Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty-Five: "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. McDuck"

The title card uses an ampersand, but the back of the DVD case spells out "and." I just don't know who to trust anymore!

Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--it was probably only an abridged version, but still--terrified the shit out of me when I was small. The idea of a guy losing his identity like that really did a number on me.

Nobody would describe this episode as "terrifying," though the opening sequence does up a pretty okay late-Victorian-style fog-and-gaslight ambiance. And then, the evil "Jack the Tripper," appears and we're off on what is, on balance, not a bad episode, though solidly on the goofy side.

Scrooge and the kids are at an auction, and nobody is willing to bet on an old chest--Scrooge is actually rather dickish about the undesirability of owning this chest--'til Gladstone shows up and accidentally bets a fiver on it; unsurprisingly, it turns out to be full of riches and Scrooge, apparently not understanding the nature of Gladstone even a little, bets big cash on the next chest, which turns out to contain the effects of Dr. Jekyll (who, we see, looks exactly like Scrooge, just 'cause). Long story short, he invented a cologne that makes you give away your money like a maniac and is triggered whenever you come into contact with money (you snap out of it when sprayed with water, in a vaguely Ranma-esque touch) but Jack the Tripper steals it so as to rob people more easily and the ducks go after him to London to try to find an antidote for Scrooge. They are aided by, um, "Shedlock Jones," who is also after his archnemesis--it pains me a little to write this--"Professor Moodydoody." And then they find the antidote and blahdy blah.

The definitive "Scrooge gets nuts with giving stuff away" is and ever shall be Barks' "Thrifty Spendthrift," but it's kind of okay to watch him go nuts here; his concentric-circles crazy-eyes and puffed-out whiskers are good, and there's a cool scene with him quickly vacillating between normal and generous that works. Moodydoody (DID YOU GUESS THAT HE WAS THE SAME PERSON AS JACK THE TRIPPER?!? YOU'RE SO SMART!) ain't much as archvillains go, and HDL grate a bit, but eh. I've seen much worse.

Stray Observations

Scrooge just cavalierly sprays hundred-year-old cologne on his face without testing it or ANYTHING. Great idea!

-When Scrooge is first "infected," before anyone knows what's going on, he tosses some bills to passersby. HDL: "Unca Scrooge! What are you doing?!? That's our inheritance!" A remarkably dickish and out-of-character reaction from them, I must say.

"While I was thinking, I got to thinking."

Hey, a six-hour time difference between Duckburg and London that means the kids have more time than they thought to use the antidote. That…actually works out perfectly, somewhat amazingly. Amazing how the show can be slapdash in so many ways yet so on-the-ball about something like that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty-Four: "Nothing to Fear"

Scrooge and company start hallucinating their--apparently--primal fears: Duckworth is chased by Scrooge's limo-turned-panther; HDL are threatened by the villain from their videogame, Commander Gander (who, in spite of his name, is a pig-creature); Doofus is threatened by a giant, evil banana (no comment); and for Scrooge, of course, it's bill-collectors. All of this is actually kind of cool and interesting; the only problem is that it's so painfully obvious right from the start that Magica's gonna turn out to be behind everything, and that makes it really a lot more boring. I suppose it would've been asking rather too much for the whole thing to just be an inexplicable, existential nightmare, but still…

Magica actually doesn't play an overly intrusive role for most of the episode, however, and there's some neat stuff in the meantime, as when Scrooge and HDL encounter 'evil' versions of one another who presumably represent their worst fears of what the other could think of them, which is actually pretty distressing even though you know they're just fakes. And yeah, okay, fuck you, it's a little bit heartwarming when they realize that they don't really hate one another. Also, even if her plan is as banal as you could possibly imagine, she does look pretty cool lounging on top of a black storm cloud with an umbrella. The ending is very much rushed--quick, everyone, just stand up to your fears and they'll all disappear like that, poof--but that's ultimately for the best. Dragging this out would be a rather unpromising thing to do.

Stray Observations

-The kids' teacher is an evil-looking vulture, apparently.

-"I'm sorry I didn't believe you about the giant banana or Commander Gander."
"What about the limo monster, sir?" "Don't push it, Duckworth."

-The videogame HDL are playing is simultaneously too advanced and too primitive to actually have ever existed except possibly as some sorta postmodern flash parody game.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty-Three: "The Status Seekers"

It opens with Scrooge playing an impromptu football game with the kids, and distracting the opponents with somewhat dubious means--nicely recalls Barks' "September Scrimmage," I suppose. Anyway, he gets determined to fit into high society, and blah blah, you know the Barks story, which this for the most part follows fairly faithfully, though the candy-striped ruby becomes the "Mask of Kuthululu" (a riff on Cthulhu (I am amused to see that my spellcheck here recognizes "Cthulhu"), I suppose, though it doesn't look notably Lovecraftian). I can't help thinking it lacks that essential Barksian je ne sais quoi, however--probably because, let's face it, the Ducktales versions of these characters simply aren't as good as Barks' are. Also, the ending is changed: this time around, Scrooge learns that snobbery is bad and shit after the club members decree that he can't be in the club, let alone be president, if he keeps associating with common people and whatnot, though this seems to be contradicted by the fact that they seemingly have no problem with a crazy homeless guy with a painting strapped to his back indiscriminately raiding the buffet being a member. Whatever.

I'm sorta starting to realize that Ducktales episodes break down as follows: a handful of really exceptional ones. A slightly bigger handful of the absolutely execrable. And a big middle ground of episodes that aren't notably bad in any particular way, but that don't inspire any sort of passion or anything either. This one falls right in there. Sure, I guess there's some vague efforts at social commentary about class consciousness and whatnot, but no credit just for showing up--it has to be done with a certain panache which this show rarely seems able to muster. Grrbah. I don't know why I'm being so negative here, except that I DEMAND EXCELLENCE, dammit! The merely-competent can suck it!

Stray Observations

-How to beat an already-feeble joke into the ground: "I'd like a table!" "Oui, monsieur." "No, not we--just me!" "No no, I said 'oui,' monsieur--that is a classy French word for 'yes!'" Yeah, thanks for that--without the explanation, it wouldn't have been nearly so hilarious. As you may recall, Scrooge is supposed to be something of a polyglot from all his business travel--and now, in the name of a lame joke, he doesn't know the most well-known-by-English-speakers French word there is? Unimpressive writing, Ducktales people.

-…though I suppose I'll admit that it was at least somewhat subtle of the show to imply his lack of sophistication by having him pronounce "garçon" as "garkon," and not immediately spelling out What They Just Did There.

-Seriously, how totally predictable was it that, as soon as the waiter set the dessert on fire, Launchpad would freak out and spray it with water?

-Battmounten cameo appearance at the Billionaires' Club.

-The bad guy speaking "ha ha ha" in his posh accent is pretty funny.

-The giant jellyfish is holding their sub in the air, so Launchpad somehow makes it just sort of exude electricity so it lets them down. Mumblemumblescience.

-Nothing to do with the episode, but in rereading the Barks story, I realized--I had completely forgotten this--that it's a rare example of Barksian continuity, as it explicitly references "All at Sea." Nice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty-Two: "The Uncrashable Hindentanic"

Glomgold bets Scrooge he can make money off of anything, so Scrooge gets stuck having to make an old blimp skyworthy again. It takes off with various wacky passengers, and in spite of a meteor shower and Glomgold's sabotage efforts, Scrooge ultimately wins out (duh).

Man, finally, an episode that I can praise wholeheartedly. The actual story here is not particularly coherent, but that's okay, because it's really just a vehicle for goofy characters and dumb, anarchic jokes. You have left-behind silent-film actress Gloria Swansong (whose crowning moment, apparently, was a movie in which she ministers to sick sheep) and her awesome pig assistant; you have the lounge singer Bert Quackerack (this is one episode where I can actually accept the terrible names), who appears to be either a parrot or some sort of turtle, and in either case the name seems inapropos; you have a guy who you know is meant to be based on Carl Sagan 'cause he says "billions and billions" a bunch of times; you have the mentally incompetent captain from "Bermuda Triangle Tangle"--it's good times. There's a bandaged character on his way to London for a beak transplant; he has seemingly no purpose except so the episode can build up to a terrible joke ("Hey! This soup came with a bill!" "Wha'dya think, it was free?"). There's a totally inexplicable part where an apparent would-be hijacker (ne'er seen before or after) threatens to whack Beakley with a mallet: "Take this blimp to London!" "We're already going there!" "Oh!" [puts away mallet embarrassedly) "Then can I have a soda?" Guh? The whole thing is super-crazy and super-cool, and it comes as no surprise that it was written by the same guys behind "Double-0-Duck."

More like this!

Stray Observations

-"I'll make this turkey fly even if it takes all the money in my money bin!" "But sir, turkeys can't fly either!" There's no good reason for me getting as annoyed as I do when people make this mistake, but the fact remains: TURKEYS CAN FLY. Thank you.

-…but seriously, yeah, we know Launchpad's kinda dumb, and you can see him fucking up the spelling of "Hindentanic," but replacing the 't' with a 'p'? C'mon.

-Super-forced, absurd Casablanca parody that would probably have irritated me in any other context, but here it just feels natural--so I'll content myself with noting that "play it again, Sam" is not, in fact, a line from Casablanca. Though that may well be part of the point.

-"I've been on rocky flights before, but this is ridiculous!" Argh! See what I mean?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty-One: "Duck in the Iron Mask"

Dewey gets annoyed with being confused with his brothers, and dresses in a bizarre costume to assert his individuality. I'm somewhat certain that I've read some comic somewhere that did something like this (I'm not thinking of Rosa's "Eye for Detail"), but where? Who can say. Anyway, Scrooge, Launchpad, and HDL visit Dumasparodyland, where Scrooge's friend, Count Roy (Roy?) has had the throne usurped by his evil twin brother, Ray (Ray?). Everyone's tossed in jail (the episode features Pete as the guard captain, and this is Adorable Pete as seen in "Pearl of Wisdom," so even though he's way eviler than he was in that episode, you still just wanna give him a big hug), and--naturally--Dewey is the one to formulate an escape plan. There's some pretty good sneaking around and a pretty good final sword fight sequence.

This episode is a big improvement on recent; certainly the best since "Duckworth's Revolt," at least. The idea of a plot focusing on one of the brothers' dissatisfaction with not being seen as an individual was a good one, and the duke and his evil twin make a nice counterpoint to this. I can't say I found the resolution wholly satisfying, but expecting much more probably wouldn't have been realistic in a show like this. Also, there's a cute Barks reference at the end: "...and never again return to Monte Dumas, my evil brother, or I will see that you become...the Duck in the Iron Pants!" That's sure to put me in a good mood.

Stray Observations

-"The three of us are twins!" So is the joke that HDL would somehow be unfamiliar with the word "triplets," or were the writers? I don't find either of these alternatives hugely satisfying.

-…and yeah, the idea that the guard would be fooled by a mirror image into thinking all three brothers were present? Hmm.

-Reminds one a bit of "Monarch of Medioka," but given that that story is basically "Prisoner of Zenda," and given that the whole thing is a kind of broad Dumas pastiche, that's probably meaningless.

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifty: "Dime Enough for Luck"

A Ducktales episode named after a novel in which a guy has sex with his clone? I'd buy that for a dollar!

So yeah, here's Gladstone. What's he like? Well…not much, really. He's very much toned down from the original Barksian version--he has an enthusiastically youthful, slightly smarmy-sounding voice that makes him sound like a guy in a beer commercial or something, which doesn't really comport with what I would have imagined the character sounding like; and he's only very mildly obnoxious, and not malevolent at all. Ultimately, he doesn't make much of a splash.

Anyway, the idea is that Magica hypnotizes him and uses him to get at Scrooge's dime, and having done this, "because [he] used [his] luck for wicked purpose," he suddenly has BAD luck, which seems like a highly dubious extrapolation of how the character works, and anyway, how would Magica possibly KNOW this? But they get the dime back anyway, Scrooge figuring how to make Gladstone's bad luck work in their favor.

I dunno…I certainly HOPE I'm not just losing whatever taste I had for this show, because the last handful of episodes have all struck me as really mediocre, and this is no exception. There's just not much exciting here, and it endorses more clearly than anything else I can remember the idea that the dime does indeed grant Scrooge "luck," occasional boilerplate to the contrary notwithstanding. And the idea that the dime could just disappear from his bin, and he wouldn't even notice until Gladstone fessed up? I do not think so.

Seriously, Ducktales, I need you to get better in a hurry. I'm starting to lose faith.

Stray Observations

-Gladstone falls into a sewer, but this is "lucky" because he finds a dollar bill? Even if the alternative WAS getting splashed with water, that is not a tradeoff that *I* would find particularly fortunate.

-One of the traps that Scrooge has installed in his bin involves--with no advance warning--a huge piston coming out of the ceiling and just smashing the SHIT out of the floor. It's true that Barks was known to depict baroque, cartoony traps in the bin, but I don't think he ever drew anything that would both be totally unexpected and instantly, unambiguously fatal to anyone running afoul of it. The problems--both legal and practical--of a system like this are certainly so obvious as to go unstated.

-When Gladstone's going through the laser, supposedly avoiding it, he TOTALLY touches it, on multiple occasions. It's not even slightly subtle. What is this?

-"It [Scrooge's dime] will control all other dimes in the world, not to mention dollars!" Not totally sure what this means, but it's the clearest--only, as far as I can recall--statement from Magica about what she actually expects to accomplish with the dime.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Forty-Nine: "Launchpad's First Crash"

…or, per the title card, "Launchpads First Crash," clearly a Finnegans Wake reference, or else grammatical dumbness. It's also clearly not his first crash, if you recall the episode with his family. But aside from that, the title's A-okay!

These episodes are like student papers sometimes: they're bad, but it's hard to articulate exactly why they're bad in any coherent way. They're just uninspired and generally poorly done.

From a frame narrative where Scrooge and Launchpad crash on a desert plateau, we go into the story of their first meeting, in which Launchpad appears to be about twelve (obviously, reconciling this with any kind of Barks/Rosa chronology would be a tall order). He's kind of annoying, too; none of his usual dopey charm. Nonetheless, Scrooge hires him to take him to try to find a lost city of diamonds. They crash in a land at the center of the earth (yup, Ducktales has a hollow-earth view of the world, it turns out) and have to deal with Amazon-types and their miniature, male servants--and mating stock, one presumes, although this being a Ducktales episode, this can't be stated, obviously; feels like a bit of a weird omission nonetheless. They find the city, destroy the city, some banal action-stuff occurs, some involving albino bats, and they escape, the end. I would've liked to know more about what the deal is with this lost city--an intriguing concept in theory!--but this being Ducktales, that was never gonna happen.

Blah. I seriously have nothing else to say about this. It doesn't merit deep discussion. Next up is Gladstone's speaking debut; let's hope that shocks some life back into the show.

Stray Observations

"I knew I could count on you, Launchpad, my boy!" "Sure thing, Mr. McD! Being blown to smithereens doesn't bother me!"

"We're about to do the impossible, if possible!"

-Yes, diamonds are hard, but that doesn't mean you can just cut through metal by rubbing them against it. Jeez.

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Forty-Eight: "Jungle Duck"

Yeah okay it's a kids' show and all, but still, it's pretty incredible how this episode telegraphs its intentions. Here are some of the actual notes I took while watching:





Really, now. And they really, really drag this revelation out, as if they hadn't made it super-obvious, and even if you didn't get the picture, the fact that his name is "Prince Greydrake" would be a pretty big giveaway. Not that interesting to watch when it's that dully predictable, I have to say!

Anyway, they discover the truth and they have to get back so the prince can be crowned king (this is all taking place TWO DAYS before the scheduled coronation, handily enough), and thwart his uncle, who they all decide is evil based on what I must say is pretty damned flimsy evidence. There's no addressing at all of the moral/philosophical question of whether entering civilization is the right thing for him under the circumstances.

