Duck Amuck is an incredibly postmodern Merrie Melodies short directed by Chuck Jones in 1953, in which Daffy Duck finds himself tormented by a sadistic animator. Seen as a large pencil or paintbrush coming into frame to make alterations, the animator screws around with the backgrounds, erases Daffy, paints him absurd colors, replaces his voice with random sound effects, redraws him as a bizarre four-legged creature, and so forth.
The short was an audacious experiment to see if animation could screw with certain recognizable characters. Could Daffy still be Daffy if every part of him (appearance, voice, environment) was taken away? Can a cartoon still be enjoyable if it has no discernible story and only exists to be a visual experiment?
The short has since come to be regarded as one of the all-time great cartoon shorts. A couple years later, Jones would direct a somewhat less successful Spiritual Sequel in Rabbit Rampage, this time with Bugs Bunny as the victim. The cartoon even spawned a game for the Nintendo DS in 2007 in which the player could take the role of the animator and torment Daffy, though Daffy would do his best to fight back.
Compare Manipulation, an award-winning 1991 animated short that uses a similar premise of an animator screwing with a cartoon character.
- Anvil on Head: Happens as a result of Chute Sabotage.
- Art Shift: At one point Daffy asks for scenery, and the animator obliges by penciling an extremely crude town with stick drawings.
- Author Avatar: Bugs acts as one for director Chuck Jones.
- Author Catchphrase: A variation. Daffy's line, "Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin," is an expression stolen from Looney Tunes animator Ben Washam.
- Author Powers: Although Daffy continues to exercise his free will, the animator repeatedly demonstrates godlike powers over the environment, backgrounds, sounds, and even Daffy's body.
- Author's Retaliation: Daffy accidentally leaves his own background, asks for some scenery, and has his environs and his own body continually redrawn by a sadistic animator, over his loud complaints.(A pencil quickly draws a sketch of a crude cityscape)
Daffy: (sarcastically) That's dandy. Ho-ho, that's rich, I say. (to artist) Now how about some color, stupid?!
(Daffy's head is painted bright blue...)
(...followed by the rest of him painted a myriad colors.)
Daffy: (screaming) Not me, you slop-artist!
- Bait-and-Switch Credits: The opening titles borrow fonts and music from Jones' earlier Bugs Bunny short Rabbit Hood to suggest a rather conventional "Daffy as swashbuckling would-be hero" cartoon to follow, like The Scarlet Pumpernickel. (Daffy would explore this scenario in 1958's Robin Hood Daffy.) Also see Fake-Out Opening.
- Baleful Polymorph: Daffy ends up suffering this following his attempt to explain where the colours go. The result is an odd creature with a blue body, a duck bill, a mane of flower petals, green hands and feet, and a screwball flag attached to his tail.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: See Author's Retaliation.
- Behind the Black: Daffy doesn't notice the scenery ends to the left until after he's already in front of the white background.
- Berserk Button: Having Daffy make random animal noises instead of actually speaking probably wasn't a good idea — as humorous as it was.BAAAAAAAHHHBBBLBLBLBLBBLB — AND I'VE NEVER BEEN SO HUMILIATED IN ALL MY LIFE!!!
- Big "NO!": Daffy pushes away a premature 'The End' card, screaming "NO!! NO!!!" at the top of his lungs.
- Butt-Monkey: Daffy has probably never been as big of one in any of his other shorts as he is here, since the point of the short is essentially "let's see how angry we can make Daffy because it's funny". The animators succeeded.
- The Cameo: And it's a real dandy. Turns out the animator tormenting Daffy is none other than Bugs Bunny.Bugs: Hee, hee, hee. Ain't I a stinker?
- Camera Screw: Towards the end of the cartoon, the frame shifts, leaving Daffy's top half on the bottom and bottom half on the top, inadvertently cloning him. The two them start Talking to Themself.Daffy: Ladies and gentlemen, there will be no further delays, so I shall attempt to entertain you in my own iniminnimitable fashion.
(Daffy starts dancing, and then the frame shifts, with Daffy's top half in the bottom frame, and his bottom half on the top frame.)
Bottom Daffy: Now what?!
