Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tom Turk and Daffy (1944)

Tom Turk and Daffy (Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, 1944)
Dir.: Chuck Jones
Animators: Ken Harris and Robert Cannon
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9


So, why aren't there any great cartoon turkey characters? I not asking why one (such as Tom Turk in this cartoon) isn't well animated. I am asking why there are no truly memorable, living through the ages, Cartoon Hall of Fame-style turkey characters.

Ducks? We have plenty of them. Donald and Daffy at the start, along with all of Donald's various relatives and his girlfriend (Daisy, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Uncle Scrooge, etc.) On television, Darkwing Duck, Yakky Doodle, and Count Duckula are fairly prominent. We are pretty good with famous ducks. And even beyond fame, ducks are pretty well represented in the animation world.

We've got memorable roosters (Foghorn Leghorn), chickens (Chicken of Cow and Chicken, Clara Cluck, Lady Kluck from Disney's Robin Hood, Foghorn Leghorn's Miss Prissy and her little egghead son, and SuperChicken), geese (Donald's gluttonous cousin Gus), and even a pretty tough little chickenhawk named Henery. And, of course, Tweety Bird is way, way up there (though held barely aloft by tiny little wings) in popularity as a bird character.

But turkeys? What gives? There have certainly been turkey characters that show up here and there. Any adaptation of Chicken Little invariably has a Turkey Lurky within it. Warner Bros.' The Woods are Full of Cuckoos has a caricature of Sophie Tucker named Sophie Turkey amongst other celebrity cameos. There are others, but these efforts are few and far between, and it seems there has been no real attempt given to develop a regular turkey character as a leading star in a cartoon series. (At least, not that I can recall or discover.) And this seems wrong since they play such a huge part in our world. Hell, there is a holiday each year that, despite how we want to convince everyone it is about family and thankfulness and blessings, is really about how many damn turkeys we can knock down in a single day.

Turkeys are certainly strange looking birds to most people, and it would seem the comic possibilities are endless with their odd proportions, those omnipresent and sometimes disgusting-looking wattles, and their general anatomical structure. Since chases are so common to animation, one would think that at least one half of the great chase duos in cartoons would be taken up by a turkey character. After all, their one purpose in the human world is to be devoured (no one raises them because they are cute), so the motivation for the other half of the duo is there. Make it a wolf or a fox or some other predator, and let them have at it. It seems a natural.


And thus we come to Tom Turk and Daffy, a cartoon from 1994 directed by the great Chuck Jones. We don't just get Daffy Duck in this short; we also get his frequent co-star Porky Pig as a porcine pilgrim out to collect his Thanksgiving meal centerpiece. Well, Thanksgiving is never actually mentioned, but the pilgrim costume is pretty much a dead giveaway. (The holiday, along with turkeys, has been given relative short shrift in animation history itself.) Daffy does confuse matters at the beginning of the film when he is seen making a snowman while he sings a Daffy-only version of Jingle Bells. As he sings and packs snow on his creation, the earmuff-wearing Daffy thinks he hears the far off sound of gunfire. He strains to hear, and pulls one muff of his ear (the gag here is that a duck's ears are not external, so why the muffs?) and he hears the definite crack of a gun and a resulting clanging noise, which rattles the duck enough to make me shake from side to side.

Into view runs a large turkey, yelling at a breathless pace, "He's after me! He's gonna kill me! Don't let him kill me! I'm too young to die! I've got my whole life before me: Love! Travel! Good books!" As he finishes speaking and turns to crying loudly, he climbs on top of Daffy's body and wraps himself around the duck. The weight of the large turkey starts to make Daffy slowly sink into the snow, as Tom yells, "Hide me! Hide me! Hide me!"

Daffy pops up out of the snow and grabs the turkey by the neck. "Here, pull yourself together, Tom!" He slaps the turkey across the face once, "Snap out of it!," and then twice. "You're vergin' on the hysterical," the duck adds as he shakes Tom by the neck. He throws the turkey to the ground and jumps on him. "C'mon now, brace up! Brace up!" The turkey lies nearly lifeless on the ground.

"There, that's more like it," Daffy says, and then picks the turkey up by the neck and starts to drag him. "Now, let's see now. Where do I hide this seagull?" He drags the bird to a large, snow-covered rock, picks it up, and slides Tom's head underneath it. He drops the rock onto Tom's head, and the turkey's body jumps up in the air and back down with the impact. "No no, a little too obvious. Little too obvious...," he mutters and drags Tom off again.

Daffy arrives a small hole, and he picks up Tom by the neck, sits the turkey's plump rump on top of the whole, and attempts to push him down into the hole. He rushes off briefly and comes back with a pole, and starts to jab Tom into the hole with several violent thrusts. The attempt is unsuccessful, as Tom's head, tail feathers, and feet are still sticking out of the hole. "No, no," says Daffy. "Even more obviouser!"

