Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Best Tasmanian Devil Cartoon

"Ducking the Devil."

Created by Bob McKimson, the Tasmanian Devil had an odd history. He appeared in one Bugs Bunny cartoon in 1954, "Devil May Hare," made just before the WB cartoon studio temporarily shut down. After returning, McKimson made two more shorts with the character, both of which appeared in 1957: "Bedevilled Rabbit," and "Ducking" (which teamed him for the first and only time with Daffy Duck). McKimson later said that the character was revived because Jack Warner told the studio's cartoon producer, Eddie Selzer (in his last year at the studio) that he liked the Tasmanian Devil character and wanted to see more of him. But after we saw more of him in 1957, he couldn't have been a particularly big hit with audiences, since there nothing for several years. Suddenly Taz returned again as a foil for Bugs in two more cartoons: 1962's "Bill of Hare" and one of the last Bugs Bunny cartoons, 1964's "Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare." His incredible popularity -- which made him a merchandising favourite and even got him his own TV cartoon show, "Taz-Mania" -- came later, but those two early-'60s cartoons might have been influenced by favourable reaction to broadcasts of the Taz cartoons on the prime-time "Bugs Bunny Show."

Note re "Ducking the Devil" that McKimson is trying to adapt to the new, greedy, craven Daffy popularized around that time by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, but his heart isn't really in it. Of the three directors at WB in the '50s, McKimson stuck the longest with traditional characterizations, especially of Daffy: the wacky hoo-hooing Daffy was starring in McKimson cartoons as late as 1958. Here Daffy is a "craven little coward," but he can also be wacky in the '40s Daffy way, and he actually wins in the end and is rewarded for his greed -- something Jones would never have allowed even for the "wacky" Daffy.

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