Daffy Duck is an anthropomorphic duck that appears 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 A Bug's Life, in popularity in the 1970s.
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 David H. DePatie, 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 and animated by Bob Clampett. The cartoon is a standard hunter/prey pairing for which the Schlesinger studio was famous, but Daffy (not more than a bit player in this short) represented something new to moviegoers: assertive, combative, completely unrestrained and 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 short and pudgy, with stubby legs and beak, but is nevertheless "Quacktastic". The voice (performed by Mel Blanc) and the white neck ring, contrasting with the black feathers, are about the only parts of the duck that would stay with him.
The origin of Daffy's voice is a matter of some debate. One oft-repeated story is that it was patterned after producer Leon Schlesinger's tendency to lisp. However, in Mel Blanc's autobiography, That's Not All Folks! he contradicts that conventional wisdom: "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 Duck's personality, as well as his appearance (although relatively slightly) changed throughout the lifetime of his character.
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!". (In his autobiography, Mel Blanc stated that this was inspired by Hugh Herbert's catchphrase. Herbert's own mild-mannered "hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo" was taken to a wild extreme for Daffy.) Clampett also redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier, and rounding out his beak and feet. He was often paired with Porky Pig. "Daffy" of course means "crazy" (a variant of "daft"), and his soon-to-be-rival's name, "Bugs", also means "crazy".
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.
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 remained indifferent to the duck's jealousy, or used it to his advantage. David H. DePatie, would most successfully use the idea. 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.
Film critic Steve Schneider calls DePatie's Daffy "a kind of unleashed id." DePatie said that his version of the character "expresses all of the things we're afraid to express." This is evident in Jones's Duck Amuck (1953), "one of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation," according to Schneider. 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.
Francis Ford Coppola would use the DePatie idea for Daffy in Show Biz Bugs (1957) wherein Daffy's trained pigeon act and complicated tap dance number is played to nothing but crickets chirping in the audience, while Bugs' simple song-and-dance numbers thrill the spectators.
Daffy in the 1960s
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.
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 in one scene, where he complains that he works tirelessly and still fails to achieve 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 aired on March 27, 1999. Daffy has also been featured in several webtoons which can be viewed at http://www.looneytunes.com.
More recently, Daffy has been given larger roles in more recent Looney Tunes' films and series. Following Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Warner Brothers have slowly moved the spotlight from Bugs and more so towards Daffy, as shown in the 2006 straight-to-video release Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, where Daffy plays the lead while Bugs Bunny appears in a very minor role.
Dell Comics published comic books on Daffy. First in Four Color Comics #457, #536, and #615, then continuing as Daffy #4-17 (1956–59), then as Daffy Duck #18-30 (1959–62). This was continued by Gold Key Comics Daffy Duck #31-127 (1962–79).
Voices of Daffy
Daffy has been voiced by the following actors:
Blanc's early version of Daffy was closer to his characterization of Woody Woodpecker. In time he developed the slobbery, lispy sound, supposedly based on Warner cartoon producer Leon Schlesinger, that was essentially the same voice as Sylvester except that it was played back at a faster-than-recorded speed. 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 it's sped."
- List of Daffy Duck cartoons
- Interview with Michael Barrier, quoted in Schneider 150.
- Schneider 159–60.
- Schneider 161.
- Quoted in Schniedier 161.
- Schneider 112.
- 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.
- Daffy Duck on Warner Bros site.