Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Ducktales, Season One, Episode One: "Woo-oo!"

Chris Barat, thou shouldst be living at this hour. All New Ducktales reviews are dedicated to your memory.

My thoughts on this are extremely scattered. I don't know that I can provide a coherent critique. That said, THIS:


Now...there's just no use quibbling here; from this image, you can see how much the producers care about cramming obscure duck lore and history into this show (if anyone wants to speculate in comments as to what some of the more obscure stuff means, feel free). My initial fear was that it would kinda look like a copy of a copy--ie, Original Ducktales (OD) is based, sort of, on Barks; New Ducktales (ND) is based mainly on...OD. That's not nearly as interesting to me! But this shows that they really, really care, and regardless of the execution, they have to get a shitload of points for that. Right. So. I have various opinions and observations about the episode, so I will share them in scattershot form.

-By the end of the episode, it had become slightly less jarring that HDL talk like regular adults. But...only slightly. I dunno. I don't think I'm ever going to be totally sold on this. Also--and this is my biggest problem with the show as a whole--their sort of breezy, bantery, millenial-irony-ish dialogue...well, it's not exactly bad or poorly executed. It's just that...well, maybe I've just watched too many MCU movies, but I feel like it's a bit played out; a bit creatively fatigued. I mean, I guess I shouldn't complain too much; we can't forget how utterly fucking dreadful the writing in the original show could be. Maybe it just needs to find its groove a bit. Whatever. It's fine, I guess. Although I really must note that they very clearly refer to their uncles as uncle. Someone needs to have a quiet word with the voice actors about that.  As Joe Torvicia notes, the same thing appears in the first ND comic.  Surprisingly sloppy, given how careful they're trying to be to honor the duck legacy.

-Also re HDL, unlike OD, ND makes a very clear point of giving them the traditional nomenclature--Huey Red, Dewey, Blue, Louie green. I know they're trying to give them at least somewhat distinct personalities, but I think it's gonna take a few episodes for this to really coalesce.

-Webby: even though the above complaint re dialogue also applies to her, she's a <i>whole</i> fucking lot better than you could ever fuckin' have imagined based on the original. Again, this does illustrate the amount of care that went into the whole thing: the producers realized that Webby was an awful, condescending sop to a putative female audience, and they made damn sure they would not make that mistake again. She's a much stronger character, and the episode is refreshingly devoid of any of the boy/girl fight stuff in OD. I like.

-Donald: I'll be thrilled if he takes a bigger role in this series, as seems likely. I do have a pretty big complaint, though, which seems like a small thing but isn't: if he's gonna be around a lot and do a lot of talking, they should really make his voice clearer. I mean, maybe you are so acclimated to Donaldspeak that it's totally lucid to you, but I sure ain't and it sure ain't to me. Yeah, it's similar to how he sounded in the old cartoons, but in those, he didn't talk that much, and it wasn't really important to fully understand most of what he said. In those same vintage shorts, HDL talked more or less the same as Donald did; wisely, the producers of OD realized that this wasn't really tenable in a show that relied on them talking a lot and being understood, and so we got the pretty-good compromise we did. I'm not saying Donald's voice needs to be quite that clear, but I really wish it were a bit clearer.

-Glomgold: He sure is short and round. Given how much care they've taken to provide bait for classic comics fans, I'm almost surprised they didn't let him go back to being South African. Just "almost," though. It would obviously be a pretty hard sell; even if you assume for the sake of argument that the apartheid associations are no longer an issue, how do you indicate "South African" to a wide American audience via quick short-hand? Not too easy. Also, I'll admit it's kinda funny that the two characters vying for a surprisingly specific title both just happen to be Scottish. In either case, though, the character's pretty bland and doesn't make much of an impression beyond "generic baddie."

-Mrs. Beakley: They're clearly trying to toughen her up in the manner of Webby, but she doesn't do much to establish herself as a character here. I don't think her name is even used. Hmmm.

-Launchpad: Pretty much perfect, I must say. The only question is whether the show will remember that in the early days of OD, Launchpad had hidden depths, or if they'll just stick with his sole character trait being "dumb." That would be a bit disappointing.

-Scrooge: is the big one, of course. But honestly, I don't have that much to say. They begin with a sort of light riffing on "The Richest Duck in the World," where he's seeing Donald for the first time in a long time and HDL for the first time ever, only the explanation is pretty light: "Family is nothing but trouble." Okay! I dunno; he seems basically fine.

-There's not that much point in talking about the plot, I think; it feels more like a proof-of-concept--here's the kind of thing we're going to do!--than a fleshed-out thing in itself. The Atlantean ruins are certainly more thought-out than most of what you'd've seen in OD, though.

-Characters we're looking forward to seeing: Fenton, Magica, Daisy (probably?), Goldie (probably?), Gyro, Gladstone, Von Drake (HOPEFULLY!!! SERIOUSLY GUYS PLEASE DO THIS I WANT IT SO BADLY), Cinnamon Teal (GREAT IDEA!!!), the Phantom Blot (likewise!), Bubba.

-Character whose return I'm vaguely curious about but really don't care much about either way: Duckworth.

-C'mon...you didn't think I was <i>serious</i> about that Bubba thing, do you? Let's hope the producers realize that NO ONE LIKES BUBBA and let his long retirement continue unabated. I'll accept a one-shot appearance if they MUST, but that's all.

-Given how concerned they are that we know that they know the comics, one can easily imagine a surprise appearance by someone like Rockerduck or Brigitta.

-And speaking of Daisy, as much as it pains everyone to hear Quack Pack mentioned, the one good thing about it was Daisy, so it would be cool to see that version of the character. As we all know, Donald and Daisy's relationship is often fraught in ways rife with dubious gender politics, so it would be REAL nice if they did this right.

-Oh, THE ART STYLE. Well, it's a clear artistic choice. I do find the ducklings' rectangular heads a little peculiar, but they're doing them, and I could certainly grow to like it very much.

-Yeah, so that's that. I kind of wish the kids were more kiddish, but that is my only major complaint...a big one, admittedly, but I'll definitely keep watching. SOMEONE has to keep an eye on these people! If they play their cards right, they will definitely have a superior show to OD.

-Oh yeah, and that ending. I dunno, people. I know how eager you are to polish your duckfan bona fides, but don't you think teasing Della RIGHT THE HELL THERE in the first episode is a bit precipitous? Also, let's face it, as much as I basically liked this episode...I don't think you've quite earned that yet. Let's wait 'til we've seen if you can keep this up.

-Donald has a smartphone; Scrooge has an old clamshell thing (and I'm not quite sure what that thing Webby has is). I can't tell if this was a conscious choice or not. You'd think having a high-tech phone would be essential for Scrooge's business, but this may be one of those penny-wise-pound-foolish things.

-"Family truly is the greatest adventure of all OH NO THE GROUND"

"Even a basic death trap still has the word 'death' in the title."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Seven: "Dead Duck"

SPITTING OUT PIECES OF HIS BROKEN LUCK

Well, it was bound to happen eventually: finally, Darkwing fucking DIES.  Surely he didn't think he could be on the receiving end of all that slapstick violence FOREVER without eventually having to pay the piper, did he?

He dies by crashing into a wall helmetless while in pursuit of Megavolt, and the show evinces at least some vague awareness of the whole non-threatening nature of violence in this show.  I am sort of surprised they were able to actually show Satan shoving souls down into eternal perdition, but they totally do (if this were a Chick Tract, that would be God doing the shoving--funny, that).  We even see Satan and St. Peter getting into an argument about who should get his soul.  But, he returns to Earth as a ghost and has to try to figure out a way out of this, in spite of being pursued by the Grim Reaper.

This is all reasonably amusing, and it's surprising the show would be permitted to tread such territory.  But…surely from the very, very beginning everyone was able to see the lame ending coming.  YES, IT'S ALL A DREAM.  Hmph.  Only Super Mario Bros 2 can get away with that one, in my book.  I suppose giving tacit approval to this particular cosmology by having it be otherwise probably wouldn't have been permitted, but that doesn't make it any less lame.  And the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.

Stray Obsevation

-"Goodbye, Morgana! I'm sorry we never had the chance to get together!"  Okay but no seriously, what G-rated explanation could there possibly be for this comment?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Six: "My Valentine Ghoul"

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

...what, you say it's not Valentine's Day?  HA!  TRICKED YOU!  Happy April Fool's Day!  

...what, you say it's not April Fool's day?  HA AND HA AGAIN!  You fell for my diabolical two-part trap!  You FOOL!

...right.  Enough nonsense.

Darkwing and Morgana are having a romantic evening out in a graveyard (quick question: is Morgana supposed to know DW's secret identity?), but they get in a spat because he doesn't want her helping him with crimefighting stuff because she turned him into a rutabaga last time and also because he may have vague suspicions that she's not all the way reformed.  Negaduck, who is nearby stealing diamond engagement rings (pretty penny-ante behavior for the guy who's supposed to be the show's biggest heavy, I must say), when he sees them fighting and decides, ho ho, he can maybe perhaps unreform her and enlist her help.  

To this end, he pretends to be himself reformed, in a performance that makes Pegleg Pete's many fake reforms look downright convincing.  I feel like if he really wants this to work, he should sound less heavy-handedly sarcastic all the time.  But the act kinda works, in part because, hey, if Morgana can really be reformed…

So this tomfoolery goes on for a while; in the meantime, Gosalyn and Morgana's spider Archie and her bats Eek and Squeak, who were grossed out by the DW/Morgana mushy stuff, nonetheless try their best to get those two lovebirds back together, in part by brewing a love potion, and if you can't guess the sort of things that go wrong here, I can only assume you've never been exposed to media before--though in fairness, DW and Gosalyn both in turn being smitten with Negaduck is pretty funny.

Solid episode; the focus on this relationship is more engaging than most of the pro-forma villain-showdown things we see, and the whole thing's more well-written than not.  There are some good/terrible lines: having immobilized Morgana by encasing her in chocolate, Negaduck samples a bit and remarks "I've always loved women with good taste!"  GROAN.  Also, when he's kind of creepily trying to seduce Morgana, he declares "your beak is a golden temple of rapturous bliss," and if there's ever been a more thinly-veiled bit of R-rated (at any rate) dialogue in a Disney show, I'd like to know what it is.

So anyway, more like this would be fine.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Five: "The Incredible Bulk"


Worth noting that in this episode, DW bursts in to harass Bushroot before he does anything villainous.  I suppose we're meant to assume that there's some sort of standing arrest warrant on the villains in this show, but we've certainly never seen any such thing before.  They're supposed to actually do something before they get DW'd.

The idea is that Bushroot's invented a special plant food that he uses to make giant, macho Daisy enforcers, which makes his pet man-eating plant Spike jealous. It's really not at all clear what he plans to do with these guys, but…there you go.  I guess he'll have to be stopped anyway.  And, as in "Planet of the Capes," said stopping involves plants and DW successively growing bigger with plant food (there's a subplot where DW, deciding that he relies too much on his intellect, decides to get tougher; this plays into that a bit).  I know I'm repeating myself here, but it really is kind of The Usual Thing.  Also, he finally defeats the main daisy by unleashing a giant bee on it.  C'mon, people--bees are good for flowers.  Why would this scare it?  Less dumbness, please!

Not so exciting, then, though there were a few Bushroot parts I liked: when the daisies are roughing some, uh, tea inspectors (or something), he protests: "Oh c'mon guys, you can't blame them just because tea is made of plants!"  Unusual clemency there; usually he's pretty hardline when it comes to plant stuff.  Also, at the end, he doesn't get caught; he escapes with Spike, remarking "what a disaster--oh well, at least I can depend on you, Spike ol' boy!"  I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did.  I've never seen a villain in this show get such a…heartwarming…conclusion before.  So that's fine.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Four: "Twin Beaks"

Bushroot is in prison, but then he sees this blinding light and, bam, nothing left but desiccated Bushroot husk with empty eye sockets--undeniably creepy.  Truth is, I've never seen Twin Peaks, but I feel like I have a pretty clear idea of the Lynchian aesthetic, which seemed to come through well enough in this episode.

So Honker's family has DISAPPEARED.  Where could they be?  Must be this Twin Beaks town, which has few people and a bunch of giant cabbages just sitting here and there and everywhere, and once again this is effectively surreal.  Less effective is the plotline running through this whole thing where Launchpad decides he has psychic powers that he can use to solve crimes and shit; it just comes from nowhere, doesn't feel true-to-character, and doesn't even tie in with the main story in any meaningful way.

Be that as it may, it turns out that the criminals are alien body-snatching cabbages, and Bushroot's actually been recruited by sapient alien cow from the planet Larson (HO HO HO), to stop them.  And, well, DW has a cool-looking dream sequence that doesn't amount to much, and the aliens are ultimately stopped, though in a very deus-ex-machina-y way.  Also, Honker has an Aunt Trudy, who looks exactly like Binkie only with an eyepatch.  I thought you'd want to know that.

This episode does create a really effective atmosphere in places, but it's all tied to a less-interesting overarching story.  I wish the creators had had the courage of their convictions, and just told a surreal story without clambering back onto that life-raft of comfortable genre tropes.  But, they did.  So, there we are.  

AN' ANOTHER THING: can I tell you how sick I am of that "yep, yep" thing DW does when he's being casual about his awesomeness?  The answer is "very."  I don't know if it's become more prominent of late, but it really grates, and emphasizes the douchey side of the character to a really unnecessary extent.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Three: "Dances with Bigfoot"

…so it can't REALLY be the case that this episode features the line "that's the snack god!  As in, the favorite meal of the Clinton god!" can it?  If nothing else, surely this was a year or so early for a Clinton joke to have much currency?  Hmm.

Well, it seems Gosalyn wants to be a superhero too, and she has this rather chic red and black "Crimson Quackette" ensemble she's put together.  Drake is less than supportive of this notion, but then the next day, OMG, he disappears, and it's up to her and Honker to find him.  I like the first part which is just the two of them together; they have a good give-and-take, and frankly, I'm finding lately that DW himself often kinda gets on my nerves--a little of that incomptence/massive egoism goes a LONG way.  This first part also features my favorite line: "Bored with your dumb job?  You can become a zeppelin operator today!"  

Be that as it may, they eventually, inevitably find him.  It turns out he's been captured by…savage natives who are going to sacrifice him to a volcano god, and it never ceases to baffle me that cartoons--in the nineties, fercryinoutloud--were able to get away with the kind of thing that would get old comics banned for all eternity (or at least until Fantagraphics' magic diplomacy made itself felt).  Not that I'm exactly viscerally offended by it, but it's certainly tasteless and not very clever, though admittedly there are a few amusing moments, as when Honker tries to frighten them away by shining a flashlight under his face only to have them retaliate by blasting him with klieg lights, or when our heroes are going to fly away only to have them pile into a passenger plane that they just happen to have lying around.  On the whole, though, I found the first part of this much more engaging than the second.  I kind of wish the writers were a bit more willing more often to concentrate on the secondary characters like that.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episode Forty-Two: "Twitching Channels"


"Megavolt's latest device accidentally transports him and Darkwing into a universe of "hideous beakless mutants" (i.e: the real world), where Darkwing Duck is only a cartoon," sez the wikipedia entry for this episode, leaving the viewer to wonder: they're not really going to actually include a live-action segment, are they?  

This here device of Megavolt's allows him to enter televisions and reach out of them and take stuff--a rather limited method of thievery, and he doesn't seem to have any overarching gameplan here; he just appears in various TV shows and takes various random stuff until such time as he and DW are ejected into the "real world"--which is not, as I knew in my heart of hearts it couldn't be, actual live-action, though the preponderance of "realistic" cartoon humans is at least a little disconcerting.  The Megavolt business takes a back seat as DW, realizing that his cartoon is popular in this world ("When you're Drake Mallard, what job do you have?" a child asks him--oh, show.  You're so self-aware), decides he wants a piece of the pie.  

He goes to see the show's producer, "Thaddeus Rockwell" (a goof on real-life DW creator Tad Stones), and I am amused by the fact that the episode's willing to assert that its creator is a dimwitted, mercenary narcissist.  Turns out he creates the show by using this magic helmet to pick up radio-wave-type things from DW-world (and goddamned if I haven't at times only semi-jokingly wondered if, given the sheer force of my Disney fandom, it's not possible that duck characters are "real" in some alternate-universe kind of way, so I can relate).  And then some other stuff happens, and DW and Megavolt go home.  It's mostly enjoyable, though the Chip'n'Dale Rescue Rangers shout-out at the end seems to me to be too cute for its own good, even in one of the cuter episodes in recent memory.