Tuesday, 26 July 2016

407. Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 406.
Release date: July 3, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig, Daffy Duck), Ken Bennett (Sleepy Lagoon) (Kudos to Keith Scott).
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Dick Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Daffy Duck is an agent representing Sleepy Lagoon, and attempts to sell his talent to Porky Pig - whom is in a hurry to catch his plane for a vacation.

Friz Freleng's love and creative imagination for music blends well in Ted Pierce's story that consists of a series of gags that takes care of itself throughout the rest of the cartoon - which is utilised here.
Porky Pig, playing a casting director of Smeller Productions is anxious about missing his flight, but is constantly delayed by Daffy Duck, who takes on the role as an agent. He attempts to win Porky over in a procession of musical gags.

While the overall plot structure comes across as thin and stale; Friz Freleng takes the opportunity of turning it into a fresh, compelling concept. Daffy Duck's established personality works well by having Ted Pierce cast him as an agent, since it opens up to many gag opportunities for the character.

Both Porky and Daffy make a successful pairing, and the idea of Daffy attempting to secure an audition for his client has merit. There would be guaranteed broad performances from Daffy who'd go into exhaustive, undisciplined depths in finally getting Porky Pig to allow Daffy's client to audition.

Animation by Phil Monroe.
The opening sequence of Daffy Duck promoting his client to Porky Pig is an exaggerated yet enthralling depiction of Daffy's enthusiasm as an agent. Animator Phil Monroe nails the charismatic performance of Daffy to a tee, to the point where Daffy never loses the audience's attention.

Ted Pierce's knack for quick-witted dialogue springs to mind, as Porky protests: "I've got a very important appointment!" Porky's vague comment leads to Daffy's facetious response, "I'll say you have - my card!", and hands Porky his ostentatious looking agent card.

Daffy Duck introduces himself as a "personal representative of the most sensational discovery since the Sweater Girl" - a reference to then rising popular actress, Lana Turner, infamous for her nickname for wearing tight sweaters. Pierce's funny dialogue is extended as Daffy advertises: "He's colossal! Stupendous!", leading to the outcome being deliberately ironic: "One might go as far as to say--he's mediocre!"

And so, Daffy introduces his client, Sleepy Lagoon (a pun/reference to the 1942 murder, who happens to come across as sluggish, as he sucks on a lollipop.

As though Daffy's enticing presentation wasn't effective enough; he refuses to give up by performing the acts, himself, on Sleepy's behalf. At this point, Daffy has too much determination in his role, to the point where he continues to delay Porky even further - foiling his escape plan in many improbably ways. Ted Pierce portrays Daffy's role so inventively which is evident in Daffy's enforcement of an encore.

Freleng's talent for energetic, hysterical musical sequences is conspicuous. Daffy's first act opens with a performance on the popular song, I'm Just Wild About Harry. Daffy's act is portrayed in the form of vaudeville as he struts around the scenario in his boater hat.

Friz Freleng conveys the excitement and energy of Daffy's number gracefully and captivatingly. Mel Blanc's talent for singing captures the spirit beautifully.

Plus, Daffy's one-time interruption as he busts in on Porky's chair, explaining: "This is a rough idea, you understand?" is hilariously, unpredictably executed in portraying Daffy's desperate manner.

Perhaps the highlight of these musical acts would be Daffy's rendition of a Carmen Miranda dance number. The concept is random and yet it presents Daffy's spontaneity wonderfully. Daffy's number consists of rapid-firing lyrics with background exotic music, that parodies Miranda's talents. It proves to be a feat for Mel Blanc, who meets the challenges of capturing the brogue and speed, effectively like the professional he is. Gerry Chiniquy, the animator on the sequence, nails the crispness of the timing and shows strong accents for Daffy's dancing.

Examples of Freleng's unparalleled timing is spotlighted in the vertical set-up of Daffy galloping Porky down a flight of stairs; floor by floor. Daffy adds improvised lyrics to the infamous William Tell Overture; which makes it another vocal tour-de-force for Blanc. Stalling's musical accompaniment is synced beautifully to Freleng's complex piece of timing. Friz worked out a clever cycle for the gag; which plays effectively just the same.

Like the flight of stairs scene; Daffy's performance as a cowboy is another prime example of an animation cycle that fits with the timing and energy of the action. It's a very involved piece of fast-paced movement that works out cleverly as a cycle.

