The Dispatches Review: Duck Amuck (1953)/Rabbit Rampage (1955) – Part 2

“Who’s responsible for this?”, Daffy screams at the frame, “I demand that you show yourself!  Who are you?” Ever see Cube (1997)? Buried (2010)? Ever read Kafka’s The Trial? Ever come across one of about a million other captivity narratives (because, really, that’s what we’re talking about here)? These are the sorts of questions we can imagine anyone asking after they’ve been subject to enough dehumanizing treatment by an unknown power. And, it is this human tendency to think of fictional characters, even anthropomorphized ducks, as dynamic human personalities we can relate to that makes Duck Amuck comprehensible to begin with. But, it also shows how fuzzy our ideas of fiction as fiction and reality as reality can get. Ryan Reynolds may be a real person, after all, but the dude in the coffin in Buried is as much of a fictional construction as Daffy, and he’s in that coffin, that discreet, confined space, just as much to be messed with.

Artists can be such assholes. Yeah; I said that.

So, those questions Daffy asks, his demands for an understanding of his own situation, are eminently reasonable. But, while the narrative has been constructed around him, it certainly hasn’t been constructed to make him look good, help him succeed, or, again, really, provide anything for him more than frustration. And of course, as he’s asking all these very good, very existential questions, he literally has the door shut in his face. As in, ‘the animator’ draws a door and closes it on him just before the reveal. And the reveal is, of course, that ‘the animator’, the one contextually responsible for all this torture, is Bugs Bunny. But this then raises some issues of identity for the short itself: Who ‘owns’ the story? Who is it about in the end? Was it all an exercise in showing Bugs’ rhetorical dominance, just as he consistently dominates Daffy in every other way? And, of course, the identities of the real-life animators and their positions in respect to the narrative aren’t even a question, as Bugs (as ‘the animator’, a character, the one who is ‘contextually’ responsible, rather than just plain responsible) becomes their representative (sorta, to some degree) within the narrative itself.

This is where the second short, 1955’s Rabbit Rampage, can provide some perspective (and by ‘perspective’ I really only, always, ever mean ‘more complications’). Something about the way the world of Duck Amuck works means that, while he can address the screen directly, while he recognizes that he is subject to some empowered authority, and while he can even manipulate his world to some degree (change wardrobe, ‘literally’ tear up scenery), Daffy is not granted the ability to ‘look out’ from his position and see ‘the animator’s’ identity. Instead, he is kept in his place and, interestingly, the language of the script indicates an overall attitude, a discursive theme, that he is not a creation at all, but an employee. In fact, it’s his value as a laborer that actually helps humanize him in the midst of his mistreatment: “It isn’t as though I haven’t Iived up to my contract, goodness knows. And goodness knows, it isn’t as though I haven’t kept myself trim. Goodness knows, I-I’ve done that.” In Rabbit Rampage, meanwhile, we might initially feel some gratification that the rabbit is being subjected to similar abuse (okay, I was gratified), but the key difference is in the identity reveal, the sense of autonomy it provides, and how it uncovers other facets of characters that we’re already treating as human.

Unlike Daffy, Bugs is made aware of the identity of his ‘animator’ almost immediately, and he’s not happy about it. “If you’re the one who’s gonna draw this picture, then count me out!” Spoiler alert: the animator turns out to be Elmer Fudd, who, in his end reveal, looks up from his drawing desk and laughs, “I finally got even with that screwy rabbit” (because I’m not gonna be so un-pc as to try to write a speech impediment dialectically; I mean, c’mon). Granted, Bugs is put through a lot in this picture, to the point that he’s almost–almost–run over by a train, but he’s still Bugs; while we might occasionally be able to torture him for comedic effect in the same way we do Daffy, ignorance of his own situation would be a step too far here. In fact, Daffy is game for just about every curveball he’s thrown, even without knowing who’s throwing them. Bugs, though, even with his greater understanding, only becomes more perturbed, more just straight pissed off, less and less the cool customer, as Rabbit Rampage has him face the unexpected over and over. If there is some critical, bitchy-review point that might be made here, it could be that, at his core, Daffy is a professional, while Bugs is just kind of a diva (and, by ‘diva’, I really only, always, ever mean ‘asshole’. Like Jack Nicholson is a diva.).

But, in both of these shorts, there’s another ‘person in the room’ (though the definition of person is already complicated and there’s really no physically-identifiable ‘room’). While ‘the animator’ is revealed to be different characters in each, each is only revealed at the end, and both serve close enough to the same function that we’ll refer to them collectively, as we’ve already been doing (also, trying to figure out how to make something like ‘Bugs/animator’ or ‘the Fudd-Creator’ not sound dippy is just folly). If we’re going to consider the character of ‘the animator’ here, though, we’re obliged to consider that that character and his actions stand in for real people who really made a real cartoon. If anything, the narrative situation of Duck Amuck just plain doesn’t resemble the truth of the narrative’s actual production: Bugs Bunny, by himself, is made to represent the work of a team of three animators. But how would that have played? Representing a team of artists as characters in the narrative they’re producing might work in something longer, like Space Jam, where animation is blended with live action work already, but Duck Amuck and Rabbit Rampage together run for less than fifteen minutes. Maybe there were just more important points to be made in the time they had to work with.

And such restrictions bring us to another point that we’ll deal with regularly in this review series: media forms and customs shape the possibilities of the narratives they present. Granted, even a photograph or live action film clip is still only the representation of a presence rather than the presence itself, but such a reference to the real-life artists might have made these metanarratives more meta still. This is not a criticism of the quality of the work: instead, in recognizing such curiosities, we should be asking ‘why?’. Why aren’t animators Ken Harris, Ben Washam, and Lloyd Vaughan directly represented in a narrative where the existence of a content creator is, itself, a key part of the plot? Why are they replaced by Looney Tunes characters and what are the implications for the structure of the narrative realm (the ‘Looney Tunes’ franchise, writ large) in which those characters exist? And who decided they would be subbed-in for by Bugs? Was it a Warner decision? Or, did they decide for themselves to not be made subject to representation? Or was up to Micheal Maltese, the writer of both pieces?

Wait. The writer? And the same writer for both??? Craaaaaap…

You know what? This has already gone on for a bit, and one of the restrictions of this media is that pieces that are too long tend to not get read. So, with so many questions left unanswered, it feels like a lovely time to wrap it up.

There’s a lot more to be said about each of these shorts–and both in combination, of course–but, regardless, it’s my hope that you, my reader, have gotten an impression of how these reviews are going to go. And I hope you dig it. More to come.

Meanwhile, if you really want more of Bugs and Daffy, let me know. Because I’ve got more to say.

A lot more.

Duck Amuck and Rabbit Rampage are available to view in full at
Duck Amuck script provided by Readable:


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