Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ducktales Character Assessments, Part One: Family

Scrooge McDuck
The Founder of the Feast, of course. Obviously, he's been softened substantially from Barks--if he behaves badly in a Ducktales episode, you know he'll repent by the end, and you never see episodes concluding with him threatening to inflict bodily harm on family members. In spite of that, though, I don't think it's a bad portrayal, and Alan Young's voice acting is fine. The lack of emotional complexity compared to the original version is notable, though.

The one thing I can't quite get over is the fact that he has a mansion filled with valuable bric-a-brac (including bronze statues of himself), a limousine, and a chauffeur/butler. That is just wildly out of character, by comic or cartoon metric. I think it's more or less accepted in comic-world that he lives in an annex of the money bin, but if not, you would expect much more spartan digs. I think three factors contributed to this: first, the people who conceived the show simply didn't have particularly good grasp of the character, plain and simple. Second, they wanted to convey "great wealth," and they probably thought it would've been confusing if he didn't have the most conspicuous signifiers thereof. And finally, there's the matter of wish fulfillment: HDL are there for kids to identify with, and it's much more fun to live in a mansion than some hovel, even if Scrooge is tight with the spending money. So there you go.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck
I read that the voice actress, Russi Taylor, also does Martin and a few other characters on The Simpsons, and there, of course, she sounds nothing like HDL do--so kudos to that. Impressive range. Fact is, HDL probably would sound like that, even if I'm a little uncomfortable about giving the comic characters voice actors at all.

The portrayal of HDL is kinda all over the map. Sometimes they're smart Junior Woodchucks (though the occasional "puzzles" they have to solve are always kind of on the inane side); sometimes they're just regular, rambunctious kids; sometimes they're amazingly dumb; and sometimes they're just plain dicks. Of course, there was variation in Barks' portrayal of them too, but nothing quite so schizophrenic. Still, when they're good, they're pretty good. Ducktales does a decent job with the basics.

Donald Duck
It's not really enough to say that Donald was eliminated as a regular character just because he would've been a third wheel, given that Launchpad frequently stands in for him. Clearly, another big factor is his voice: okay for shorts; might grate a bit after prolonged exposure in a twenty-two minute show. Still, fuckin' eh, man. There is a part of me that says: if you're trying to adapt Barks, you can't downplay Donald, dammit. I already wrote a bit about how I think his absence sometimes has an unbalancing effect. And on those infrequent occasions when he is present, he generally makes a decent impression, even if, by definition, his portrayal isn't wholly Barksian. I would probably, as with Scrooge, complain about lack of emotional complexity, but his appearances are infrequent enough that it's sort of a moot point. I would've liked more of him, is all I'm saying. I think if they'd made more episodes, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to have him get out of the navy and resume residence in Duckburg with HDL. Seems to me that that would've opened up some good plot ideas.

Gladstone Gander
…Who only has a substantial role in one episode, of course. Not saying his portrayal is bad, per se, but given that the entire purpose of Gladstone is to be obnoxious, the usual Ducktales softening effect seems counterproductive here. You can see why they didn't use him more often: if he's not serving as an antagonist to Donald, what is he doing, exactly? You have to admit, though, it would've been super-cool had they brought him and Donald together in an episode for a knock-down drag-out fight. Failing that, Fenton probably would've also made a good adversary.


  1. From what I can recall, there is some extreme discontinuity in Scrooge's home in the comics. Doesn't Rosa have Scrooge living in a huge mansion in part 12 of "Life and Times," but he says he'll sell it because it doesn't fit his personality? In that one-pager with Scrooge and the electric blanket, he's clearly living in an ordinary house. And he has a chauffeur/butler in many comics, too.

  2. I think so, Christopher. I've never understood the argument against Scrooge having a mansion and material possessions of great value. That mansion is probably prime real estate, and I'll bet lucky dimes to fatty donuts, the most valuable house in town. Remember, this is the same guy who has a zoo of rare animals. Imagine the cost in feeding and nurturing those animals! Also, in Barks' stories, Scrooge is never afraid to throw away a ton of money on some fanciful
    endeavor ("Island in the Sky" jumps to mind).

