Sunday, 6 January 2013

240. Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 239.
Release date: April 22, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck) and Jack Lescoulie (Casper Caveman).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: A.C. Gamer.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: One prehistoric morning, Casper Caveman and his pet dinosaur decide to hunt for a duck to have for breakfast -- he has no luck when he encounters Daffy Duck.

In Chuck Jones' fifth cartoon entry - he appears to try and actually try out a comedy cartoon. After four cartoons of just making four cartoons; Chuck experiments with a comedy style that the other directors were already making. He even uses star character Daffy Duck to help him in his attempt, too. So, this is Chuck Jones' first Daffy Duck cartoon that he has directed; and of course: he would be notorious for revolutionising Daffy's personality by changing him from a screwball duck into a greedy, low-tempered duck who most people came to know in the 1950s.

The cartoon starts off with a title description of where the story take place; it appears to be written as a gag - where the story takes place "millions and billions and trillions" of years ago. Apparently for no particular reason. Well, there IS a reason - that's why the title of the story is called Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur. The last part then reads "probably before any of you people were even born". 

I don't see how any of this is meant to be funny. It isn't. The title card then fades as we view some beautiful backgrounds of a prehistoric jungle in the theme of Rossini's William Tell which is a popular cue for morning scenes. And it certainly is rather splendid to listen to as it goes beautifully with the backgrounds.

Enters the picture is the main character: Casper the Caveman. He steps out yawning and rubbing his eyes. To show - this is Chuck's definite attempt for comedy: Casper Caveman here is a parody of Jack Benny - with voice and all. He walks out and says: "Gee, am I hungry. I could eat a sabre-toothed tiger. Well, anyway - half a one".

As he yawns and clicks his back again he grumbles, "Well this isn't getting me breakfast". He whistles and calls "Here Fido". We would think he's calling for a dog but it turns out that 'Fido' is his pet dinosaur who has the personality of a dog. The setup is certainly odd and amusing but that run really lacks a lot of weight - but it isn't the animators fault. Who on earth would how to animate a dinosaur run or walk when they existed millions of years ago.

Fido walks over as Casper Caveman hands over the bone - Fido drops and the bone lands on Casper which is some funny animation. He thanks him, and then shouts at him, "Well, COME ON, I'm famished!" They walk along. Casper, breaks the forth wall reassuring he's no grouch: "Well - I'll bet you're cranky before breakfast, too".

The next scene - Casper and his dinosaur are out on the hunt for what to eat for breakfast. Casper spots something while looking through the shrubs, he shouts "BE QUIET!" to Fido before he spots something. It's Daffy Duck swimming in the lake enjoying his morning swim.

Casper decides to have some duck for breakfast and grabs his slingshot to aim for Daffy. "Yum, yummy. My favourite vegetable, duck". That's a funny line - considering they aren't vegetables. As he shoots with his slingshot - Daffy turns around and he notices the slingshot shooting straight after him.

He makes a take and zips through the pond trying to avoid being hit by the rock. Impulsively, Daffy then quickly changes into police gear as he halts the stone and pretends to be a traffic officer. He moves a swan over at the scene and then moves the rock over past him - here Chuck Jones has given Daffy approach - he had wits. That part where the swan just moves to the right - out of screen is just poor staging. It looks like she's swimming on the path rather than in the lake. Daffy lets the rock go past and then jumps out rather crazily. Now that is a rather bizarre scene where the rock has motion - and it certainly is a very Avery-ish gag.

The rock then realises the mistake he has almost fallen into but instead then reverts back like a convertible and chases after Daffy. Daffy then zips under Casper Caveman (with the rock shooting after him). Then the dinosaur looks under and and because of his big head; the rock then shoots at his head. Afterwards; he gets back up and we find he is very weary and dazed from the rock that hit him. The close-up is rather goofy and effective.

It feels as though the rock has somehow hypnotised him and he believes he is a dancer. He dances in the theme of Mendelssohn's Spring Song. The timing and movement of the animation is rather beautiful and well staged - but as a gag; its rather dull and odd. It's just rather incoherent for a dinosaur to just act as a dancer - I mean, even Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were more coherent than that.

The dinosaur continues to dance and the animation is certainly rather jerky, and it certainly looks rather on-model as it clearly follows Chuck Jones' character layouts (and style) from the early Clampett cartoons. After that little goofy dance he performs (and it certainly is a use of Chuck Jones' slow pacing and padding here) he then lies down and sleeps like a baby.

Afterwards, Casper Caveman watches Daffy in the lake as he appears to swim backwards and then performs a hatstand on his hands. Casper comments, "Gosh, that duck acts like he's crazy!" Daffy Duck arrives at the moment as he shouts out, "That is correct! Absolutely 100% correct". He grabs the sling in the slingshot and whacks Casper Caveman in the face - and then swims off.

That scene with Daffy there looks very loose and off-model for a early Jones cartoon. After he swims away; Casper Caveman then shouts; "So that's the way it is, eh? Alright then". He then steps out of his own cavemen overlay and we find him wearing his boxer shorts.

