After a brief hiatus to accommodate the Freeze Frame Friday feature (and to give your tired blogger a badly needed rest) we resume our look at Larry Doyle’s 2003 Looney Tunes.
Review by Rachel Newstead
DUCK DODGERS IN ATTACK OF THE DRONES
Copyright year 2003 (unreleased)
Director: Rich Moore
In short: What’s worse than one Duck Dodgers? Try 100….with lasers
Like just about any other fan in the known universe, I love Duck Dodgers In The 24th 1/2 Century. I love it from the first scene to the last, from the wonderfully wonky “1930s space opera meets Salvador Dali” designs of Maurice Noble, to Marvin Martian’s Acme ray guns, to the “disintegrating pistol” gag (“Well, whaddaya know, it disintegrated….”). Nothing could come close to it, and indeed, nothing ever has. Even the men behind the original, Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese, couldn’t re-ignite the spark, though they certainly tried. I’ve spent much of the last thirty years trying to wipe Duck Dodgers and the Return Of The 24th 1/2 Century from my memory.
The Duck Dodgers TV series was…adequate, most of the time. If one pretended the classic 1953 “Duck Dodgers” never existed and judged the latter version on its own merits, it could be quite entertaining. That, essentially, is the attitude I had to take when it came time to review Larry Doyle’s take on the “Dodgers” universe, Attack Of The Drones. With the proper mindset in place, I found myself enjoying it more than I ever thought I would.
I like it well enough, in fact, that it almost occupied the top spot in my ranking of the six Larry Doyle toons. If reviewing animated cartoons operated under the same rules as horseshoes, “almost” wouldn’t matter, but since reviewing has very different rules, it matters. A lot.
One of those rules, unfortunately, is this: if something irritates me, I can’t ignore it. And as much as I liked it, this cartoon has a couple of those “somethings.”
I will admit there’s one thing it’s not quite as guilty of as my faulty memory originally believed: the rampant “cameo-itis” that unfortunately infects too many latter-day Looney Tunes. We get cameos, from such characters as The Great Gazoo from The Flintstones and Zoidberg (!) from Futurama. But I don’t look upon those with the same degree of seething hatred I see spreading like the swine flu through the animation message boards whenever this cartoon is brought up.
That’s not to say, however, that I’m completely unbothered by them. I’m annoyed by the cameos in this cartoon, not because the characters don’t “belong” in this universe (a fan complaint I’ve heard too many times) or even that it’s an overused device in “new” Looney Tunes, but because I’ve seen gags like that so many times before, in episodes of Futurama, The Simpsons, and Family Guy.
If I were a producer/writer for several well-known series and were chosen to produce a new series of Looney Tunes, I would not want to use characters and gags that were too reminiscent of my earlier work. Not at first, anyway. Had Doyle the opportunity to get a few more cartoons under his belt, he would then have been free to be as self-referential as he wanted. It was just too soon.
Fortunately for us, the gag occurs once, early in the cartoon, and is quickly over. The rest of the cartoon is nothing less than a riot.
The cartoon opens with the expected parody of the opening “perspective credit crawl” of the Star Wars movies (looking at it, I couldn’t help thinking of Spaceballs and the line, “If you can read this, you don’t need glasses.”) This is nearly as funny, interrupting one long, deadly dull sentence with a “Hey, look!! Space fight–with monsters!!” The monsters, as in so many Futurama episodes, are quite obviously computer-generated (another of the “somethings” I mentioned–Rough Draft relies far too much on that technological crutch.) They’re still funny, though, looking like the offspring of a jellyfish and a set of joke-store chattering teeth.
Alas, our boys aren’t doing so well–the alien monsters chomp through them–and their ships–with one menacing bite. In yet another too-gruesome Famous Studios-like gag, one of them bites the lower half of one poor fellow’s ship, followed by another which chomps off his upper body. leaving only the legs. Although there was no realistic blood-and-guts (the guy was apparently hollow inside), it still made me want to cringe more than laugh. (One gag–in which the monsters devour a pizza wedge-shaped space station, got a chuckle out of me, however).
Naturally, they’re headed straight toward earth. Who can save us? Only…(fanfare, please): DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24th 1/2 CENTURY!
The space council, viewing the destruction on their monitor, isn’t as enthusiastic about our man Dodgers–one onion-headed alien fellow refers to him as the “stupidest, most incompetent undisciplined, partner-killingest ranger on this force…” We know now what happened to the Eager Young Space Cadet, apparently.
But no matter. Dodgers persuades the council–sort of–with a rousing speech, promising to muster up a “squad of savage space samaurais, fearsome fighters all, psychopathic to a fault…able to stare slaughter in the face, and snigger like schoolgirls…” (Now that got a laugh out of me–a loud one. Congratulations, Larry–I frankly wasn’t expecting something that off-the-wall from you).
Of course, to Dodgers’ wildly overblown ego, only one person could live up to that description–himself. So off he goes to the interstellar Kinkos, to make 100 robotic Duck Dodgers copies. Considering they’re replicas of him, they’re surprisingly effective at vanquishing the monsters, but turn out to be every bit as bad when they decide to trash every inch of the space station. Now he has to get rid of them…or lose his cushy “space hero” job.
Since they are copies of Dodgers, he knows just how to immobilize them–or does he?
Overall, a better than average cartoon. It’s able to combine contemporary references (such as the most recent Star Wars films) with bits of the past: there’s even a shout-out of sorts to Robin Hood Daffy, as Dodgers tries to defeat his robotic copies with martial arts: his “Over! Under! Away! Japanese style…” conjures up memories of the “Ho! Ha! Quarter turn, parry! Thrust!” routine with the “buck-and-a-quarter quarterstaff.”
Jeff Bennett’s voice acting as Daffy/Dodgers is good despite Doyle’s ill-advised insistence on sped-up voices, coming off as particularly funny in the “space samaurais” speech in the beginning. The animation seems smoother, though whether there was real improvement in that area, or if the flaws are less noticeable, I really can’t say. The at times overly rapid timing of Whizzard of Ow is used to better effect here–the action hardly slows for a moment, and shouldn’t. This is Daffy, after all, an egocentric bundle of nervous energy.
The throwaway gags abound–I particularly enjoyed the obscure reference to the famous WWII “homecoming” photograph (in which a sailor kisses a young woman on the street), and a trashcan that turns out to have legs, hopping like a jumping bean when a drone puts a flaming object into it.
This is, however, more like a continuation of the Duck Dodgers series than anything Jones and his animators ever did. As I said before, it works on that level, but as with Whizzard of Ow, I’m bothered at having to adjust my expectations.