Monday, February 28, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Three: "Sweet Duck of Youth"

Based on Barks' "That's No Fable," only not really. Florida, fountain of youth; that's about as far as it goes. It's Scrooge's birthday and he's feeling decrepit, so when Beakley off-handedly mentions the fountain, he zooms off quite precipitously to Florida, as you do, with HDL and Launchpad. Eventually, he gets captured by an evil conquistador (but I repeat myself), who turns out to just be a guy in conquistador armor. Once they get things sorted out, they find the treasure map by means only slightly less inane than those they used to decipher the boat-map in the pilot episode (the map is where he thought of the riddle? Where's that? In his head! Look! A secret compartment in the helmet! Uh huh.) and go off to find the fountain. Alas, it only makes your reflection look younger, resulting in a somewhat amusing sight-gag in which HDL see themselves as eggs. Scrooge learns that You're Only As Old As You Feel, and that's that.

The episode feels pretty thin, I have to say--not that I'm a huge fan of "That's No Fable," but that story has more substance than this does (as indeed does Barks' other "aging" story, "Go Slowly Sands of Time"). There's certainly no meaningful reflection on mortality or anything like that. There is some okay business when Scrooge gets lost in the swamp (which, as Chris notes, is somewhat reminiscent of "The Swamp of No Return"), but beyond that…not too much going on here. Coming up next is an adaptation of "Land Beneath the Ground;" we'll see if they're able to do Barks better with that one.

Stray Observations

-Launchpad just blows out Scrooge's candles like it waren't no thang. Surely that's a breach of etiquette…

-Funny double-take from Launchpad: "Hmm! Not a sign of old Mr. McDee. Nothing but swamp grass…cypress trees…Spanish moss…Spanish conquistador…snakes…"

-Cool twilight swamp landscape, anyway!

-Scrooge, addressing the camera, after having rescued a dollar from an alligator's snout: "Phew! The things you have to do to save a dollar these days!"" Yeah, it doesn't get much lamer than that.

-Who's that making a brief cameo appearance at Scrooge's party? Why, it's Gladstone Gander! Vacation van Honk, also, but really, does anyone care?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Two: "Launchpad's Civil War"

The Wikipedia article sez of this episode: "Launchpad encounters old Civil War soldiers once led by his ancestor, who was not all that Launchpad thought he was." That description makes it sound as though this ancestor (Rhubarb McQuack) was involved in covered-up war crimes or something--although, of course, given that this is a Ducktales episode, that obviously was never gonna happen.

I kind of vaguely think I saw this episode on video (along with that last one) back in the day, but I truly remembered nothing about it. I'll say one thing: it's pretty strange to have an episode centering on the Civil War with no actual historical context, probably because that would inevitably result in some rather dark undertones. The story is that--well, see above. Launchpad's being asked to portray ol' Rhubarb in a Civil War reënactment; it turns out he lost the Battle of Duck Ridge with his bumbling. His opposite number, Colonel DuBarque, is inordinately smug about this--hey, Rhubarb may have lost, but at least he wasn't fighting on the treason-in-defense-of-slavery team, so, you know, there's that. Actually, the episode downplays into oblivion the notion that there were any meaningful differences between North and South--obviously, they want to avoid being overtly political, but surely everyone can see that silence is political in and of itself.

Anyway, Launchpad determines to team up with these here ancient soldiers (they've gotta be at least in their hundred-thirties if the show's meant to be contemporaneous with its production) to defeat the Confederate reënactors. I don't think that's really how reënactments work, but sure, let's go with it. Hijinx ensue. The battle is won. Huzzah! And at the end, the townspeople agree to be less dickish in the future regarding Rhubarb's defeat. They do this in front of a giant Confederate flag, which takes me aback a bit…okay, it doesn't; I'm obviously just playing naïve. But really: would you see a swastika in a Ducktales episode? Crikey.

Not a bad episode, questionable politics notwithstanding, but I can't help but feel that it's not the best writing for Launchpad we've ever seen. He comes across as somewhat overly dumb, and not quite gung-ho enough to be as entertaining as he is at his best. It's definitely a fine line.

Stray Observations

-Huey, upon learning that Launchpad's been invited to be in this thing: "Wow! The Civil War happened a long long time ago!" That's a rather bizarre non-sequitur.

-We are (or were last time, really) a quarter of the way through Ducktales now. Well, roughly; it's hard to say to what extent the movie should weight this percentage. It's been fun, mostly. And even when the show hasn't, the complaining is still entertaining (in other words: the messes become successes! Sort of). Stick around.

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-One: "The Curse of Castle McDuck"

In ancient times...hundreds of years before the dawn of hist'ry...

Scrooge, HDL and Webby are visiting Scotland, but alas! The ancient McDuck Castle is haunted by a fierce spectral hound! Allegedly. And that's really the only tenuous connection between this and "Hound of the Whiskervilles," even if Gemstone would have had you believe otherwise. This time, the castle has been taken over by druids. Yes, druids. No one knows who they were or…what they were doing, but their legacy remains...okay, sorry to belabor the reference, but it's pretty difficult to take this remotely seriously--it is indeed every bit as historically grounded as Spinal Tap's version.

So Scrooge and the ducklings have to get to the bottom of all this and drive the "druids" out. It all feels pretty limp to me honestly; not a lot of tension or action or humor or really much of anything. And man alive, the ending is just risible--turns out the druids are there 'cause Scrooge's forefather had chased them from their sacred land to build the castle. But never fear! Scrooge has a solution! Let's make the castle into a fucking tourist attraction, and the "druids" can still do their ceremony-type things at night! You know, people, I'm trying to downplay the anti-imperialist criticism here, because I'm pretty sure it gets repetitive and is of limited interest (it sometimes is to me, even). Did you see me make a single remark about the last episode's assumption that introducing the islanders into the capitalist system represented the best possible outcome? You did not! But this is just ridiculous. No, co-opting the sacred land for a crass money-making endeavor is not a "solution," and there is no way in hell that this would be acceptable to the "druids!" Crikey! I mean, I get the impression that the writers were at least trying to be somewhat culturally sensitive (in that they didn't make the "druids" villains in the end, or out-and-out drive them off), but they failed pretty catastrophically. I suppose if it was considered essential that there be a "happy ending" for Scrooge (and this show obviously has less of an edge than Barks' work), it was necessary that something like this happen. But that's not exactly a defense; it really just shows up the show's ideological limitations.

So yeah; not a great episode.

Stray Observations

-Cute how Scrooge's childhood piggy bank is a wood-grain wild boar.

-Jeez, how many fucking sausages did Scrooge bring along?

-"I was but a lad of six when my family left bonny Scotland forever." Cue disapproving glares from Don Rosa. And I can't help noting that were this the case, it would be very unlikely that septuagenarian-Scrooge would still have a Scottish accent.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty: "Pearl of Wisdom"

Featuring Sharkey as the villain. But do I mean Lawyer Sharkey? No, no! This time, Black Pete has taken on that name. The portrayal of Pete is actually quite interesting here: as a Mickey Mouse villain, he's generally a pretty bad dude--certainly more "evil" than the Beagles. But here, he's barely evil at all. Sure, he steals this big ol' pearl from the island natives, but his kind of goofy voice and the fact that his grins are rarely if ever evil grins conspire to make him seem more adorable than anything else. Rather nicely--and surprisingly--done, I must say.

So Pete and his assistant, Yardarm, steal this pearl. We are treated to Pete doing some native dancing to sneak Yardarm close enough to nab it; it's pretty funny.

Back in Duckburg, HDL are entering a marbles competition, and as soon as the world "marbles" comes up, you can be instantly one hundred percent sure that the pearl will get mistaken for a marble or vice versa. And indeed that happens: Pete sells the pearl to Scrooge, but then wants it back when he realizes that there's apparently some magic ritual you can do with it back at the island that gives you preternatural wisdom. Scrooge realizes and wants the same thing. But oh no! Webby took the pearl to use in the marbles contest! Actually, the whole marble/pearl confusion thing is kind of superfluous to the main story; it really only feels like it's there to take up space.

