Animation Cel-ebration
July 7, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

70th Anniversary of “Duck Dodgers”

Talk about a movie that works on multiple levels. Both a striking science fiction vision and a cleverly crafted comedy, Chuck Jones’ Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century is rightly considered a masterpiece of animation.

Duck Dodgers was Warner’s principal entry in the science fiction sweepstakes of the 1950s, and I daresay it’s as great as any of the bigger, more ambitious live-action films of the period,” noted Leonard Maltin in Jerry Beck’s book, The 50 Greatest Cartoons as Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals, where Duck Dodgers came in at number four.

Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century is both a send-up and celebration of science fiction, (the title itself is a sly take on Buck Rogers). The short tells of the title character (played by the only duck who could have portrayed him, Daffy), who is sent to Planet X, to locate “Illudium Phosdex,” better known as “the shaving cream atom.”

With his sidekick, the “Space Cadet,” Porky Pig, they blast off and find Planet X by following the other planets, starting with “Planet A.”

Once they arrive on Planet X, Daffy claims it in the name of Earth but is soon challenged by Marvin the Martian, who arrives to claim it in the name of Mars. This starts a battle between them that culminates in each deploying weapons that obliterate everything, save for a small divot that Daffy can stand on to still claim the planet, while Marvin and Porky hang on by a root below.

Duck Dodgers contains Jones’ trademark clever, literal humor. As Marvin points his “ACME disintegration pistol” at Daffy, the duck declares that he is wearing his disintegration-proof vest. Marvin fires and Daffy completely disintegrates into black ash, with only the vest left standing. Later, Daffy counters with his own disintegration pistol, which disintegrates in his hand.

Adding to this exaggerated comedy is the character of Marvin the Martian (who had made his debut in 1948’s Haredevil Hare). With his lack of features set between a Roman helmet and oversized sneakers, he is a most outlandishly designed character, with a soft-spoken, polite voice, provided here by the legendary Mel Blanc, who does his trademark brilliant work with the entire cast.

Tying the tone of Duck Dodgers together are the layouts by Maurice Noble and Philip DeGuard. The two artists were Jones’ regular collaborators, here providing over-the-top science fiction visions that are equal parts parody and wonder as they appear on the screen. Most impressive is the space station that serves as the headquarters of “Dr. I.Q. Hi” at the start of the film, which is a dramatic, cavernous, futuristic locale featuring a giant blinking eye that watches Duck Dodgers as he approaches.

In the seven decades since its debut on July 25th, 1953, Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century would spawn a belated sequel, Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th ½ Century in 1980, as well as a TV series that aired on Cartoon Network from 2003-2005.

The original Duck Dodgers would also generate continued popularity for Marvin the Martian through the years. The character would be featured in two more shorts, Hare-Way to the Stars (1958) and Mad as a Mars Hare (1963). His appearances on several TV shows, such as Baby Looney Tunes and Animaniacs, as well as the wildly popular Nike commercials with Michael Jordan, in the 1990s, endeared him to new generations.

The character and Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century have been a favorite of many, particularly two filmmakers who would re-design audience expectations around science fiction and bring Duck Dodgers along for the ride.

One was George Lucas, who was such a fan of the short subject that he had it play before Star Wars, during its initial theatrical run in 1977, and another was Steven Spielberg, who featured the short playing on a TV in a sequence of 1978’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

For seventy years, Duck Dodgers in the 24th1/2 Century has remained a shining jewel in the Warner Bros. crown and a gleaming comic star in our cartoon galaxy.


  • As Jerry Beck has mentioned on numerous occasions, release dates for cartoons can be mere suggestions. The Warner Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee screened this cartoon on July 1, 1953, with the feature “The Charge at Feather River.” This is not the only theatre which showed it before July 25th.
    I would suggest that “Jones’ trademark clever, literal humor” is, in part, due to Mike Maltese.

    • Thank you for this additional insight about the release date. Much appreciated.

      And, thank you for mentioning the genius of Mike Maltese. Not including him was a miss on my pry, for sure.

      • *my part

  • The thing is, it’s a wonderful bookend to “Drip-Along Daffy,” which was another genre spoof (Westerns) that hit the bull’s-eye squarely (especially during the gunfight sequence, with the camera angles). The cartoons deserve to be seen back-to-back, as they represent Jones and Maltese (and the rest of their team) at its best.

