Daffy Duck’s Movie: Fantastic Island

August 5, 1983

When I do these summer movie retrospectives there’s usually an animated feature or two. I like that because if they’re a classic it’s a good excuse to write about them, and if they’re not it’s a good excuse to watch them. That can be painful, but I find the airballs pretty interesting, because so much loving craft still had to go into them in those days. I enjoyed reviewing ROCK-A-DOODLE, ROVER DANGERFIELD, FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAIN FOREST, TITAN A.E., and FREDDIE AS F.R.O.7, for example.

Most of those were from a weird time when Disney had become so successful it encouraged other studios to take a swing at the animated feature game, with mixed results. But the early ‘80s were that other weird time, the one when Disney had been so far out of the game that it left room for other people to try something different. For example the weird-ass Canadian sci-fi talking animal musical ROCK & RULE came out in April of ’83, and the George Lucas produced cut out animation movie TWICE UPON A TIME came out on August 1st. But I’ve already written about those, so today I’m here to discuss some of their competition. DAFFY DUCK’S MOVIE: FANTASTIC ISLAND was directed by animation legends Friz Freleng and Phil Monroe, which may sound promising, but this is what they call a “compilation film,” or in TV terms, a “clip show.” The new animation is just a framing device for edited down versions of ten classic Looney Tunes shorts.

It would be cool if it was a parody of Rene Laloux’s FANTASTIC PLANET, but no, the title refers to Fantasy Island, the popular Aaron Spelling (MR. MOM)-produced TV show that aired from 1977 to 1984. After Daffy Duck’s boat is attacked by a shark he’s stranded on a remote island with Speedy Gonzales (I like that Daffy’s beak has stubble on it), and they find a treasure map that leads them to a magical wishing well. The way the magic works is the person (or talking animal I guess) who possesses the map can control the well, so Daffy wishes the island into a lush resort and various other Looney Tunes characters fly in as guests to take turns paying him to make wishes, which come in the form of the pre-existing shorts. Are they supposed to be seeing these things in the well, actually experiencing them, or what? I don’t know. Just go with it.

A more important question: Why would Daffy and Speedy, two characters not previously associated with each other, be on this island together? The answer is so Daffy can wear a white suit and then Speedy can say “Boss! De plane! De plane!” You see, because he’s short and has a thick accent, like Herve Villechaize on Fantasy Island. These pop culture references practically write themselves.

(The other big ‘80s reference is when Speedy suggests wishing for E.T. to get home. I choose to believe this means that E.T. is a real being who exists in this world who all the Looney Tunes know, not that Speedy is confused about the difference between movies and reality.)

Another weird pairing is Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, who are on a pirate ship together before they come to the island. I guess this foreshadows the later Looney Tunes movies like SPACE JAM and LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION, where they’re treated like the Muppets, they all know each other and maybe live together or something.

The interstitial scenes are mostly the Looney Tunes lining up at the well, paying Daffy some money, making their wish to a rhyming voice inside the well (Les Tremayne, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS), then it dissolves to the shorts. Daffy wishes to be a hero, so we get part of the super hero parody Stupor Duck. Porky’s pathetic wish is to be a producer who discovers new talent, and then it shows part of Curtain Razor, which has Porky sitting at a desk auditioning various wacky acts. Almost a Saturday Night Live type of joke format.

I don’t remember ever seeing one of these compilation movies in a theater, but I suspect even at that age I would’ve sensed something off and felt ripped off. It’s a practice that went back decades, to when animated shorts were a regular feature of moviegoing, but within my lifetime it feels kinda scammy. What can we do that technically counts as a feature film, but doesn’t take as much time or money? I suppose it’s in the same spirit as Roger Corman reusing the score and effects from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS for SPACE RAIDERS.

Of course, it’s also more tolerable than your average rip-off for the simple fact that these are some great animated shorts they’re cynically recycling. And it’s kinda funny because they were all 20-30 years old at the time, with references from different eras. One of the ones that made me laugh the most was the Foghorn Leghorn short Banty Raids, I guess Foghorn’s last starring role of the classic era. It’s about a cool beatnik rooster sneaking into the henhouse disguised as a baby to make out with the hens. He woos them with a little rockabilly song and a record player but goes back to baby mode whenever Foghorn shows up. And there are weird jokes like his guitar gets broken so he shoots it to put it out of its misery.

At the end Foghorn has been put through a machine that dresses him up as a woman, and the youngster is about to marry him but he protests that he’s a rooster. “Don’t let it bug ya, ma’am,” the beatnik says. “Like, we can’t all be perfect!” I thought that was very sexually liberated until I realized it was just a SOME LIKE IT HOT reference.

I don’t think Foghorn was one of my favorites as a kid, but now he is. He really clicked for me once I realized he reminded me of an old man friend I had named Bill (R.I.P.). Just that particular way of talking to people in a playfully condescending way and making jokes only for himself. He does more of that in another scene taken from Lovelorn Leghorn, where he tricks a lonely single hen into hitting on the dog. Bill once nonsensically advised me to bring my wife an avocado as a gift, and here Foghorn gets the hen to give the dog a melon. Great minds think alike.

This might be controversial but my other favorite segment is the Pepe Le Pew one, from the short Louvre Come Back to Me!, which I’ve read was that character’s last of the classic era as well. This one is cool for its visual style but I just find it very funny to watch Pepe walking around completely oblivious to the exaggerated reactions everyone is having to his stench. Of course it’s also about his unwanted advances toward Penelope, a female cat who accidentally gets a white stripe painted down her back and is mistaken for a fellow skunk. I know at least in some circles Pepe Le Pew is considered offensive today, because how can sexual harassment be funny? And that’s valid, but it’s just a fact that personally, to me, these cartoons are very funny. There really are arrogant, clueless dudes like this and it’s okay to use animal jokes and French stereotypes to laugh at them, in my opinion. Your sympathy is always with Penelope, obviously. The joke is that the guy is gross, not that this is something you want to happen to an innocent anthropomorphized cat.

This one also has some enjoyably corny art history jokes when Pepe’s smell makes the clocks in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory unmelt and then pop their springs, and the paint peels off of Edgar Degas’s Two Dancers, revealing that it’s a paint-by-numbers.

I also enjoyed Tree for Two, the one where the mean dog Spike and kiss ass Chester are chasing Sylvester and don’t realize that they keep having run ins with a panther that escaped from the zoo. After a while I guess I take for granted the genius of the characterization and acting in these cartoons. Things as simple as the scene where Sylvester cowers and holds up one claw, then the panther claws Spike into slices, so Sylvester looks at his claw in confusion, then gets cocky believing he’s a badass. As animation became simpler and more script-oriented we got less emphasis on that comedy that was all about the drawings and the performances. But that’s the good shit.

My actual favorite Looney Tunes were always the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner shorts. Sadly those characters are not in this one, either because they don’t (usually) talk, or because Freleng only directed them in one short when they crossed over with his guys, Speedy and Sylvester (The Wild Chase, 1965).

A useless FANTASTIC ISLAND tidbit I learned from Wikipedia is that there are characters named Hysterical Hyram, Hoppy and Minniesoda Fats who appeared on a 1981 puzzle featuring 105 Looney Tunes character, and their only known appearance outside of the puzzle is being quickly glimpsed waiting in line for the wishing well in this movie. I didn’t notice them. But if you want to show off, start making a huge deal about Minniesoda Fats being your favorite Looney Tunes character and act snooty about it when people ask who that is.

I don’t think DAFFY DUCK’S MOVIE FANTASTIC ISLAND did big business. It does not appear in the top 23 The Numbers lists for its opening weekend (though SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS made it to #14 in the fourth week of a re-release). Still, they did another compilation movie five years later called DAFFY DUCK’S QUACKBUSTERS. They should do one now called DAFFY DUCK’S QUACKATAR or YOSEMITE SAM’S SUCCOTASH PIZZA or something like that. Or not. Maybe it’s best to leave this sort of movie in the past.

Summer of ’83 connections: Daffy parodies Superman, a character who appears in the movie SUPERMAN III. There’s a pirate ship like in YELLOWBEARD. There’s a shark like in JAWS 3-D. There’s quicksand like in KRULL.

