Duck Amuck: A Work of Animated Artistry

Recently, I was cracking into a freshly-purchased copy of Warner Bros' Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 1, and I fell over onto the designated disc for Daffy Duck and Porky the Pig. I've never been much of a Porky kind of guy, but I've always thought Daffy was affably charming -- or whatever the childhood equivalent is of that, the quality that'd make a youngster flip the channel after watching 3/4 of a cartoon. That's changed as I've grown older, since it's become obvious that he's far more adult-minded than many of the other members of the Looney Tunes crew.

Now, "Merrie Melodies" / "Looney Tunes" have always carried a bit of an edge on them. Sure, they're constructed to make us smile and laugh, but they oftentimes incorporate many adult ideas in very kid-friendly ways into the writing. However, there's one that carries a brand of humor that might float over childrens' heads, yet hits the spot with mesmerizing adults -- "Duck Amuck". Why is this quite possibly the best of the lot from Warner Bros.? Why, because it's sorta like the 8 1/2 of cartoons, in that it's all about animation.

Daffy Duck starts out in dashing swashbuckling garb, slinging a sharp-pointed rapier around in preparation for action. Within seconds, he stumbles off-frame and into the white abyss of the storyboard. He then calls out to the animator -- which, in ways, is Daffy breaking the fourth wall by yelling at us as the person behind the pencil -- to give him some scenery. But, as Daffy would soon learn, the artist begins to draw different backdrops behind our stalwart duck. Yet, Daffy's not a sour puss; he rolls with the punches, changes characters and costumes (sometimes unwillingly), and tries to whip the illustrator into shape.

It's within all these shifts that we see exactly how much thought and work goes into the artistry of animation. Daffy's audio track disappears at one point, showing what only the visual half of the puzzle is like, then comes back with different effects paired with the instrument in his hand. Bullet shots replace strumming of strings, crowing of a rooster replaces Daffy's infuriated yelling, etc. It shows how pairing the right, perfectly-synched sound effect adds just as much punch as a precisely-drawn character, and how simply altering the pitch can add distance, depth, and differentiated meaning to several sequences -- really obvious when he calls out for a "close up, YOU JERK" on a distant island.

But the hand-drawn elements are just as impressive. There's a moment late in "Duck Amuck" where Daffy has to deal with the "blackness" spilling on top of him while he's trying to perch it up with a stick given to him by our animator. Though the backdrops simple to deal with, it's worth marveling at the amount of tangibility behind Daffy's propping up of the background. Then, of course, they use the process of watching film cells moving up and down -- or adjustment in tracking, either one -- to "clone" Daffy in a way. I mean, technically, each hand-drawn frame really IS a duplication of the character over and over.

And, of course, "Duck Amuck" is also very, very funny. Watching Daffy's facial expressions shows how the slightest nuance in drawing his character's mood can completely change the amount of humor behind every scene. His aggravation with the animator, revealed at the end (though many might likely predict what floppy-eared culprit is behind the whole shindig), spirals him into a neurotic and furiously delirious stupor that'd rival even the Tazmanian Devil for ludicrousness. It all takes place with brush strokes, erasures, and rapidly shifting scenarios around him, which gives us a cheeky look into exactly what kind of work goes into crafting something so precise as a cartoon -- ones that are, most times, so short.

Now, think about a feature-length animation film ...


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