Watching the preview of the Woody Woodpecker DVD set at WoodyWoodpecker.com, it occurred to me that the early, crazy Woody -- the one with the long beak, red chest and absolute pride in his own insanity -- always seems strange to me. The early, crazy Woody cartoons are the best, I know that. But because I grew up mostly watching the later Woody Woodpecker, with his more streamlined design and toned-down personality, that is established in my mind as the definitive version of the character. Not the best version, but just the one that comes to mind whenever I think of him.
I think that with any cartoon character who went through multiple designs or developments, we tend to think of one version as the definitive version, even if that's not the one we like best. With Daffy Duck, for example, I prefer the '40s Daffy, but the greedy, nasty late '50s and '60s Daffy is the one who still feels the most "real" to me because that's the characterization I saw most often when I was a kid. Someone who grew up watching Daffy cartoons in the '40s would probably think of that as the "real" Daffy. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are people who instinctively think of Daffy as the character who chased Speedy Gonzales; no matter how good or bad the cartoons are, they create an image of the character for people who watch them as children.