Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Thirty: "Scrooge's Pet"

Apparently, the writers decided that "The Lemming with the Locket" just wasn't a sufficiently generic title, so instead they went with…"Scrooge's Pet." Pretty inexplicable; out of all the things you can say about the series' titles--and I've said many of them--"overly generic" isn't one of them. And yet, here we are.

This is mostly a pretty straight adaptation of the Barks story, otherwise, with the expected revisions to make up for the lack of Donald, and, as befits the series' more cartoony nature, a somewhat more anthropomorphized lemming. There is one thing that struck me as being a huge, obvious enhancement over the original: instead of putting the locket around the neck of statuette of himself, Scrooge uses one of Goldie: a natural, logical, and Barksian alteration. I suspect that even Don Rosa would approve. Another thing of which I made note is that in the end, the kids don't try to get a reward out of Scrooge, as they do in the original--as perfect a summation of the differences between the cartoon and the comics as I can imagine.

Not a lot to say beyond that. The episode follows the story closely as a whole, if not always in specific detail. There are some amusing gags (the lemmings make a jack o'lantern out of a giant pumpkin as they charge by), and there's some decent interplay between Scrooge and Launchpad. I can't exactly claim that it set me on fire, though. I dunno…I guess my nostalgic attachment to the original is just too strong. And I definitely miss Donald's presence, as well as the whole surprising but charming bit about he and the kids suddenly being big fans of imported cheese. Still, the episode acquits itself fairly well as Barks adaptations go.

Stray Observation

-Those cartoon Scandinavian accents--gah.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Nine: "Horse Scents"

Note that the title is a completely meaningless pun--the episode has nothing to do with "scents." You need to have a single meaning before you can go for the double, people.

The idea here is that Scrooge and Flintheart are competing in the "Kenducky Derby." The kids come across a showhorse ("Milady") that likes to get photographed, only the owner's going to lose her due to non-payment of bills, so they train her to race in the derby to make some cash.

Can't claim that I was particularly taken with this episode; it's over-stuffed with a lot of incident that never really amounts to much of anything: here's Milady's owner! Here's the, um, evil oat-salesman! Here are the evil weasels (or possibly foxes) that Flintheart hired to steal Scrooge's horse! Blah! It's hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of apathy just thinking about it all.

In the end, Milady doesn't win, because HDL realize that if she did, the evil oat-salesman would get the money, so they get her to stop by making her think her picture's going to be taken. This makes the evil oat-salesman (I won't deny it: I do enjoy writing out "evil oat-salesman") angry, and so he doesn't want her anymore. Which makes no sense, because he never wanted her as a racing horse in the first place; she was just meant to do farm work. But it's an appropriately unexciting ending for a mediocre-at-best (very best) episode.

Stray Observations

-Webby looks pretty chic in her racing…hat…thing (you can tell how much I know about horse racing).

-One of the extras in the stands at the race appears to be Grandma Duck.

-I am always amused by the idea of one's domestic animals being "good" or "evil" to match their owners, as Scrooge's and Flintheart's horses are here. Like Battle Cat and Panthor from He-Man.

-Scrooge, on hearing that Flintheart's horse is in second place: "Ha ha ha--number two! An appropriate number for your horse, Flintheart!" Did he just call Glomgold's horse shit?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Right-Wing Radio Duck"

A friend of mine on facebook--who wishes, for inscrutable reasons that, when you come right down to it, probably just involve fucking with me, to be known as "Mr. Burl Ives"--donated money for Japan and asked me to write about this DD cartoon mash-up called "Right-Wing Radio Duck." She expressed surprise that I had not already written about it, but this may signal a somewhat incomplete understanding of what my duckblogging is really about, as I think it falls substantially outside my bailiwick. But hey, you have to dance with them what brung you, right? Well, I guess you don't have to, but it would be kinda rude not to, after they went to all the effort of bringing you. So let's have at it, even though I don't know that I'm going to bring anything particularly profound to the table.

So in this cartoon, Donald loses his job, gets his house foreclosed, and generally has bad things happen to him while simultaneously being terrified out of his wits by Glenn Beck. It's very well-done, no doubt; a whole bunch of cartoons are mashed together to sometimes-hilarious effect, as when Panchito appears as a representative of the creeping foreign menace (in a broader sense, the manic psychedelia of The Three Caballeros makes a good match for Beck's paranoid raving). Also funny: when Beck asks "how many Marxists, communists, anti-capitalists do you have around you on a daily basis?" and Donald, using a telescope, spies Pluto, Goofy, and Mickey in quick succession. They're everywhere! And when, upon the claim that "there are nazis in America," he looks out the window to see the band from "Der Fuehrer's Face." Ell oh ell.

So it's undeniably funny, but there's also serious intent behind it: in the beginning, when Beck asks "Do you feel like you're working harder and harder these days just to stay financially afloat while fat cats get richer and richer?" it's hard to object to him--because, really, that's exactly what's happening for more and more people. And the government is unresponsive--it really doesn't, to any meaningful degree, give a shit. So no argument there. People goddamn well should be pissed off.

What they shouldn't do, however, is let demagogues channel that anger into believing crazy things. The cartoon is very good on the sort of paranoia that people like Beck instill: They are coming at you from all angles and it's just one thing after another and argh. Do that enough, and you can get people to start believing that bailing out investment bankers is something that "Marxists" would do. Storming the castle with pitchforks is definitely the way to go; it's just that Beck and his ilk provide very poor directions for getting there.

Seriously, goddamnit, I'm trying my damndest not to think about politics lately, and then I get roped into writing about fucking Glenn Beck. Thanks a lot, "Burl." But hey, it's for a worthy cause. So I guess I forgive you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Eight: "Back to the Klondike"

I'm not gonna lie to you: I was pretty strongly prejudiced against this one from the start. If there's one thing "Back to the Klondike," the Barks story, does well, it's avoiding excess sentimentality; leaving exactly what if anything happened between Scrooge and Goldie as subtext was definitely the correct move. And I sure wasn't expecting that kind of subtlety from the episode, especially in the beginning when it so clumsily telegraphs its intentions: "Bah! If you ask me, this Valentine's Day business is a waste of time and postage stamps!" Scrooge fulminates, causing mass anticipatory groaning in the audience.

I'll say this for it, though: it could be worse. It could be a lot better, too, but the beginning, at least, is well-done. The depiction of Goldie is not half bad; she has a nicely brassy Mae-West-ish voice, and her introduction, as she vamps it up with a parody of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," gets things off on the right foot. She's appropriately rapacious, which is important. Then, there's a card game involving her, Scrooge, and the newly-minted villain, Dangerous Dan (any relation to Dangerous Dan McShrew from "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush?" Only in the sense that they're both take-offs from the Robert Service poem), and it, too, is well atmospheric. After that, it kinda breaks down, however--unsurprisingly, the vaguely sadomasochistic bit where Scrooge forces her to work on his stake has been excised; instead, she goes along voluntarily, which represents a rather abrupt and unexplained change in character for her.

Of course, while she's working there they fall in luuuuuv, and the only reason they break up is because the irksome and unnecessary Dangerous Dan steals the gold and makes Scrooge think it was Goldie--as opposed to the original conception, in which any feelings they might have for one another are buried under thick mutual layers of pride and general orneriness.

And then it's the present again and they make up after ol' Dan helpfully loudly proclaims his culpability in stealing the gold, and then it's all happy mush and a widely (and justifiably) mocked ending in which the puffs of smoke from a train form into hearts. One might, I suppose, argue that it was inevitable and necessary for the cartoon version to jettison nuance and subtlety as it does, but I'm not so sure of that--the show has certainly shown itself to be capable of those traits in the past. Objectively speaking, I think it's a fairly well-put-together episode, as long as you have a certain tolerance for the saccharine, but it seems undeniable that making Barks' ambiguous romance into an uncomplicated love story robs the whole affair of most of its richness.

Stray Observations

-Here's how modern-day Scrooge and Goldie find a new vein of gold: they're getting all nostalgic and sentimental until they start arguing about whether she stole the gold, at which point she opens fire on him and hits a rock, revealing the gold beneath. I would request that in the future, Ducktales writers, you not do such flamingly idiotic things.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Seven: "Micro Ducks from Outer Space"

Note that this episode abolishes the hyphen from "Micro-Ducks."

That story is a pretty good late-Barks effort, no doubt, but this has little in common with it. And it's pretty seriously flawed, structurally: the Micro-Ducks themselves play very little role, only appearing in the beginning and end and not making much of an impression. Instead, the bulk of the episode is taken up with shrunken Scrooge, HDL, and Webby trying to make their way to Gyro so they can get turned back to normal (pretty much the exact plot of a later Van Horn story, not that it's a super-original idea). One has to ask: why bother with the Micro-Ducks at all, if you just want to do Honey I Shrunk the Kids? The writers could easily have found some other contrivance to shrink the ducks. As it stands, the premise is just squandered. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Also, the episode sets up a thing where the kids have an ant farm, which Scrooge knocks over and breaks--we're apparently supposed to believe that our shrunken heroes are completely helpless until one of their pet ants ("Twitchy"--the meth-head ant!) shows up, but he doesn't appear to actually do anything meaningful. Most peculiar.

However, in spite of the structural fail that we see here, I have to say, the part where the ducks are trying to navigate the neighborhood whilst small is pretty fucking awesome--clever, exciting, and definitely the best Ducktales I've seen in quite some time. Man, if only they hadn't insisted on messing around with Micro-Ducks and instead focused more on their travels--think how much more awesome the episode could've been.

Stray Observations

-I fail to see why the Micro-Ducks would want to shrink down Scrooge's wheat instead of just taking a few kernels. I mean, I do see why; it's so that Scrooge can get rid of all his wheat, hurrah, but Scrooge's enthusiasm for even a super-tiny deal is quite charming in the original, and now that's lost.

-Funny how memory works: I had no recollection of this episode, but now I'm fairly certain I saw at least part of it back in the day--the bit in the sewer seems very familiar indeed.

-Launchpad calls Gyro "Gyroo." I couldn't say why.

-You know, spiders--even scary spiders with glowing red eyes--aren't trapped on their webs--there's no reason Shelob jr. here couldn't have given the ducks chase.

-Dammit, if you're going to have a Micro-Ducks episode, I want my Donald/Princess Teentsy Teen romance!

-In spite of the pointlessness of the ant-farm business, I do like the fact that HDL and Webby are equally enthusiastic about it--there's always this divide between them; you never (until now) see them all playing together like regular ol' kids.

-Would Scrooge really want to expand his Goose-Egg nugget? Given his nostalgic/sentimental side, I find this highly doubtful.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Six: "Bermuda Triangle Tangle"

Seems another of Scrooge's ships (carrying peanut butter--crunchy peanut butter) has gotten lost in the Bermuda Triangle (what, not the "Bermuda Triquackle?"), so he and HDL take a ship to investigate, helmed by the seemingly mentally-disabled Captain Foghorn, who is apparently meant to be comic relief but who is really pretty annoying and doesn't do anything significant in terms of plot. Cut that guy out, I say.

Anyway, they reach a stretch of thick seaweed, not referred to as the Sargasso Sea but obviously inspired thereby. A bunch of ships are entangled, and there are people living there. There is also a sea monster--a big ol' fish with tentacles--just straight-up chillin' under the water.

The captain--Captain Bounty, to be specific--makes dopey jokes and laughs a lot but also has somewhat authoritarian tendencies, as he keeps everyone pretty well under his thumb and doesn't want anyone to leave. He's also good at what he does, however, and looks after his people; he's generally a well-drawn character, and eventually, reluctantly, he agrees to work with the ducks to get outta there.

Yeah, the captain's definitely a high point, but the episode as a whole didn't grab me especially. It's not that it's poorly executed--aside from ol' Captain Foghorn--but I dunno...the central conflict just didn't feel especially compelling to me. Shrug.

Stray Observations

-When I saw the expanses of seaweed, I flashed back to the old Gregory/Strobl story "Secret of the Sargasso Sea." It has nothing whatsoever to do with this episode's plot. But I did anyway! Aren't you grateful for such penetrating insights?

-"The Bermuda Triangle? Gosh, that's the scariest triangle in the world!"