Anyway, after some hijinx everyone gets back to the island, and Pete and Scrooge both get the benefit of pearl-augmented wisdom: Pete learns that Crime Doesn't Pay, and Scrooge that he shouldn't exploit the natives. Then, they all have a party. Pete dances with Webby. It's very cute.

Fun episode, though I was a little disappointed that the writers weren't a bit more ambitious with the pearl business: Scrooge repeatedly states that he wants to get the pearl back to the island so he can get smarter and make more money. The viewer immediately realizes that there's a big difference between "smart" and "wise" that Scrooge is overlooking, and that the wisdom he gains is not going to be of pecuniary benefit. And sure, he learns that stealing pearls is bad, but I think it would have been much more interesting if he had a more far-reaching vision--something about the ultimate hollowness of the eternal pursuit of money. And then he would have had to deal with that or, more likely, sublimate it. Would've been a bit dark, but I think they could've pulled it off.

Stray Observations

-Return of Lord Battmounten from "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan."

-"That magic pearl could mean the difference between being rich and being richer!"

-Funny little scene where Duckworth coolly catches the urns that the ducklings have knocked off their pedestals.

-"Nobody likes them--just like us!" I like sharks. And I like you, Pete.

-I'm sorry, but there is no way a marble would set off a torpedo.

-I think I see at least part of the reason why people aren't too fond of Webby: she's consistently pitched as much younger than HDL. In this episode, you can see this very clearly in a scene where Scrooge is chewing out a shipping agent and she's imitating this chewing-out on a toy phone (also, her eyes are bigger than HDL's, connoting both femininity and youth). I don't really mind this, but I can understand why it would rub people the wrong way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Nineteen: "Top Duck"

Launchpad is all keyed-up because his family (his father Ripcord, his mother Birdy, and his valley-girl sister Loopy) is in town and he wants to impress them--it seems he left the family in shame after messing up a barnstorming stunt (naturally, the whole family is aeronautical). Scrooge has a new experimental plane that he needs tested, so Launchpad has a chance to impress, but OH NOES--the Beagle Boys want to use the plane to do the usual thing! What will happen next?!?

The dynamic with Launchpad is really good here, and gives a lot of insight into his character. It quickly becomes clear that if he left his family in shame, it was self-imposed shame--they aren't in any way judgmental towards him. It also sheds some light on his motives for all the reckless (but not wreckless har har) flying--he's clearly trying to live up to his own idea of what they want him to be. I give the episode credit for not explicitly spelling all of this out.

Although they don't get a great deal of screen time, the family is quite appealing, and it's a doggone shame that (as far as I can tell from the all-knowing internet) this is their only appearance. The episode also sees the return of--of all people--Italian Stereotype Man from "Hotel Strangeduck" (his name, Benzino Gassolini, appears to be a play on Il Duce himself, which seems to me like a somewhat tasteless decision, to put it mildly). This time, he emphasizes his Italian-ness by--no shit--making a pizza in-flight. I hope in his next appearance we get to see him with a monkey and street-organ. This time he actually plays a (helpful) role in the episode, rather than just hanging around for no reason.

So yeah, this is a good episode, with lots of Sky-HIgh Hi-Jinks. About the only criticism I can level at it--and I know I'm repeating myself here--is that I just find these new Beagle Boys so totally charmless. I'm trying to not compare the show to the Barksiverse, but in this case, I really can't help it. And the comparison is not kind.

Stray Observations

-"A special sonic digger which will revolutionize the entire mining industry?" How is a digging implement on a plane remotely practical for mining? Or for anything?

-Now there's a pilot beagle. But of course.

-"Luckily, the pig wasn't hurt!" That's lucky, all right.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Eighteen: "Much Ado about Scrooge"

"Spoof of William Shakespeare's 'Much Ado about Nothing," sez a Wikipedia entry written by someone who hasn't the remotest clue what "Much Ado about Nothing" is about. Well, 'til I changed it, anyway. Who knows if it'll stick, though--those guys can be kinda humorless (but at least they haven't banned me, the way Conservapedia did).

It strains credulity to think that there's a door-to-door salesman who's just too gosh-darn good for Scrooge to resist, but it must be said, the salesman in question, "Filler Brushbill" (cf) is completely delightful--the writers eschew the unctuousness typically associated with such character types: the guy's endlessly cheerful, but not in a sleazy way; and highly competent--the kind of guy you want on your side. The opening segment where he implacably (and ultimately successfully) attempts to sell stuff to our heroes is pretty darned funny. Too bad he's not a recurring character.

The rest of the episode, though--I dunno. The McDuck household buys a bunch of stuff from Brushbill, which happens to include a note hinting at a lost "Drakespeare" play. So, they go after it. Brushbill, getting wind of this, follows as well. Drakespeare's Castle (???) is on a "haunted island" (?????), where they meet broadly-drawn caricatures of characters from "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar," and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." They ultimately locate the play, "Macduck"--wha? But we've already seen Macbeth's weird sisters, so how can it be...? Or are we to assume that Drakespeare wrote TWO plays with strained waterfowl-related titles aping Macbeth? Very clumsy.

Anyway, the play turns out to suck, so they decide to suppress it instead of selling it. You can perhaps see why I find this ideologically objectionable. There's a bit early on where one of the kids objects to this quest: "But Uncle Scrooge, Drakespeare said that last play wasn't very good!" To which Scrooge replies: "Who cares? It's still worth millions just because he wrote it!" I'm pretty sure we're supposed to view Scrooge as engaging in ethically shady profiteering here, but for rather obvious reasons, this is a very stupid idea.

At the end, Brushbill nabs the play to sell it in spite of its suckitude, but Louie convinces him not to with this compelling argument: "But if you sell a terrible play, people will say you cheated them!" Allow me to assure any literary detectives out there: if you should happen to stumble across a lost Shakespeare play, nobody on god's green earth will complain that they were "cheated," no matter how "terrible" it turns out to be. I'm afraid that, as a literature-type person, I can't just forgive a plot point as fucking dumb (and, honestly, kinda pernicious) as this. Yuck.

Stray Observations

-Did I mention that all the "characters" on the island are actually descendants of Drakespeare's original theatre troupe? Uh huh...makes one think of the Star Trek episode where it turns out that all the Greek gods were actually aliens.

-Another problem is the fact that, when the actors perform the play, there's nothing about it that I can see that indicates that it's any worse than than the cod-Shakespearean dialogue the characters had been spouting throughout the whole episode.

"Into the sea thee must be tossed." That's "THOU must be tossed." It really annoys me when people use this faux-archaic language without having the first clue how the language that they're trying to mimic works. Check out the Quakers' dialogue in Uncle Tom's Cabin for an even more egregious example of this.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Seventeen: "Down and Out in Duckburg"

Look: I think my reviews of "Robot Robbers" and "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan" demonstrate that I'm capable of evaluating episodes based on Barks stories on their own merits rather than automatically slagging them off for changing the details of the original. Okay? That said, all I could think of while watching this one was how much I wished it were anywhere near as awesome as the "Horseradish Story," on which it is based.

A guy who is not Chisel McSue--probably because McSue was too good of a villain--barges in to Scrooge's manse and takes over, on the basis that his ancestor failed to deliver a shipment of…marbles--presumably because horseradish was too interesting a maguffin. Unlike in the original story, there's no evidence that the ship sinking was the result of sabotage, presumably because that would have made non-McSue's plot less nonsensical.

There's no thirty-day stipulation here, and the ducks, after being chased off Scrooge's estate, go to live under a bridge abutment. Obviously, the legal system is somewhat fluid in duck comics in general, but the idea that Scrooge would just become a vagrant with no legal recourse or other kind of fight whatsoever is really too ridiculous to take seriously. Then, for reasons that I can't begin to explain, instead of getting straight to the salvage bit, we get a grating, unfunny parody of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," in which host "Robin Lurch" (=Leach) interviews newly-impoverished Scrooge and his staff. Why he still wants to do this interview in spite of their lack of richness, I could not tell you.