Casper Caveman does a run-up and is about to jump right into the lake but Daffy Duck stops him so - and holds out a sign that reads: POSITIVELY NO SWIMMING. Casper Caveman freezes at that spot and reads the message before he moves backwards back into the land. That is Chuck Jones' real good sense of timing and it shows he is definitely capable of comic timing but is unrecognised of his talent, then. The sign gag is pure Jones as it is a sign that would later be one of his notorious trademarks. Casper Caveman jumps back - with some nice Stalling piano striking there. Casper Caveman then walks back carrying his overlay and puts it back on.

He grumblers, "Fine things. Over cavemen get to go swimming and I never get to do anything". He sees his pet dinosaur standing there hopelessly and orders: "Well what'ya looking at? Don't just stand there! Do something! Now - go get him". The dinosaur walks over. "The big lummocks" Casper mutters. The dinosaur sticks his head out of the window and looks to try and catch Daffy. 

His head then reaches out afterward but his head is caught in a knot - Casper sarcastically comments, "Well now, isn't that clever. The hunter's helper. NOW COME ON!" The dinosaur then unties his neck as it is back to normal and I have to say that is very cleverly animated - that could easily be animated delicately. Afterwards they walk out of the scene - probably to try and find other ducks.

Meanwhile Daffy Duck is out of the pond, as he plans to trick Casper Caveman and his dinosaur. He does so by painting a self-portrait of him on a large rock. Afterwards; he comments "Not bad for a guy who's never took a lesson in his life" and he zips out gleefully.

Casper and his dinosaur are out on the search and Casper spots what he believes is Daffy there. He asks for the dinosaur to wait there, and he walks over holding onto his club. He puts the club in mid-air (which is held animation-wise) and he spits on his hands to get the 'duck' ready. 

He grabs the club - swings it back like a bat and whacks straight at the rock. This causes him to vibrate continuously. He walks over to a palm tree where he holds onto it so he can stop vibrating. Instead, the whole camera vibrates which is rather funny. He then walks out but he still vibrates rather vigourously. 

Daffy Duck walks over at the scene and has already got him some water for him with suds on top. He hands it over to Casper Caveman, "Here ya are, girly". After he drinks it - Casper is cured. He thanks Daffy, but Daffy just hands him a card and zips out. The card reads: For the biggest, most luscious Duck you ever tasted - 200 yards this way. I believe that while scene was animated by Ken Harris.

The 'card' has finally made Casper's day as he remarks with joy, 'Well just what I wanted - a duck breakfast. Gee, I can hardly wait. C'mon, Fido'. Casper and Fido walk out of the scene to find the supposed 'Duck' restaurant. The sequence then follows on with a really lengthy sequence of a large amount of signs that read to a direction of the 'Duck'. It's very slow-paced and it's certainly is padded. Perhaps they were added for cartoon length? Most of the signs read the following such as Duck is Brainfood, Try Duck the Food Supreme, With Cavemen it's Duckie's 2 to 1, etc. Certainly a real exaggeration for signs.

As they have walked that many yards; there is a sign on top that reads: 50 ft. to the DUCK. Casper reads the sign and comments, "Gee, we're almost there!". After walking a few steps; he makes a really wild, and wacky eye-take as he notices the nice of the 'duck' which turns out to be inflatable. Chuck even attempts to perform a wacky take that even Tex Avery wouldn't go as extreme until the 1940s.

The duck is inflatable and we see Daffy Duck at the back as he is pumping up the duck. Casper looks at the size as he is rather afraid of it. Daffy Duck walks over - in one of his real tricks and he offers him the knife to stab the inflatable duck.

God knows what will happen next. In that long-shot we watch as Casper Caveman is about to stab the duck. He hesitates before he does so - he turns back but Daffy nods as an encouragement. Casper Caveman then stabs the duck and it causes a huge burst. We then find that Casper, the dinosaur and Daffy have disappeared.

The remains from the inflatable duck and even feathers fly off the scene. We hear the sounds of the harp playing - we vertically pan upwards where we find the dinosaur, Casper and Daffy have died. The dinosaur is playing the harp. Upwards; we then find Casper the Caveman and Daffy have made it to heaven with the halo on top of their heads. They're sitting there rather irritated. Daffy then looks towards the camera and even admits his plan went too far, 'Y'know - maybe that wasn't such a hot idea, after all". Casper then turns to the audience and responds, 'Goodnight, folks' - probably what Benny would say in his radio show. Very funny conclusion, and its pure Jones there where he even shows Daffy's own different side of a personality - and Daffy actually has character where he admits what went wrong - which is usually what Jones would make of Daffy in later cartoons.

