October 18, 2019 posted by Jim Korkis

The Many Lives of Duck Dodgers


When writer Mike Maltese and director Chuck Jones were trying to find interesting springboards for new cartoon stories featuring characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, they were immediately attracted to the space madness sweeping American television screens.

Debuting in 1949, Captain Video and his Video Rangers on television protected the Earth with devices like the Opticon Scillometer which could see through anything and the Discatron, which was a TV screen that permitted a view to watch just about anything, and weapons like the Atomic Disintegrator Rifle and the Nuclematic Pistol.

The success of Captain Video spawned other space heroes such as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers filled with tales of wonder and pseudo-scientific jargon.

Buck Rogers, who first appeared in Amazing Stories magazine in 1928, then became a highly popular newspaper strip in 1929 and a famous Buster Crabbe movie serial in 1938, seemed to be the “father” of this genre.

It was a short leap from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century to Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century as a vehicle for the desperately inept heroism of Daffy Duck. Utilizing the design talents of Maurice Noble, Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century was released to movie theaters on July 22nd, 1953.

Duck Dodgers probably also owes some of its inspiration to an earlier Maltese-Jones collaboration Haredevil Hare (1948). Bugs Bunny is blasted into space and when he lands on the moon, he is confronted by Commander X-2 (who later became known as Marvin the Martian) and his dog who are planning on blowing up the Earth with his Aludium Q36 Explosvie Space Modulator.

Duck Dodgers (Production Number 1264) tells the adventure of space hero Dodgers’ quest to secure Planet X, the only remaining source in the universe for Aludium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom. He is aided by eager young space cadet Porky Pig.

To challenge these heroes, Maltese and Jones brought back the Martian character who had appeared in Haredevil Hare and Hasty Hare (1952) and would later appear in two more Bugs Bunny cartoons: Hareway to the Stars (1958) and Mad As a Mars Hare (1963).

As Jones once told me, “I patterned him after the god Mars. That was the uniform that Mars wore – that helmet and skirt. We thought putting it on this ant-like creature might be funny. But since he had no mouth, we had to convey that he was speaking totally through his movements.”

After a variety of amusing encounters involving devices like the Acme Disintegrating Pistol (that literally disintegrates into dust) to the Super Video Detecto Set (which can spy on any enemy), Duck Dodgers and Marvin succeed in blowing up Planet X.

Filmmaker George Lucas made arrangements that the short would be screened before his ground-breaking film Star Wars (1977) and wanted a new Duck Dodgers cartoon to precede The Empire Strikes Back (1980) but Warner Brothers had stopped making short cartoons almost two decades earlier. Jones decided to reunite some of his old team including Maurice Noble to design the future.

Jones also brought back storyman Mike Maltese but ended up throwing out most of his story that he felt was unusable which is why the final credits list both Maltese and Jones for writing. You can read Maltese’s original storyboard here. The short was not finished in time to be released with the movie.

Warners hoping to recoup its investment developed an entire half hour special to showcase it. On November 20, 1980 in NBC prime time, the animated special Daffy Duck’s Thanks-For-Giving Special aired.

The premise had Daffy trying to convince the studio to produce a sequel to his hit Duck Dodgers. When the producer shows no interest in the concept, Daffy runs clips from some of his great films of the past. Finally the producer relents and the audience sees the new cartoon.

Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 ½ Century had Duck Dodgers being sent to the one planet that has the last supply of the Rack and Pinion molecule, the only substance that can polish yo-yos. Dodgers and Porky Pig crash though a Rack and Pinion meteor where they encounter Marvin who is going to solve Earth’s fuel problem by blowing it up. They also encounter Gossamer who Porky defeats with Acme Monster Clippers. Dodgers is upset about being shown up and pulls out a ray gun and chases Porky across the alien landscape.

The production design was credited to Maurice Noble and Ron Diaz. Master animators were Phil Roman, Manny Perez, Irv Anderson, Ben Washam and Lloyd Vaughan.

On the Tiny Toons television series, the 1991 episode featuring Plucky Duck as Duck Dodgers Jr. was storyboarded by the talented Mike Kazaleh. Maurice Noble and Wayne Kaatz were also given credit for scripting the episode. Kent Butterworth directed.