Top Daffy: What are you doing down there?
Bottom Daffy: Down here? What are you doing up there?! (to audience) "Down here"—
(Top Daffy snatches Bottom Daffy into the top frame, which then re-centers)
Daffy Prime: Listen, bub, if you wasn't me, I'd smack you right in the puss!
Daffy Clone: Don't let that bother ya, Jack!
Daffy Prime: (winding up a punch) Okay, buddy, you asked for it!
(Daffy Clone gets erased just before Daffy throws his punch, making him miss wildly.)
- Chute Sabotage: When the animator erases Daffy's plane from underneath him (via painting a mountain in his path suddenly), Daffy deploys his parachute. Then the animator erases that and replaces it with an anvil.
- Cloning Blues: See Camera Screw above.
- Close-Up on Head: Inverted: A far-away Daffy wants a closeup, and he gets one... an extreme one.(Daffy washes up on an island far in the background.)
Daffy: (distant) Hey! C'mere... C'mere! Gimme a close-up! A close-up!
(The screen irises in (without zooming) to the volcanic island in the far distance, which Daffy is on.)
Daffy: This is a close-up?!! (Beat) A CLOSE-UP, YOU JERK! A CLOSE-UP!
(The camera then rapidly zooms in on Daffy, accompanied by a Musical Sting, until the camera is aimed right between Daffy's bloodshot eyes.)
Daffy: Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.
- Concussions Get You High: Daffy Duck gets rather loopy near the end, reciting "The Village Blacksmith" while banging a hammer on the parachute-turned-anvil (see Anvil on Head above) that the artist's pencil then changes into an artillery shell.
- Driven to Suicide: Not in the original short, but in the DS game, where, in the secret ending, Daffy gets so fed up with the players torment that, reprising the gag at the end of Show Biz Bugs, he kills himself by consuming gas, explosives, uranium, and matches to be rid of it.
- The End: It shows up in the middle of the cartoon when Daffy tells the artist to get things started. Daffy pushes it away.
- Exact Words:
- Exploiting the Fourth Wall: Bugs uses this trope to torment Daffy throughout the episode.
- Extreme Close-Up: Infamously used when the camera zooms into Daffy's Death Glare.
- Eyebrow Waggle: Bugs gives one to the camera after saying his only line, "Ain't I a stinker?"
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: Daffy tears the screen up, then tells the animator to "get this picture started!" The screen irises out into "The End," only for Daffy to yell "NO, NO!" and push it out of the way.
- Fake-Out Opening: Following up from the Bait-and-Switch Credits, the opening seconds see Daffy leap into frame in swashbuckler's garb. He lunges to the left, where the background disappears into whiteness, and the wheels fall completely off the cartoon.Daffy: Psst! Whoever's in charge here... the scenery! Where's the scenery?
- This gag is replicated at the start of the DS game, where Daffy is skiing only to come across the same problem. The animator then puts him in a Mega Man like setting and then a dance floor before removing the background again.
- Genre Deconstruction: Word of God says that this was created in an attempt to take apart how cartoons work, as well as to explore whether or not Daffy would still be Daffy if he was changed beyond recognizability.
- Humiliation Conga: From beginning to end.
- I Just Write the Thing: What Jones and writer Michael Maltese were aiming for — the writing was one extended process of repeatedly yanking the rug out from under Daffy and "letting" him react.
- It Amused Me: Bugs seems to be tormenting Daffy for no reason at all other than fun.
- Jackass Genie: Daffy should know better, but his demands to the animator are always going to be met in this fashion (justified - Daffy, a trouper, is determined that The Show Must Go On). A demand for "some color, stupid!" (prompted by a crude black-and-white background) gets him painted with loud colors and polka-dots, a demand for a "close up" zooms the camera in until all we can see are his (bloodshot!) eyes, a demand for "sound please!" causes machinegun noises to be inserted instead of normal guitar sounds, and on and on it goes.
- Karma Houdini: Bugs gets away with tormenting Daffy here. Of course karma gets to him in the sequel.
- Medium Awareness: The basis of the short's humour, from beginning to end.
