Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ducktales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp

I saw this in a theater back in the day. I truly cannot remember, but I suspect I'd seen few if any actual episodes of the show at that point. I just remember being excited that the characters that I loved from the comics would now be on the screen, and I could go see them (we had no television at the time, as I've probably mentioned).

And…I remember essentially nothing about it, except perhaps being vaguely disappointed that it wasn't more Barksian (a word I would not have used nor recognized at the time). My dad took me to see it, and he said he liked the first part best. That was some sort of treasure-hunting bit, I gather? Probably as a parallel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which the title is obviously mimicking (and, of course, there's the obvious similarity between the Indiana Jones and Ducktales title logos)? I probably would have agreed with him, but again, I just don't remember.

As you may have surmised, I'm writing this bit before watching the movie (and I have to admit, I'm sort of impressed that the show was successful enough to merit a theatrical film). It'll be interesting to see how much of comes back to me when I do. I've complained about the failure of the show's multi-part episodes to really take advantage of the additional length to tell extended stories; that may have been inevitable given the necessities of syndication, but here there's no excuse. So show me what you've got, people. Surely for this--your crowning glory, in theory--you want to really knock one out of the park, don't you? Don't you? Stay tuned.

Well, the intro is sort of Indiana-Jones-ish, but it doesn't hit any specific beats from the movies--just in a sort of generic "ruins full of traps" way. The film opens in flight, and there's a weird bit where Scrooge incredulously exclaims, to Launchpad, "you mean you never took flying lessons?!?" It's clearly aimed at people who are unfamiliar with the Ducktales mythos (if "mythos" isn't giving it too much credit), which I suppose makes a certain amount of sense, but feels really odd to those of us who've been following the series.

The plane action is actually not half bad. I'm not sure whether this actually has better animation than the show, or if it's just that the DVD I was watching was of higher quality.

Anyway, the "opening" that my dad liked (or at least hated less--I'm not quite sure--I'll ask him, though I doubt he'll remember it any better than I did) is the bit where they enter the pyramid in search of this here lost treasure (they unearth this massive, three-tiered pyramid--which is wholly submerged in the sand--using shovels. Hokay. You may recall the Barks short in which it took them a huge amount of time, money, and construction equipment to accomplish a similar task. As usual, Barks FTW.) The inside-the-pyramid bit does feel at least a little bit Barksian, I'll give it that, the part where they're wallowing in treasure especially recalling "The Lost Mines of King Solomon."

Anyway (fuck it--I'm just going to start every paragraph from now on with "anyway"-- Try an' stop me!), they ultimately lose the treasure, due to Evil Sorcerer Dude Merlock who's also after it--only they do keep this seemingly-useless (dum dum dum!) lamp, which turns out, quelle surprise, to contain a genie. If you didn't know that this had been released years before, you would be sure it had been strongly influenced by Disney's Aladdin. The genie is a peppy, slightly annoying little squirt who is ultimately christened, cleverly enough, "Gene."

Anyway, the kids do some rather aimless dicking around with the genie, cavalierly wishing for this and that. It's not super-exciting, and Gene tends to grate. They learn, in the course of events, that Merlock is super-evil an' he wants the lamp an' he "has unlimited wishes because he has a magic talisman" (don't expect THAT little eyebrow-raiser to be further explained). But the jig is up when Webby idiotically wishes that "all my toys and dollies were alive," causing mass chaos. I'll grant you, it IS sort of funny that the living dolls turn out to be kind of insane. I do wonder about the ethics of reducing living toys back to their inanimate state, however.

Anyway, now Scrooge has the lamp, and he's mad with power. After wishing for the return of the treasure he'd lost, he goes to an archeologists' banquet to gloat, but oh no, Merlock is after them. They effect a close escape, but then Scrooge somehow loses the lamp after crashing into a table cart, and it is retrieved by Merlock's comedy-racism servant, Dijon. Gene convinces him that he'd be better off KEEPING him rather than giving him back to his boss, so he wishes for SCROOGE'S fortune! Oh noes!

Really now, this makes absolutely no sense (darn--broke my "anyway" streak). By what legal right would he be able to KEEP Scrooge's fortune, might I ask? The guards even tote Scrooge away and throw him in jail when he tries to do something about it. Maybe the idea is that Gene switched us into a slightly different universe in which Dijon somehow owned it all all along? But no, because the kids and staff all know the score. There's just no way to reconcile this--I suppose if we want to avoid castigating the writers for constructing dumb plots that make no sense (…but when have I ever been reticent on that front?), we have to chalk this up to Christopher's oft-stated theory that the law in Duckburg is just corrupt as fuck--but even that doesn't really work, since this massive transfer of wealth would clearly require multinational co√∂peration.

Anyway (back in the swing, baby!), our heroes hatch a plan to break into the bin and steal the lamp. This part's pretty decent, albeit short; it's also literally the only thing I remembered--extremely vaguely--having seen before. But it doesn't help, as Merlock gets his hands on the lamp after all, and wishes for the bin to transform into a more "evil," Snake-Mountain-ish form (the transformation sequence is admittedly pretty hardcore) and fly back to, uh, Arabland, I suppose. I guess Merlock must technically be the most evil Ducktales villain around--per Gene, he was responsible for the destruction of Atlantis and Pompeii--but he doesn't make a huge impression, even when he does all sorts of theoretically-cool (though one thinks back to "Raiders of the Lost Harp," in which Magica's were way better) transformations.

Anyway, he's stopped (he dies, making him only the second Ducktales character to do that unless I'm forgetting something--and by the old Disney standby of Falling From A Great Height, no less). There's not much more to say than that. Scrooge saves the day by wishing that Gene would turn into a Real Boy™ (turns out that Real Boys™ have backwards baseball caps instead of turbans). Where exactly he's going to live now is anybody's guess--no reason he couldn't stay with Scrooge & Co, I suppose (except that he's annoying, but that didn't stop Bubba), but I am severely doubting that he will turn up in any of the seven last episodes. Maybe he can go live in Doofus's dumpster.

And the film ends with Scrooge chasing Dijon, who was trying to cadge some cash, away from the bin. Ho ho ho.

Movie has its moments, but it's no masterpiece. I have a hard time imagining that anyone who'd never seen the show would become a convert on the strength of it. Per Wikipedia, more movies were planned, but the relative box office failure of this one put the kibosh on them. That's too bad, but dammit, people, what did you think would happen? I can easily imagine that this might be hailed to this day as a classic if it were as good as "The Uncrashable Hindentanic," but you can't expect movie audiences to be as undiscriminating as consumers of syndicated cartoons are, especially when, given the Disney imprimatur, people have certain expectations (though it's important to note that this was not a product of the real Walt Disney Studios, but rather the first release of DisneyToons, infamous for their terrible direct-to-video "sequels").

You know what would have made it better? Fenton. Granted, he wouldn't have fit all that well here, but I'm willing to bet that if they'd come up with an entirely different movie featuring our favorite accountant/superhero in a central role, it would've been a lot better than this. Maybe they'd even have gotten to make those sequels. What might have been!

Stray Observations

-No, seriously, the portrayal of Dijon is amazingly racially insensitive. I once again shake my head in wonder at the arbitrariness of Disney's censorship policies.

-"But he's our friend!" "Nonsense! A genie isn't a person! A genie is a thing!" Ah, there's that world-renowned Ducktales subtlety!

-The closed-captioning for the theme song over the closing credits renders "ponytails or cottontails" as "phony tales of captain tales." I just thought you'd want to know that.

-Speaking of the theme song, given that there would've been plenty of time, I'm disappointed that they didn't insert the hilariously nonsensical "cool deduction never fails, that's for certain" verse into it.


  1. Anyway, (hey, you're not the only one who can start paragraphs like that), I suppose it wouldn't be too hard for Genie's magic to come up with a court order transferring all of Scrooge's worldly goods to Dijon, or some kind of document with Scrooge's signature on it.

    I'm not convinced that Merlock is dead. Remember, he made a wish to live forever, and there's no definitive evidence that the destruction of the lamp means that the wishes were negated. It's possible that Merlock survived thanks to his wish, although his wish didn't make him invulnerable. It's possible that Merlock is permanently paralyzed and unable to die.

    Favorite lines: "I wouldn't mind doing that again, now that I know that you can live through it!"

    MRS. FEATHERBY: But what about your lunch?
    SCROOGE: Sell it!

  2. Re the ownership thing, that's true, but you'll note that Scrooge never actually makes any wish that would reverse such an order--he just wishes his family and bin back to Duckburg. So in that case, Dijon should still be in charge.

    Re Merlock, that's certainly a gruesome thought. I suppose he could've appeared in one or more of the aborted sequels, though I feel like he's pretty much outlived whatever dramatic usefulness he had.

  3. I think that when Scrooge made his wish, he said "MY bin," which might have allowed Genie to re-transfer ownership. But... Dijon apparently got the mansion and everything else besides the bin, which reverted back to Scrooge (see the Ducktales episodes set after the movie). Maybe Genie gave Scrooge everything back and then some. Dijon's reversion to anthropomorphic dog form indicates that Merlock's wish to transform him was reversed, and this happens right after the lamp is destroyed. But no other wishes we know of are reversed. There's no evidence that the death of a wisher destroys the wishes, and if the destruction of the lamp were to reverse all the wishes, then Atlantis and Pompeii should have been brought back too, and anyway, if all wishes were reversed, Genie should have turned back into a genie, which would have meant that the lamp wouldn't have been destroyed... Hoo boy.

    Merlock appears elsewhere in the Disney universe ( However, many deceased Disney vlllains have been brought back from the dead for various purposes (see House of Villains).

  4. Oh, man...who knew this movie was such a profound meditation on Aristotelian logic?

  5. Saw this in the theater on its release date. My father took me -- I was 7. Came home from school, and proceeded to emphatically shove the ad in the paper aside the local theater listings in my parents' faces; given the knowing smile they exchanged, I think my and Dad's attendance had been premeditated, but he and Mom remained tight-lipped about it. Even a couple years afterward, I don't think they recalled the occassion, but I look back at it now as an incredible gesture.

    Played my VHS copy to death. I've long been able to see ways in which the movie is flawed, but I don't think I've ever been affected by a scene in a film in my life as much as I was by that of the bin's transformation into Merlock's fortress-castle thingie -- even now, I get chills just THINKING of Scrooge diving into the vault, only to have the surface of his "ocean of coins" become a floor of stone tiles intermittently broken by protruding giant "thorn"/"claw" things, as well ast he nephews and Webby's plight on the staircase (watch it in slow-motion" the staircase seems to take on the characteristics of a writhing snake-or-dragon-like being!)

    (The fanfic I wrote at age 13 about Merlock's return was, luckily, pre-Internet. But I still like the basic ideas that went into it, but I was only ever able to come up with a totally sub-Saturday morning finale. One of these days, I'll subject the world to a tweaked version.)