He next drags Tom to a thin tree and crams the turkey's head into a hole in its center. He starts to push Tom's prodigious torso into the tree, as we see, far off in the distance, the wandering form of Porky Pig, dressed as a pilgrim and bearing a blunderbuss. Daffy jabs Tom over and over again in the rear to force him inside the tree, but the result is Tom's head popping out the other side. Seeing Porky's advance, Daffy drags Tom all the way through the tree by stretching his neck out to an insane length and popping him out.

Porky strides fully into view, and comes upon Daffy standing next to his snowman, as the duck sings Angel in Disguise. Out of the rear of the snowman are a full set of turkey feathers. As Daffy holds Porky back with a stiffened arm to the pig's forehead, Daffy sees he has left the turkey uncovered and slams shut a rear flap on the snowman, which looks like the back of a pair of pajamas. Porky relents on his advance, and tells the duck (with his usual stuttering), "I'm looking for a darned old turkey!"

Daffy spits out a mock angry retort, mocking Porky in the process. "Do you mean to insinuate that I'd hide your darned ol' t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-turkey?" "I was certain he came this way," the pig replies, but Daffy holds firm. "Well, I ain't talkin', see! My lips are SEALED!" The close-up on Daffy's face transforms to show his entire beak is indeed sealed with a vise, a pair of padlocks, and a series of Christmas seals. "I ain't no stool pigeon, see!" he adds. The camera zooms toward the snowman, where the snow goes briefly transparent to show us a cutaway with the turkey inside. Tom says, "What a pal! What a pal! What a pal! What a pal!" and then Tom adds one more final "What a pal!"

Porky starts to walk off with his head hanging low. "Oh, dangnabbit! And I had everything ready for a nice, big t-t-t-turkey dinner." Daffy continues to defend Tom by saying, "Not a word out of me! I ain't no squealer," but then Porky's words finally reach Daffy's tiny brain. "I'm not... Turkey dinner?" "Uh huh," says Porky as he continues up the hill away from the duck. "And with chestnut dressing too." Daffy makes a yummy noise, but then catches himself. A halo appears above his head as he says, "No, no. I won't talk. They can't make me! I'm no stool pigeon!" 


But the duck is weak. He asks of the departing pig, "Cranberry sauce?" as his halo is replaced by a pair of devilish horns instead, with his salivating tongue hanging out of his mouth like a wolf. "Yeah," says Porky, "and we have mashed potatoes and green peas." "Mashed potatoes and green peas?," asks Daffy, as he starts to sweat guiltily and tug at his white neck ring. The halo reappears along with a pair of white wings on his back. "No! No! They won't sweat it out of me! I won't be a stool pigeon! I won't be..." Daffy weakens, and he turns back to the sweating, craven thing with devil horns. "And... and... candied yams?"

When Porky affirms that candied yams will indeed be part of this amazing meal, Daffy reaches his breaking point. He collapses to the snow-covered ground and starts pounding his fists. "The yams did it! The yams did it!" Suddenly, a large stool pops out of the snow with a sign reading "Stool Pigeon." Daffy's body transforms into that of a pigeon, and he coos loudly from the seat of the stool. He zips off, gets to the snowman with Tom hiding inside, and then pushes it across the field and over the hills just past where Porky remains on the hunt. 

Porky looks up and sees the snowman, with about two dozen signs surrounding and pointing at it, reading variations on "Here is the Turkey" and "He's in Here" and "25 Ft. to Turkey". Porky starts to head towards the snowman, as Daffy is consumed by guilt. "I didn't want to do it! It was those yams! Oh, those nasty yams!" Tom realizes he is suddenly in trouble. As Porky threatens to blast Tom out of the snowman, Tom burrows out through the snow Bugs-style, and comes up behind Daffy, who is still pounding his fists into the snow. Tom removes his own tail feathers and sticks them on Daffy's behind. He yells, "Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! and ducks down into the snow.

"So, there you are, you ol' turkey!" yells Porky, and Daffy is confused. "Turkey? Who's a turkey?" he cries, but turns his head around and realizes his fix. "Now wait a minute, Miles Standish," he says as the pig marches towards him with the gun. "I'm a duck!" He hangs on the edges of the blunderbuss and says, "I can swim! Observe!" Daffy slings himself up and over Porky's head, and dives into the snow. He starts to swim through it with a freestyle stroke, then hops up and starts running. Porky speeds after him, and they race up and down several hills, with Daffy's body turning into a snowball as he rolls downward and then un-snowballing up the next hill. Finally, he turns into a snowball that gets smaller and smaller until he disappears completely.

