Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why did MY LITTLE DUCKAROO Turn Out So Bad?

I haven't done a cartoon-by-cartoon analysis of the contents of the next Looney Tunes DVD set yet, but I recently re-watched one of the cartoons that will be on the set, My Little Duckaroo (Chuck Jones, 1954), and found myself wondering once again why this cartoon turned out so poorly. It's one of those cartoons that just doesn't seem to work -- not for kids, not for adults. The problem is not that it borrows gags from "Drip-Along Daffy"; Jones and others did lots of great cartoons that were sequels to previous cartoons. But whereas the earlier cartoon is unstoppably hilarious, "Duckaroo" feels slow, static (most of the action takes place in one cabin) too weakly-written compared to Maltese's usual standard. The animation is a little stiff, with Daffy very slowly moving from pose to pose, and the ending is cruel and kind of depressing. Throw in Maurice Noble's over-stylized, distracting designs, like the magazine pages on Canasta's walls, and the whole cartoon is like a parody of a Chuck Jones cartoon, and not an affectionate parody.

There are a couple of other Jones cartoons from 1954-5 that are a bit like this; "Rabbit Rampage" is the obvious example -- another cartoon that's too slow, too talky, and has weak writing compared to the brilliant cartoon it's following up on. I guess you can see these cartoons as transitional works, Jones and his team moving toward the slower, less brash style they would use in the late '50s. But even with his new style, Jones would not sink as low as "Duckaroo" until the early '60s at least; "Deduce You Say" (1956) is another Daffy-Porky cartoon that's set mostly in one place and features Daffy unsuccessfully trying to capture a huge brute, but it's much, much funnier and better-written than "Duckaroo." Maybe "Duckaroo" just has the characteristics of a film made by people who knew they might be out of a job soon; that probably never produces anyone's best work.

20 comments:

Jorge Garrido said...

Hey! I love both My Little Duckaroo AND Rabbit Rampage!

John said...

"Duckaroo" starts off fine, with Porky's "Lazy Willie" nummber underneath the opening titles, and it's fine through Daffy's "I'll fix his little red wagon" line when he goes into the house.

The problem after that is, compared to "Drip-Along Daffy", there's nothing to break up the talk between Daffy and Canasta, the way there was in the earlier cartoon (Daffy 'drawing' his pants off, the bartender's mixing the drink, Porky's non-reaction, followed by Daffy's rocket lauch, etc.). You're expecting some sudden fast action to happen, as with the former or in the transitions to Porky's questioning in "Deduce, You Say" but it never comes -- its almost as if the cartoon is just trying to kill off four minutes so it can get to the "little red wagon" end gag.

(And while the opening song is fun, this is one of Milt Franklyn's first scores, and his earliest work seemed to be a deliberate attempt to do something different from Carl Stalling. The music is far more sedate than Stalling's brassy efforts, and here fades to virtual nothingness at the iris out. Franklin would learn his lesson after only a few shorts and start doing scores that were closer to the energy level Stalling brought to his work, and "Duckaroo" was really a cartoon that could have used a loud, brassy score.)

Mattieshoe said...

"Duckaroo" is just too cold.

the designs of all the characters are pretty lifeless.

Even from the beginning, the horse and donkey are a lot less appealing and fun to look at. Daffy is also very dull-looking in this cartoon. his proportions are all evened out. he has less of a silhouette and his expressions aren't human.
Also, the backgrounds are very cold. No warm or inviting colors. it's pretty depressing.


This, along with the weak gags and monotonous story, are what makes this cartoon hard to watch.


To be completely honest, I couldn't even make it half way through. It's just so unhappy. If anything's an "Anti-cartoon" it's this.

jason said...

That might be the worst WB cartoon I've ever seen.

Focusing on the animation is the wrong approach, though. The reason this is horrible is because no character, at any time, does or says anything that makes any damn sense at all. Not even in a "cartoon logic" sense. Every single word, every single action, is complete doggerel gibberish. With the slight exception that the horse looked amusingly bored.

Will said...

Not a bad cartoon, but not up to the standards you expect from the Jones/Maltese team.
I do, however, love the cigarette gag, and the line "I think you're pretty tough, don't I?" Both classic Daffy moments, in my book.

Anonymous said...

For the first two-thirds of this cartoon, the inking is really (for Warners) amateurish. I doubt if the layouts (done by Jones) or the animation drawings look as bad as the inked cels. The thing plays surprisingly dead even without sound. It's almost as if Jones deliberately spent less effort on this short so he could lavish more on something else. He did exactly that three years later to plus "What's Opera, Doc?" at the expense of a Road Runner cartoon in parallel production. Could anything else have been happening at WB simultaneously with "My Little Duckaroo" that begged the Jones unit's greater attention?

Larry Levine said...

IMHO, all Chuck Jones' 300 cartoons are brilliant. On a law of averages curve, some of his cartoons are going to be a tad less brilliant than others--still making Chuck's 'lesser' classics still leaps & bounds above anything Freleng & especially McKimson were turning out in 1954/55.

Thad said...

Saying all 300 of Chuck Jones's cartoons are brilliant is too sycophantic. Saying all 300, even at their worst, are still always at least interesting and beautifully drawn is more accurate.

