All Pitch, No Catch
Meet Queer Duck (JM J. Bullock): he’s gay. That’s the point of Queer Duck: The Movie. His gayness cannot be suppressed, not even by a chesty show tune-singing diva or a homophobic evangelist. With an effeminate lisp, he exclaims, “This duck was born queer!” Did I mention he’s really, really gay?
In fact, in one of the DVD’s five interview-based accompanying featurettes, “Getting Behind Queer Duck,” creator and writer Mike Reiss confesses that he “just wanted to make a show about a gay duck.” And Queer Duck‘s initial distribution, first as a webtoon written by Reiss and drawn by the film’s animator and director Xeth Fienberg, and later as shorts (also included on the DVD) that aired on Showtime following Queer as Folk, seemed just cheeky enough to fill their four minutes. However, with sparse plots like “Queer Duck comes out,” “Queer Duck gets high,” and “Queer Duck has a picnic,” that short running time feels just about right.
At a staggering 72 minutes, Queer Duck: The Movie feels all wrong. In it, Queer Duck is converted to heterosexuality (an occasion for all sorts of unfunny, straight stereotype jokes) by the smarmy Rector Roberts (an awesome Billy West), who runs Soho’s Homo No Mo’ center. As a result, Queer Duck marries aging Judy Garland-ish starlet Lola Buzzard (Jackie Hoffman), much to the chagrin of his lover, Openly Gator (Kevin Michael Richardson). With a bitchy, flamboyant cohort of other gay animals in tow, Gator must rescue Queer Duck from straight sex, fundamentalist Christianity, and a newly bedraggled wardrobe.
Evidently, completing this mission requires lots of campy show tunes (the chorus of “I’m Glad I’m Gay” performed in the style of “YMCA”), relentless penis puns, and allusions to gay stereotypes. The little number “Baseball is Gay” culminates with profoundly un-clever wink-nudge lines about who gets to be pitcher and catcher. And this is where Queer Duck goes awry: it’s not that its depictions of stereotypes are offensive per se. It’s that they’re so obvious and so boring. For example, when Queer Duck’s asked what he’ll do after he’s gay again, he breaks into a song about having sex with all the gay animals. Not only is the gay male promiscuity joke tired at this point, but wanting to “pork a porcupine” or “screw a shrew” is, quite simply, lazy writing. It lacks nuance and sounds stale.
For a film that seems interested in delivering an envelope-pushing gay parody, it also exhibits an over-reliance on shtick from other subversive animated comedies. In addition to copying South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut‘s musical format, Queer Duck also includes frequent impersonated pop culture cameos. None of these is inventive. Neither a boozy Liza Minelli nor a freakish Michael Jackson suggests the kind of irreverent cleverness familiar to fans of Reiss’ work on The Simpsons and The Critic.
And while Queer Duck boasts several actual celebrity voices, their work on comes across as slapdash and incidental (for his scene, Conan O’ Brien dines at a restaurant and makes a few quips), and the DVD’s behind-the-scenes extras reveal little, except that David Duchovny’s performance as Tiny Jesus was literally phoned in. As promising as Queer Duck‘s talent roster is (Mark Hamill and Tim Curry, to start), it’s remains mired in cheap gags.
In representing “queer culture,” Queer Duck has the sort of resonance and insight that, say, the Farrelys’ Stuck on You had for conjoined twins. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that, according to Reiss in the featurette “Getting the Right Homosexual,” everyone involved in the project is straight—with the exception of Bullock, who voiced Queer Duck because backers insisted. While the film takes aim at stereotypes, it does so with low-budget animation (think: Hanna-Barbera) and pole-dancing animals in drag, and humor that’s more sophomoric than progressive.