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Daffy and Porky get shot into space

Sunday, August 17, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Bedee, bedee, that's not all, folks!

At least when it comes to the adventures of "Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century" - that classic cartoon short from 1953 - there are still stories to tell.


'Duck Dodgers'

When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday on Cartoon Network.


The cartoon features Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers and Porky Pig as the Eager Young Space Cadet battling Marvin the Martian as the Martian Commander. And though it's become ubiquitous over the years, only one 'toon was made in the '50s and then a sequel of sorts in the '80s. And that's it.

Cartoon Network saw a franchise just waiting to be revved up. In April 2002, it green-lit "Duck Dodgers," 13 new half-hour episodes, most containing two stories each. New episodes will air at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and repeat the following Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Supervising producers Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone dreamed of reviving the characters for six years before it finally happened. An upcoming episode, "The Trial of Duck Dodgers," reminds viewers of the back story: Dodgers (voice of Joe Alaskey) was accidentally frozen and then thawed out 351 years later. He works for Earth's Galactic Protectorate with the aid of the Eager Young Space Cadet (voice of Bob Bergen).

In that installment, Dodgers is on trial for destroying the Earth's defense shield. Dr. I.Q. Hi (voice of Richard McGonagle) testifies he hired the defrosted Dodgers for his unique perspective and because he thought he'd make a useful asset, "pretty standard sci-fi reasoning."

In a flashback battle scene, Eager Young Space Cadet advises Dodgers to trust his feelings - a la "use the Force" - to which Dodgers replies, "Nah, I'm pretty sure I'm going to use this expensive targeting computer."

Though the characters remain true to form, this "Duck Dodgers" is clearly an update.

"You have a great history and great characters, and that's a lot to live up to," acknowledged Cervone, who is already at work on a second season of 13 episodes to air next summer. "It's a responsibility we don't take lightly."

The proliferation of science-fiction movies and TV shows since the original cartoon short have given the pair plenty of material to work with.

"The original 'Duck Dodgers' comes out of the world of sci-fi serials, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and the pulps, and we still have a little bit of that element," Cervone said. "We're also drawing on more contemporary science-fiction ideas. We have more influences from 'Star Trek,' 'Star Wars,' 'Aliens' and 'Predator.'"

Interestingly, one of the conceits of the original "Dodgers" that carried over seems like a "Star Trek" parody, but it's not: The Evaporator, which accomplishes the same thing as "Star Trek's" Transporter.

"That's something we kept in the new series. I'm sure people will think it's a Transporter, but it's really from the classic cartoon," Cervone said. "Maybe ['Star Trek' creator] Gene Roddenberry was watching it when he was a kid."

In addition to the use of computer animation for most of the scenes with spaceships, the new "Dodgers" is able to depict a more expansive universe.

"The original was just one 6-minute short and took place in just a couple of locations - Planet X and then Earth - we've got a whole universe we're trying to fill up," Brandt said.

They've also blown up the scale, making everything bigger.

"Dodgers' ship is huge; it's Enterprise size, not a tiny rocket ship," Brandt said.

"It should have a crew of 400, but being Dodgers, it's only him and the Eager Young Space Cadet," Cervone added.

In addition to bringing a grandiose space opera feeling to the show, the second half of the season will explore new relationships and introduce members of the Dodgers family. One of those relationships is between Dodgers and a new character, the Martian Queen (voice of Tia Carerra).

The producers also have leveled the playing field, making Dodgers the only duck in Earth's Galactic Protectorate and Marvin a shrimp among the Martians.

"Marvin has only appeared in seven cartoons, and people are shocked when they hear that," Cervone said. "It's fun to take this character and play with him a little bit. We've never been to Mars. We don't know what Martian society is like. We've had a fun opportunity to do fun stuff with that, too. We've created these Centurion robots and more fun things for Marvin to play off of."

The producers said "Duck Dodgers" is aimed at children, but the nature of Looney Tunes nostalgia will also draw in adults. The show's theme song should help in that effort. Tom Jones sings "The Duck Dodgers Theme," written by Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd and performed by rock band The Flaming Lips.

A full-length three-minute version of the song has been recorded, and Cervone hopes it will be released some day. A shorter version is used on the show. The song and its accompanying animation call to mind the opening credits of a James Bond film.

"We started talking about 'Thunderball,' and that led to talking about Bond, and it got us into the idea that it should be a song that sings Duck Dodgers' praises to the point where it's absurd," Cervone said. "If Duck Dodgers could write his own theme song, it would be something like this."

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 . Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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