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"Looney Tunes: The Essential Daffy Duck": Essentially Reprocessed

Following in the footsteps of “Looney Tunes: The Essential Bugs Bunny”, we have another double dip, best-of release. This time, Daffy Duck gets his due.

The first disc mostly repeats from the Golden Collections and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl. However, “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (1937, Tex Avery) is new to DVD, and even better, it features the original title card and is presented in its original black and white palette. Strangely, despite technically being Daffy’s first short, he’s not in it as much as you’d think. There are some gags that have nothing to do with him. It’s mostly worthwhile for historical purposes, though there are still some amusing bits regardless.

The rest of the cartoons, all double dips, are as follows:

* “Daffy Duck and Egghead” (1938, Avery): A remake of “Porky’s Duck Hunt”, except with a character named Egghead taking Porky’s place. It’s superior, though, because Daffy is a bigger part of it, and there are more gags. I especially like the fourth wall breaking gags (such as Egghead shooting a moviegoer whose silhouette covers the picture) and physics-defying jokes (Egghead pulls up the lake like it’s a solid).

* “The Daffy Doc” (1938, Bob Clampett): Daffy is a hospital assistant. The highlight here is random parts of Daffy’s body repeatedly inflating after he pulls himself from an iron lung.

* “Plane Daffy” (1944, Frank Tashlin): Daffy must deliver military secrets without getting them stolen by busty Nazi spy Hatta Mari. Oddly, Daffy doesn’t show up until over two minutes in, but when he does, the short really takes off in a hurry. It also has one of the best endings in any Looney Tunes cartoon (“Hitler is a STINKER?!”).

* “Nasty Quacks” (1945, Tashlin): Daffy faces off against a grumpy, corpulent father who wants him out of the house. This is one of my all-time favorite Tashlin shorts; the comic timing is superb and the dad has a great design who makes you laugh just by looking at him.

* “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” (1946, Clampett): Daffy daydreams that he’s Duck Twacy, a famous detective. Simply one of the finest shorts ever made, with expressive animation, creativity to spare, tons of jokes packed into the last three minutes, and it’s just plain funny to boot.

* “Book Revue” (1946, Clampett): The last of the “inanimate objects come to life after dark” shorts, and the best one, due to the fast pace, the rubbery, dynamic, animation, and many laugh out loud gags.

* “The Scarlet Pumpernickel” (1950, Chuck Jones): Daffy tries to sell a story to a Hollywood exec where he plays a dashing Robin Hood-type hero. Notable for how many regular characters crammed into it (strangely, though, no Bugs).

* “Duck Amuck” (1953, Jones): An unseen animator torments Daffy, who just wants to do a short as usual. Not much to say, since everyone knows this one, but needless to say it’s a classic, and was revolutionary for its time.

* “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century” (1953, Jones): Daffy and Porky face off against Marvin the Martian. A lot of fun, and the short subtly addresses the Cold War, with Daffy and Marvin bombing each other (and the planet) into oblivion. My favorite joke is Daffy’s overly complicated directions to Planet X.

* “My Little Duckaroo” (1954, Jones): A sequel to “Drip-Along Daffy”, with Daffy dealing with brutish Nasty Canasta in a deadly card game. Not as good as the original, and it ends on a much weaker gag, but definitely has some funny moments, such as Daffy’s difficulty in moving the unmovable Canasta.

* “A Star is Bored” (1956, Friz Freleng): Daffy is jealous of Bugs (what else is new?) and wants bigger parts in the films. Problem is, he is assigned as Bugs’s stunt double, causing Daffy all sorts of pain. It’s okay, but it’s a bit formulaic. When it comes to Freleng’s take on the Bugs/Daffy rivalry, I find “Show Biz Bugs” much more enjoyable.

* “Deduce, You Say” (1956, Jones): A Sherlock Holmes parody starring Daffy and Porky. Oddly, Porky gets all the best material in this one, due to his dry “straight man” wit.