It's only after all this that we get to the salvage operation that's the heart of the original story, and there's none of the excitement or tension that characterized Barks' tale. They find the marbles. Scrooge gets his money back. And now he's generous to all the people to whom he had been stingy at the beginning of the episode, to demonstrate his newfound empathy. And that's all, really.

By this point in the show, there's ample proof that the creators are able to do great things, but they sure can't do them consistently. Let's hope that they're able to ramp up the quality control in the near future.

Stray Observations

-Really now, is it conceivable that anyone ever signs a lease which includes the proviso "I can raise your rent however much I want at any time for any reason or no reason?" C'mon.

-BOY, is Not-McSue ever annoying. His tacky redecoration of the McDuck estate is mildly amusing however, I suppose. He has an unexplained fetish for the color orange.

-Has anyone ever actually been required to wash dishes to pay for a restaurant bill? Regardless, for some reason I find the trope far more hilarious than I think it really is.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Sixteen: "Maid of the Myth"

Oh boy--who hates opera? Pretty much everyone, if lazy cartoon tropes are to be believed! Certainly not excluding this one! Boy oh boy...

So Scrooge and the kids are forced--forced!--to watch Mrs. Beakley star in a charity performance of Die Walküre. They get all somnolent 'cause opera amirite? until some, uh, vikings invade Duckburg and take Mrs. Beakley as a prisoner 'cause they're enchanted by her singing--not that Wagner has anything in common with any music actually vikings would be expected to know, but whatever! Anyway, I hope they really like the opening to "Ride of the Valkyries," 'cause that's the only thing Beakley seems to know how to sing (with "la la la"s for lyrics).

The premise of actual medieval vikings invading Duckburg is so utterly cockamamie that I really thought the whole episode was going to turn out to be an extended dream sequence--Scrooge and HDL falling asleep would have been a good transition point. But nope! Real thing, and the gang has to travel to the vikings' hidden island near Greenland to get Beakley back. To do this, Launchpad has to beat the vikings' hero ("Thor"--that's right, the best viking name they could come up with was Thor) in a ram-chariot race. The vikings try to sabotage the race in several ways, and the upshot is, Mrs. Beakley ultimately has to take Launchpad's place--it's actually pretty cool to see her in an action role like that. And that's about that.

Did that summary seem a trifle snide? Well, it's actually not that bad an episode, really. There's just not a whole lot that stands out as especially exciting about it, aggressively absurd premise notwithstanding. At least it's better than "Superdoo!" even if that is setting the bar a trifle low.

Stray observations

-Didn't even mention the good viking shepherdess or the bad viking queen--the latter especially makes essentially no impression; her purpose is questionable, aside from screwing up Launchpad's voice and requiring Beakley to race.

-"Gee, Greenland isn't very green, is it?" Well, duh--Greenland is a barren land, a land that bears no green.

-Calisota, as we know, is on the west coast. So the vikings either sailed all the way through Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (okay, it was just the Northwest Territories at the time), around Alaska, and all the way down the west coast of Canada; or all the way south past Tierra del Fuego and up the other side. Though granted, they could have cut that second route down substantially had they been able to get permission to use the Panama Canal. Or they could have gone aaaall the way over Asia and crossed the Pacific, but gimme a break--that would just be silly!

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fifteen: "Superdoo!"

(That title should be sung to the tune of this, obviously.)

Why is Launchpad a Junior Woodchuck troop leader, never mind the facts that A) he is entirely unsuited for such a position; and B) we saw an actual JW leader back in the pilot episode? The answer, of course, is so that he can interact with Doofus. That, and they just didn't want to mess around with another extraneous character; still, it's distractingly weird. I can't say I approve.

I guess it was inevitable that there would be a bit of a comedown after "Hero for Hire," but it didn't have to be as precipitous as this. Doofus sucks at being a Junior Woodchuck; then he finds an alien artifact that gives him superpowers. He uses it to gain Merit Badges and annoy the other Woodchucks. The first problem is, Doofus is an irritating character; he's mostly tolerable when he's just backing up Launchpad, but a whole episode focusing so closely on him is a bit much. The other problem is, both he and the other Woodchucks are very unpleasant here--they're jerks to him and then he's a jerk to them. "Ever since you became super, you've been makin' fun of everybody! Like you were better than the rest of us!" they tell him. Left entirely unmentioned, both by them and the episode as a whole: their own dickish behavior before he "became super." The "moral" of this episode boils down to "sit down and know your place." It's an unsavory message and it leaves me in a bad mood.

Stray Observations

"Well, that's the end of the short, unhappy career of Superdo." I didn't note it at the time, as it seemed insignificant (and it is, really), but I swear this is the second time this show has referenced (consciously or not) "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber." I have no idea what to do with that observation, but there it is. I guess it would be a bit overly mean to say I'd like to see Doofus meet Macomber's fate, but…well, I really don't care for the character.

-"One more, and I become the all-time Woodchuck merit-badge champion!" So…the current all-time record is nine? The "excessive Woodchuck awards" business was present in the pilot, but now it appears to have been jettisoned.

-The closed captioning identifies one of the Woodchuck extras as "Bill." I don't know why.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Fourteen: "Hero for Hire"

This episode raises some important questions. Like: where have all the good men gone? Where are all the gods? Where's the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds? It doesn't answer these questions, necessarily, but it does kick a statistically significant amount of ass in the attempt.

After being fired by Scrooge for bumbling, Launchpad is tricked by the Beagles (along with Ma) into robbing banks for them on the pretext that they're shooting a movie. There are all-new Beagles--I'm still not sold on the individual personalities, but, just because it's so inexplicable, I like the fact that one of them is some sorta beatnik.

The main thing that makes this "Hero for Hire" good is Launchpad, who, I'm just starting to realize, is fucking awesome. I still miss Donald, but if he has to have a de facto replacement, they couldn't have done much better. Even if the episode hits maybe a little too hard on the whole "everybody needs a hero!" theme--like that Dustin Hoffman movie, Hero--it's still a pleasure to watch him do his thing, robbin' banks and then makin' things right again. Admittedly, the ending in which he has to rescue Doofus from the Beagles does sort of let down the "hero" theme--they defeat themselves through the usual incompetence; he has nothing to do with it. Also, I feel bad about him taking a voluntary pay cut when he goes back to work for Scrooge; I'm not convinced that he's quite that dim. But none of this detracts too much from the episode as a whole.

Stray Observations

-It's too bad we don't get to actually see him robbing his first bank; it's not at all clear how this robbery even works.

-The bit where Launchpad gets his cape caught in the bank's revolving door makes one flash back to poor ol' Dollar Bill in Watchmen.

-"Unsafe Safe" reference!

-So are we to assume that Doofus has parents or guardians or something? Or is he just some insane vagrant who dug a coonskin cap out of a dumpster somewhere and managed to convince everyone he's a Junior Woodchuck?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Thirteen: "Dinosaur Ducks"

Dinosaurs. Is there anything that can't be made better with the addition of dinosaurs? This title's actually kind of nonsensical--"dinosaur ducks?" Looks like they just sort of arbitrarily decided to clonk a couple of keywords together and leave it at that. How silly!

The best part of this episode is the opening, as Launchpad tries to capture a bird for Scrooge's zoo while being menaced by a carnosaur of which we only ever see the legs. It's very effectively done. This is followed by another great bit where, having inevitably crashed, Launchpad is crawling through the desert, gasping for water; he crawls (in exactly the same posture) down a vertical canyon, through it, up the other side, onto a steamship, back to Duckburg, and into Scrooge's office--an effectively absurd little sequence.