In the scene, Porky slams the door of Daffy attempting to perform Laugh, Clown, Laugh, and exits a different door - but gets ambushed by Daffy who rides him like a buckaroo. Daffy also sings improvised lyrics by singing "I'm a cowboy, yessir 'am!" in the style of Cheyenne. The gag ends as Porky bucks Daffy away as he lands inside a vault, as Porky's had the final stroke.

After a string of musical acts; Ted Pierce takes the locale into a different direction, to turn away from the short becoming too monotonous. Porky has finally left his office and boarded the plane - presumably away from Daffy Duck. Pierce deliberately conceives a set-up, to receive audiences into believing a resolution's in order. Porky has finally began to relax from ordeal, he discovers that Daffy is flying the plane.

Porky's attempts to escape goes to great measures; as he jumps off the plane with a parachute attached to him. Porky unleashes the parachute open, but double-takes at the realisation that Daffy is the parachute.

Ted Pierce's knack for good structure is evident as he momentarily changes the scenario for the cartoon in keeping the cartoon's pace fresh and exciting. The locale change is paid off with Daffy always on his trail - an exaggeration on his determination.

After a series of outrageous, impetuous performances from Daffy - he declares: "And now the kid goes into a finale, and what a finale!" As he exits to perform the action, Porky is startled from what he perceives. This cuts to a single montage shot of Daffy performing multiple tricks, like juggling, riding a unicycle, etc. Stalling's use of the Can-Can score from Jacques Offenbach's Orphee aux enfers adds to the comic effect.

Animation by Gil Turner.
While the gag is perceived to be showing Daffy performing multiple tricks in a finale; it could be interpreted that Daffy hasn't yet reached his conclusion. So, the use of multiples add to that effect. In that aspect, Porky finally surrenders to Daffy's extreme heckling and persuasion, and allows Sleepy Lagoon to audition.

The shot is remarkable in its complexity of staging, animation and direction; requiring the efforts from many departments. Friz times each action depicted on the screen as a cycle, and his labyrinthine direction is incredibly mind-blowing; considering the number of levels the animator had to do to achieve such a feat. It's also an involved job for the camera department; especially as the multiple actions feature double-exposed shadows that flicker.

Sleepy Lagoon's role in the short serves the purpose of a running gag. In his introduction scene, he comes across as lethargic - as he sits to one corner licking a lollipop, while his agent does all the promotion and performances. Occasionally, he'd silently comment on Daffy's performances and preposterous behaviour with cards that bear rebuses.

A lot of the rebuses were direct insults towards Daffy, like when Sleepy holds a sign of a ham - indicating he's a hammy performer. Another case is the "screwball" or the "corny" signs. It serves as a subtle gesture towards Daffy's absurdity.

For Sleepy's opportune moment; the ambiguity of his hidden talent is finally revealed. He lazily leaves his chair and places the lolly inside a case, then he walks to the centre of the office and begins to sing In the Garden of My Heart in an operatic voice.

He comes across as a naturally gifted opera singer, with skilled vocals supplied by session singer Ken Bennett. He continues to sing divinely until he reaches the high note--but fails to do so. This results in Sleepy coughing vigorously, and croaking "My heart". Even though ending a cartoon with a deadline has become standard of a Warner Bros. cartoon, it's a excellent pay-off, which is hilarious in hindsight considering how Daffy's efforts and annoyance have amounted to nothing.

Not a masterpiece, Yankee Doodle Daffy further emphasises Freleng's love for music; which he uses in an innovative and entertaining way. He exemplifies Pierce's narrative that consist of a series of musical sequences, and turns it into a delightful, fun viewing experience. Ted Pierce explores Daffy's wacky personality into new heights, and his ludicrous job as an agent enhances the character's versatility in cartoons. Porky's role is slightly underplayed in this short, but he still plays a pivotal part in gag set-ups and delivery. The cartoon also cements Blanc's position as a versatile, gifted voice actor who faces the challenges of performing each individual musical piece effortlessly. The short title is a direct reference to the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy - a fitting pun, as the Jimmie Cagney feature is centred on vaudeville, musical performances, etc.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. I've often wondered what "Smeller Productions" was a pun on.

  2. There was a song called "Sleepy Lagoon" that was popular around that time.