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18 Responses to “Daffy Duck’s Movie: Fantastic Island”

  1. Thank you for putting into words how I feel about classic Looney Tunes style animation vs what we mostly get today. So much of modern animation (outside of heavily computer animated stuff like Pixar) is just about the dialogue. Most of the animation is pretty much static and most of the jokes are just within the dialogue. There is no performance, no real feeling of craft to the actual animation. I tend to find those shows extremely boring and for a long time I couldn’t figure out why since I normally really love animation. It was only a few years ago when it sort of clicked and I realized that post-South Park, most of these shows rely on using the most basic, passable animation (aka cheap) and then just sort of ride on the idea of “cartoon characters saying irreverent and inappropriate things”. Obviously, there are exceptions, but overall I feel like the boom of “adult animation” or whatever has taken away from the art form. Looney Tunes has probably hundreds of moments that will stay with me for my whole life thanks to clever animations and knockout performances by Mel Blanc and others. Meanwhile, I tend to forget almost everything from these modern “cartoon characters mostly stand next to each other telling dirty jokes” cartoons that seem everywhere now.

    Also, I think I probably had that puzzle you mentioned. I definitely had a puzzle with all of the Looney Tunes characters together, I just don’t know for sure if it was the same 1981 version you mentioned.

  2. I’m actually surprised to learn that these compilation movies were actually made for theatres. I always suspected they were done for TV or maybe even home video.

    And who doesn’t know about good ol’ Minniesoda Fats? There was a time when Minniesoda Fats-mania was sweeping the world because obviously there was no character like Minniesoda Fats.

  3. Dtroyt, it’s probably a bit unfair to use the Adult Swim style cartoon as an example for modern generation in general, although I too have been wondering for a long time why 99% of these look like shit. It kinda made sense during the MTV era, where stuff like BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD had a certain underground/Punk asthetic (Although even Mike Judge hates the look of the very early episodes), but then I look at something like BOJACK HORSEMAN or RICK & MORTY and just roll my eyes.

    That said: The 90s and early 00s gave us all those Nicktoons, ANIMANIACS, POWEPUFF GIRLS and such, that were definitely more inspired by the golden age of anarchic cartoon humor in squash & stretch animation. The Anime hype of the 00s, paired with the easy-to-use cheapness of Flash animation probably killed that a little and currently the animation scene seems to be influenced by people who grew up on THE SIMPSONS and SHREK try to do a variation of that humor, even in their kids shows. So it’s not like you are completely wrong.

  4. CJ- I think you do a pretty good job of summing up my thoughts. Stuff like Animaniacs, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Lab, etc to me were sort of a last gasp for the classic style (not to say that there aren’t ANY of those types of ‘toons any more, just that they are far outweighed by the more bland stuff). Although, I would say that the Simpsons does still at least use some performance and classic visual gags. Oh well. Other people must like the newer style, based on the fact that there are dozens of those shows, so maybe it’s just another example of trends moving on without

  5. *trends moving on without me.

  6. I have not seen this in at least 30, possibly 35 years, but I saw it a crap-ton of times on HBO as a kid, and I loved it then, so, it holds a special place. I miss these guys! Old Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam still holds up quite well, btw — that stuff is timeless. The “hello my baby, hello my honey” frog also holds a dear place. Just sing again, damnit!!

  7. This is the Hysterical Hyram content I come to outlawvern.com for.

  8. This is one of the top Hysterical Hyram fan communities online in my opinion.

  9. grimgrinningchris

    August 1st, 2023 at 7:46 pm

    The Juggfuckler’s crazy rants and never ending “hot takes” on Nasty Canasta sent half your readership over here from AICN.

  10. For anyone who has not checked it out yet, I think the most recent version Looney Tunes Cartoons (yes, that is the exact vague title) on HBO Max from 2020-2023 is the best version of Looney Tunes since the golden age. Each episode is a combination of shorts ranging from 1-8 minutes or so, and there is a big focus on a return to visual gags and physical comedy. The animation is nowhere near the classics of course, but it looks way better than most post-Flash cartoons. It barely seemed to get any promotion or hype, the only thing I remember is some people getting upset that the creators chose not to have Elmer Fudd use guns just because that is an erm… loaded topic these days. But that is a silly thing to focus on, because other than the guns, these are the most violent Looney Tunes in decades! Good old fashioned comedic brutality.