Anyway, naturally, Scrooge wants him some dinos for his zoo, so it's off to this Lost World, with HDL and Webby as stowaways. They tangle with the bad carnosaur and help out the good hadrosaur mother and child (I've always found this business of assigning moral agency to animals based on their perfectly natural characteristics to be pretty goofy, but at the same time, it's entirely understandable). There are also caveducks, of course. I know it's pointless to complain about such things, but really, now--everyone knows by now that dinosaurs did not coexist with people, I think; it just strikes me as a bit lazy to ignore that fact, especially when the people in question serve a rather minor role in the episode.

But hey, I'm not complaining too much; it was mostly a decent episode, and hey, dinosaurs!

Stray Observations--note that in spite of all the petty complaints I'm making here, I did enjoy the episode overall.

-Hey, look, it's Miss Quackfaster! No, wait--we've changed her name to "Mrs. Fillerbee" for no apparent reason. Seriously, that just annoys me--some changes from comic to cartoon can be justified, but something like that just stems from laziness and carelessness.

-"Are you sure the Junior Woodchuck tiger trap will catch a dinosaur?" Dude--we're talking about the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook. I'm pretty darn certain you're going to find a trap specifically for dinosaurs in there--a different one for each kind of dinosaur, in fact.

-The caveducks' apparent wheel-fetishization is goofy (what the hell are they doing with all these stone wheels?), but it pays off in the amusing climax, when the attacking carnosaur loses its balance on a bunch of them.

-So HDL are trying to protect the baby hadrosaur that's trapped in a canyon from the evil carnosaur--and then it turns out that, oh, there's actually a cave right there. Hard to see why help was even needed.

-In other nitpicking news, I have to note that there is no reason that HDL should have gotten caught in their own trap--I rewound and rewatched the sequence several times, and they never touch anything to set it off--it just springs itself by magic.

-When Scrooge first tries to pick up the picnic basket in which Webby is stowing away, he finds it incredibly heavy and hard to lift. But later on in the episode, both Scrooge and Launchpad toss it around (and yes, Webby is still supposed to be in it) like it waren't no thang.

-Cute part where Webby's transfixing the caveducks with a completely mangled fairytale.

-"Are you sure this chopper can carry a dinosaur back?" "It can carry the back, the front, the head, the tail--everything!" I like Scrooge's irritated eye-rolling at this. Seems like a natural reaction when you have to deal with this kind of thing habitually.

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twelve: "Sir Gyro de Gearloose"

Well, after two lousy episodes in a row, this comes as a relief--definitely one of the better ones we've seen so far. Feeling that his abilities are going unappreciated, Gyro builds a time machine out of a bathtub with an eye towards going back to Medieval Times™ to be a knight. Actually, it's not just a time machine; it's also a dimension machine that takes you to pasts that "might have been." How this actually has anything to do with the past that he and HDL end up going to is unclear (I think the writer must've initially been planning to go in a direction that he ultimately didn't, and that bit just got left in accidentally), but I suppose if we wanted to, we could use it to hand-wave away all the inevitable anachronisms that pop up.

Anyway, in The Past, the waterfowl fall in with "King Artie" and Gyro impresses him with the power of Science. The local wizard, Moorloon, gets jealous, however, especially when Gyro's able to stop a dragon and he isn't (though looking back, it's hard to say why not, given that Moorloon is indeed shown to have totally sweet magical abilities later on). There's also an evil king with sharp teeth, Lessdred. Moreloon betrays Artie in order to get rid of Gyro, but when Lessdred betrays him in turn, the kids teach him that his situation--the whole being-taken-for-granted bit--makes him just like Gyro! Boom!

Entertaining secondary characters (especially Moorloon), cool action (including the bit from the opening credits where Gyro uses a unicycle of indeterminate origin to hold his lance up), and a good but not overly heavy-handed "message"--what more do you want? This is similar to the previous episode in that it too feels somewhat Lockmanian, but a much higher class of Lockman, certainly.

I am not going to end this entry by saying "more like this!" or words to that effect, because it's pretty clear by this point that the series is just going to have its ups and downs and that's all there is to it. Hopefully the former will outnumber the latter.

Stray Observations

-No Scrooge whatsoever! I wouldn't be surprised if that turns out to be a unique occurrence in the series.

-It's sometimes a little hard to tell who's talking, but it's pretty clear that, when HDL are climbing down a drainpipe and getting captured one by one, the names get mixed up.

-Lessdred's assistant appears to be an ostrich. How would an ostrich get to Medieval England? Preposterous! They really dropped the ball on that one!

-Awfully fragile helmet Gyro was wearing if the kids can cut it off with a Swiss-Army-Knife can-opener!

-That goose who dropped his wallet back in "Magica's Shadow War" reappears as a disgruntled customer of Gyro's. His name is revealed to be "Vacation van Honk." That is all.

-The exaggeratedly-breathy crane-woman who in the beginning snaps at Gyro when he can't immediately fix her toaster and then at the end hits on him is kind of amusing. Make her a recurring character! Gyro needs a love interest!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Eleven: "The Money Vanishes"

I'm not gonna lie to you: I really can't fucking stand these Ducktales Beagle Boys. They have none of the charm of the originals, and oddly enough, giving them distinct personalities appears to have had the effect of sapping their character. This episode includes four instead of three, but damned if I can tell you the fourth one's name or what he's meant to be like.

Then again, it may not be fair to base such antipathy on what is, there's no denying it, a pretty sub-par episode. Is it as bad as "The Duckman of Aquatraz?" Well...maybe not, but it's certainly not good. It reminds me very strongly of those intensely mediocre Vic Lockman stories from the seventies, all incredibly contrived plotting and forced zaniness--not a great source of inspiration, to say the least.

See, Gyro has a new invention: you spray this "primer"-type gas on this or that, and then you can zap it anywhere you want with a teleporter ray (sold separately). The Beagle Boys steal it, in an intelligence-insulting sequence where they pretend to be doctors and discombobulate it out of Gyro (yes, Gyro's always kind of clueless, but are we really to believe he's that dumb?). Then, they convince Scrooge to spray his money with the primer, by magically appearing in a TV commercial that he's conveniently watching and giving him the idea that there are money-eating moths about. But how are they going to actually hit the money with the ray, you ask? Apparently, it can shoot through walls, which they magically intuit with no testing. JUST ACCEPT IT. When Scrooge sprays the top of his pile o' cash, and the top money vanishes, he (being even dumber than Gyro) immediately assumes that the moths are too small to see and that they do their work instantaneously, and so does more spraying and allows the rest of it to be taken. Finally, there is a long, limp chase sequence where HDL try to nab the Beagles, featuring many lame sight gags, mostly involving zoo animals. And that is that, thankfully.

In comments to the last post, Christopher makes the point that the reason "Aquatraz" is so bad is very likely that the writer assumed the audience was just sugar-addled kids and therefore there was no need to actually give a shit. That may well be true (you certainly saw the phenomenon in action with a good chunk of Western's non-Barks comics, too), and with this episode, history repeats. No more, I beg of you.

Stray Observations

-Well, Gyro's helper appears, though he doesn't do anything consequential. Also, he's called "Little Bulb" this time around, which I suppose is...descriptive.

-The snippet of a werewolf movie that the kids are watching certainly looks like a call-out to Barks' "Pawns of the Loup Garou," but frankly, it's hard for me to imagine the writer here being that Barks-literate.

-Okay, it's sort of funny at the beginning when the oblivious warden gives the BB a cake from their mother with a baked-in shovel conspicuously sticking out.

-Scrooge forgets that he owns jillions of businesses: "Now that I'm broke, I'd better start checking the want ads for a job!" To be fair, he's been known to do this in Barks stories as well.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Ten: "The Duckman of Aquatraz"

Sheesh--it's sort of amazing that they could do an episode as good as the last one and then, bam, follow it up with something as intolerably idiotic as "The Duckman of Aquatraz." Seriously--let me count the fucking ways.

