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Duck Amuck is a surreal 1951 animated cartoon produced by Warner Bros. and released in 1953 as part of the Merrie Melodies series and starring Daffy Duck, who is tormented by a sadistic, unseen animator who constantly changes Daffy's location, clothing, voice, physical appearance, and even shape just to mess with him. Pandemonium reigns throughout the cartoon as Daffy attempts to steer the action back to some kind of normality, only for the animator to either ignore him or, more frequently, to over-literally interpret his increasingly frantic demands.
In 1994 it was voted #2 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field, behind only What's Opera, Doc?.
According to director Chuck Jones, this film demonstrated for the first time that animation can create characters with a recognizable personality, independent of their appearance, milieu, or voice. Although in the end, the animator is revealed to be Daffy's friend and rival Bugs Bunny (who famously declares "Ain't I a stinker?"), according to Jones the ending is just for comedic value: Jones (the director) is speaking to the audience directly, asking "Who is Daffy Duck anyway? Would you recognize him if I did this to him? What if he didn't live in the woods? Didn't live anywhere? What if he had no voice? No face? What if he wasn't even a duck anymore?" In all cases, it's obvious that Daffy is still Daffy; not all cartoon characters can claim such distinctive personality.
In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. This was the second of three animated shorts by Jones to receive this honor (the others are 1957's What's Opera, Doc? and 1955's One Froggy Evening). Jones has the distinction of being the only director (as of 2006) with three animated shorts in the registry.
The cartoon's plot was essentially replicated in one of Jones' later cartoons, Rabbit Rampage (1955), in which Bugs Bunny turns out to be the victim of the silly animator (Elmer Fudd). A similar plot was also included in an episode of Baby Looney Tunes, only Bugs was the victim, Daffy was the animator, and it was made on a computer instead of a pencil and paper. The framing material for Daffy Duck's Easter Special was similar to Duck Amuck, with Daffy once again being tortured by an unseen animator.
In Looney Tunes Comics (DC) Issue #94, Bugs Bunny gets back at Daffy Duck by making him the victim, in switching various movie roles, from Duck Twacy in "Who Killed Daffy Duck," a video game character, and a talk show host, and they always wound up with Daffy starring in Moby Dick (the story's running gag). After this, Bugs comments, "Eh, dis guy needs a new agent."
The cartoon's title sequence and opening scene feature Daffy Duck as a musketeer, who boldly acts out an action scene with a fencing foil. As he thrusts the foil and advances, the background abruptly disappears, leaving a plain white screen. Confused by this, Daffy turns to the animator and asks him to complete the background. He walks off the screen, and the animator fills in a new background that has nothing to do with the previous scene. Daffy returns and starts to repeat his opening scene, but quickly notices the different background and leaves, returning in a different costume and altering his performance to match the new scene. The animator substitutes several different, unrelated backgrounds, each time prompting Daffy to change costumes until the background finally disappears completely.
Daffy then tries to reason with the animator. While he's talking, the animator erases him completely, then redraws him as a cowboy with a guitar. Daffy tries to play it but gets no sound. Holding up a sign asking for sound, his next attempts result in several random sound effects. Daffy also finds himself generating random sound effects for a moment before finally shouting angrily at the animator, demanding some new scenery.
The animator draws a simple line-art background, then when Daffy asks for some color, paints Daffy himself in a bunch of random colors. Daffy angrily yells, "NOT ME, YOU SLOP ARTIST!!", and the animator quickly erases his body and redraws him as a bizarre mismatched animal with a "screwball" flag on its tail and a flower shaped head. Daffy walks around and talks to himself if he wasn't living up to his contract and soon becomes suspicious of this form, before the animator draws a mirror nearby and reveals his form and he scolds the animator for making him hideous and in respond, the animator erases Daffy and the mirror. Daffy is redrawn as a sailor, and as he begins to sing "The Song of the Marines", the animator draws an ocean background around him, without a boat. Daffy promptly falls into the water and emerges on a distant island. He asks for a closeup, only to have the camera zoom up close to his eyes.