    And in terms of the TV animation landscape, I just thank jebus that Genndy Tartakovsky seems to have a blank check at Cartoon network again. He spent like a decade making Hotel Transylvania movies with Sony’s promise that eventually he would get to make an original film idea he had been working on for years and/or an adaptation of Popeye he was really passionate about, and then they did not let him make either of them. Primal is some of the best animated art I have ever seen, not just on TV, and I just started Unicorn: Warriors Eternal which seems incredibly ambitious in a completely different way than Primal. Also, I think the bubble has burst at Netflix, but for a few years they were really putting out a great variety of animated shows for kids/teens/adults. I’m still amazed at how good The Cuphead Show looks.

  11. Pairing Daffy and Speedy as costars might have seemed more sensible in 1983 than it would nowadays. Daffy replaced Sylvester as the main villain in Speedy Gonzales cartoons from 1965. Those cartoons aren’t too well remembered now, mainly because they’re pretty bad, but in the early 1980s they were still being showcased on TV in NBC’s THE DAFFY-SPEEDY SHOW alongside other late-era Looney Tunes offerings like Cool Cat, Merlin the Magic Mouse, and Bunny and Claude.

  12. (Wrote most of this before I saw Matthew B’s comment, who covers my first two paragraphs much more succinctly!)

    This was not the first time Daffy & Speedy teamed up. Far from it! After Warner Bros shut their animation department, again, in the mid-60s, they had second thoughts, again, and decided they might like to make some more shorts. Unlike when they briefly closed in the mid-50s, because they were afraid 3D would make cartoons too expensive, they did not immediately reopen the studio and rehire their staff, they decided to outsource the new cartoons to DePatie-Freleng, the small new studio Friz had helped establish following the closure, who were already having success with the Pink Panther cartoons and title sequences. Initial announcements suggested they would make more Bugs Bunny cartoons, but ultimately they decided against that, supposedly because they had enough in the vaults they could re-release to theatres. Instead, they decided to focus mainly on new Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner cartoons, characters who were apparently very popular in the regions that were most dedicated to still showing cartoons in theatres. After about half a year, Daffy Duck was added as the antagonist for the Speedy cartoons. The reason has been lost to time, but supposedly it was because there actually weren’t that many Daffy cartoons Warner owned (they had sold off their colour pre-1948 cartoons to other distributors), so they wanted to build up their library to sell to TV stations. Whatever the reason, they ended up making 26 cartoons pairing the characters.

    In terms of reputation the Warner cartoons from this era are to Animation as, I dunno, let’s say SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS-era Seagal films are to action films, particularly the infamous 11 Road Runner cartoons directed by Rudy Larriva (there were two by Robert McKimson either side of them that were actually quite good all things considered), but the Daffy/Speedy cartoons hold a particular fascination for many with their weird plots and out of character moments. Quite why they decided to revive this partnership for FANTASTIC ISLAND, I don’t know. Why not, I guess?

    But, yeah, Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil was a new one.

    I’ve always wondered if anyone was actually fooled by any of these compilations. In addition to the five films (the first, to be fair, does not pretend to have a conventional narrative), there were around 15 Prime Time specials done in the same style between 1978 and 1992. I certainly never was, but I was around 9 when I first remember seeing any of these, I guess younger kids may have been fooled. The segues between 80s and 50s animation was rarely seamless, and the jump from 50s to 80s Mel Blanc was even more noticeable.

