Daffy Duck is my all-time favorite cartoon character -a slam dunk (Homer Simpson notwithstanding). Steven Spielberg also named Daffy Duck as his favorite cartoon character, so I'm in pretty august company!
Dafffy Duck made his cartoon debut in Porky's Duck Hunt in 1937. Little more than a minor supporting player, this genus of Daffy is not really that funny and is different from the Daffy Duck that was soon to make the entire world laugh.
Legendary animator Fred "Tex" Avery is credited with creating Daffy. Avery, a brilliant legend in the animation world, came up with Daffy's screwball character, which was soon to rival the "normal" everyman characters: Mickey Mouse and Popeye, in popularity in the 1940s on into the early '60s.
Daffy Duck was to be animation's first completely uninhibited cartoon character. Film critic Steve Schneider once called Daffy "a kind of unleashed id."
According to Bob Clampett (Daffy's original animator): "At that time, audiences weren't accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit theaters, it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this Daffy Duck."
Daffy's trademark "Woo Hoo! Woo Hoo! Woo Hoo!" was derived from a now little-known character named Hugh Herbert. In movies of the 1930s, Herbert's trademark line was his "Hoo-hoo-hoo!" Interestingly, Curly Howard of the Three Stooges adapted his famous "Woo-Woo" line from Herbert, too.
The classic Daffy Duck was voiced by, of course, the animation voice icon of icons, Mel Blanc. Blanc did Daffy's voice from 1937 until his death in 1989, a record 52 years for one person voicing the same cartoon character.
Although he has morphed in temperament and personality, Daffy's physical appearance has remained essentially the same: black feathers and a white ring around the neck. However, over the years, his squat original appearance has changed into a taller, lankier frame.
Daffy's trademark slobbery lisp was not nearly as pronounced in the early years. In Daffy Duck and the Egghead (1938), the first of the official Daffy Duck cartoons, Daffy is completely without a lisp, except when he sings the Merrie Melodies theme song "The Merrie Go Round Broke Down," in which the lisp is barely perceptible. According to legend, the lisp was taken from Leon Schlesinger, who headed Warner Brother Studios animation department, and who had a lisp in real life.
The first great Daffy Duck cartoon is probably You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940). An eerie precursor to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), this incredible mixture of animation and real life footage was groundbreaking for its time. It is still fascinating to view, all these years later. (As a sidebar, Daffy did have a bit part 48 years later in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? trying to perform a piano duet with Donald Duck.)
But Daffy's legendary status in brilliant (and timeless) comedy shorts really began during the World War II years. By this time, Daffy is the Daffy Duck we are all familiar with: out of control, wild, madly uninhibited, unhinged. These cartoon's include 1943's Daffy the Commando (where he hits Hitler over the head), 1944's Plane Daffy (where he is romanced by a gorgeous Nazi lady spy), and 1945's Draftee Daffy (where he frantically tries to avoid the man from the draft board).
Daffy was often teamed with other Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies characters, most notably Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny. With the Porky teamings, Daffy was usually the clown, with Porky his foil and straight man. Many of these toons are hilarious, including 1946's Daffy Doodles (Daffy is a psycho duck who can't stop himself from painting mustaches), 1948's Daffy Duck Slept Here (Porky needs a night's sleep and Daffy keeps him up), and 1948's Riff Raffy Daffy (Daffy is a homeless duck trying to find shelter and Porky is a cop hounding him).
BY the 1950s, Daffy's simple, crazy, unrestrained character had taken a sharp turn. The animation and direction of the world-famous mallard was given to Chuck Jones. Jones, another wonderful animation legend and talent, was mainly responsible for turning Daffy into a greedy, shallow, narcissistic, hostile, angry duck. Although unattractive personality traits, with Daffy, they somehow became extremely funny and oddly likable.
Often teamed with Bugs Bunny, Warner brothers biggest animation star, Daffy became Bugs' perfect foil and patsy. The combination of Bigs' trademark easygoingness and Daffy's shameless self-promotion works together perfectly. Daffy's biggest catchphrase, "You're despicable," (delivered to Bugs) comes from these wonderful 1951-1957 Bugs and Daffy years. The two teamed up in many legendary toons, including three of their best: 1951's Rabbit Fire, 1952's Rabbit Seasoning, and 1953's Duck! Rabbit! Duck! In all three, Elmer Fudd hunts Bugs and Daffy, who scramble and schemes for survival.
In 1957's Show Biz Bugs, a desperate, applause-hungry Daffy is continually upstaged by a mildly bemused Bugs. Daffy and Bugs share the stage and Daffy wildly tries to gain the audiences approval. Daffy's manic tap dance is greeted with dead silence (the famed chirping crickets in the background) while Bugs' tepid dance provokes wild applause.
Although they did several "classics" together, 1953's Duck Amuck is probably their high point. It is also probably the greatest single Daffy Duck cartoon ever, period. Daffy spend the entire cartoon complaining to an unseen animator, who assumes a godlike persona and keep animating the hapless duck into embarrassing and painful situations. At the end of the toon, the animator is revealed to be Bugs Bunny himself. Steve Schneider calls Duck Amuck "One of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation." In 1999, the short was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
1953's Duck Dodgers of the 24th and a Half Century is another of the dozens of unforgettably hilarious Daffy toons, as Daffy meets Marvin the Martian in a Buck Rogers sci-fi takeoff. Another gem is Stupor Duck which features Daffy as a Superman-like hero named Stupor Duck. He also, of course, plays his mild-mannered alter ego Cluck Trent.
Like trying to write a single article on "The Best Beatles Songs," listing out the greatest Daffy Duck cartoons becomes a task much too huge to be contained in one writing. During the Golden Age of animation (roughly the 1930s to the early '60s) the comical mallard appeared in 133 Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes cartoons, second only to Bigs Bunny (166 appearances) and Porky Pig (159). TV Guide named Daffy #14 on its list of Top 50 Cartoon Characters.
All of the wonderful, timeless daffy Duck cartoons are pretty much available on video or DVD, or even easier (and cheaper) on YouTube or Videosurf or many other free websites.