Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ducktales, Pilot Episode: "Treasure of the Golden Suns," Part One: "Don't GIve Up the Ship"

Man, there's an awkward title. But what else was I to do?

The nitpicker in me has to note: the episode screws up the nephews' names: my understanding is that, 'officially' Huey is red, Dewey is blue, and Louie is green (though of course, this order is violated all the time). Here, Huey is consistent, but the show can't decide which of the other two is which. This would be okay if this was meant to be a running joke, but no, I'm pretty sure they just screwed up.


This episode sets up the show by sending Donald into the navy (for reasons that remain somewhat unclear), thus necessitating HDL living with Scrooge. A good chunk of it is taken up with them learning how to harmoniously coƫxist (he sets up their room in the attic, which is very upsetting to them, but I dunno--it looks like a pretty sweet place to live to me; unsurprisingly, the show also continues the long, dubious tradition of having Scrooge live in a big ol' mansion). This is the first in a five-part series (originally a single full-length movie, I understand); the story is going to involve Scrooge and the kids searching for some sorta treasure using a cryptic map in the form of a model boat, while the Beagle Boys and a Sinister Foreigner (though the Beagles may actually be out of the picture at this point) try to get there first.

Note on voices: Donald is less incomprehensible than he is in the old cartoons, but still of the same basic type. It's sort of a dilemma for anyone who wants to animate the characters: Barks developed Donald to the point where it's seriously impossible to imagine him speaking like that--and yet, if you want to go back and animate Barks, it would feel pretty strange to have him not talk that way. A somewhat intractable problem. The nephews sound like toned-down versions of Donald, which is okay, though it takes a bit of getting used to. Scrooge is fine--there's inevitably going to be a disparity between how you think of characters talking and how they actually do when they do, but I think they did a decent enough job here.

So far, the show's pretty faithful to Barks, even featuring several classic Scrooge lines from "Only a Poor Old Man." There are Junior Woodchucks an' everything (supposedly, this is where the kids actually join the organization, though this process is, somewhat disorientingly, completely elided), and the show reproduces the joke about the organization awarding fuckloads of medals and merit badges (no zany acronyms so far, however--admittedly, that would be somewhat difficult to reproduce with no written component). The only thing that really rubs me the wrong way is the Beagle Boys, who have been given distinct personae and substantially cutesified. The Barks Beagles are menacing and/or goofy, but they're also kinda lovable. Here, they're just kind of cartoony and not very interesting. I'm pretty sure we're gonna start moving away from Barks as original characters are introduced, so we'll see how that works out.

I enjoyed this for the most part. I do kind of regret the loss of Donald (who is, after all, my favorite character) as a regular, but I can see how the show might've been excessively cluttered if they had made him as inseparable from the action as he is in Barks' Scrooge adventures. I look forward to seeing how it develops.


  1. This is what I've always heard about why Donald was not in DuckTales. It may or may not be true, but I have heard it from several sources:

    The licensing contracts that Disney had been using for many years were vague on the subject of spin-offs. So companies who had licenses to make Donald Duck stuff could have claimed that their license covered DuckTales too if Donald had been featured prominently. Disney wanted to make money by licensing DuckTales separately, and they wanted to avoid litigation to clarify the contract language, so they de-emphasized Donald's role so no one could claim that DuckTales was "The Donald Duck Show" under another name.

    As I type it now, it sounds silly, like the type of thing fans would make up. But I believed it at the time...

  2. Hey, makes sense to me--I can easily imagine copyright law working in so baroque a fashion.

  3. I have relevant information here, from none other than Don Keno Rosa, who's answering questions in an Italian Duck forum...

    "I worked with the creator of "DuckTales" when we did "TaleSpin" -- same guy created both series. He was a Barks fan who suggested the idea of a TV show based on the old Barks comics that people at Disney were pretty much unaware of. He gave a set of the Another Rainbow $crooge reprint books to his head writers to help them create the show and plotlines for the episodes. He told me that when they had read all of those Barks stories, they returned and said "there's not much there" (which amazed him), and that's why they changed so much."