Hi there! Let’s talk about cinema and film and movies and motion pictures! Or, let’s start this review series by talking about cartoons, which some people might not consider cinema, film, movie, or motion picture!
But first, since this is the inaugural review, we need to talk about how it’s all going to run.
Do you like snarky movie reviews that tear into every little detail that the writer dislikes, disagrees with, or otherwise disses? Do you like movie reviews that make you wonder why the reviewer would so obviously torture themselves by committing brainpower to write about the piece of detritus being reviewed, let alone sitting through it to begin with?
But that’s not why we’re here.
Instead, we’re all about structure! What are the mechanics at work in the world of this story that we’re examining and how does the narrative–its characters, its plot, even its physics–reveal the boundaries that the story is functioning within? How are possibilities shaped? Now, I have a background in literary theory, and I’m bringing that eye (and my other eye) to what I’m going to be talking about here, but fear not: I’m more interested in ideas than vocabulary, specific thinkers, or anything else that might take the focus off the films themselves.
So don’t bug out.
Want to see what I mean? Take a few minutes to hop over to DailyMotion and watch Duck Amuck and Rabbit Rampage, then come back and let’s talk. The Wikipedia pages of each also provide some interesting info for further consideration, but that sort of outside reading will never be essential to what we’ll discuss in this series, as a rule.
All done? Let’s roll.
Some self-serving, entirely irrelevant background: I was working on my dissertation one afternoon when, out of nowhere I can identify, it occurred to me that this Daffy Duck cartoon that I’d seen as a kid–that I’d known was different and neat, even when I was seven–would be a great point of entrance into the kind of publicly-consumable theorizing I wanted to get into. I looked it up and, thanks to the Power of the Internet, found it, watched it, and researched it a little (like you, Wikipedia constitutes the beginning and end of my research way too often). The idea to include Rabbit Rampage came later, after seeing a Wiki reference to the Duck Amuck ‘sequel’; I hadn’t remembered that later cartoon immediately–or, like, at all–but DailyMotion came to the rescue again; haunting memories of Bugs Bunny with a pumpkin head began to surface. Then, there was a Bugs with no head at all. Maybe all that should have stayed repressed, but oh well now.
Since the media we’re looking at today treats Daffy and Bugs in relative isolation– from other Looney Tunes characters and, mostly, from each other–let’s address some of the ways we normally think about these characters. In our discourse–a word I’ll use a lot: in our media and conversations, in the ads we view and games we play and even the cartoons we drew as children–we hold Daffy and Bugs in different positions, as different personalities despite their common existence as Looney Tunes characters. ‘Duh!’ you say, but this distinction is so pervasive as to often be invisible, and recognizing it outright is going to be important.
That said, this isn’t a popularity contest: we’re not so concerned with which of these characters is the bigger star. Even for characters like Bugs and Daffy, the tide can turn on that question rather dramatically over time (remember all those leather Tazmanian Devil jackets? Sorry for reminding you.)
Rather, it’s about how we might describe these characters in conversation, what traits they possess and how we define their personalities. Bugs is often depicted as a cool customer; he rarely gets excited and is only rarely made to entirely lose his composure. Daffy, on the other hand, gets his feathers ruffled a lot (Heh). He’s almost constantly disconcerted, aggravated, or outright fouled up (Heh, Again: The Sequel). He’s also loud, frenetic, abrasive, and might have what could be called a generally unattractive personality. Like Gregory House, MD, you can have all kinds of fun watching Daffy from a distance, but just consider how you’d feel if you had to deal with someone like that in real life. Up close and stuff.
So, given that these two are effectively being tossed into their own little Andromeda Chambers (there’s a super-vague reference to not bother looking up) to be experimented on, might those established personalities get messed with as well?
‘Duh!’ you say again. To which I would ask you to please stop that.
So then, here’s a consideration that’s going to be important to just about every review we run here: the protagonist’s world is built around him/her/itself. For instance, everyone talks about how brilliant Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have been because of how brilliant Sherlock Holmes is, how he is able to detect the smallest details and construct a 100% accurate understanding of the situation every time. But those details literally only exist to be found and considered by Holmes. He is brilliant because the world around him exists for him to show off his brilliance. It’s like studying hard to take a science exam you’re really nervous about, but then, as you walk into the classroom, you remember that you’re Steve Urkel: unless it’s a very special episode of Family Matters about the risks of hubris (or Urkel has turned himself into someone else… again), you’re gonna nail it.
But Holmes (and, maybe Urkel) is a positive example–his world is built to make him look good. This is usually not true for Daffy (and, often times, Urkel), even when, in shorts like Duck Amuck, he’s the star, let alone the only visible character for 99% of the runtime. Instead, his world has been constructed–is actively being constructed during the narrative, at least with respect to the narrative itself–to antagonize, to allow for the creation of engaging content in the form of an irritable little black duck becoming more irritable. At that, it’s pretty plain that Daffy’s irritation is the whole point of the plot, even to the end reveal of ‘the animator’s’ identity. After a little over six minutes of being directly screwed with by his unknown taskmaster, Daffy finally breaks.
Check out part 2 in two days.
Visuals taken/adapted from Amazon, AnimationArtGallery.com, DailyMotion, MySpace, and, of course, Warner Bros.