#543) Porky in Wackyland (1938)

#543) Porky in Wackyland (1938)

OR “Much A Dodo About Nothing”

Directed by Robert Clampett

Written by Warren Foster

Class of 2000

The Plot: Porky Pig (voiced by Mel Blanc) travels to “Darkest Africa” to hunt the elusive Dodo bird (also voiced by Mel Blanc). Porky arrives in Wackyland, which is filled with all kinds of surreal cartoon creations. The Dodo bird finally appears, but it turns out capturing him is more challenging (and more absurd) than Porky expected.

Why It Matters: The only superlative in the NFR write-up comes not from the Registry itself, but rather Leonard Maltin, who calls the film an “eye-popping tribute to the unlimited horizons of the animated cartoon.”

But Does It Really?: Oh sure. At a time when Disney had the market cornered on groundbreaking, realistic animation, shorts like “Porky in Wackyland” are a good reminder that cartoons shouldn’t always obey real-world physics and logic. Plus, I’m always surprised how few Looney Tunes and/or Merrie Melodies shorts are on the NFR (Bugs, Daffy, and Porky have one starring role apiece). A yes for “Porky in Wackyland”, and hopefully some more classic Warner Bros. animation on this list.

Everybody Gets One: “Porky in Wackyland” is the only NFR appearance for three of the most influential figures in Looney Tunes history. “Wackyland” was writer Warren Foster’s first Looney Tunes script, and he wrote 170 more over the next 20 years. Producer Leon Schlesinger was responsible for bringing such luminaries as Mel Blanc, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones on board to Looney Tunes, and his hands-off approach to producing allowed his animators free reign over their creations. Director Bob Clampett spent 15 years with Looney Tunes, helping create Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Tweety, among other characters.

Wow, That’s Dated: Mainly the idea of a cartoon character’s comic schtick being a stutter. Other than that, paperboys, as well as a reference to the Sinclair Lewis novel “It Can’t Happen Here“. Is Wackyland in danger of becoming a dictatorship?

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar nomination for “Porky in Wackyland”; the Animated Short category was still dominated by Walt Disney in 1938 (the winner was his “Ferdinand the Bull“). Although Porky Pig never won the Oscar outright, he received his first nomination with 1944’s “Swooner Crooner“.

Other notes 

  • Predating Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck by a few years, Porky Pig was the first breakout star of Warner Bros.’ Merrie Melodies. After his supporting debut in 1935’s “I Haven’t Got a Hat”, Porky became an audience favorite and quickly rose to star status. At this point, Bob Clampett hadn’t quite settled on Porky’s personality (sometimes he was depicted as a child), but here with “Wackyland” Porky settles into his years as the befuddled straight man.
  • Porky was originally voiced by Joe Dougherty, who actually did speak with a stutter. Because Doughtery had no control over his stutter, he was quickly replaced by Mel Blanc, with the speech disorder being maintained for comic effect.
  • For the curious, the last official sighting of a dodo bird was in 1662 in one of the Mauritius isles in the Indian Ocean, so Porky heading off to Africa to find the dodo isn’t so far-fetched. The dodo bird would become synonymous with extinction 200 years later when it was featured as a character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland“, which this short gets its title from.
  • Oh good, a Jolson “Mammy” reference. This is why I keep putting off watching “The Jazz Singer” for the blog.
  • Among the assorted oddities in Wackyland is a prototype of “CatDog“.
  • There’s also a three-headed monster that is close enough to the Three Stooges, but not close enough for copyright infringement. In theory, anyone could have those haircuts and poke each other in the eyes.
  • Dodo has a lot of the same qualities as early Daffy Duck: the voice, the antagonism, and the overall, well, daffiness. It feels like either one of them could have become Looney Tunes’ next breakout character.

Legacy 

  • “Porky in Wackyland” is considered one of the greatest animated shorts of all time. In 1994, animation expert Jerry Beck ranked “Wackyland” number 8 in his book “The 50 Greatest Cartoons”. In reference to its unapologetic absurdism, historian Steve Schneider called this short “Warner Bros.’ Emancipation Proclamation”. A bit extreme, but I see their point.
  • After his successful stint with Looney Tunes, Bob Clampett would focus on his other great artistic love – puppetry – and create “Time for Beany” in 1949. Warren Foster would go on to work for “The Flintstones”, writing almost half of the show’s episodes.
  • “Wackyland” would be remade in color as 1949’s “Dough for the Do-Do”, and the Dodo character would make appearances throughout Looney Tunes history, including the 1990s cartoon “Tiny Toon Adventures”.

Bonus Clip: This “blooper” of Porky Pig cursing after messing up a take. Who knew that Porky was the Christian Bale of his day?

That’s all, folks!

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