Porky seeks the elusive and looney Do-Do for the Shorts! Blogathon.
Little did I know, when I was a wee cartoon viewer glued to the fantastic weirdness of Looney Tunes’ DOUGH FOR THE DO-DO (1949), that it was a near-identical remake of a work the Library of Congress calls “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” namely, PORKY IN WACKYLAND (1938). I just thought it was delightfully strange and so different from other Warner Bros. cartoons I loved. I also thought it was the height of comedy to go around repeating the Do-Do’s nutty little ditty: “doh, dee O do, diddle ee de o do!” Like so many of those cartoons, they appealed to kid brains, and yet hold so much for adult tastes to revisit and appreciate.
PORKY IN WACKYLAND (1938) was directed by Robert Clampett for Leon Schlesinger Productions under the Looney Tunes banner. DOUGH FOR THE DO-DO (1949) was directed by Friz Freleng, who reused and colorized most of the original version. The ‘38 toon was set against a background decidedly more creepy and far less Salvador Dali-esque than the ‘49 remake. Porky is slightly updated to his more modern form in ‘49, and the endings differ, but other than that, the two cartoons are the same and can be played side by side for close comparison. Yes, some kind soul has already done such a video for YouTube; see it at the end of this post.
The story is simple: with the incentive of a reward into the quintizillions, Porky flies off in search of the last Do-Do. He goes from dark to darker to darkest Africa, where he’s distracted by the weirdest sights, and finally finds the elusive creature who delights in torturing, abusing, fooling and mocking him. The plot may be basic, but the brilliance is in all the crazy details. Porky flies in a plane that would hardly make it across your backyard if you threw it with all your might. Upon landing he encounters a border sign that says “Welcome to Wackyland–It can happen here.” And does it. In the ‘49 version the surreal background has pocket watches hanging from strings, melted trees and objects, and half buried jawbones among the palms. The first living thing Porky meets is a giant top-heavy monster who lumbers into the shot, growing exponentially as it approaches, and terrifying Porky into needing a change of pants (not shown, my assumption). The thing stares at Porky, bats its lashes and traipses off to the sound of a wolf whistle.
Porky disappears for the next section, as we meet the surreal residents of Wackyland. The rising sun is pushed up by a barbershop quartet doing gymnastics on a pole, and an Al Jolson duck shuffles by. There’s a bicycle horn head, a half-man half-tulip playing his nose like a clarinet, a peacock with a fanned deck of cards for a tail, beings constructed of plumbing parts, some self watering leafy entities, some off-balance varmints who look vaguely Seussian, a rabbit on a swing suspended by its own ears and yet more creations that make you wonder if spirits, pharmaceuticals or indigestion after a spicy meal were involved at conception. The literal rubber band is the most normal thing here! Never have you seen such a collection of contented individuals all going about their business in peace. Well, except for the thing with three Stooge heads, poking and slapping each other’s faces for all eternity.
Porky encounters a googly eyed sandwich-board-wearing attendant that points him in every direction to find the Do-Do before ushering him to a subterranean level. Then, with great fanfare, an endless series of doors, neon lights and a sail across a moat we meet the Do-Do. Frankly, he’s nothing special: bird-like, Porky-sized with a cocktail umbrella for a hat and a scrawny neck. He certainly doesn’t seem tough to corral. But once he speaks we begin to understand where the challenge will come from; he’s insane, a wisecracking, angry urban tough who can outsmart, mortally injure and thoroughly humiliate any opponent. He tap dances across Porky’s body, bombastically singing his own name before zipping away, and the chase begins.
The Do-Do can create reality out of thin air, and bend time and space in a way that’s unreal even for a cartoon. He draws doors to escape through, takes elevators up into nothing, pulls the horizon up like a window shade, pulls a brick wall over like a patio door, even pops out of the WB logo to shoot Porky before riding the crest off into the distance.
Porky seems to have no hope until he dresses like the Do-Do and puts handcuffs on it (‘49 version), or pretends to sell papers bearing news of the Do-Do’s capture, which interests the egomaniacal thing long enough for Porky to brain it with a mallet (‘38 version). I much prefer the ‘38 method of capture; it gives Porky the chance for a violent comeback, it’s more in keeping with the Do-Do’s personality to trap him with his own publicity, and the plot gets darker and better when Porky’s foiled by an army of Do-Dos who overwhelm him. In the blander, milder ‘49 ending, Porky skips away with his prize, unaware that behind him, a few more Do-Dos pop out and delight in their secret existence.
gif source http://brianerickson.tumblr.com/
In 1994 a panel of animation experts voted PORKY IN WACKYLAND one of the 10 Greatest Cartoons of all time. You can read much more about the history, the making of and all the differences between the two versions here, at the PORKY IN WACKYLAND Wikipedia entry.
You can get both versions on the official Looney Tunes DVD releases, and many clips can be enjoyed on YouTube. And here is the side by side comparison of the two versions (shortened, and no original audio).