Friday, August 22, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 95, "Scrooge's Last (sic, a quadzillion times sic!) Adventure"

Despite its being originally broadcast on November 17, 1990, during the first season of The Disney Afternoon, it's hard not to regard "Scrooge's Last Adventure" as being the "moral and/or functional equivalent," at the very least, of the end of DuckTales' unexpectedly prolonged second season.  Yes, "A DuckTales Valentine" was broadcast during the 1989-90 season, but it was not originally a syndicated episode, appearing instead as part of an NBC special, in the manner of the edited version of "Super DuckTales" the year before.  I tend to regard "DTV" as inhabiting a sort of Limbo between the "second season" of Fall 1989 and the "third season" of Fall 1990.  (It's an open question as to whether it should have stayed in "Limbo" permanently, but I'll address that when I review the ep.)

Of course, "Last Adventure," despite its 1989 copyright date, could kinda-sorta be legitimately counted as a 1990-91 episode as well, thanks to the good offices of Ken "Kopykat" Koonce and David "Double Your Pleasure" Weimers...

Though, to be fair to K&W, the differences between "Last Adventure" and "Bearly Alive" (which actually debuted a few weeks BEFORE "Last Adventure" finally aired) are clearly more distinct than those between "Allowance Day" and "The Time Bandit."  The meshing of the two plots of "the main character mistakenly believes that he's dying" and "the main character participates in an adventure under the assumption that he's dying" is far more successfully executed in the TaleSpin episode than it is in "Last Adventure."  Joe Torcivia and I recognized this immediately, and, in fact, Joe included his own suggestions as to how "Last Adventure" could have been "fixed" in an Appendix to our complete DUCKTALES INDEX.  I'll highlight some of Joe's specific suggestions before I'm done.  The main point is that, unlike "Ducky Mountain High" and "The Duck Who Knew Too Much," the flaws of which became somewhat clearer to me upon repeated close viewings, we KNEW that something was amiss with "Last Adventure" from the off.  GeoX hit it square on the beak when he observed, "There's really two episodes here, and neither one gets the space it deserves."  Which is a real shame, as "Plot A" (not to be confused with "Plan B"!) represents nothing less than an historical departure for Scrooge into what Joe termed "the incredible world of bits, bytes, glitches, and microchips," a full decade before the creation of the Nephews' I-Team and such "thoroughly modern" UNCLE $CROOGE stories as "World-Wide Witch" (UNCLE $CROOGE #320, August 2003).  DuckTales fans may be permitted a bit of smugness when I note that, while these comic-book stories were panned by some readers who didn't cotton to the notion of Scrooge or any of the other Ducks getting involved with modern high-tech, no one of my acquaintance seemed to mind in the least Scrooge and Fenton's trip into the digital world, or, for that matter, Scrooge's earlier use of a PC and a word-processing program in "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity."

An ENTIRE episode devoted to the interface between Scrooge and cyberspace, if executed properly, could have been one of the most memorable Duck-related media moments of all time.  It also was certainly feasible for a good subplot to have been included; for example, Fenton's dogged determination to make up for the malfunction of the computer banking program could have been amped up a few levels, in order to show just how responsible even a bungler like Fenton can be when the stakes are high enough.  But, no, K&W just HAD to fall back on the trope of Scrooge getting the impression that "[his] old ticker is beyond repair" and he's doomed (and therefore needs to think about preserving his fortune for all time).  Adding to the "retreaded" feel of this plot line is the fact that the phone conversations that set up the misunderstanding in both "Last Adventure" and "Bearly Alive" both end with the same gag about "selling the spare parts."

In both "Adventure" and "Bearly," young characters' destruction of a precious inanimate object sets the plot-ball rolling down its well-established, Worry Room-depth groove.  Kit Cloudkicker is probably technically more at fault than the Nephews, given his more mature character and HD&L's well-established reputation for rule-skirting, boyish hijinks, which has been downplayed a bit for their role in the TV series but has certainly popped up on occasion in the past.  This is partially obscured by the amount and extent of the destruction seen on screen.

Both "Adventure" and "Bearly" also skirt the bounds of probability by having a "doctor who isn't really a doctor" break the "bad news."  But then, we get the moment of true divergence when Scrooge, the party directly involved, receives the dubious diagnosis, as opposed to Rebecca Cunningham, who is the affected character's boss.  Baloo subsequently gets the word from Becky, and the actions that follow  (to wit, Baloo daring to enter "The Bearmuda Trapezoid" and make one final bid for eternal notoriety) flow directly out of that revelation.  Moreover, those actions are entirely personal in nature, and, despite the ultimate introduction of the subplot involving Howard Huge and the Spruce Moose, would have limited repercussions on the world at large, whether or not they result in success.  Scrooge's decision as to what to do with his money, and his subsequent loss of said money in the computer, would have far greater societal ramifications (as we saw in a far more dubious context in "Yuppy Ducks"), making the lengthy delay in his finding out the truth seem all the more aggravating.  The fact that Fenton knows the real truth but never does tell Scrooge, even in the face of Scrooge verbally confronting his mortality on several occasions, also doesn't sit too well with the attentive viewer. 

Once "Adventure" and "Bearly" shake loose from the "dying" conceit, they both lay out reasonably well-crafted adventure scenarios.  The major reason why "Adventure" sustains more long-term damage is that it simply takes too long for the "dying" business to be cleared away, especially when one considers what's to follow in its wake.  Before that "one giant leap for Duck-kind," we have to trudge through a painful first act in which HD&L do, as Greg suggests, channel a number of the less attractive characteristics of the cynical Quack Pack Nephews -- with the added abrasion of the hideous "Plan B" crying fit.  The juxtaposition of the smarmy "false sincerity," the brute-force bawling, AND the po-faced dissing of "the good Junior Woodchuck thing to do" is terminally cream-curdling, to be honest, no matter what HD&L might (and, in fact, do) do later in the ep to express their concern for Scrooge and Fenton's well-being.  (I'm less harsh on the boys' disruption of Scrooge and Fenton's progress inside the computer when they start to play "Quackman." They couldn't have known what was going on at the time.  Even so, it might not have hurt for them to have asked who had been using the program that was currently running on screen before they went ahead and made the switch.)  Are the boys as bad here as they were in "Yuppy Ducks"?  No, but it's an uncomfortably close call.

The misled Scrooge's interactions with his household staff aren't much better.  Scrooge's reported comment to Mrs. Beakley -- "The way [you] look, [you] must enjoy [your] cooking" -- really does come off as, in GeoX's words, just about "the most dickish thing" Scrooge has ever said, and the "X is for wimps" joke didn't justify multiple repetitions, each of which is less successful than the last.  The confab with Fenton is a little more successful, mostly because Fenton's suggestion that Scrooge turn to computer banking really is a pretty clever idea (particularly in 1989), but, basically, we're just kind of spinning our wheels until the fateful moment when the "glitch" makes its appearance.  The brief scene of Duckworth crying, even though he hasn't been told by Scrooge why he should be crying, is the only bit that really works.  One of the few saving graces here is the early introduction of Scrooge's magnet-tipped cane, a classic example of a "small detail" being slipped into the picture well in advance of its ultimate use.

In a more philosophical sense, one reason that Scrooge's reaction to his fake fate never really rings true stems from the nature of Scrooge himself:  Scrooge resigns himself to his apparent fate much too easily.  It is more believable to imagine Scrooge, after he has absorbed the initial shock, doing everything that he possibly can to find a way to preserve his life against all odds, just as he has always fought to protect his fortune, not for its monetary value, but for its symbolic value as a reflection of his life of toil.  In Carl Barks' illustrated prose story "Go Slowly Sands of Time" (UNCLE $CROOGE McDUCK: HIS LIFE AND TIMES [1981]; later redone as a comic-book story in 1983), Scrooge goes to the trouble of seeking out a distant land of long-lived people in order to find the "secret" of eternal vim and vigor, only to find that he's known the "secret" all along, which is to love your work and take pride in what you do.  This proactive Scrooge is nowhere to be found in "Last Adventure."  Instead, we get a carbon copy of the fatalistic, almost dazed Scrooge of an episode like "The Money Vanishes."  Not until Fenton (rather insensitively) suggests that "there's nothing [Scrooge] can do" about the lost cyber-money does Scrooge snap back into form, snarling, "Never say that to Scrooge McDuck!"  Better late than never, but still... um... late.

So how could this "pre-computer" portion of the episode have been improved?  Joe suggested that a massive Beagle Boy raid on the Money Bin, similar in scope to, or perhaps even bigger than, the attack in "A Drain on the Economy" could have provided the setting for Scrooge's decision to seek a "terminally foolproof" way to secure his fortune.  Joe theorized that Scrooge could have gotten steadily wearier and wearier during the course of the lengthy battle, reflecting the cumulative effect of his advanced age.  Realizing that additional generations of Beagles are waiting on the horizon, Scrooge could then have made the decision to find an ultimate solution, giving Fenton the opening to suggest computer banking.  This would do away with the need for a "Scrooge thinks he's dying" context, would include the subtheme of Scrooge wanting to preserve his fortune for the benefit of HD&L and Webby, and would allow for a more thorough exploration of the world inside the computer.  Makes sense to me!  (A more modern take on this scenario, reflecting the more reliable software of the 21st century, might include Scrooge being worried about identity theft and subsequently fighting with a cyber-villain for control of his electronic fortune.)

Even though the circumstances are quasi-tragic, it's hard not to get through the "Fenton's disrupted demo" sequence without emitting a chuckle or three.  Fenton's exaggerated reactions are certainly a major reason why, and their combined effect is amplified by Alan Young's comparatively restrained, yet steadily more infuriated, verbal reactions to Fenton's obvious discomfiture.

Enter "accommodating source of miracles" Gyro, whose quality of performance here, after a somewhat up-and-down second season as a whole, can hardly be faulted.  (No, not even that temporary detour for the broccoli sandwich.  I'm speaking in technical terms here.)  Flourishing a soon-to-be-obsolete floppy disk, Gyro proposes to digitize Scrooge so that Scrooge can hunt for the "glitch."  Fenton then makes up for his mistake -- which, in truth, isn't necessarily a mistake at all, given that the appearance of the "glitch" couldn't have been predicted -- by demanding that he be allowed to accompany Scrooge.  His methods of persuasion include... *sigh*... "Plan B."  But his intent is still noble for all that.

And off they go into the wired blue yonder!  The "Cyberworld" visuals we see in Act Two and Act Three are appropriately impressive, though they're obviously not meant to be taken seriously -- at least, not as much as the visuals seen in Disney's original Tron (1982).  A "cyber-vehicle" -- the "Diskdrive," in Scrooge and Fenton's case -- appears in both cases, but "Last Adventure" interprets it as a literal nautical vehicle, swimming on an "ocean of current."  This is amplified when "Moby Glitch" reenacts a scene in Jaws (1975) and announces its presence by taking a chomp out of the Ducks' "butterfly net" (which the Ducks presumably produced in the time-approved "Toon" fashion).  Fanciful, to be sure, but a lot more satisfying than, say, the scenario presented in the 101 Dalmatians: The Series episode "Virtual Lucky" (1997), in which the computer screen is, in effect, a mirror, and the scene inside the computer is presented as a 3-D diorama, with the characters inside the computer able to talk to the characters on the other side of the glass.  Wreck-it Ralph (2012) was rather more successful in pulling off this latter conceit, primarily because the characters "inside" and the characters "outside" could not communicate in any way, not to mention that the CGI characters were rendered in 3-D to begin with.

The parallel plot threads of Scrooge and Fenton trying to find their way through an ever-changing computer environment and Gyro trying to dope out a way to rescue them are developed in a thoroughly appropriate, tension-tightening manner.  Ending Act Two with the "plug" literally being pulled on Scrooge and Fenton was exactly the right decision, not least because it allows for a glorious opening to Act Three, in which the "Cyberworld" literally reconstitutes itself before our eyes, climaxing with the reappearance of Scrooge and Fenton.  (Cleverly, and correctly, the Ducks are deposited more or less right back at the place where they entered the computer, at the helm of the "Diskdrive.")

Once Scrooge and Fenton "reach out and touch someone through the telephone system," things begin to get just a bit wonky.  Interpreting the phone wire as an empty tube is an acceptable metaphor, but it edges a bit closer to "diorama" territory than we had previously been.  The references to phone modems are probably the single most technologically dated aspect of the episode, in the sense that this material would have to be completely revised and updated in a modern retelling of the story.  (For example, Gyro would need a different manner of directly communicating with Scrooge and Fenton than literally talking through Scrooge's phone.)  Thankfully, the climactic, though sadly off-screen, punch-up (with Fenton literally getting eaten!) and Scrooge's belated use of the magnetic cane make for an exciting ending and a climax that Captain Ahab could only have wished for in his dreams.

Now, how to get our heroes and Scrooge's money back to the world of flesh and feathers?...

Oh, boy... This is all kinds of "inoperative."  Joe, who has worked in the computer field for his entire life, really didn't like the sloppy, almost defiantly lazy manner in which this was handled.  In his alternate scenario, following the defeat of "Moby Glitch," Scrooge and Fenton were threatened with extinction by the "reformatting" of the floppy disk, only for Gyro to pull their digitized tailfeathers out of the fire at the last minute.  With things back to normal, Scrooge then demanded that Fenton get his money out of the computer and back to the Money Bin.  Refreshed by his adventure, Scrooge then turned with renewed enthusiasm to his battles with the Beagle Boys, now realizing that "there is much worse" than engaging in continual battles with a flesh-and-blood foe.  Carrying this scenario out on screen would have required additional explanations of real-world computer terms, but it could certainly have been done in an imaginative manner.  Moreover, since the theme of Scrooge dying would have been removed to begin with, we could have been spared this unfortunate fadeout scene...

As was the case with the other members of "The Tardy Trio," "Last Adventure" could have been considerably better than it was.  The sense of loss is probably the most acute here, though, precisely because the core idea was so strong, not to mention exceptionally forward-thinking.  It was a shame that the idea wasn't given sufficient "elbow room" to be exploited to its fullest.

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"DuckBlurbs"

Believe it or not, The Disney Afternoon wasn't finished with the "mistaken mortality" trope once "Last Adventure" and "Bearly Alive" hit the airwaves.  Never a series to create "something new" when "something borrowed" was already close at hand, Goof Troop gave us the 1992 episode "Terminal Pete," in which Pete learns that he's supposedly dying and decides to make the most of his remaining days in Spoonerville by... becoming a stuntman.  What can I say, it was THAT kind of show.

(GeoX) …so why isn't this the last episode, then? Are they implying, thusly, that Scrooge Will Never Die? Or, more likely, was it planned to be the finale, but was shuffled around due to some desire to end with a two-parter?

It was almost certainly a clumsy attempt to telegraph the "dying" trope, but it wound up giving the wrong impression as to the series' future plans.  When I read the synopsis in the Gladstone DUCKTALES comic, I originally believed that it really was Scrooge's "last" adventure, at least in a DuckTales context.  That was why the appearance of new, 1990-copyright eps in Fall 1990 came as such a huge surprise.

(GeoX) If there's one thing I like, it's media about "cyberspace" from a time when nobody was really clear on what that entailed.

I think you've hit on the reason why Tron became such a belated cult favorite.  "Last Adventure" had the potential for cult status, too, had it not been for... well, you know...

(GeoX)  Note that this computer is actually in the bin, so now it's buried under huge mounds of cash--if Scrooge ever wants to get it out, he's got his work cut out for him.

Since Scrooge's home computer is in a convenient location (the workspace/TV room/conversation pit/etc.), it would stand to reason that his Money Bin computer should be in a similarly commodious place -- for example, next to his desk.  The Money Bin computer was situated where it was only because Koonce and Weimers simply HAD to have their lame-o, "money-gushing" ending.  Ugh.

(GeoX) "Nice game those Duckburg Dodgers had last night, huh?" The Mallards, the Stealers, and now a third baseball team??? Well, if the Stealers play baseball, I suppose the Dodgers can play football. You'd think there could at some point have been some sort of consultation on the subject among the writers, though. 

There is a precedent for a football team being named the Dodgers, so I'm going with the football theory.

(Greg)  Oh lord; how contrived and forced can you get? Are we supposed to believe that two nephews can destroy a grandfather clock THAT easily? Kit yanking out the compass in Bearly Alive is much more believable than this... And how did Mrs. Beakley NOT hear the noise?!

Well, if the clock is a fragile antique, I suppose that it would be more vulnerable to "mass destruction," provided that it was struck roughly enough.  As for Mrs. B., she may have been out of earshot, for example, down in the kitchen area near the breakfast nook.

(Greg) Scrooge answers the phone and yes; it's Doctor Glockenspiel (late Hal Smith in case you didn't notice)...

