Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hard Luck Duck

Created, Written and Directed by: William Hanna
Art Director: Bob Onorato
Story Consultant: Tony Benedict
Key Animator: Kunio Shimamura
Layout Designer: Drew Gentle
Background Stylist: Andy Phillipson
Music: Gary Lionelli
Voices: Russi Taylor, Brad Garrett, Jim Cummings
Produced in Association with: Fil-Cartoons, Inc., Philippines

I remember that when this short aired, there weren't any new shorts for months after it, or at least what it felt like months. To this day I still wonder why they ended the initial batch with what's easily the weakest of the first eight WAC shorts. It's by no means terrible, but it's not great either, and while I can give this cartoon credit for a few things, they're not enough to outweight its problems.

Hard Luck Duck wakes up one morning and gets ready to find some breakfast, as his friend Harley the Alligator warns him to stay out of trouble. Staying faithful to his name, Hard Luck arrives at a restaurant, completely oblivious that the Fox that runs the place wants to have him for lunch. After a series of sight gags, Hard Luck is saved by Harley, gets captured again, gets saved again, gets captured and saved AGAIN, and then... the cartoon ends.

That's pretty much it. Outside of some nice bits of animation and mildly fun gags, there isn't much to say about the plot. It's incredibly generic, and it doesn't help a lot seems borrowed from older Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The character of Hard Luck Duck in particular borrows from the Duck from the Tom & Jerry cartoons (Quacker) as well as Yakky Doodle, but for some reason it doesn't feel too well here, because while those duck characters were more naive and kid-like in their actions, Hard Luck just feels like he's dumb. I can tolerate him being fooled by the Fox the first time (even with him being tossed from a bowl to a blender to an oven), but then being fooled not twice but three times, and with all of Harley's warnings to top it off, I just can't root for this character anymore. He's too stupid, and by now he seems to serve no purpose other than being cute.

This brings me to another problem. Outside of briefly altering the setting, there's little reason as to why this couldn't have been a Yakky Doodle cartoon. Both cartoons have a duck and a fox, and Harley is basically fulfilling Chopper's role from those shorts. They even borrow the "Cover your eyes while I beat up the Fox" scene pretty much whole. No variation, twist, nothing. It's the same thing. At this point the cartoon just feels like a Yakky Doodle short with a different coat of paint, so why not just make it that? Joe Barbera had no issues using existing characters in "Stay Out", so why not here?

Another problem with the cartoon is the pacing. A whole day goes by during the whole thing, but it's hard to tell how fast time is passing. The beginning is pretty straightforward until Harley arrives at the Fox's cafe. Hard Luck asks if he's going to have breakfast with them, so only little time has passed since the beginning. From this point on the cartoon plays continuously to the end (no fade outs until it's over), but during the final chase it turns into dusk and after Harley dispatches the Fox one last time, he and Hard Luck are ready for bed, and it's night time by now. Time sure went by fast, and they didn't even get to eat. As I said, bad pacing.

It seems so far I'm trashing this short, but there a few good things about it. There is some great animation on the Fox, which is where the best visuals of the cartoon show up. He's very expressive, with lots of great takes and a funny voice provided by Jim Cummings who adds a nice fake french accent. Hard Luck has some nice animation on him as well, particularly during the scene at the restaurant, and Russi Taylor's voice for him (which sounds like her Huey, Dewey & Louie voice) is fitting, so I won't complain there.

On contrast, Harley's animation feels rather dull and generic. He doesn't really do much that seems worth noting or taking a screenshot of. This also leads me to believe the animation for each character was handled by a different animator, because the difference is quite noticeable, specially when comparing Harley and the Fox. It's like night and day. Although it is fun to hear Brad Garrett in his pre-Everybody Loves Raymond years doing voice acting. He does a pretty good job.