Kazaleh also did the character model sheets, especially when he discovered that Warners only had one model sheet of Marvin the Martian and it was one that animation legend Chuck Jones had drawn in 1980 for the film Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 ½ Century.

Planets, rockets, stars and other objects are disappearing because Marvin is transmogrifying them into toy building blocks for his red-headed daughter Marcia. Eventually, everything in the universe is sucked up and disappears into a white background.

The layouts for the episode were done by the legendary Maurice Noble but the background artists at Wang Films in Taipei used an airbrush to give them more dimension.

According to David Marshall (the overseas supervisor), what happened was that the background painters at Wang were “jazzed” at what they had, but were specifically told by the producers to not follow any of notes Noble wrote for flat backgrounds.

Marvin the Martian in the Third Dimension (sometimes referred to as Marvin the Martin in 3D) was a three-dimensional animated film that was part of an attraction at several theme parks around the world including Warner Bros. Movie World located at the Gold Coast in Australia (opening December 26, 1997) and Six Flags Great America as well as the Warner Bros.Store in Manhattan, New York.

It was a mixture of the traditional 3-D film, requiring the standard polarized glasses, with hand drawn animation techniques – combined with then new Computer Generated Imagery. It also included what are now considered 4-D elements like the audience being sprinkled with water when Daffy Duck spoke to reference his spitting, bursts of air and moving chairs.

The official description of the plot of the twelve minute cartoon was “While scanning the universe for signs of hostility, Marvin hears something that sounds like a threat from Earth. Daffy’s preparation for his movie role as a dreaded Martian fighter (Duck Dodgers) causes the confusion, which results in intergalactic mayhem of comic proportions.”

Joe Alaskey provided the voices for Duck Dodgers, K-9 and Marvin the Martian and he repeated those roles in future Duck Dodgers projects.

However, it should be noted, Jeff Bennett proved the voice of Duck Dodgers in producer Larry Doyle’s one-shot would-be theatrical short Duck Dodgers in Attack of the Drones (2004) – directed by Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph). Here’s a clip from that:

From 2003 to 2005, the Cartoon Network aired for three seasons, an animated television series entitled Duck Dodgers. Daffy was accidentally frozen for over 300 years and later revived by Dr. I.Q. Hi in the 24th and one half century. Through bravado and outright lies he manages to trick everyone into believing he was a twenty-first-century hero. He battles Commander X2 (Marvin), who is in charge of the Martian military.

In 2003, both Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian were featured on separate 1st Space Launch Squadron mission patches for that year’s Mars Exploration Rover missions.

Is this the END of Duck Dodgers? Will he return in future new Looney Tunes Cartoons? Will Marvin and Space Cadet Porky survive? As they say in the old movie serials: To Be Continued


  • Worth noting about the Duck Dodgers TV series that the theme song is sung by Tom Jones. Probably best known for singing the title song in the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965):

  • You forgot to mention Duck Dodgers’ cameo in Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes Back In Action. He actually gets to save the day for once.

    • Also not mentioned is Chuck Jones’ 1996 effort “Superior Duck.” While technically a Superman spoof, Daffy’s costume is clearly modeled after his Duck Dodgers appearance (apparently so Warner Bros. could sell more limited edition cels of Daffy as Dodgers).

  • Nice little round-up, Jim, about the endearing legacy of a single classic cartoon. The “Duck Dodgers Jr.” incident (DON’T use Maurice Noble’s keys!?) is just another embarrassing story of modern animation, where the people in charge couldn’t care less about anyone with actual talent. Just one sad tale of many. All (or most) of the Duck Dodgers TV series is on the Boomerang streaming app. I wrote it off as a kid, and while I don’t like it a heck of a lot better (waaayyy too overwritten and talky), it makes me nostalgic for the days of hand-drawn animation with the characters looking like their classical selves even in middle-of-the-road productions (Ted Blackman’s art direction is also stunning). Let’s hope for the best with this new Looney Tunes jazz, if the public actually ever gets to see it.

  • Maybe DC Comics could bring back the Duck Rogers TV Show in the form of a Comic Book some day

  • Excellent review. I don’t understand why the Duck Dogers TV series was cancelled! Daffy was his usual dense, greedy, egotistical self. However, he acknowledged he had these faults, and actually tried to be a hero! Plus, it was hysterically funny!