    As much as this compilation business was a somewhat dubious enterprise from the ground up, they got a real shot in the arm when Greg Ford and Terry Lennon took them over in the late 80s. Friz Freleng is obviously a true animation legend, but he didn’t see himself (or his work) that way, he saw himself as a professional who would do the most efficient job he could with the resources he was given. Warners give him just enough money to bridge some old cartoons together, he does it. Ford and Lennon in contrast were youngsters (who started by directing 1987’s THE DUXORCIST, the first Warners Theatrical short since 1967) who brought a real fanboy enthusiasm to the projects. At least in this case, that was a good thing. The TV special BUGS V DAFFY: BATTLE OF THE MUSIC stars is a lot of fun, and QUACKBUSTERS is a treat too. The disparity between Mel Blanc’s old and new work was never more obvious, but that’s the films’ only major demerit and it’s still a treat to hear him in the roles one last time. The new material is lively, inventive, in character and genuinely funny, and they make real efforts to bridge the animation styles as seamlessly as possible. I would still go to bat for QUACKBUSTERS being the best narrative film to feature the characters (best of all is probably the not-necessarily-100%-accurate documentary/compilation BUGS BUNNY SUPERSTAR); I know its hip in certain circles to say LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION is a secret classic, and I agree it’s a pretty funny movie and much better than either of the SPACE JAMs, but it has certain big-studio-live-action-kids-movie-from-the-early-00s elements that drag it down on subsequent viewings. Plus the humour is really more ANIMANIACS than vintage LT/MM style. I’m sure that’s pretty much the same thing to most people, but if you know, you know.

    QUACKBUSTERS boasted “60% new footage” in its publicity material and the original VHS cover, which was later parodied in THE SIMPSONS, possibly the only acknowledgment of this weird phenomenon in the wider culture. Apparently at least one theatre in the late 80s showed a Halloween night QUACKBUSTERS/EVIL DEAD II double bill!

    As pointless as most of these compilations are now, they did serve a purpose for me in the pre-Streaming/Broadband/DVD world. Even if they weren’t the ideal way, they were often the easiest way for me to seek out a lot of the shorts I read about in books like 50 GREATEST CARTOONS etc. Also, it’s pretty funny that there was a HEATHCLIFF movie that used this same format, given a fairly wide and relatively successful run in theatres, with Heathcliff regaling his nephews with “stories of his life”, i.e. with episodes of HEATHCLIFF AND THE CATILAC CATS. I wonder what those looked like blown up for theatre screens?

    (Sorry for going on but I know little about BREAKING BAD and even less about BARRY so this is my spot to shine)

  13. *The first Warners Theatrical short since 1969*

  14. Adam C. – I actually just stumbled across those on HBO Max the other day, watched a few, and really enjoyed them. I think the animation is great because they’re putting their own spin on the characters rather than trying to re-create how they looked in the past, and there’s a big emphasis on making them look funny and weird rather than (I would guess) exactly matching the model sheets. I’m definitely gonna watch more.

    Matthew B. and Pacman – Thanks for the correction. I don’t remember those cartoons but I should’ve known to check if they’d ever teamed up before.

  15. Vern- Nice! I was pretty excited when I heard WB put Pete Browngardt in charge of this new Looney Tunes endeavor. I loved that his Secret Mountain Fort Awesome cartoon looked like a wonderfully hideous mash up of of 60s and 70s art and comix like Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Big Daddy Roth. And I know a lot of people can’t stand the peak “random” humor of his last show Uncle Grandpa (and I understand that reaction), but on a pure animation level it has some incredibly unique and surreal gags and visuals that showed this guy is a fan of old school animation, but also wants to push and bend and break things instead of just recreating Golden age gags. Browngardt even brought on modern indie comics creator Johnny Ryan to work on Looney Tunes. It tickles me that a guy who makes some of the most disgusting and offensive comics of the modern era has TWO kids/family shows in Looney Tunes and Pig Goat Banana Cricket (where they credit him as J. Ryan in the hope that people don’t end up googling and seeing pages of fistings or disembowelment from Prison Pit).

  16. I must’ve seen this but don’t remember specifically. The one I remember is Bugs Bunny’s 1001 Rabbit Tales which I taped off HBO. I didn’t know these were old shorts so they were all new to me (and I proceeded to watch them on repeat) but yeah to actually release that in theaters is balls.

    I also remember the He-Man animated movie Secret of the Sword ended up airing in four weekday installments not too long after theaters. That’s how they introduced She-ra.

    One of the pleasures of attending the New Beverly here is they air animated shorts as part of the program so we get to see some of these on film.

  17. Guys I don’t know how to tell you this but somehow these 100 Characters do *not* include Hysterical Hyram, Hoppy *or* Minniesoda Fats!


  18. Damn, there was a time when cracked.com was synonymous with Pulitzer worthy journalism, but I guess these days are over. #JusticeForMinniesodaFats

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