Oh, also, there are savage natives, and I must say, it just completely fucking baffles me how Disney can ban or censor old comics and cartoons for things like this, but when it's Ducktales, it's A-okay. Not that we didn't already know that their philosophy vis-à-vis censorship was wildly inconsistent, but this seems even more absurd than usual.

I suppose it wasn't notably incompetent or anything, but I must say, I found this to be a pretty bland viewing experience overall. Sometimes it's easy to lose track of the fact that this show can actually be good at times.

Stray Observations

"This here's a genuine 1934 Douglas DC2 with Twin 9-Cylinder radio air-Cooled engines packing seven hundred ten horsepower each!" "How'd you know that?" "Lucky guess."

-Someone at the coronation who looks awfully like Gladstone, though he lacks the usual curls.

-The video quality is noticeably worse in this third DVD set. Extraordinarily lame, Disney.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Forty-Seven: "Duck to the Future"

Okay! No more dicking around! I'm back from vacation, and it's time to get back in the swing (with everybody and everything)!

Magica steals Scrooge's dime and dumps him in the future, where she is now in charge. That about sums that up.

This episode kind of annoys me, because it there are a few extremely funny things, but also a LOT of extremely dumb shit, and it's not always possible to separate them. So, f'rinstance, the idea that Scrooge's off-hand advice to HDL on how to cut costs for their lemonade stand would turn them into yuppie-asshole corporate raiders in the future is absurd--and yet, the depiction of them as such, with incongruously deep, rough voices, is just hilarious. Likewise: the idea that Scrooge would be able to con his way into Magica's office with a lame traveling-salesman disguise is absurd…but the American accent that he affects for this disguise is priceless.

Still, I'm afraid the dumb kinda predominates. This episode does the thing that the show sometimes does of pitching the characters as being much dumber than they should be: so in the beginning, HDL proudly tell Scrooge that they've made fifty-six cents selling lemonade, and then--just as proudly--that "we spent all our allowance!" (six dollars) for the ingredients. Or…well, it's accepted canon that Disney characters must always be super-easy to fool with really obvious disguises, so one can't complain too much about Scrooge being gulled by Magica pretending to be a fortune teller, but the idea that he wouldn't put two and two together in the future, even though the megacorporation that runs everything is called "Magica-McDuck Enterprises?"* And that he'd actually BELIEVE her line that he can go back in time using the subway? C'mon.

*Magica is partnering with HDL. This would be an interesting idea to explore, but the episode never does.

And as far as dumb shit goes, how 'bout the idea that "payday's the day we turn our earnings back over to the bosses," due to the "Privilege-of-Working-for-Magica-McDuck-Enterprises Tax?" I mean, yeah, I know, you want to show how greedy and EEEE-vil Magica is, but surely there has to be a less nonsensical way to do this.

In the end, you have the "quick visits to different historical eras" bit, which REALLY feels like making time and nothing more. And then an incredibly heavy-handed, sanctimonious speech from Scrooge to the effect that "making money at the expense of others is no bargain." The tension between the desire to make the show family-friendly and the realities of capitalism and what the creation of Scrooge's empire obviously entailed are enough to cause cranial combustion.

Meh. Gotta learn how to emphasize the good bits of your episode and excise the bad, guys.

Stray Observations

-Kind of amazed that such stereotyped "redskins" got through--and in this case it's even more offensive than it would be otherwise, given that the Native Americans were quite clearly the good guys (or, you know, as much so as it's possible to label ANY side in a war as such) in the Battle of LIttle Bighorn.

-I didn't even mention Webby and Doofus being married, because it's kinda boring. Still, I note that the idea is clearly that they have achieved their Full Potential; ie, he's ripped and she's hot, and that's about all one can say about them. I find the implications of this are highly disturbing.

-Sheesh...another one that I MUST have seen back in the day, because I remembered Doofus's mention of "dilithium crystals." But again--that's all. Aside from that one scrap of memory, nothin.'