- Mickey Mousing: Parodied. When the sound briefly turns off, Daffy attempts to play a guitar, only to have it play sound effects that aren't even close to a guitar's strum, like a machine gun and a car horn.
- Mind Screw: By the animator to Daffy.
- No Fourth Wall: The Fourth Wall is utterly demolished in this cartoon. The sad and sorry remains are flicked away when the animator Bugs Bunny addresses the audience.
- Non Sequitur Environment: Daffy frequently transitions from one environment to another with no warning.
- Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Not quite played straight because it actually makes sense, but not within the context: Daffy bangs an anvil with a hammer and quotes The Village Blacksmith after the artist turns his parachute into said anvil. And then the artist turns said anvil into a missile.
- Not His Sled: The ending of the Licensed Game reveals that not Bugs, but another Daffy has been behind Daffy's woes all this time.
- Oblivious Transformation: Daffy gets redrawn as some... thing that has four legs, a flower-like head, and a flagpole flying a flag with a screw and a ball for a tail. Daffy remarks he doesn't "quite feel like myself", but it's not until the animator draws a mirror for him to see himself in that he notices the change.Daffy: Oh, I feel all right, and yet, I... (animator draws mirror in front of Daffy, Daffy looks in the mirror) ...I, uh... EEEEEEKKKK!!! YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THAT!
- Oh, Crap!: Daffy's expression when the animator changes his parachute into an anvil.
- Ominous Obsidian Ooze: In the Nintendo DS adaptation, the game may start a minigame based on the section where the screen frame is used in an attempt to crush Daffy. However, as it would be impossible to move the DS' screen frame in such a way, a thick black ooze instead is used to crush Daffy.
- Postmodernism: One of the best-known examples in western animation, if not media as a whole, being an extended battle between Daffy Duck and one particularly trollish animator bent on critiquing, parodying, and downright demolishing damn near every possible convention of the animated medium.
- Rage Against the Author: Or animator, in this case.
- Record Needle Scratch: Inverted. When Daffy asks for sound, the first sound effect is a record starting to play (the quiet "static" would be dust and small scratches on a record, a sound anyone familiar with records would recognize.)
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Just before his (first) tirade, his eyes turn red with anger until he finishes saying his piece.
- Roger Rabbit Effect: Subtle, but the background during the last shot of Bugs animating the cartoon is a photo of a real animation desk.
- Silly Animal Sound: Daffy makes a kookaburra call (a sound usually associated with jungles) during the Sound Defect scene.
- Sound Defect: What the animator does in response to Daffy holding up a "Sound please!" sign.
- Special Effect Failure: In-universe examples, of sounds (strumming a guitar and getting the sound of gunfire), backgrounds (which randomly blend into one another and/or disappear entirely), Iris Out (comes about halfway through the cartoon, after Daffy pleads with the animator to "get this picture started,") and Voice Acting (random animal/jungle noises replace Daffy's speech.)
- Stylistic Suck: The animator responds to Daffy's demand for scenery with some crude, uneven line sketches.
- Talking with Signs: Daffy attempts to play a guitar, but there's no sound, so he holds up a sign saying "Sound please!"
- Troll: The animator goes out of his way to antagonize Daffy. It's Bugs Bunny, if you haven't realized by now.
- Visual Pun: When Daffy is redrawn as a weird creature, the flag on his tail has a picture of a screw and a ball (an illustration of the phrase "screwball").
- Voice Change Surprise: During the Sound Defect spot, Daffy prepares to rant at the offscreen animator, but crows like a rooster instead. Eyes widening with surprise, he clams up. He tries again, only to cackle like a kookaburra. Stopping himself, he briefly opens his beak, producing a creaking sound. He then starts seething with rage, before screaming in Angrish and declaring, "I've never been so humiliated in all my life!"
- Wham Shot:
- Both in-universe and (at the time) out of it, the background disappearing at the start.
- At the end, when the animator draws a door in front of a ranting Daffy and closes it in his face. Specifically that it's Bugs' hand holding the pencil.
- Wrong Parachute Gag: Daffy's parachute works just fine, but the animator erases the chute and replaces it with an anvil.