    Scrooge himself is highly inconsistent with his miserliness, even in the Barks comics. One second, he's paying Donald 30 cents an hour, and the next second, he's hauling their feathry butts all across kingdom come to (usually) lose a treasure he greatly desires. The implication in the comics is that he pays the nephews' expenses.

    I disagree that Scrooge lacks emotional complexity in DuckTales. It's there, even if at times, it's there only because Alan Young transposed so much of his talent and nuance as a performer into the character. Young's Scrooge is one of the finest, most fully realized, and definitive vocal portrayals in the history of animation. (Young himself is one of the most overlooked performers in entertainment history.) He "gets" the character even when the writers don't.

    In general, the DT actors were nothing short of brilliant. If I didn't know the characters were ducks and animated, I'd think I was listening to full-scale, three-dimensional, human performances. What an ensemble!

    I know at times, Geo, you've criticized what you've perceived to be a lack of care that went into the series, almost a cynical "it's just a kids' show" lackadaisicalness. I take the opposite view. I think tremendous care and concern went into DuckTales. Every TV series has its imperfections. Stuff that is mass-produced on a tight schedule will always have plenty of nits to pick. The overall effort, though, is amazing in my opinion. Can't wait to show it to my future kids.

    Russi Taylor, BTW, is the voice of Minnie Mouse and scores of other characters. (Her late husband, Wayne Allwine, was the voice of Mickey for decades.) She also voiced Webbigail in the series. You are absolutely right. The lassie has range!

    Finally, congratulations on completing this project. I can't say I agreed with most of what you wrote, but you kept me reading. I hope that's high compliment enough. AND I was impressed when I saw you started reviewing in February and finished in October. That is quite an exemplary output. Ever consider writing for children's animation? ;-)

  3. Granted that there's always some inconsistency, but the reason he has a mansion in "The Richest Duck in the World" is because he had one in "Christmas on Bear Mountain," before his character had been established. Rosa tries to smooth this over by portraying said mansion as a mausoleum, mirroring Scrooge's emotional deadness at the time.

    The mansion is undoubtedly valuable...but Scrooge could have a LOT of things that are valuable if he wanted them. That's what the treasure hunts are for. But when it comes to PAYING for them...

    Thanks, Pete, but I'm afraid you must be taken away for deprogramming to rid you of your seditious opinions. THERE WILL BE NO DISSENT.

  4. lol Wouldn't be the first time I've had to be deprogrammed. There was that time when Dick Cheney...well, never mind. Another time. ;-)

    I like your observations about Scrooge's mansion.

    I will admit to longings for a direct-to-screen translation of Barks' stories. You'd think the Pixar guy would be see the quality and potential in adapting these stories.

    Ah, well...when it comes to Disney, they rarely do the logical thing. Warner Bros. Animation, on the other hand, especially the DC branch...totally in touch with their fans. That's why WB has surpassed Disney in television-animation longevity. I read an article the other day where the creative muckety-muck sees it as his job to keep Batman, Bugs, Tom and Jerry, and the like fresh for new audiences.

    Although "The Looney Tunes Show" is still suspect...

  5. Geo, these are really perceptive and insightful!

    I grew up with the show -- actually came to Duck comics because of it. So the mansion's sort-of "always just been there" to me. And even though it's been many years since it first occurred to me that Barks' Scrooge wouldn't be caught dead living in anything of the sort, I've never seriously objected to it. But you're all-too correct: the show's mansion and its furnishing are excessively frivolous, and really clash with Scrooge's character.

    (Also, remember that in "Christmas on Bear Mountain", he hadn't yet been developed, and was arguably just a prototype...oh, wait, Geo already made that point!)

    You're right about the show's nephews' schizophrenia, and how the variations in their characterization between different episodes are way more extreme than Barks'; sure, in turn, he portrayed them as mischevious truants, upstanding Junior Woodchucks, and a moderation of those two polarizations, but I can't think of a Barks story in which the nephews are characterized in as wildly a singular and jarring way as in, say, "Yuppy Ducks".


  6. (cont.)

    Donald's exclusion from being a regular part of the show facilitated the emphasis on Scrooge and the nephews having a "familial" relationship. But Donald's absence is, once again, something I never objected to, just because it'd "always been that way" to me...even though for most of my life, I've decidedly preferred the Scrooge-Donald-nephews dynamic of the comics.

    For in Barks' stories, there was something far more subtler in the way he showed his "core" characters interacting...even going so far as to reveal some of the Duck Man's skepticism -- and, on bad days, pessimism -- toward human nature.* Specifically, I'm thinking of, first, the dynamic between Scrooge and Donald; and, then, that between Scrooge and, collectively, Donald and the nephews. In no small way, when he didn't need them as employees, Scrooge kept them shut out, literally and figuratively. His relationship with them was almost purely a working one. And though the five of them all-too-often seeemed to make a dysfunctional team, frequently butting heads and exchanging blunt, hostile jibes, there was an underlying -- I might even go so far as to say "familial" -- affection there.

    *[Though I believe that Barks had a big heart, and his work never succumbed to outright cynicism or amorality.]

    Another way of putting it: above my desk here in my home hangs a very tattered DuckTales foldout poster that accompanied some magazine or activity book that was in my possession 20 years ago. It displays a still (have never pinned down what episode it's from) of Scrooge and the nephews, each wearing a pith helmet (or, rather, an explorer's hat), standing inside some tomb or temple or cave (the background's pretty murky), collectively staring, wide-eyed, at something that's looming before them and is completely out-of-frame.

    A few months ago, I moved. While packing/weeding out stuff I no longer wanted and/or needed, I dug up/rediscovered this poster. At first, my reaction was, "Hey, no Webby or anything, just Scrooge and the nephews, and it's clearly an adventure scene -- perfect! Yeah, I know, there's no Donald, but it's DuckTales, so that's expected and accepted."

    But it's since sunk in that there is something wrong with the image (and it's not the generic adventure signifiers that are the pith helmets, which Barks would hypothetically only have had the ducks don if the situation and/or locale made it relevant/essential, and even then, maybe not unless the damn hats were somehow a plot point): the nephews are fearfully huddling together immediately in front of Scrooge, practically clinging to his shielding bosom, and he's protectively and deliberately keeping them at such close proximity by holding his arms around them, either of his hands on the outermost shoulder of either of the two outermost nephews! That's not how it worked in Barks' stories!


  7. (cont.)

    Moving on, I can see both Geo's and Pete's perspectives on the general quality of the show. Aligning with Pete's camp, may I remind folks that it's easy to overlook this today, but for its time, DuckTales was exceptionally ambitious for an animated TV series, and in that arena, raised the bar for quality. (I think, anyway. I was only five when the show started.)

    But seeing that I was only a child (and this goes for plenty of other cartoons that I watched during my early years, not just DuckTales), I had the disillusioning experience of rewatching select stuff a bit later in life and thinking, "Oh, that was a lot sillier and dumber than I remembered..." (I eventually accepted that, save a lobotomy or a brain injury, having that reaction to cartoons I'd first seen as a child was an irreversible condition, so I may as well just accept things for what they are, and appreciate the good qualities on those terms.) So it's easy for me to sympathize with the pulling-out-one's-own-hair, "You're asking us to buy THAT?! Are you freakin' KIDDING ME??!!!" bent of a lot of Geo's posts.

    Pete wrote:

    I will admit to longings for a direct-to-screen translation of Barks' stories.

    Yes, imagine an animated version of "Back to the Klondike" that actually understood the gravity of the four-page flashback, Goldie's significance to Scrooge, and the ambiguity of the ending!

    But at the same time, I've been known (er, been known to myself, anyway) to fantasize about an animated version of "Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot"...and, yeah, if done right, it'd be AWESOME. ...but why not just leave it be? (And, this isn't directed at you, Pete, but is meant as a rhetorical questioning of the whole idea!) Is there something wrong with a great comic, or a great novel, "only" being a comic or a novel -- something that makes it so that there "needs" to be a film version, and only then will it be "complete" and somehow "done right by"?

