs can afford to be so smug, he's figured out his gameplan to victory already. All that's left for him is to carry it out in almost a paint-by-numbers fashion. This is of course hilariously offset by his opponent's staunch determination to "get that wabbit". The reason Bugs has so much fun with Elmer is not just because he's stupid. I mean, he certainly is that, but he's also insecure and overwhelmed by everything. That's usually what trips him up. His stupidity only keeps him blind to the fact that Bugs is uncatchable.
Bugs sees in Daffy yet another aspect of his personality when sizing him up: Daffy impulsively acts before he thinks. This doesn't make Daffy stupid (as John K. says), it merely makes him easier to handle for Bugs. That's why Daffy gets tripped up all the time in the Duck Season/Rabbit Season word play. Daffy just foolishly lets the words spill out of his mouth without listening to what they're saying. Not until it's too late that is. In fact, really, one of the most hilarious aspects of the hunter's trilogy is that Daffy indeed is smart enough to know what's going on in this situation. He sees the strategy that Bugs is using, knows many good ways to counter his strategy, but always manages to fail in his attempts to do just that and is quite pissed off about that. You can see Daffy's face communicate that right after every gunshot to his beak.

Go ahead and check that out in this third installment of the hunter's trilogy: Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (by Chuck Jones c. 1953)


Let's go over the list of Daffy's personality quirks:

1. Inflated ego of himself.
2. Ego developed because of insecurities over counting for nothing.
3. Impulsively acts before thinking.
4. Never gives up.

Watch for these traits in every Daffy Duck cartoon you see from now on. Also, feel free to report any other personality traits you find into the comments section. Then remind me of how Daffy Duck is the single greatest cartoon character ever created (with Bugs Bunny running a close 2nd of course).

I feel I should also add here that Daffy is indeed NOT a racist negro stereotype.  Anyone who tells you that (be it either online or anywhere else) is an uninformed moron.  The only "evidence" they have to back up this claim is their own paranoid speculation.  "Oh, but look at the black feathers" they'd say.  With that logic, Johnny Cash was a negro simply because he wore black clothes all the time.
When you read anything online (including anything on this blog) don't believe it outright.  Do some research and use your critical thinking skills.  That's the only way to find the truth.

7 comments:

P.C. Unfunny said...

One Daffy cartoon that Chuck Jones directed ,called Daffy Dilly, I think showed Daffy in his best form. The cartoon was about Daffy trying to visit an old millionaire who desires to laugh again before he dies but the millionaire's butler is preventing Daffy from seeing him.He kept some of his earlier roots of being some a nut,for example, when the butler tricked Daffy into falling into a fountain but Daffy swam in it because he was "a bit dusty". Then we see the Jones' side of Daffy, someone who tries again and again but ultimately dosen't win by the end of the short. This version of Daffy I see is a step up from earlier Tex Avery version. If you want to make a great character, you have to give him some sort of personality. Jones didn't make Daffy mean, he made him a duck who basically just wants to get by, someone,just like alot of people in life, who dose his best but is always number two. Jones' Daffy is basically is the personification of the average Joe, that is why he is such a great character, everyone can relate to him.

Craig D said...

Daffy aside, hope you had a happy birthday, David.

(And isn't there one noted animation blogster who shares a birthday with Donald Duck?)

Craig D

Ryan said...

Haha, this was a great post. Daffy is awesome. Nice blog, I like the post about modern music too. Hope you had a good birthday, thanks for stopping by my blog.

Jim Grue said...

Wow! Well said essay! BTW thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you write more essays on prominant cartoon characters!

Nick Sweet said...

I always thought Jones' Daffy was the personification of Jones.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Hi David,

I finally got around to reading your post like you recommended. Sorry it took so long.

It's a good piece on Daffy's personality. I'm not so sure that he was paterned after Leon Schlesinger, though I can see the many similarities you point out though. I say that because the first version of Daffy was a completely insane character, sort of like Harpo Marx. He retained this characteristic all throughout the thirties. It was in 1940 that he changed, in "You Ought To Be In Pictures" (he might have been toned down in other cartoons before this, I'm not sure of the chronology. I know he was more stable in "Henpecked Duck", too.) He was less the crazy personality, and more the self preservationist in it.

David Germain said...

I'm not so sure that he was paterned after Leon Schlesinger, though I can see the many similarities you point out

Jones stated in his first autobiography that Daffy was patterned after Leon Schlesinger. So much so that they feared he would recognize himself and they'd all be fired. But, thankfully, Leon didn't and Daffy became a new star.

It was in 1940 that he changed, in "You Ought To Be In Pictures" (he might have been toned down in other cartoons before this, I'm not sure of the chronology

He was relatively toned down in Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (by Chuck Jones c. 1939). Daffy still went WOO HOO WOO HOO here and there but the cartoon as a whole had quite a slow pace to it.