There really isn't much left to say about this one... because it doesn't really stand out. It's not too funny, it's badly paced, and outside of some good animation here and there it's no visual showcase either. I guess Bill Hanna was going for a "cuter" approach with this cartoon, but even then, I was expecting something more entertaining coming from the man that co-created Tom & Jerry. I hadn't seen this one in years, and rewatching it made me remember why I never bothered tracking this short for another viewing. The only way I'll ever rewatch this again is if CN releases these shorts on DVD so I can take better quality screenshots, but as things are now, Hard Luck Duck's purpose is pretty much over.

I don't mind the gag with Hard Luck living inside Harley's head, but I do mind Hard Luck's comment on how he wishes he could have a bathroom in there. I can think of a couple of VERY good reasons not to.

As stated, most of the good animation and poses in this short comes from the Fox. These are some nice screens from the scene where he's introduced.

I do like the joke where Hard Luck's face is in the milk carton only a minute after he's been wondering around and the Fox comments "News travel fast". It makes no sense whatsoever, but it's nonsense I can get behind. Or maybe it's from a previous time Hard Luck got lost and that's some really old milk.

Nice exaggerated take on Hard Luck after the Fox feeds him one drop of Tabasco sauce. 

Some more good animation when the Fox cracks an egg open on Hard Luck's head.

This part is rather disturbing. There's obviously nothing graphic about it, but I always picture what would actually happen when you put a little duck on a blender. The final animation of Hard Luck solidifying is pretty good, though.

"Deal With It"

Hard to see in motion but the Fox licking his lips as he awaits for his meal is another nice bit of animation.

The aforementioned "Cover your eyes" scene. Taken entirely from Yakky Doodle.

Probably the best bit of animation in this short is the part where, after Harley punches the Fox off-screen, his whole face is sucked inside his head. Him slowly trying to get it out is gorgeously done, with great takes and poses. However, that last screenshot is strange, it's like the Fox was going to tell the viewers something but it was removed in the cutting room, as there's a jump cut to the next scene occurs at that frame. They should have ended that scene with the previous screenshot.

There really isn't much left in the cartoon outside of this scene with Harley eating the motorboat and the Fox, then spitting it back. Very well animated too.

Taking a screen of this because oddly, this short has one of my favorite lines in all of WAC. "So long, Fox. Don't go away mad. Just go away." Great quotable material right there.

I think this is the only WAC short that doesn't end on a joke, a witty commentary, or a punchline of some kind. Hard Luck and Harley go to sleep and... the end.


  1. "I don't mind the gag with Hard Luck living inside Harley's head, but I do mind Hard Luck's comment on how he wishes he could have a bathroom in there. I can think of a couple of VERY good reasons not to."

    At least Harley tries to delay that issue further. It's a pretty dumb joke but I guess they thought it was edgy enough to work.

    This brings me to something I learned from Scott Shaw who had worked for H-B during that time, in particlar how this cartoon's director (and co-founder) Bill Hanna, really had nothing to do much on this particular cartoon and probably didn't know what he was doing at all at this point in his life (he'll pass away in another 6 years). I suppose that sort of disconnection and varying animation between characters in apparent in Hard Luck Duck.

    I would agree those sequences with the fox are the best part of this thing, but in the end, it's just "Yakky Doodle in the Bayou" as I put it. I did wonder what this "Kunio Shimamura" did as a key animator of this short? I like to think he was behind the Fox's animation but I can't be sure of that if some Filipino was given what they were told to do on this instead. Checking IMDB shows Kunio had a lot on his plate of animation projects over the years, mostly working at H-B throughout the 80's and 90's and a few forgotten pieces in the 2000's though I can't help but noticing the last thing he got credited for was some My Little Pony video before the whole "Brony" thing happened.

    "I think this is the only WAC short that doesn't end on a joke, a witty commentary, or a punchline of some kind. Hard Luck and Harley go to sleep and... the end."

    Other than for Hard Luck to pester Harley for the umpteenth time on that bathroom proposal, but yes, this was a cartoon about 'nothing'!

  2. The "Don't go away mad. Just go away." line may have been a reference of a Motley Crue song with a similar title.