    I like there being one definitive -- neigh, outright finite -- version, rather than risking a botched adaptation in another medium, followed by another attempt a couple decades later (and so on...) Just makes Amazon search results messier, and undermines the integrity, purity, and singularity of the original.

    Of course, I did say how "AWESOME" an animated "Outwits the Phantom Blot" would be...but the thing is, my perception and comprehension of the original story, and subsequently my vision of what a great animated version would be "like", are unique to my mental processes! It's likely that none of the original comic story's proponents would agree on the merits of any conceivable animated adaptation!

    And when you have a comic story like "Back to the Klondike" or "Outwits the Phantom Blot" that a bunch of us agree is great, maybe, just maybe (...I'm not saying, "definitely"!), it's best that we just leave it be! :)

    (But, then again, had DuckTales' production team just let Barks' comics be...boy, would my life have been different!)


  8. (Note, for clarity's sake: noticed some typos in my original three posts, so deleted, edited, and reposted them -- hence the three deleted comments. Boy, have I made things complicated for myself...)

  9. I removed the deleted posts...forever!!! Now no one will ever know.

    Always glad to see your cogent insights. The question of the relationship between Scrooge and his nephews in Barks is an interesting's kinda true that they usually seem to be more business than anything else. I feel as though you really have to look for subtext; eg, Scrooge always takes them along allegedly because he needs cheap labor, but it's not hard to see that as being at least partially a smokescreen so he can spend time with them while still looking tough.

    Otherwise, aside from a few Christmas-y things, I feel like you'll have better luck with Donald/HDL stories. "Old California" is a great example, but probably not the best for proving a point, given how atypical it is. Still, there are more than a few somewhat heartwarming ten-pagers to choose from, along with the knock-down, drag-out fights.

  10. Hey Ryan,

    It is interesting to read our view of DuckTales as opposed to Geo's view. We're obviously coming at it from the nostalgic angle and the impact angle because of the influence it had on our childhoods and now adulthoods.

    We're also looking at it as the guide that led us to Barks. Geo, I believe you're coming at it from the angle of someone who has read Barks before fully partaking of DuckTales.

    Your take is very similar to the take of those who were at Gladstone I during the DT years...grateful for the exposure it was giving kids to the classics, but biting their tongues over the ways in which it departed from Barks continuity.

    It's very interesting to read the two different perspectives. Because of DuckTales, I was destined to find Barks (boy, that sentence employed dime-store romance-novel language).

    The first DT ep I ever saw (and the one that hooked me) was "Back to the Klondike," and the first Gladstone DT comic book I read, No. 2, had a Barks story ("The Giant Robot Robbers") as its back-up.

    I remember reading the Barks story as a kid and not liking it as much as I did DuckTales. Scrooge was meaner. The Beagle Boys operated as one entity rather than individuals. Donald was in it and not at sea. HD&L didn't have the same relationship with Scrooge. And what the hell was up with the one Beagle and his prunes??!!!

    *IT* changed DuckTales too much, I thought at the time.

    So, I initially didn't like Barks' take on the Ducks. That drastically changed, however, as I read and reread "Giant Robot Robbers" and eventually figured out what was going on and why these ducks weren't what I was seeing on TV.

    That said (my verbal hang-up), I was able to develop an appreciation for both worlds without sacrificing one for the other. I view them as two separate universes. That was easier to do, since I experienced DT first.

    I'm guessing this is the same for you as well, Ryan (and probably Christopher).

    Anyway, I don't know what you have planned for this blog, Geo, but you might want to check out "Sport Goofy in Soccermania," which was kind of Disney TV Animation's dry run for DT, and the three separate episode of "Raw Toonage" where Scrooge, Launchpad, and Ludwig were the hosts. "House of Mouse" is also worth checking out. (Scrooge is much more the villain in these appearances, plus there's an awesome Phantom Blot ep.)

    Don't jump to "Quack Pack" next, though, whatever you do. "Darkwing" is a much better choice.