* “Ali-Baba Bunny” (1957, Jones): Bugs and Daffy come across treasure in a cave, while being tailed by a bulky guard named Hassan. It’s enjoyable, but it’s never been one of my favorites from Jones for some reason.

* “Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Jones): Daffy and Porky play Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, respectively. Daffy and Porky have great chemistry here, and the short gets some good mileage out of Daffy’s repeated incompetence and bad luck. “ZOINKS… AND AWAY!”

Overall, it’s a good selection of shorts (albeit with a couple odd selections), but if you’ve kept up with the Golden Collections, you own over 90% of these already. Also, it would’ve been nice if they had included at least one short from the underrated Robert McKimson. He directed some hilarious Daffy shorts.

The video quality is basically the same as the remastered Golden Collections (original Academy aspect ratio and all), so that’s good news. Also of note, “Book Revue”, which was interlaced on the initial prints of the second Golden Collection, is presented here in progressive scan, an improvement.

As with the shorts, many of the special features have already been covered on previous Looney Tunes DVD releases, but there are a couple new bonuses: “Daffy Duck: Ridicule is the Burden of Genius”, a 24-minute documentary similar in format to the Bugs Bunny documentary on “The Essential Bugs Bunny”; that is, fluff narration set to clips. It’s too bad that some of the clips in the documentary are interlaced and/or unrestored, too. Also new-to-DVD is “Daffy Duck’s Thanks-For-Giving Special”. Mostly it’s made up of cartoons already featured on Golden Collections, although it does contain the majority of “His Bitter Half”, which was only included as an unrestored bonus cartoon on the “West Point Story” DVD. Seeing as how I don’t have that DVD, it’s good to finally have “Half”. It’s a funny short.

The other special features (all double dips) are:

* “The Duxorcist” and “The Night of the Living Duck”, two shorts featured as part of Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters. “Duxorcist” features Daffy visiting a possessed woman, and “Night” has Daffy dreaming that he’s a lounge singer in a nightclub full of monsters and horror villains. They’re two of the better modern Looney Tunes attempts, though Mel Blanc’s weaker voice didn’t do them any favors. The highlight of “Night” is the multitude of monster caricatures at the night club.

* “Tiny Toon Adventures short: “Duck Dodgers Jr.”: Notable for having design work and writing done by long-time layout man Maurice Noble. Added bonus: Its music score by Mark Watters uses motifs from “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century”. Of course, its animation isn’t as slick or professional as Chuck Jones’s work, but it still has some amusing gags (particularly its ending) and it wisely doesn’t allow Plucky to upstage veteran Daffy.

* “Attack of the Drones”: Daffy, in Duck Dodgers persona, builds a slew of clone robots to attack space monsters. The best of the briefly-lived Larry Doyle-produced Looney Tunes, which does justice to the original short yet doesn’t feel like a retread.

* “Duck Dodgers episode: “The Green Loonturn”. Duck Dodgers accidentally gets The Green Lanturn’s costume, and the powers that go with it, in a laundromat mix-up. I chuckled a few times, but not enough to really think I spent my time wisely. I also didn’t like the thicker character outlines and an uninteresting villain in this particular episode.

* “Daffy Duck For President”: Notable for being based on a book that was one of Chuck Jones’s last works. But it’s more educational than funny, and the DVD presentation leaves something to be desired, due to interlacing.

* “Daffy Duck’s Easter Special”: Made in 1980 and featuring three new shorts. The special suffers from wonky animation, and the first two skits are pretty mediocre (did we really need another Daffy/Speedy outing?), but the third skit, “Daffy Flies North”, takes a simple premise, Daffy trying to ride a mule for his migration, and creates a lot of funny gags from it.

“The Essential Daffy Duck” does contain a new-to-DVD short as part of the main program, and there are also a couple extras not seen yet. But if you don’t care about those and already own the various Looney Tunes DVDs, there’s no reason to buy this, as it’s mostly repeats. Those who want a DVD of mostly new Looney Tunes should wait for Pepe Le Pew’s Super-Stars set coming in December.

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