Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Five: "Robot Robbers"

Here's an episode loosely based on a Barks story ("The Giant Robot Robbers," obviously). First, an ontological question: are these so-called robots--both here and in the Barks story--actually robots? I think the answer is clearly no, unless you think a car is also a robot. They have no sort of autonomy of their own. The fact that they're humanoid-shaped is ultimately irrelevant. I'm not sure what you call a giant person-shaped vehicle, but I'm sure it's not "robot." Although I am actually going to call them "robots" here. Interesting how situational those quotation marks are.

This episode introduces the Beagles' mother, Ma Beagle (=Barker). I still don't particularly care for the newly-differentiated Beagles, but I immediately cottoned to Ma, who's a very entertaining mastermind-type. There's a good scene near the beginning where she's infiltrating a warehouse and she evades the security guard's flashlight in a choreographed, vaguely Marx-Brothers-ish sort of way. Well done.

Anyway, in this version of the story, the "robots" were commissioned by Glomgold to do construction jobs faster than Scrooge (who's sworn off robots after the events of last episode--someone should have pointed out the above-discussed definitional issue to him) can. Natch, the Beagles nick them and run amuck and Scrooge and Flintheart have to reluctantly work together to bring them down. There's some good stuff where the "robot"-mounted Beagles co-opt giant things to do small-sized tasks (eg, railroad crossing guards as hockey sticks); it's actually much more far-reaching than the Barks story, in which the Beagles basically just used the "robots" to fuck shit up. You can really feel how much fun it must be to go nuts in this fashion. The way our heroes ultimately stop them is also creatively done.

I find the ending--in which Glomgold's robots are confiscated and disassembled by the city and he's stuck with the bill for the damages--to be kind of unfair, given that he didn't really do anything wrong in the episode--certainly no worse than Scrooge. I know I've often argued for a more morally ambiguous Glomgold, but here we're clearly meant to root for Scrooge to get the better of him; to see him as the bad guy even when he's not. The show is not trying to create moral ambiguity, and it doesn't do so in spite of itself either. I think this is obvious enough that it doesn't need to be argued.

Still, this is generally a very good episode, cleverly scripted and staged. It's different enough from the Barks story that comparisons seem meaningless; I like them both.

Stray Observations

-I've noticed that in this show planes are awfully fond of abruptly running out of gas in midair and plummeting to earth. I'm pretty sure in the real world, there are safeguards against that sort of thing happening.

-"The last robot you invented almost took over the world." Really? Is that what Armstrong was trying to do? I sure couldn't tell.

-"What do you think this is, a cartoon show?" Okay, okay--don't get cute.

-Several times the episode shows the "robots" stepping on cars, and then on our heroes' helicopter, but it never actually shows any car/helicopter wreckage. Surely there can't be regulations against showing bad things happening to machines?


    I was always upset with the ending of the original Carl Barks comic, because the mayor, who ordered the robots in the first place and refused to let people use force to stop the robots, somehow had the power to order Uncle Scrooge to pay for the damage simply because he was the only one with the money to do so. The fact that Scrooge apparently just paid up seems badly out of character to me. You'd think he'd put up a fight, because Scrooge was totally innocent and his actions were in self-defense. I was less upset with Glomgold having to pay, because after all, in his speech introducing the robots he gave the city some kind of guarantee, meaning that he did inadvertently make himself liable.

  2. "I'm not sure what you call a giant person-shaped vehicle, but I'm sure it's not 'robot.'"

    I believe the term is "mecha".