  • Without Michael Maltese, most of Jones’s cartoons were mediocre at best.

    • I rather disagree there. I thought he had some good ones without Maltese such as “Barbary Coast Bunny”. What is with this Jones dissing these days?

    • “Rocket Squad”, “Hare Tonic”, “Louvre Come Back to Me”, “Compressed Hare”, and “Bugs’ Bonnets” weren’t written/boarded by Maltese and they were still great shorts.

    • Those shorts show some serious signs of neo-Jonesian problems.

    • I would argue no and some are considered my personal favorites.

    • The criticism of Jones’ later work is not a recent fad. His cartoons did decline in the late 50s onward in many respects.

    • In all fairness, Tim Vaughn’s comment that MOST post-Maltese Jones cartoons are “mediocre at best” does not necessarily preclude a sizable minority of good ones. So I’d say everybody’s right.

  • Greg Ford produced the 1991 ‘Bugs Bunny’s Lunar Tunes’, directed by Nancy Beiman, and on which I was fortunate to do layout, background, and design work. Duck Dodgers made an excellent appearance in it.

  • I don’t know when the next Duck Dodgers project will come out, but I doubt it will be in the new Looney Tunes shorts that are coming out as they seem to be based more like the late ’30’s and ’40’s era. .

  • I remember at the 1988 Worldcon in New Orleans there was a presentation from Warner Brothers on their releases, “Short Circuit,” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” As a reward for staying through the presentation they showed the original seizure inducing trailer for the Exorcist and a 35mm IB print of Duck Dodgers. Totally awesome to finally see it on the big screen.

  • I always thought it was spelled ‘Illudium’. Huh…

    It’s a nitpick, I’ll admit, but it always bugged me that while by the time of ‘Hareway to the Stars’ Marvin’s doomsday device was indeed the ‘Illudium 236 Explosive Space Modulator’, in the original ‘Haredevil Hare’ Marvin is clearly saying ‘Uranium 236’ which I would guess was a nod to the atomic testing that would have been all over the news in the immediate postwar period.

    I’ve even seen some writeups where Marvin’s over-enunciation makes people think its the ‘Illudim PEW-36 Explosive Space Modulator”.

  • What a great DVD collection this collection would make…

  • Re: “The short was not finished in time to be released with the movie.” (referring to the Duck Dodgers sequel)

    I always wondered why the short didn’t get used for The Empire Strikes Back. I had thought maybe Fox had blocked the release of it or something. In hindsight, it’s probably for the best it didn’t get shown, as Empire Strikes back is over 2 hours, and the full version of the Duck Dodgers sequel is 9 minutes.

  • Is there any period documentation of the Martian character actually being named “Marvin” at the time? I’ve always regarded that as another example of Jones’s latter-day revisionism (like the names “Gossamer” and “Michigan J. Frog”)… In any case, it’s one of the lamest names I’ve ever heard. It’s like Ed the Earthling, or Mike the Moon-man.

    • None to my knowledge. Just a generic “Martian” on the models I’ve seen from the period. Heck, it was just “The Martian” as late as a ’91 WB model, so not everyone got the memo. It’s just one of those latter day lame renames, ala “Michigan J. Frog” and “Gossamer”. Personally, I prefer “The Little Man from Mars” as he’s called in the first edition of Jerry and Will’s WB book.

  • Another “cameo” appearance of Duck Dodgers is in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” In one scene, Ron Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) wakes up to see the cartoon playing on TV, which causes him to realize the absurdity of his UFO obsession and to start demolishing his model mountain, only to snap off the top and have the “eureka” moment that leads to finding the aliens’ landing site.

  • There’s a few Duck Dodgers video games as well, like The Marvin Missions on the Super Nintendo and the Game Boy, as well as Duck Dodgers on the Nintendo 64.

  • There was a streaming Marvin the Martian cartoon series on WB’s very short-lived “” web site in 2000.

  • After viewing the clip of “Attack of the Drones” I wonder if they were influenced by the Gumby film “Robot Rumpus”? And yet again, another interpretation of ‘The Mirror Scene’ from The Marx Brothers 1933 movie “Duck Soup”. But, as it involved Daffy, perhaps they could have renamed it ‘Duck Stoop’!

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