As he tries once again to negotiate with the animator, a black curtain falls on him. The animator draws a stick for Daffy to hold it up but it breaks and Daffy screams hysterically and rips apart the background, then becomes even more frustrated when the animator attempts to end the cartoon which prompts him to push the The End card away. Daffy apologizes to the presumed audience and dances for a moment while the film goes out of alignment, resulting in two Daffy Ducks on the screen. The two argue with each other and start to get in a fight, but the animator erases one of them just as the other takes a swing.
Daffy is then drawn into an airplane, which he excitedly flies around in until a mountain is drawn in his path. The plane crashes off-screen, resulting in Daffy flying on his own with only the windshield in front of him. He "bails" out of the remains of his plane and floats downward with a parachute, which the animator replaces with an anvil. Crashing to the ground, Daffy is seen hammering on the anvil while dizzily reciting "The Village Blacksmith". The animator replaces the anvil with an artillery shell, which explodes after being striked by the hammer four times. After the explosion, Daffy finally snaps and angrily demands that the animator reveal himself. The animator draws a door in front of Daffy and closes it on him, then the camera draws back to reveal that the animator is Bugs Bunny at a drawing table, who says to the camera, "Ain't I a stinker?"
Referenced in other works
- The Bugs Bunny short "Rabbit Hood" contains a title card similar to this short.
- The 1960s short A-Haunting We Will Go has some in-jokes related with "Duck Amuck". First, Daffy is again transformed into a flower-faced spotted creature. Later, when Daffy used a parachute, the witch transforms it into an anvil (as the animator did in "Duck Amuck") and then impact in the same rock that the animator draw to stop Daffy's plane in "Duck Amuck".
- The Super NES video game Bugs Bunny in Rabbit Rampage, merges both premises from Duck Amuck and Rabbit Rampage, the result being Bugs portrayed as Daffy's victim.
- This cartoon was parodied in the last episode of the short-lived series Clerks: The Animated Series, further proving the short's lasting legacy. The final scene of the series even mirrors the ending of the original short, with Jay and Silent Bob in place of Bugs. They even considered having the ending shot in live-action with the animated characters placed in like in the short, until they have it entirely animated instead.
- It was also referenced in a 30-second short cartoon gag in Johnny Bravo.
- It was used in Babylon 5, in the episode "Conflicts of Interest", where Michael Garibaldi is listening to it. This was used for ironic effect as at the time Garibaldi himself is unknowingly being manipulated by a seemingly omnipotent force.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy episode "Complete and Utter Cha", Grim is transformed into the same flower-faced and spotted creature that Daffy is turned in to. He even says Daffy's catchphrase, "You're despicable!"
- On the original VHS release of Batman and Beetlejuice, a short ad for Warner Bros. merchandise was shown featuring both Daffy and Bugs. Throughout the ad, an unseen animator "draws" items such as T-shirts, movie books, and posters (and in classic fashion, when Bugs mentions ties, the animator draws a rope around Bugs, effectively tying him up, to which he response, "that's NECK-ties!"). In the end, Daffy begins to lose his cool, ending in his being erased from the ad by the animator.
- Robert Smigel did a similar cartoon in his weekly TV Funhouse segment on SNL, where Michael Powell, FCC Chairman at the time, played Daffy Duck and Howard Stern played Bugs Bunny.
- In the first segment of The Simpsons episode "Tales from the Public Domain," Homer's ship appears on a map and gets flicked by Poseidon (The Sea Captain), who is standing over the map. He then turns to face the audience and says, "Yarr...Ain't I a stinker?
- There was a "Duck Amuck" game released for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Nintendo Power magazine briefly describes the game in June 2007's issue "try to drive Daffy Duck stark raving mad."
- This short marks one of many of the instances where Daffy consistently breaks the 4th wall by asking the unknown animator (Bugs) and the audience about the change of scenery.
- VHS - Daffy Duck: The Nuttiness Continues...
- DVD - Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1, Disc Two
- Blu-Ray/DVD - Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1, Disc One
- Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck - A Nintendo DS game based on the cartoon