This cartoon has my favorite paint mistake ever: Porky's shirt turning purple while the house is shaking. Very sloppy, Roscoe!

Larry Levine said...

Hi Thad, You know I'm a self-confessed & proudly biased 'Chuckaholic'.

As James Agee said in reviewing The Marx Brother's A NIGHT in CASABLANCA: Their worst is better than everyone else's best. That's my take on Chuck's work. Even the misteps, as you said, are interesting & beautifully drawn.

Thad said...

"Their worst is better than everyone else's best" would hold more water if it read "just about everyone else's." There are shorts by Jones, films by Hitchcock, and stories by Barks I think are just terrible by anyone's standards. But most of the time, you're right, 'bottom of the barrel Jones' is still better than 'good McKimson'.

Kevin W. Martinez said...

Angel Puss is just about the biggest misfire that any director could ever make, even if the animation and layouts are exquisite.

Anonymous said...

You guys are special. Saying that all 300 cartoons from Jones are brilliant is ridiculous.

His early, cutesy, slow cartoons were bad and unappealing, there are some bad works in the heyday years (just think about the two mentioned or the lemons like "Lumber Jack Rabbit"), and after 1957 he turned out to be mediocre again.

I admire a lot of Jones cartoons, but saying such fanboy words doesn't help his reputation. And a lowly Jones is definately not better than a good Freleng or McKimson. Their best cartoons easily have the standards of the best Jones cartoons.

At least you didn't say Tashlin or Avery. That would have been even more outrageous.

Anonymous said...

But I am sure, ahem, that saying all of Bob Clampett's cartoons are brilliant would be just fine.

And sorry, a lot more of McKimson's cartoons did turn out rather rotten.

Anonymous said...

If you rent a theater and show an evening's worth of Clampett's best cartoons to a paying audience off the street, they'll watch them gladly and applaud at the end. Show that same audience a night of Freleng's best and they'll roar with laughter throughout. I say this as a diehard Clampett fan who witnessed it firsthand. It was sad but telling and it fully explains the popularity of Sarah Palin.

Thad said...

So in essence, people who find Freleng funnier than Clampett (like I) are idiots who have no taste.

You anonymous guys crack me up.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

If you rent a theater and show an evening's worth of Clampett's best cartoons to a paying audience off the street, they'll watch them gladly and applaud at the end. Show that same audience a night of Freleng's best and they'll roar with laughter throughout. I say this as a diehard Clampett fan who witnessed it firsthand. It was sad but telling and it fully explains the popularity of Sarah Palin.

I've seen the same thing, but if Freleng's cartoons crack up a theatre audience (and they do, consistently) that's got to be a point in his favor, not a point against the audience. What were any of these guys trying to do with their cartoons, more than make a theatre audience laugh? Clampett had that as his goal same as Freleng.

I've said a number of times that Freleng is underrated because his cartoons don't play as well on television as they do in theatres. Some of Clampett's cartoons play awesomely in theatres, but some of them kind of lie there (like "The Big Snooze").

Anonymous said...

I think Clampett's cartoons suffer more than Freleng's from the tons of contemporary references he always put in. Women also aren't crazy about his suicide gags. I witnessed audible gasps (and no laughs) at the end of "Tortoise Wins by a Hare" in a theatrical showing. This is not to say Clampett wasn't brilliant. He was just appreciated more in his time.

Anonymous said...

Freleng was only good in the 40s I guess. In the 50s, practically ninety per cent of his cartoons were bland and uninteresting. I don't think he is underrated at all. McKimson and Davis are both very underrated, because their greatest work are largely ignored.

Freleng gets a lot of (deserved) respect for his excellent films in the 40s from the period of "You ought to be in pictures" to "Canned Feud". When he swapped Foster for Pierce, he never managed to get into the truly great territory again, with a very few exceptions ("Birds Anonymous", or "Three Little Bops").

Thad said...

Putty Tat Trouble, Bone for a Bone, Fair-Haired Hare, Ballot Box Bunny, Foxy by Proxy, Ain't She Tweet, Hare Lift, Tree for Two, Snow Business, A Mouse Divided, Hare Trimmed, Catty Cornered, I Gopher You, Bugs and Thugs, Satan's Waitin', Stork Naked, Pizzicato Pussycat, Hyde and Hare, Lumber Jerks, A Kiddie's Kitty, Two Crows from Tacos, Bugsy and Mugsy, Trick or Tweet, Goldimouse and the Three Cats, Mouse and Garden, From Hare to Heir, Hyde and Go Tweet, D'Fightin' Ones, The Unmentionables.... Mmmm, a cornucopia of blandness! I'm not going to deny that any director's output has its share of junk, but let's not make hasty judgments...

Kevin W. Martinez said...

Just for the Record, My problems with Clampett don't lie with the man himself, his latter-day behavior or even the cartoons. It's the nine-hundred-pound gorillas of the Clampett Cult (John Kricfaulsi and other Spumco loyalists being the grossest offenders).

Jones and Freleng have their blind fanboys, but none of them are nearly as vocal and none of them have nearly as much clout.