Overall comments: Chuck Jones' first attempt at and actually trying to be like the other directors. I must say, I view of Jones' first attempt I would say is - not bad. The cartoon certainly shows some amusing moments, even though a little dated since the Caveman is a caricature of comedian Jack Benny. My view of the cartoon is: it feels like a mixture of Dave Monahan and Chuck Jones in the same cartoon. The first half of the cartoon feels like it was Monahan's control of the script where it feels like more of an Avery cartoon. The scene with the rock (and Daffy turning into a traffic officer) is very Avery-ish as well as the dinosaur acting crazy - also giving the dinosaur a dog personality. The second half - with the signs, inflatable duck and heaven is all pure Jones' contributions there. This cartoon is certainly a sign of what is to come many years later - a good sign perhaps. The signs that is featured is certainly a prototype of a trademark that Jones would use in many cartoons later like the Hunting trilogy or even the Road Runner cartoons.

It's an odd cartoon in many ways - like the way the gags go by, and as well as some good moments there - but there were also some weak gags. The dinosaur dancing may have been funny but it certainly didn't need to be included and it slowed down the cartoon. As a matter of fact, the cartoon's story actually feels like a first draft of a script for a Avery cartoon - except it was handed over to Jones with no rewrites. The ending is also pure Jones as we see the first time that Daffy Duck has probably encountered failure which is Jones' main interpretation of the character in his own cartoons. Daffy really feels human in that ending where he admits his plan wasn't a good idea, other than being a real screwball in the earlier cartoons made by Avery and Clampett. I have to say that I have to give this cartoon a pass - it may not be one of the best cartoons, as it isn't. Certainly isn't a masterpiece but I think it shows Jones is already at a fine start in his own attempt for comedy - but he wouldn't become really funny until 1942.


  1. I've never liked Lescoulie's Benny but evidently people in Hollywood did. He even did his Benny voice on Benny's show a few years after this cartoon.
    I wonder if Lescoulie did the voice on his own morning radio show, "The Grouch Club," and that's how he got known for it. It would certainly explain the line in the cartoon "Well - I'll bet you're cranky before breakfast, too", which isn't funny on its own.
    As for who would have known how to animate a dinosaur, does the name Winsor McCay mean anything?

    1. Of course I am aware of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR - and it wasn't a bad attempt for a walk that occured millions of years ago - but...I was referring to the way they walk. I find the most convincing dinosaur animation from the Golden Age to be THE RITE OF SPRING in Disney's FANTASIA.

  2. Of course Daffy at least is ADMITTING that he goofed, not being hotheaded-Jones and eve more so Freleng would take to a bigger level in the late 50sa.

    THius may be the last, at least for MM's, to have the title over the trademark Warner Bros.circles.Steve

  3. Jones' rationalist nature comes out in the second half of the cartoon, though compared to his 1950s sign fetish, his slow pacing of the late 30s really stretches out the gag (while cutting down on the animation costs). Doing a Daffy who simply acts crazy for the heck of it just was not in Chuck's playbook, which is why the cartoon feels as if the two halves don't quite fit together (Chuck's Daffy of the early 1940s could be malicious for no reason, as with "Conrad the Sailor" or "My Favorite Duck", but he had to be rationally malicious about it).

    It's also interesting that Clampett kind of brushed off Chuck's attempt to alter Daffy's personality at the end of this cartoon like water off the proverbial duck's back. He kept using the original personality into early 1940, but when Freleng returned and remodeled Daffy into a more rationally-driven character for "You Ought To Be In Pictures", that's when the change from the totally crazy Daffy finally took hold.

  4. And Frelng's duck in "You Ought" is a far cry from his later pissed off persona beyond his role in that classic. BTW Sorry, Stephen, but when are you going to do another entry? It's been January 6 since you last did.:)

  5. Also I noted that the "Hare-Um Scare-Um" theme (the one where proto-Bugs sin gs his ow n praises) musically appears here; Leonard Maltin ("Of Mice & Magic", 1980, 1987), has called that an ":original ditty". Wonder if "Daffy and the Dinosaur" wasa finished after "Hareum".As far as more self driven duck goes, as I said, here and in Friz releng's true classic "You Ought To be in pics", which has a hilarious Michael Maltese-acting and Mel Blanc dub as a cop, also had a more well rounded vewrison opf the current Daffy (but then Frank Tasklin's "Nasty QUacks",Arthur Davis's "Riff Raffy Daffy", hell even Bob CLampett's wartime classic "Draftee Daffy" was more well rounded than the one dimensional, "MIne Mine Mine" Daffy who doesn't even admit his own greed/) And it's nice to see Daffy JOINED by Jack Benny and Fido in death, and in HEAVEN (even wose fates l;ater--Daffy would be by himself in that (as in "Draftee", anmd as used in "3 Little Bops")"Other place":," and Jack Bneny/Casp[er and Fido would be on Terra Foima rather than dead with Daffy as in this 1939 entry.

    (On the other hand I never went to the other place in any Gumby shorets, but I sure Gumby an "Other p[lace" of a time in "Grub Grabber PGumby")

    Pokey aka Steve