-Lighting hits the can of worms that the kids' were planning on fishing with. The worms make their escape. Only…instead of earthworms, they're inchworms. Who fishes with inchworms? Or are we to assume that the lightning effected some sort of transformation?

-"Do you smell what I smell?" "Peanut butter!" "Chunky peanut butter!" Impressive olfactory distinction, that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Five: "Home Sweet Homer"

"This episode features the return of Donald!"


"But he only appears at the very beginning and end."


So what happens is, from a photo that Donald sends to his relatives, Scrooge recognizes the gateway to "the lost city of Ithaquack," but oh no--their boat gets sucked into the past by Circe's time warp magic thing (that's what you call descriptive detail!). They rescue Ulysses' nephew, Homer (???--I suppose the idea is that the Odyssey is meant to be his biography of Unc?), and they have to get back to Ithaquack (sigh) in order to stop Circe from doing evil-sorceress-type stuff.

On the way back, they have a few Odyssey-ish encounters. Two of them have what strike me as pointless and somewhat irksome name-changes (Aeolus is "King Blowhard," Scylla is "Yuckalinda"), but it's all good fun, and the sirens--purple mounds with duck heads on top--are super-creepy in a somewhat Lovecraftian way. I actually think this is one case where the creators could profitably have gone two-part: the distinct lack of Cyclopes is notable, and an underworld jaunt could've been cool, too. And hey--if there'd been a lotus-eaters segment, we could've gotten the valuable lesson that Winners Don't Do Drugs!™ You can't put a price on that kind of moral edification.

The business once they actually get to Ithaca (sorry, but typing that alternate name is just physically painful) is a bit less interesting; Circe makes an okay villain, but really, there's not much to the encounter with her, and our heroes get transported back to the present in a sorta deus-ex-machina-ish way. All in all, though, this is certainly the best episode since "Top Duck."

Stray Observations

-Don't know what to make of the odd, tilting mailman at the beginning. I find him entertainingly absurd, however.

-"Baseball hasn't been invented yet. And neither has ice cream. Neither has school! Heh heh heh!" I'm not some sort of expert on education history, but I have my doubts about that.

-Gooslysses? Ulysswan? Ulysseagul? Yeah, I'm grateful they decided to keep it classy just this once.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: "Earth Quack"

It starts with an earth quack, birds and snakes an…oh, forget it.

If there's one thing I have had quite enough of, it's these stupid, nonsensical titles with "duck" and duck-related words shoehorned in. Stop it! Though I know full well you won't.

Here's the best thing I can say about this episode: it made me go back and reread "Land Beneath the Ground" for the first time in a while. It's real height-of-powers stuff. As for (sigh) "Earth Quack"--well, it follows the general outline of the original story fairly closely, but pretty much all of its richness is lost; the episode feels incredibly rushed and perfunctory--seriously, the ending, in which Scrooge's money is briefly lost and then returned--it looks as though a scene was cut out between these two events, it's so choppy. A lot of time is spent on the ducks' minecart rides into the abyss, which are pretty well-done, I guess, but that's time that could have been spent on more adventuring amongst the Terry-Firmians (needless to say, the distinction between "Terries" and "Fermies" has been abandoned), and more detailing of their culture. These guys were exuberantly likable in the original, but here, there's just not much to say about them--they're very bland.

This is one episode I think where Donald's absence is really felt--admittedly, it wouldn't have made a whole lot of sense to include Launchpad here in his place, but Donald played a key role in the original story, what with being drafted to duel the Terry champion and then tricking the Fermy guarding the trophy. With him gone, possibilities become much more limited. Of course, it's not like there would have been room for this stuff anyway, given how long the build-up is.

The episode wasn't painful to watch exactly, but it was a big disappointment. The writers definitely could and should have done better.

Stray Observations

-I saw this one as a kid, I believe, without having read the Barks story. That's probably why it took me a while to warm to the story; it just felt overly cartoony with the Ducktales association. And indeed, it IS one of Barks' more cartoonish efforts, what with the Terries and Firmies. But in a good way!

-The bit with Scrooge swimming in money at the beginning is pretty neat--I don't think we've seen him doing that in quite this way before.

-No more observations. Seriously, this is not an episode that provokes observation.