Walking… Walking… Frog


Life as a duck

By Doug Thompson

Art is a fire. People pile their sticks on it. The burning provides heat and light. The smoke drifts off. The ashes blow away.

The bed of glowing coals that remains? That’s your culture.

Everything that remains has proven itself. Sometimes, though, what remains and what burns away is hard to explain.

Take Daffy Duck, for instance.

The fact any Looney Tune character endures must irritate some people. That’s a good thing. Skewering the pompous is the highest Looney Tunes calling.

But Daffy Duck? My vote for best enduring immortality would have gone to Bugs Bunny, wiseguy extraordinaire and my personal role model. Daffy is just selfishness personified, or duckified, or whatever.

Well, it turns out that selfishness makes him the perfect foil of the pompous, who often disguise their selfishness and ego as devotion to the greater good.

And if the victim of Daffy’s portrayal is truly noble? Then the spoof is even funnier. Daffy’s unalloyed self-centered nature makes him as funny and relevant now as he was at birth in 1937. He pursues his goal with the singleness of purpose only achieved by those with a complete lack of moral conflict; in other words, only by those with a complete lack of morals.

Morality is not good behavior. Morality is good behavior in spite of a desire to do otherwise. Not even the worst person desires every bad thing.

Daffy’s not particularly mean. His desires are simple and shallow, but self-control’s not involved. If he desires, he acts. This is funny because what he desires is usually silly.

And here I am writing a 700-word column on Daffy Duck. Life’s just silly sometimes.

All this started from watching “Samurai Quack.” This is an episode of Daffy’s show, “Duck Dodgers,” which ran for three seasons before ending in 2005.

“Samurai Jack,” the series “Quack” spoofs, ran for four seasons. The Emmy-award winning series did not end because of weak ratings, however. Samurai Jack died because “Star Wars” producer George Lucas admired Jack’s director, Genndy Tartakovsky so much, he hired Tartakovsky to direct the first “Star Wars: Clone Wars” cartoons. Jack was simply dropped.

“Quack” is a near-perfect send-up in the best Looney Tunes tradition. It’s not “What’s Opera Doc?” but it clearly comes from the same bloodline.

“Samurai Jack” clearly draws from the Samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, among others, but drawn with a vivid and beautiful style. It uses multiple panels and letterbox views to stunning effect.

There’s a lot of time spent in these richly drawn cartoons watching the lonely hero silently walk across landscapes too beautiful to be real and too recognizable to be abstract.

When Quack walks through the same sort of terrain, you hear him say: “Walking … Walking … Walking.”

When his archenemy barks “Stop!” Quack replies: “Thanks, bud. I haven’t walked this much in any two seasons put together.”

How many performers have you seen that can spoof Samurai movies, Kurosawa, an Emmy Award-winning cartoon, “Leave it to Beaver,” “Star Wars,” Kit-Cat clocks and sushi in one 11-minute episode? And work with a dancing monkey in Lederhosen?

The clear target of most of “Quack’s” mockery is the deliberate, contrived building of “dramatic tension.” This badly overused technique is difficult to pull off. The best use of it I’ve seen is in “Sanjuro,” a movie I didn’t like until its finale.

There’s a long set-up, then a very long stare-down and an instant of action. Yet it rings true. It rings true because both men know this duel will kill one of them. It could easily be either. Both hesitate.

One man risks all and strikes instantly. If he misses, he will surely be killed. The loser strikes hard and fast, but leaves him in position to defend himself if he misses. He dies.

The tension is real.

So I’m driving my almost-15-year-old to one of her activities. All’s quiet, which is not unusual between a middle-aged parent and a teenager. There’s a little bit of cross-generational tension.

I start saying: “Driving … Driving.” She cracks up.

Hey, if it leads to a new running joke in the family that spans a 35-year age gap, it’s culture.

Categories: Features