Porky comes to the point where the snowball disappeared, and looks around in great confusion. Then he is smacked on the left side of his face by a thrown snowball. He looks in that direction, but then another snowball hits him on the back of his bald head from the opposite direction. He looks in each direction over and over, but then a third snowball drops onto the top of his head, driving him into the snow pile. Porky lifts his head, only to be hit with twin snowballs, one of each side of his face. A third, much larger snowball shows up instantly and hovers in the air in front of Porky's bewildered face. He lowers his head and the snowball ducks down with him. He raises his head high and the snowball follows suit. As soon as he brings his head back to its normal resting place, Daffy pops out of the snowball bearing a large mallet and conks the pig square on the noggin!

Daffy splits and speeds over to a small pond and scoops up a pail full of cold water. He throws the water out of the pail in Porky's direction, and as the pig comes to from the mallet hit, the water ices up into a solid block in the shape of the pail and smashes into Porky's face, knocking him flat on his back. "Tsk, tsk," Daffy says as he wanders into view. "Cold as a cucumber." But Porky is not done for yet. He sweeps onto his feet with anger on his face and his blunderbuss ready to blast.

The duck doesn't wait around and zips off over the hills. Porky follows rapidly and charges up to Daffy as the duck stands nonchalantly against a tree. As Porky raises his gun, ready to smash the stock down on the duck's head, Daffy pours a small glass of water over himself It freezes instantly into an icy casing covering the duck, and Porky's savage blow only serves to split the front half off the ice, and cause Porky to quiver wildly in pain. Daffy zips off and grabs another pailful of water from a creek. He throws it across the creek, and it crystallizes into a very nice truss style bridge. He crosses the bridge, but when Porky follows, he is stopped by Daffy, wearing a cap and a change maker, underneath a sign reading "Toll Bridge 10¢".

Porky pays Daffy the necessary dime, and he is allowed through the gate and off the bridge. Porky runs off to hunt his quarry, but comes to speeding stop suddenly and peers at the viewer. We are then taken through a series of quick takes, as Porky is first seen wearing a dunce cap with an dull stare on his face, then he transforms into a bottle with the word "Dope" on it, and then finally as a candy with a "Sucker" wrapper on it.

He then reappears with the most amazing grimace on his face (the kind that just screams "Chuck Jones was here") and throws down his gun in anger. He builds up speed by kicking a huge pile of snow behind him and bolts off with his hands grasping towards Daffy, who is still on the bridge. He sees Porky, who has somehow gotten his gun back, coming fast, and so Daffy takes off. Porky runs straight through a pile of snow, and when he comes out, the snow is in the form of a tank with the blunderbuss performing as a cannon. When Daffy runs over the last snow hill, Porky cuts a swath right through it.

Meanwhile, Tom Turk is quietly playing with the snowman, humming to himself, as Daffy comes running while screaming, "He's after me! He's after me! Don't let him kill me! I'm too young to die! Save me! Save me!" It seems the tables have turned, and Tom decides to "help" Daffy in the same manner in which the duck originally "helped" him. He throws Daffy's head under the same snow-covered rock. He tries to stuff the duck inside the same tree but uses a pole to do it. Tom punts Daffy to the highest branch on another tree, but then chops down the tree, which smashes to the ground on top of Daffy's prone body. He finally throws Daffy off a high cliff so that his beak gets stuck in the ice, with his body and legs whipping back and forth. As the film irises out, Tom's voice speeds up as he runs to and fro, trying to hide Daffy's body "Here!," "No, here!," "Here!," "No, here!," etc.

While I generally get riled up about non-predatory birds (bugs and worms don't count) like Donald and Daffy (or even Woody Woodpecker) when they have displayed cannibalistic tendencies here and there throughout their careers (especially with Donald, where it is a curious blind spot in the supposedly safer, more family-oriented Disney output), I am quite fine with Daffy's reaction when the yams "do him in" in Tom Turk and Daffy. After all, there is all that delicious food, and it is only a turkey after all.

Maybe that is the problem with a turkey becoming a regular cartoon star. All anyone is going to think about is eating him. So, why go through the torture of getting to know one intimately in a prolonged series of outrageous cartoons when ultimately, his fate has already been decided? He is just too, too delicious, no matter how preposterous turkeys may look on the outside. You will watch Mr. Turkey cavorting about all cute as he runs circles around whoever his nemesis is in his cartoon, and then all it will take is one single slip. You will forget the cartoon and just stare at Mr. Turkey, licking your lips as you start to ponder how he would look on your dinner plate. You will think long and hard about those mashed potatoes. And gravy. And stuffing. And cranberry sauce... and those yams. Those candied yams!

It's enough to drive even a vegan duck daffy with hunger...

No comments: