#510) Duck Amuck (1953)
OR “Keeping Up with the Joneses”
Directed by Chuck Jones
Written by Michael Maltese
Class of 1999
The Plot: Daffy Duck (voiced by Mel Blanc) stars as a swashbuckling musketeer in this Merrie Melodies…at least at first. A few seconds in, Daffy meets his match in an omnipotent animator who keeps erasing and redrawing the duck’s surroundings. Daffy’s patience wears out quickly when this mysterious artist changes everything about him, from his voice to his appearance. With a limitless supply of clever cartooning, “Duck Amuck” asks the question, “Fourth wall? What fourth wall?”
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[o]ne of the defining examples of Chuck Jones’ irreverent creativity”, praising Mel Blanc’s vocal performance and the film’s inventive fourth-wall breaking. Also on hand is the Craig Kausen essay that covers all three of Chuck Jones’ NFR entries.
But Does It Really?: While not the most iconic Daffy Duck short of all time, “Duck Amuck” is a fine example not only of Daffy’s character, but also of Chuck Jones’ imaginative animation and respect for his animated stars. Plus, it’s funny and short, two big points in its favor. A pass for “Duck Amuck”.
Wow, That’s Dated: Like everyone else in the ’50s, Daffy Duck appropriates Hawaiian culture by donning a grass skirt and playing “Aloha ‘Oe” on the ukulele.
Seriously, Oscars?: “Duck Amuck” did not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short. 1953’s winner was Disney’s “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom“, and Warner Bros.’ sole nomination was for “From A to Z-Z-Z-Z“, featuring none of the recognizable Looney Tunes characters.
- Daffy Duck made his film debut as a bit player in 1937’s “Porky’s Duck Hunt“. His standout appearance led to larger parts, eventually playing the zany foil to the straightlaced Porky Pig. By the time “Duck Amuck” rolled around, Daffy’s… well, daffiness had toned down a bit, replaced with, as film critic Steve Schneider would later call it, “unleashed id”. For the first 52 years of his existence, Daffy was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc, who felt that the duck’s “extended mandible would hinder his speech”, thus creating Daffy’s lateral lisp.
- According to Chuck Jones, the general idea behind “Duck Amuck” was to highlight how animation can create characters with distinct personalities. As he put it “Who is Daffy Duck anyway? Would you recognize him if I did this to him?…What if he had no voice? No face? What if he wasn’t even a duck anymore?” The fact that Daffy survives all of these changes throughout the short is a testament to the character.
- Also dated: Daffy, exasperated from the umpteenth alteration, “What a way to run a railroad.”
- I’m a bit disappointed that at no point during this short does Daffy utter his catchphrase “You’re deth-spicable!” Surely this animator gave him plenty of reasons to say it.
- Originally, Chuck Jones was to appear as himself in live-action as the mystery animator. This was later changed to Bugs Bunny, as he was the only Looney Tunes character with any sort of antagonism towards Daffy (their “Duck Season/Rabbit Season” feud began a few years earlier).
- Chuck Jones would revisit this short’s premise two years later in “Rabbit Rampage”, only this time with Bugs being tormented by an animator revealed to be Elmer Fudd (“I finawwy got even with that scwewy wabbit!”).
- Daffy would exact his own revenge in two later shorts: the “Baby Looney Tunes” episode “Duck Reflucks”, and the New Looney Tunes short “One Carroter in Search of an Artist”.
- Daffy Duck appears in one other NFR entry: a cameo alongside fellow cartoon duck Donald in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit“.