Tex Avery’s PORKY’S DUCK HUNT (1937) – An auspicious movie debut for Daffy Duck

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

This is where the Tex Avery legend really begins. The cutesy, Disney-like gags and slow, deliberate pacing of the early Warner Bros. cartoons finally start to be shed like an old snakeskin here, besides introducing a character that would last through more than a half-century of his animators’ best permutations.

It begins typically enough, with Everypig Porky preparing for a day of hunting (as Elmer Fudd would start doing three years later, when Tex Avery created Bugs Bunny). Porky tries to reassure his scared hunting dog (improbably named Rin Tin Tin) that his gun isn’t loaded and then accidentally fires it through the ceiling — rankling the pants (and the demeanor) of “the guy from upstairs,” who comes down to punch Porky’s lights out. (The guy is voiced by Billy Bletcher, who voiced the Big Bad Wolf in Disney’s The Three Little Pigs [1933]. Another symbolic passing of the torch?)

On to one of the funniest cartoon duck hunts ever, even after years of variations afterward. Porky takes aim at one high-flying duck, only to be scared into the bushes when a million other local hunters get the same idea and shoot skyward. The duck travels on unassailed, whereupon the sea of hunters all wail, “Aw, shucks!” Another hunter, dramatically cross-eyed, aims at a bird and shoots down two, count ’em, two airplanes instead.

Porky then takes aim at a duck sitting atop a barrel of discarded liquor. He misses the duck but opens the barrel, happily for a hard-drinking group of fish(!), whose drunken rendition of “Moonlight Bay” calls to mind the final scene of Wagnerian Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc? twenty years later: the image is so majestically funny, you’re not sure whether to laugh at it or embrace its perfection.

Porky finally knocks Daffy Duck out of the sky and sends Rin Tin Tin to fetch him out of the river. By the time they reach shore, though, it’s the dog who’s waterlogged and the duck who throws him ashore. When Porky complains that this moment wasn’t in the shooting script, Daffy reassures him, “Don’t let that worry ya, skipper. I’m just a crazy, darn fool duck!” and hoo-hoos, dances, and skates across the pond, in Looney Tunes’ first throwing down of the gauntlet at Disney’s overly precious style of animation. Daffy does the same routine later, after Porky’s gun jams and Daffy nonchalantly unlodges it for him.

After Porky returns home — sadder, wiser, and duckless — he takes one more shot out his window, at some ducks who are doing a perfect shooting-gallery pantomine up in the sky (another of Avery’s priceless images). Porky succeeds only in putting a second hole in the-guy-from-upstairs’ pants, who comes down and socks him a second time. But that’s too mild of a closing gag. Instead, we’re left with Daffy doing his hoo-hoo routine over, up, and around the closing “That’s All, Folks!” titles, again offering Walt Disney his first serious competition in cartooning.

Even if it hadn’t introduced Daffy Duck to an unsuspecting world, Porky’s Duck Hunt would be memorable enough for its MAD Magazine-type peripheral gags, which make the early Warners cartoons look like the Disney-envious fillers they are. A new force in animation was slowly evolving, without which Cartoon Network might have been mostly Felix the Cat reruns.

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