Scrooge gets framed for stealing a painting of Glomgold's, which framing is make easier by the fact that he was conveniently behaving incredibly suspiciously (but with an innocent explanation!) leading up to the theft. He is found guilty and sent to a maximum-security prison. There's an alternate painting that would magically clear him, but it gets ruined, so HDL's only recourse is to find incredibly obvious exonerating evidence in a security video that somehow nobody previously saw in spite of having scrutinized the tape jillions of times. PS. Flintheart also framed Scrooge's cellmate.

I don't think that description quite does justice to the sheer insane idiocy of this episode, however--even if we can look past the incredibly dubious central premise. My "favorite" part is where HDL watch the video and notice the detail that--shock horror--Glomgold was just pretending to be Scrooge to frame him and their dialogue shows them to be incredibly slow on the uptake, or just plain dimwitted: "Hey! Where'd he get that beard! And that weird pancake hat? *Gasp* That isn't Unca Scrooge! It's Flintheart Glomgold disguised as Unca Scrooge! It's the evidence we need!" Yeah, thanks for spelling that out. Otherwise, we might've missed all the subtle shades of meaning. Also, watch them beat a joke into the ground: "We know Unca Scrooge didn't steal that painting, right?" "Yeah! He only likes little paintings of Presidents!" [picks up a dollar bill] "The ones on dollar bills!" Actually, I think it's more the case that the writer here had an extremely low opinion of the audience's intelligence. It's really pretty insulting.

This is by far the worst episode yet, and whoever wrote it ought to be fidgeting uncomfortably and repeatedly glancing at the clock. Let's use "stray observations" to catalogue some more of its offenses.

Stray Observations

-In jail, Scrooge effortless beats all of the enormous, burly inmates at arm-wrestling. Come the fuck on.

-Unintentional humor: the guy who Glomgold gets to dispose of the painting that would (via magic) have exonerated Scrooge tosses it in a river, but the kids fish it out. "Our family portrait! Aw! Oh no! The water is washing away the paint!" Doggone delayed-action water!

-Glomgold to painting-dumping guy: "Just be sure no one sees you dumping the evidence--and don't cash that check until next week!" Yup--Glomgold's check is gonna bounce. Why must you gratuitously assault me with your idiocy, writer?

-"Flintheart's only crime was stealing his own painting!" C'mon, guys--you've already demonstrated your shaky understanding of the US legal system quite well enough. Don't make it worse for yourselves.

-I know I mentioned this above, but the last-minute revelation that "HOLY SHIT! GLOMGOLD FRAMED SCROOGE'S CELLMATE, TOO!" just takes dumbness to new, previously-unimagined heights.

-I was going to complain that this was a missed opportunity to feature the Owl Judge, but truthfully, the Owl Judge is probably feeling pretty relieved to have been left out of such a subpar episode.

-Inmates, eating all of Scrooge's dinner: "We wouldn't want you to lose your girlish figure!" Seriously: veiled prison-rape reference? I frankly wouldn't put much of anything beneath this episode.

-I was so irritated by this that I actually went back and looked up the writer's name so I could curse him personally. Damn you, Francis Ross!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Nine: "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan"

The soft-hearted boy that I used to be was always bothered by the Barks story of this title: I couldn't stop thinking about how sad Gu, the yeti, was going to be when the watch stopped ticking again. I know he was imprisoning the ducks and all that, but that didn't really make him a bad guy, did it? Well, it upset me. More recently, I read Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart's Marxist critique How to Read Donald Duck, in which they pinpoint this story specifically as an example of imperialist ideology in action--ie, Gu is a feeble-minded native to be casually exploited by the callous Westerner. The book is seriously flawed, no doubt about it, but it's hard to deny that "Lost Crown" lends itself very well to a reading of this sort. As a result, it's not one of my favorites, though the exploration leading up to the ducks' capture is as well-done as you'd expect from Barks.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm saying it: this episode is better than the original story. Well…maybe. It improves on it in a lot of ways, but it also introduces a few egregious annoyances that prevent it from being quite as awesome as I feel like it ought to be. Let's get those out of the way right away.

First: unlike the Barks story, this is set up as a contest where toffs vie for the hidden treasure (ie, the crown). This feels kind of tacked-on, but what's really annoying and tacked-on is the guy with the horribly irritating voice acting and vocal mannerisms who sabotages the other contestants and tries to stop Scrooge. Man, fuck that guy.

Second: the ending, where the yeti comes back to the explorers' club with Scrooge and chases around evil-dude? Egregiously silly, no question about it.

However, there's a lot to recommend the episode: portraying the yeti as a more sympathetic character was definitely a good idea--I thought making him into a her would end up being kinda dumb, but it actually works, and most of the original's condescension is removed. There's also a lot of good character stuff--as when Scrooge finds the crown, excitedly declares himself "King of the Explorers once again!" and then wilts as he realizes that, having lost his entire party in the process, this is a hollow victory. Finally, there's a very atmospheric night blizzard scene, in which the ducks are sleeping in their tend as the winds howl until they are awakened by the yeti, who they can just make out heading off into the storm.

Good work all 'round. More like this, please.

Stray Observations

-'Course, if you did want to see this as some sort of comment on imperialism, the fact that the head of the Explorers' Club is named "Lord Battmounten" would certainly be relevant.

-In the brief flashback sequence at the beginning, the role of Genghis Khan is played by perennial Mickey Mouse villain Black Pete.

-Funny bit before they set off with Launchpad trying to impress the local girls by doing a trepaka-type dance to the tune of "The Streets of Cairo."

-I mostly don't have strong opinions about Webby, but there's one part where you can definitely see why she would rub people the wrong way. Webby: Aah! HDL: Webby, what is it?!? Webby [giggling]: A snowflake just landed on my nose! No more of THAT, thank you very much.

-The persistence of Scrooge's anger at the yeti is somewhat inexplicable.

-Funny dialogue:
"You guys gotta think positive!"
"But Launchpad! Webby's lost, Unca Scrooge is lost, we're lost, and there's a monster in these caves trying to get us!"
"Come on, there must be SOMETHING positive about all this!"
"If we don't keep moving, we're going to freeze to death!"
"There you go!"

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Eight: "Hotel Strangeduck"

Welcome to the Hotel Strangeduck...ornia!

Scrooge takes over an old castle and tries to make it into a hotel, but there's doin's afoot. The place is haunted by the ghost of "Ludwig von Strangeduck"…OR IS IT? Nobody who's read "The Old Castle's Secret" will be surprised by the denouement, though it would be a stretch to say that the episode is "based" on that story.

This episode was okay, but I can't help thinking that it was a bit of a missed opportunity--it could easily have been a lot more atmospheric/suspenseful. Instead, there's a lot of really un-spooky ghosting around that, in light of the ending, is rather more implausible than that in the story it's riffing off of. Also, there's a guest at the hotel, Italian Stereotype Man, who serves no apparent purpose (unless a funny accent counts as a "purpose"). Perhaps without that narrative dead-end, there would have been more time and opportunity to really explore the ins and outs of the castle.

Here's one of those things that an apologist would insist I ignore, in light of the fact that we're dealing with a kids' cartoon, but that's not gonna fly: duck comics are for kids too, so I'm not sure why I would hold the show to a lower standard: it's just distractingly weird that Scrooge has (apparently) abandoned all his other businesses and transplanted his household staff in order to personally run a hotel in the middle of nowhere. The show could perhaps have come up with some kind of semi-plausible justification for this, but it never makes the effort. A somewhat lackluster episode all 'round.

Stray Observations

-Von Strangeduck looks a lot like Ludwig.

-The other guest is "The Duchess of Swansylvania;" funniest part of the episode is when she signs in with a huge, hyper-ornate signature. Okay, maybe you have to see it.

HDL and Scrooge going down the big hidden spiral staircase. HDL: "Wonder where this goes?" Scrooge: "Looks like it goes around a corner!" Brilliant and helpful observation, Scroogie.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Seven: "Master of the Djinni"

No preliminary messing around here--we go straight into the main act! Bam! Scrooge, it transpires, has discovered the "locked vault of Aladdin" via some undisclosed means. So it's off to a non-specific Arabian milieu to find this here lamp, with Glomgold in pursuit. Scrooge and Flinty find the lamp at the same time, and there's a bit where they're both climbing up a pedestal to try to get to it first that makes me think of the endgame of the Ducktales NES game. As it transpires, they both rub the lamp at the same time, leaving the vaguely-gay-stereotype-ish genie not knowing who to serve, so they arrange a race back to Duckburg for ownership rights. Meanwhile, the genie lounges around in Scrooge's digs; family and staff get somewhat hyperbolically worried about Scrooge, presumably so the genie's nonchalance can look more evil. Not wanting to give up his life of luxury, he transports Scrooge and Flintster back in time where they have to deal with an evil sultan with the help of the bewitching "Shewebhazade." The genie is VERY easily tricked back into the lamp with the ol' "you could NEVER fit in there!" trick and the oldsters are transported back to the present. The Flintmeister wins but wastes his wishes in an idiotic fashion. Finis.

A lot happens in this episode; possibly too much. It feels a bit rushed, and the action doesn't really register to the extent that I feel like it should. The back-in-time bit is the most entertaining, but overall, the episode's pleasures are rather modest.

Stray Observations

-Everyone's pretty blasé about the idea of a lamp with a wish-granting genie in it.

-Scrooge and Glomgold's well-thought-out plan to race back to Duckburg involves sprinting through the trackless wastes. Good luck with that.

-Funniest moment is the end of Schewebhazade's story: "…and made her way across the desert, where she sold her camel and bought a new hat." These stories are apparently incredibly boring to everyone involved, as they all near-instantaneously fall asleep upon hearing them. Having put everyone to sleep in order to rescue the ducks from a crocodile pit, she wakes Scrooge up: "hurry--they're asleep," she says. "Oh?" he replies, waking up. "Yes, I can't imagine why," glaring at her in a remarkably ungrateful fashion.

-A bit odd to see a sultan lustfully "inspecting" his harem in a kids' cartoon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Six: "Magica's Shadow War"

Tell ya one thing: this definitely has the most hardcore title we've seen thus far, by some margin.

We learn that Ratface's new name is "Poe," which would be more apropos if we hadn't learned in "Send in the Clones" that he's not a raven by birth, but rather Magica's transformed brother. Unless the writers have forgotten about that detail. Who knows.

In this episode, Magica uses a spell to give her shadow independent agency in order to do some dime-napping (her motivations for wanting the dime remain hopelessly vague). But the shadow rebels, and we get our second "gotta work with your enemy" episode in a row. I am not going to spend any time speculating about how exactly these shadow-things work--is there supposed to be a realm of shadow-people under our feet? Or what?--because that would be putting way more thought into it than I'm sure the writers did. Nor will I note that the episode appears to contradict itself, establishing that the shadows can only interact with other shadows after just having shown the shadow picking up some dude's wallet (I guess you could argue that wallet and shadow were close enough so as to make no difference, but I think it's just carelessness--the shadow isn't supposed to even know at first that it can't interact with "real" things). Okay, too late.

Be that as it may, the evil shadow is quite effectively creepy, and there's a bit where HDL scare it off with shadow-puppets that's pretty clever. On the other hand, I found the resolution, in which Magica needs Scrooge's dime to stop the evil shadows, pretty unsatisfying, as it feels very forced--there's not even a perfunctory effort at explaining why she would need the dime; it's clearly just a convenient way to make Scrooge feel conflicted. And that annoys me. Overall, I guess it was an okay episode; coulda been great if they'd taken a little more time to think about the mechanics and logistics of the situation.

Stray Observations

-Cute evil dance that Magica does at the beginning.

-After that, HDL receive from Gyro a gift, "a new kind of instant camera he invented." This is another dead-end-y plot point: it's not at all clear what's "new" about it (except that it inexplicably "bleaches" one of Scrooge's bills), and then it disappears until the end when it's used to take care of the evil shadow for good and all. More sloppiness.

-Customs officer to Magica: "Lizard tails, bat shrieks, pickled worms--no fruit! All seems to be in order!"

-"I am not through yet! I will have my revenge! When I catch my shadow, I will do hundreds of jumping jacks and she will be exhausted! Then, I won't go anywhere fun for a week, and she will be bored!" One has to wonder what kind of places Magica considers "fun."

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?

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Four: "Armstrong"

I just realized that, although Gyro is in this show, the Helper is not, so far. A shame.

So anyway, in this episode, Gyro builds a super-robot, "Armstrong," to do Scrooge's work for him. This distresses Launchpad, as he feels like he's being made obsolete. Fortunately for him, the robot Turns Evil. This comes as no surprise--that's just what robots do! They Turn Evil! You can rely upon it! No other explanation needed! It's not clear what exactly his (evil) goals are, but I'll grant that Evil Armstrong is reasonably creepy (I especially liked the way he can mimic people's voices, like the Terminator). Naturally, it's up to Launchpad to save the day, which he ultimately does by dumping water on the robot, thus exploiting the same vulnerability that did in the Wicked Witch of the West, and shorting him out--granted, he becomes rather less threatening if the first good rainfall was going to be enough to take him down. From this, Scrooge learns that efficiency isn't everything, though it seems like a rather more apropos lesson would have been "evil robots are bad news."

That emphasizes a problem with plots like this: they're philosophically incoherent. Say you're supposed to complete the following sentence: "Robots may sometimes seem more efficient than human beings, but they can never truly replace people, because_____________" You would probably fill in something like "they lack the intangible assets--creativity, tenacity, heart; the human spirit, in other words--that got us where we are today." If instead you put down "they'll take over our satellites and steal our money and try to kill us," you would probably get some odd looks. I mean, I approve of the humanistic impulse that leads writers to assert that mechanization cannot solve all our problems, but things like this present just the opposite message: I'm pretty sure there is no documented real-world case of a robot Turning Evil, so if that's the only potential problem, then I guess we're good to go! Right?

In spite of this silliness, the episode was fairly entertaining, and I think Launchpad is growing on me as a character.

I'm going to take a page from the AVClub and finish with "stray observations" that wouldn't fit in the main write-up:

-Before Armstrong turns evil, he has an air race with Launchpad to see whether robot can REALLY outdo human (spoiler: yes). Scrooge announces this, and specifically announces that the "human" is Launchpad. I guess "the first ever air race between anthropomorphic pelican and robot" wouldn't have been as punchy.

-While HDL are trying to figure out what's going on, Armstrong attacks them by sending remote-control tanks after them, which is an effective stratagem until the kids realize, hey--they're just toys, and simply flip them on their backs. A funny moment.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Three: "Where No Duck Has Gone Before"

Wasn't it just totally, one hundred percent predictable that there would be a Ducktales episode of this title? Really, now.

The episode opens with Scrooge doing weight-lifting with bags of money as weights--can we assume that that "inspired" this two-pager drawn by Rosa and written by Gary Leach, which was published soon after and uses the same joke?

This episode introduces the character of Doofus, another Woodchuck. It doesn't provide any introduction or anything; he's just sort of there all of a sudden. He serves no purpose, in this episode at least. He…eats a lot, on account of being fat and all. And that's about the long and short of it. I don't think I'm ever gonna warm to him.

So the kids are big fans of a show called Courage of the Cosmos, a humorously cheap sci-fi thing with model ships on strings and a toaster for a communicator. The bit we see of the show is genuinely funny. I don't have much else good to say about this episode, however; it has some okay action, but it just piles nonsense on nonsense in a way that I really can't get over.

Turns out the studio producing Courage of the Cosmos is defaulting on their debts, and Scrooge takes it over. He goes down and orders the show to be made less cheesy-looking. Long story short, the kids, Launchpad and the captain in the show--Major Courage--get launched into space, and they have to survive and fend off aliens as the Major reveals himself to be not so heroic after all.

The biggest dumbness in this show is this: right from the beginning--well before we meet the Courage-actor and learn what a cad he is--Launchpad is seething with resentment towards the guy and fulminating about how he's a "phony." We are clearly supposed to sympathize with this. But for fuck's sake, of course he's not an actual space pilot--he's an actor. This idea that the two of them should be somehow in competition is completely idiotic. "If you ask me, real heroes don't need cameras and makeup," Launchpad mutters. No, you lunatic, but actors on TV shows do. You think he'd somehow be more heroic if he were a less telegenic actor? This boggles my mind with its stupidity.

I think the problem, really, lies with the writers not understanding the difference between actors and characters. It's a common thing in American politics; certain former presidents we could name used to always be compared to John Wayne or Gene Autry by people who appeared to have lost track of the fact that these were not actual cowboys; they were people who were paid to pretend to be cowboys. The same thing may be resulting in the confusion hereabouts. Notice how I always refer to the character as "the Courage-actor"--this is because the actor has no name; the show never differentiates between actor and character.

I actually remember seeing this episode when I was small, at a friend's house (hi, Dan!). What I remember most is the ending: Scrooge had threatened to fire the Courage-actor, who counters that he can't be fired because he's got a five-year contract, about which he gets all smug. At the end, it turns out he's been demoted to concessions salesman for ravenous kids, and when he wants to quit, Scrooge reminds him of his contract. Oh how we laughed at his comeuppance (though now I suspect this reveals an inadequate understanding of contract law). But nowadays, it just reveals to me another flaw in the episode: the reason the kids are with Courage-actor in space is that he wanted to get them involved and show them a good time to suck up to Scrooge so as to not lose his job. But what was the point of this if he was under the impression that his contract made him totally invulnerable? Gah!


Ducktales, Season One, Episode Two: "Sphinx for the Memories"

"Sphinx for the Memories?" Mmm...sorry, but I'm afraid the committee's going to have to disallow that one.

The rest of the episode was quite good, however. Partially because it features Donald (whom I still like a lot, even if he's not quite Barksian) more prominently than any other episode to date. Partially because it feels more like a more classic kind of story--none of the Ducktales-exclusive characters appear in any capacity. And partially because...well, it's just plain well-written and executed.

Donald is on leave in Egypt, where Scrooge and HDL come to visit him. Unfortunately, he is captured by some characters who mistake him for the reincarnation of their god ("the Garbled One"). They take him away, and the others have to rescue him while he himself fends off (without realizing what he's doing) the machinations of a high-priest type who resents losing his leadership role and sics a mummy on the interloper.

There's a lot of fun stuff with Donald as leader, first enjoying the life and then trying to escape. I was quite taken with this, so much so that when the perspective switched back to Scrooge and the kids I felt mildly disgruntled.

Anyway, Donald is possessed by the spirit of the original Garbled One (and there's some clever business in which the ghost's signal gets mixed with Donald's and he starts doing some seaman-type stuff). There's some capturing, some escaping, and some action before Donald gets un-possessed, and then there's a quite unexpectedly moving denouement in which the leader's spirit frees the mummy by stripping off his wrappings and they both fly off to the hereafter.

If the show proves capable of managing this level of quality on even a semi-regular basis, it will definitely have justified its existence.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode One: "Send in the Clones"

Actually, you might consider this episode six, if you think of the pilot as episodes one through five. But that seems like a different sort of thing to me, so I'm starting from the beginning.

Hey, look! It's Magica! Only now she's...Russian? 'Cause I guess Russians are more sinister than Italians? Except maybe she's not, because she's still stationed on Mount Vesuvius, as we learn later? And Ratface is...her transformed brother? 'Cause I guess having a regular ol' talking raven just don't make no sense, somehow? Also, now she wants Scrooge's dime not just to become "the richest duckess [sic] in the world," but to "take over the world?" What this would entail and why she would think the coin would let her do it never being specified? Guh?

All this pointless rejiggering of the character is very incoherent, and giving her a Russian accent is just a dumb idea--I mean, the character was designed physically after your Italian fashion models, and her sort of witchery just feels much more Italian than Russian (Geoffrey Blum created an actual Russian witch, Magda Marshbird, who plays the part much more felicitously). Still, she's kind of entertainingly flamboyantly maniacal.

Anyway, here, she enlists the Beagle Boys to help her with her skulduggery; to this end, she transforms them into simulacra of HDL (and herself, a little later on, into Mrs. Beakley), who try to steal the dime while Scrooge is being interviewed for a magazine profile by a broad Barbara Walters parody (well, she pronounces r's and l's as w's--whatmoredayaWANT?). There is confusion and even, I daresay, hijinx. It all feels strangely slow-paced, though, as if the writers weren't quite sure how to make this concept fill out a whole episode. Things get enlivened a bit during the finale at Vesuvius, as Magica's magic gets everyone gets transformed into a variety of animals and monsters at a fast clip--somewhat reminiscent of the duel between Merlin and Mim in The Sword in the Stone.

...and there's an incredibly weird ending: the ducks and the reporter fly away from Vesuvius in a helicopter; Magica is swearing revenge in the distance, to which they all simultaneously shrug their shoulders and declare: "she gets so carried away!" Is it a parody of hokey, self-conscious endings like that, or is it the thing itself? And is it supposed to be some sort of punchline? It looks like it's meant to be a one-liner of some sort, but it's not, I dunno, funny, or meaningful, or anything. A strange and infelicitous way to close the show out.

Anyway, a watchable episode, but nothing outstanding.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ducktales, Pilot Episode: "Treasure of the Golden Suns," Part Five: "Too Much of a Gold Thing"

Okay, don't expect me to update at this rate regularly; I was just feeling enthusiastic--also, these are quicker to write than the comics entries because they're more limited in scope and I'm not messing around with images or anything like that. Still, I'll probably go through the series at a fairly brisk pace.

This concluding episode in the serial isn't without its flaws, but I'm happy to say that it ends the serial on a more or less high note. It begins with Scrooge hot on the trail of the gold at this here Valley of the Golden Suns, with Sinister Foreigner having reemerged and also hunting it down. The episode creates a parallel between Scrooge's lust for gold and that of Sinister Foreigner (yeah, I know he has a name, but it pleases me to just refer to him as Sinister Foreigner all the time)--fairly sophisticated, you might think, but, well, not really; what this amounts to is that Mrs Beakley ceaselessly and melodramatically maunders about how Scrooge is in the throes of the TERRIBLE GOLD FEVER. Subtle it ain't. I thought the show might make a connection with "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone" and suggest that he might turn into gold if he keeps this up, but it never goes there. Nor is it at all clear why this particular quest rather than any other should trigger this TERRIBLE GOLD FEVER. Hey, I admire the effort, but I have to say the execution is kind of on the lackluster side.

Anyway, our heroes find the treasure, and the TERRIBLE GOLD FEVER reaches its height. And here, we see what I would call a genuinely great moment; certainly the best in the series so far: Sinister Foreigner overtakes them and lowers them into a pit of lava to do away with them; as they get to the bottom, it becomes clear that it's actually a pit of molten gold, and in Scrooge's ecstasy at this revelation, we see that the ultimate satisfaction of his lust would be to immolate himself therein. It's really just a momentary thing, but it is authentically frightening.

Then, the episode ends somewhat anti-climactically, as Scrooge is cured of the TERRIBLE GOLD FEVER, not by Learning What's Really Important but simply by realizing "holy shit, I'm going to DIE"--and suddenly, and very implausibly, he's totally cured and A-okay with giving up all this loot. Also, the show doesn't have the guts to kill off Sinister Foreigner by having him fall in the molten gold himself, in spite of the fact that that's obviously what's dramatically called for--I guess you can't kill off a character, let alone in so gruesome a fashion, in kids' TV (though a number of Disney movies have dealt their villains comparably unpleasant fates), but it disappoints nonetheless.

I don't want to overstate the episode's flaws, however, because for the most part it was very good; an appropriate climax and definitely the best so far. Makes me look forward to what the future holds in store.

Ducktales, Pilot Episode: "Treasure of the Golden Suns," Part Four: "Cold Duck"

"Cold Duck?" Seriously? That was the best you could do?

Can you just tap on a tuning fork and then use it to shatter glass and cause huge earthquakes? 'Cause I don't think you can, and the entire episode hinges upon this being a normal thing that doesn't even need any explanation.

In the beginning, we have HDL behaving quite dickishly, and using the aforementioned tuning fork to fuck up Beakley's and Webby's room (one of the things they break is the glass over a picture of Scrooge and two other mysterious dudes--does this signify anything, or not?). Then the action proper starts, and things get REALLY batty: it turns out Scrooge is stranded in Antarctica, where he went for the second half of the map to the treasure--how he knew that was where he had to go is unclear to me (did it have something to do with the other half? But that wouldn't really make sense, would it?). Why he went alone, on a raft, with no communications equipment is just as unclear. In general, I think it's probably good to avoid having your show hinge around people acting crazy and irrational for no stated reason.

But anyway, HDL, Launchpad, Beakley, and Webby follow after. And they meet a race of penguins. British penguins. British penguins who hate being surrounded by the color white all the time and thus beat up our heroes and take their non-white stuff and toss them in jail. Except there's one good penguin whom Webby befriends who helps them out. And the penguins have ice tanks with mechanical arms that hurl snowballs at their foes. Oh, and there's a giant prehistoric walrus who gets released from the ice with a tuning fork and wreaks havoc (the scene where said walrus gets on the plane and has to be removed may look familiar to anyone who's played Resident Evil: Code Veronica).

Anyway, everyone escapes and HDL stop hating Beakley and Webby. I still don't have strong opinions about those two, though I can see how the latter's relentless sweetness could start to grate. But really, this episode more or less just irritated me with its relentless wackiness. 'Course, I don't know what's coming up, but it strikes me as ominous that even at the very beginning of the series, they're resorting to these very forced flights of fancy. Reminds me of those old Ducktales comic serials, and not in a good way (wait...what "good way" could there possibly BE?). Just one part left of this first serial; I hope the show finds a somewhat more stable footing when the self-contained episodes start.

Ducktales, Pilot Episode: "Treasure of the Golden Suns," Part Three: "Three Ducks of the Condor"

This one introduces not only Gyro, but also Ducktales originals Launchpad McQuack, Bentina Beakley, and her granddaughter Webbigail--though only Launchpad has enough screentime to make much of an impression. You know, I kind of like the character, but I still have trouble understanding why Scrooge chooses a guy whose main ability is "not dying in spite of being a really shitty pilot" to fly for him.

As I said, not much to say at this point about Beakley and and Webby--the former is to serve as a governess for the kids, and in the interview segment I was totally expecting a Mary Poppins parody that never came. I do like the way the kids try and fail to fool her regarding which of them is which (the names seem to have normalized now, but I will still be on the lookout for errors!).

Anyway, the story here kicks into gear when Scrooge shows the one coin he was able to retrieve last time to some expert, who tells him that it's part of a bigger treasure, meaning: back to South America! Oh boy! This time it's the Andes, and I was disappointed the show entirely fails to include a "Lost in the Andes" call-back. Surprisingly, HDL are not included in this jaunt, though they (Scrooge and Launchpad) DO pick up Donald on the way. It's pretty clear that the nature of the animated character is pretty unavoidably determined by his voice--the show may center on Barks' characters, but this is most definitely not Barks' Donald, for better or worse (or, really, neutral, since as I said, I don't think anything could really have been done about it).

The bulk of the episode consists of our heroes trying to get a treasure map from a descendent-of-conquistadors who uses a coin like the one Scrooge has to keep the natives in thrall. There are condor-vs-airplane battles and whatnot. It's okay, if not spectacular, but it has to be said, the depiction of the natives is kind of on the racist side: they're nothing more than monosyllabic, superstitious children who are totally subservient to anyone who has one of the magic coins. If everyone was cool with this, I fail to see why it was considered necessary to censor various Barks stories for insensitivity.

Overall, I'd say this episode is about on par with the previous one; I look forward to seeing what the deal is with Mrs Beakley and Webby when they're called on to play more significant roles.

Ducktales, Pilot Episode: "Treasure of the Golden Suns," Part Two: "Wrongway in Ronguay"

Oh boy! Glomgold! Or, to more clearly indicate my level of enthusiasm here, perhaps I should say: Oh boy. Glomgold. My conviction that nobody has used the character in an interesting way since Barks himself remains unchanged. Now the character is a Duckburg inhabitant; whether it's true that this had something to do with wanting to avoid Apartheid associations or whether I just made that up in my fevered brain, I couldn't say. Really, it's probably for convenience's sake more than anything else. For what it's worth, I reckon this is the first time we've ever seen an animated version of the character.

The episode begins with the kids deciphering the boat-map in, quite frankly, an insanely idiotic way, to wit:

Hey! The name of this model ship isn't a real word! That must mean it's a secret code! Each letter must equal a number! And it MUST be a simple A=1 thing! And all this MUST provide the latitude and longitude of the treasure!

…come on, now. You guys aren't even trying.

Anyway, it's in South America, so our heroes head off in that direction, pursued by Glomgold and Sinister Foreigner. A certain amount of adventure ensues, though nothing that I found super-engaging. I DID enjoy the way the writers threw in a few of those bits you see in Barks comics where Scrooge alludes to his history ("My cattle ranch in Wyoming," "hunting uranium in Borneo"). Also, there are three clear Barks call-outs: the ship stranded in the desert recalls "The Seven Cities of Cibola;" Sinister Foreigner, as he's taking Scrooge's gold captain's hat, refers to it as a "golden helmet;" and then at the end (having lost a money-making bet) Glomgold has to eat his hat (okay, so it was Scrooge's hat that he ate in "The Money Champ," but still).

So this wasn't painful to watch or anything, but I did find it to be a bit of a step down from the first part. And frankly, it's difficult for me to see how they're going to drag this plotline out for another three episodes. But, I shall withhold judgment for the time being.

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 coëxist (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.


Hey there, foax. Now, I'm not exactly a Ducktales virgin, having seen the show a few times when I was small, either on video (good ol' VHS!) or at friends' houses. But I was never a huge fan, and these days I don't have much of a sense of the show. I've enjoyed the Lustig/Van Horn Ducktales comics, but those don't feel very distinct from regular comics comics--pretty much the usual thing, only with Launchpad replacing Donald. As for the Ducktales serials that Gemstone reprinted in trade paperback form, the less said the better. Haven't yet read the new material that Boom has published (waiting for the TPB--though from what Chris says, it sounds like a bit of a mess).

BE THAT AS IT MAY. I can't help feeling that if I'm going to be any sort of expert on anthropomorphic waterfowl, it would behoove me to watch the show. I intend to go write an entry on each episode; they're not going to be as substantial as the entries on my other duck blog; mostly just sort of my gut reactions. But it'll be fun, hopefully! I'm going to do at least one episode a week, and very likely more.

Q. How about the movie, Treasure of the Lost Lamp?

A. Of course.

Q. The blog doesn't specify "Ducktales;" it just says "duck cartoons." How about Darkwing Duck?

A. Um, maybe. I know it's technically a Ducktales spinoff, but I'm not sure whether it quite falls in my bailiwick--or whether, indeed, I'd have anything interesting to say about a Superhero-parody-type show. We'll see.

Q. Quack Pack?

A. Yes, in spite of the fact that nobody seems to have anything good to say about this one, I do plan on giving it a try.

Q. Anything else?

A. Well, the blog's name gives me leeway to dip into older duck cartoons if I'm ever of a mind to. But no specific plans at this point.

Q. How are you watching these?

A. Where available, on official DVD; where not available (because at some point, Disney apparently decided they didn't want a dumb ol' license to print money anyway)…well, I'll do what I've gotta do.

Q. Is the first episode going up right after you post this entry?

A. Yup! Let's go!