  • it’s been told that the only Jones cartoons where Daffy wins at the end were “A Pest In the House” and “Rabbit Fire.” considering the scope of the conclusion, I think “Duck Dodgers” qualifies as a win as well.

  • Unpopular opinion: In terms of space/future LT cartoons, I like the Dragnet/Racket Squad parody Rocket Squad just a tiny bit better. But this is still a great cartoon, one of Jones’s best. The “how to get to Planet X” sequence in particular is very inspired and funny.

  • Once again, here we have a Warner Bros. classic that Eddie Selzer didn’t consider worthy of submitting to the Academy for consideration.

    “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century” may be interpreted as a satire on the Cold War and the arms race, although Jones himself didn’t say anything about that in his chapter on the cartoon in “Chuck Amuck”. It also prefigures certain elements of Star Trek, such as the transformer/evaporator, and the fate of the cosmos being determined by a struggle between two individuals on a barren planet. The pose Daffy strikes after stealing Porky’s idea and asking himself “How do I do it?” is positively Shatnerian.

  • I’m glad you posted this, Mr. Lyons. Because it gives me a chance to vent my spleen with my strong opinions, strong opinions, I say! – about this cartoon, and Friz Freleng’s opinion of Porky Pig later on.

    First, I think this is outstanding cartoon – I’ve always loved it.

    Second: Decades later, Mr. Isadore Freleng said that Porky Pig was a “middle-aged man” character. HAUGH! This cartoon proves otherwise. It proves that Porky could be whatever the cartoon directors wanted him to be. “Eager Young Space Cadet!” “Middle-aged man,” indeed! (Also, think about such earlier cartoons as “The Film Fan,” “Wholly Smoke,” “Old Glory,” and, of course, “I Haven’t Got a Hat,” which Freleng himself directed.)

    Freleng directed Porky for the last time the previous year – in “Cracked Quack.” (Not surprisingly, he’s a “middle-aged man” character in that cartoon.)

    Regrettably, “Duck Dodgers” was the only cartoon in which Porky appeared in 1953. But at least it was a lu-lu!

    (Can you tell that I’m a “Porky-phile”?)

    Another interesting little fact: Charles M. Jones directed five cartoons with Marvin the Martian during this period. Only one has Daffy Duck, and it is, arguably, the most famous one.

    Robert McKimson also made five cartoons with the character one fan called “Taz-Boy” in about the same period. Only one of those has Daffy Duck – “Ducking the Devil” – and it is, arguably, the most _obscure_ of the five cartoons with the Tasmanian Devil.

    I don’t know if these facts have any cosmic significance, but there it is.

  • The navigational direction “due up”, followed by a look …

  • I consider this a science fiction classic. Too bad about that unfortunate TV Show which was nothing like the Jones cartoon and more akin to The Simpsons.

    • I think you are confusing the show with the 2003 short (which was more like The Simpsons because some of the former staff worked on it).

      • I definitely meant the TV Show which was right off the assembly line from the factory of uninspired TV animation. The eponymous character had little in common with the classic Jones cartoon and was more like a Homer Simpson style slacker.

        • He was more like Snafu in my opinion.

  • I know Jones’ already got three other cartoons on there, but would this short be worthy to be included in The Library of Congress’ National Film Registry? Either way, I may have already have suggested in my nominations list.

  • One of my all time LT favs to be a part of was the series Duck Dodgers. Smart writing, great character design. This would be a great animated feature reboot!

  • And don’t forget ‘Babylon Five’, where Duck Dodgers was Garibaldi’s “second favorite thing in the whole universe”… 😉

  • 10/10, simple as.

  • Back in 1988 I had the pleasure to see Duck Dodgers from a 35mm print (possibly an original Tech IB print) at the World Science Fiction convention in New Orleans. Spectacular. 17,670,002 microcells indeed. The WB rep who brought it ran it as a reward for the audience sitting through the truly awful trailer for Short Circuit 2. He even threw in the original seizure-inducing trailer for The Exorcist. Good times.

  • The 24-Hour Boston Science-Fiction Movie Marathon, one of the longest-running genre film festivals in U.S. history, traditionally opens with a screening of “Duck Dodgers.” Participants who attend year after year have memorized the entire script and chant the lines along with Daffy, Marvin, Porky, et al, and the deathless final line, “B-b-big deal,” usually is greeted with wild cheering and applause.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *