Hey Warner Brothers - here's a quick question. What, exactly, do you think "essential" means? No, not in the dictionary definition of the oft-used term. Heck, anyone with a Kindle or a correctly functioning web browser can come up with that one. What we mean is this - what exactly makes up the concept you call "essential?" Huh? The reason one asks is because of the recent release The Essential Daffy Duck. Contained on this two disc collection of Merrie Melody/Looney Tunes 'classics', including some of the fowl's original offerings, we are supposed to believe that this collection represents a quality overview of Daffy's animated career. The problems begins, however, when you start to look over the actual contents. Disc Two represents some of the most recent work from the crazed character, material one would barely consider "essential." And then, to make matters worse, you include a short featuring...Plucky Duck? Daffy's quasi-surrogate offshoot? Whaaaa? Whatever the case, this might be a nice overview for the Warners' newcomer. For others, it's a questionable compilation at best.
Without linking material, we are presented a standard series of shorts. Here are the titles and a minor plot synopsis:
Porky's Duck Hunt - everyone's favorite pig goes hunting...and runs into an unruly duck.
Daffy Duck and Egghead - Daffy takes on a less than intrepid hunter.
The Daffy Doc - Daffy runs amuck in a hospital.
Plane Daffy - our hero takes over for some fallen carrier pigeons.
The Great Piggy Bank Robbery - Daffy is Duck Tracy, out to solve an important case.
Nasty Quacks - Daffy goes from pet to pest in a suburban household.
Book Review - a collection of tomes come to life.
Duck Amuck - Daffy is teased by an unseen artist.
Duck Dodgers in the 24&1/2 Century - Daffy is a space ace, battling Marvin the Martian.
The Scarlett Pumpernickel - a post-modern take on the classic swashbuckling adventure.
My Little Duckeroo - Daffy is the Wild West hero the Masked Avenger.
A Star is Bored - Daffy gets a chance to act as Bugs Bunny's stunt double.
Deduce, You Say - it's Daffy in a spoof of Sherlock Holmes.
Ali Baba Bunny - Daffy and Bugs become part of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
Robin Daffy - everyone's favorite duck is a Sherwood Forest icon!
The Duxorcist - Daffy is a paranormal investigator.
Night of the Living Duck - Daffy finds himself trapped at a real Monster's Ball.
Duck Dodgers Jr. - Plucky envisions himself a space ace.
Superior Duck - Daffy is a superhero!
Attack of the Drones - It's time for the mandatory Star Wars spoof.
The Green Loontern - Duck Dodgers must save the Green Lantern Corps from Sinestro.
Daffy Duck for President - our main mallard runs for office to outlaw duck hunting.
In another case of critical true confessions, yours truly has to admit something significant as part of this review: I am a Daffy Duck fiend. I adore that insane quacker. Back when I actually considered getting some body art (around 1993), I honestly considered the classic Daffy Duck caricature as the tattoo of choice (it never happened). So coming to this set, I was eager to see what Warners considered 'essential.' After all, I have my opinion on the matter - and it's safe to say that the studio and I don't see eye to eye. We aren't even remotely close. While some of the selections are indeed fine (the whole first disc, basically), the rest feels like a veiled attempt to tap into the current crop of cartooning without really considering what's being sold. Put another way, pimping Daffy via the Duck Dodgers reboot may have some validity, but using the mostly awful Duxorcist and Night of the Living Duck as a device is antithetical to this approach.
The problem is in comparison. The Duck Dodgers redux maintained the same style and comedic approach as the original, even keeping the same sense of ridiculous retro future shock. Similarly, Daffy Duck for President and Superior Duck mimic the past to connect to the present. But Duxorcist and Night of the Living Duck look awful. They feel hurried and haphazard, the use of shoddy animation processes so obvious as to be painful. One minute, an aging Mel Blanc is trying his best to channel Daffy's demented spirit. Next thing you know, a vintage short from several decades before illustrates how it should be (and was) done. The sad truth is, once Warners found renewed fame with the Saturday morning Bugs Bunny shows of the '70s, they were stuck. They had stopped making new material, and even with the ongoing love of all things Looney, a resurrection was highly suspicious (considering the censored content and changing morays of a post-modern viewership).
So while one can argue that the newer material adds to the overall mythos of Daffy (or any other character this approach is taken with), the truth is that the older shorts are the real "essentials." Everything else is just merchandising and marketing...and even then, the selection process of past examples begs some better highlights. The Great Piggy Bank Robbery and Book Review are great illustrations of the Looney Tunes quality of spoof/satire. There should have been more of these. Similarly, any time the mad mallard can square off against his halting hare BFF Bugs, laughter is a legitimate result. There should be more here - more outrageous adventures, more cultural spoofs, more of the measured moxie of directors like Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. In fact, for a fanatic such as yours truly, nothing short of the complete works of Daffy Duck, 1940s to 1970s will do. This essential compilation may be fine for beginners. For the real Looney lover, it's too superficial to suffice.
It seems odd that, on the cusp of finally releasing their output on Blu-ray, Warners would opt for yet another DVD collection of its cartoon shorts. Granted, the quality of the mostly 1.33:1 full screen image is pretty good, but you can still see instances where a remaster would clean up some age spots and some minor scratches. As we move along the time continuum, the transfer quality increases dramatically. The later episodes, value aside, look pristine and brand new. Again, the new HD offerings should vastly improve the technical merits of these films. For the standard digital devotee, the picture is passable is not quite perfect.
Since no one is suggesting the Looney Tunes suddenly employ a Surround Sound strategy, we are left with a decent Dolby Digital Stereo mix. The early shorts are nothing more than mono ported over to two channels. The latter efforts apply a bit of pizzazz to the sonic situation. Overall, for material sometimes 60 plus years old, the presentation is pretty good.
As for added content, we are stuck with a couple of off title TV compilations - Daffy Duck's Easter Special and Daffy Duck's Thanks-for-Giving Special. Each contains three "original" shorts, and each are definitely minor Looney Tunes at best. Finally, there is a "career overview" documentary on Daffy that, while engaging, is not really much more than a celebrity inspired EPK puff piece.
Daffy Duck and his Warners pals are so much a part of pre-'80s childhood that it seems a shame that they haven't 100% translated to the new millennium. Certainly, they have their defenders and fans, but while Disney rakes in as much jaded jack as they can from their past masters, the Looney Tunes seem content to be casual cult icons. Something like The Essential Daffy Duck doesn't help matters much. People coming to this collection hoping to get a definitive overview on the crazed fowl will be missing a major part of his persona. Even as a summary, it's sloppy. Earning a Rent It, it's targeted at the complete novice only. All others steer clear - or better yet, wait for the inevitable Blu-ray releases. Those compendium's of Warners animated output are the very definition of essential. This is not.