Actually, it's Hamilton Camp.  Likewise, Nurse Hatchett is voiced by Joan Gerber, rather than Kathleen Freeman.  Though she received a credit, Freeman apparently did no voices here. 

(Greg) Dewey wants to put it to a vote; and all of [the Nephews] put the money behind the[ir] backs and whistle. Memo to GeoX: I realize that you hate the fact that they betrayed the Woodchucks in such an insulting way; but seriously, the Woodchuck Guide Book has been such a hit or miss book in terms of creditability that at this point; the writers [have stopped] caring about it since it's already screwed up in this canon.

It's the principle of the thing more than anything else -- the long-established idea that HD&L, as GeoX says, take the ideals of the JWs very seriously.  They would probably do that even if the Guidebook were more fallible than it is typically depicted as being in the comics.  Carl Barks and the other people who wrote JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS stories certainly had more than their share of fun with the inflated pretensions of the Woodchucks as an organization, but they never depicted the boys as cynically playing with the notion of what they should do as JWs.  I still think that HD&L came off FAR WORSE during "Yuppy Ducks" when they abandoned the comatose Scrooge, but Koonce and Weimers' reuse of the "Not the honest Junior Woodchuck bit again!" trope here is one of the strongest suggestions to date that the duo have well and truly burned out on the series.  (They will, however, prove to have just enough gas left in the tank to make one more meaningful contribution -- albeit with considerable help -- before the curtain comes down.)

(Greg)  The nurse hangs up thus showing that she has absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever and then Fenton hears groaning and we head into the vault to see that Scrooge has somehow appeared on the area where the diving board used to be and now it's gone for no reason whatsoever. Not to mention that we never saw Scrooge walk in; so was he in the vault all this time? And since the vault is open; he surely had to hear Fenton insult him.

I don't have an explanation for this, either.  I can imagine Scrooge having a VERY explosive reaction when he walked in and found Fenton seated at Scrooge's desk!

(Greg) Scrooge goes nut[s] and swings the cane around getting off death reference #2 and nailing the cane right on the corn on his foot and yelping and doing the foot grabbing spot in pain. He clearly was aiming for Fenton and missed by a country mile. The "I'm not [about] to die a father!" makes no sense though; it should be "I'm not going to die pennyless in the gutter!".

Scrooge actually says "I'm not about to die a pauper!", which certainly makes sense in context.

Next: Episode 96, "A DuckTales Valentine."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 94, "The Duck Who Knew Too Much"

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that, prior to preparing these RETROSPECTIVES, I'd watched "The Duck Who Knew Too Much" fewer times than any other DuckTales episode.  (That, or "A DuckTales Valentine"; it's hard to say for absolute certain.)  There's no particular reason for this; circumstances just seemed to work out that way.  What is relevant to the present review is that any prior speculation as to the quality of the ep was based on comparatively sketchy personal recollections and/or what Joe Torcivia wrote in our DUCKTALES INDEX.  I was therefore sticking my long, scrawny Duck neck out just a bit during my review of "Ducky Mountain High" when I fingered "Knew Too Much" as "probably the most uniformly satisfying" of the three second-season episodes that were held over for the first season of The Disney Afternoon.  Having now gone over "Knew Too Much" with a finer-tooth comb... well, I would now like to qualify that statement a bit.  The ep's superiority to both "Mountain" and "Scrooge's Last Adventure" is no longer quite so clear in my mind.

Don't get me wrong... "Knew Too Much," like the other two components of "The Tardy Trio," is centered on a first-rate thematic conceit -- in this case, chivvying a bumbling Fenton through a scenario that wouldn't be out of place in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Despite the title, the ep probably more closely resembles North by Northwest (1959) than The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), if only because a good deal of the early action takes place on board a train.  However, despite the slinky spy Goldfeather's claim at one point that Fenton "knows too much," one shouldn't push any Hitchcockian analogy too far.  In both of the Hitchcock movies, the protagonists are thrust into intrigue through no fault of their own.  Fenton, by contrast, sets himself up for trouble by using chicanery (to wit: a phony case of "the dreaded purple-blotch beak pox") to sneak off on his ski vacation.  Once the initial dirty deed is done, the plot slips into a more familiar Hitchcockian groove, but, thanks to Fenton's original dishonesty, we have slightly less of an emotional investment in seeing him triumph in the end... at least, until the second half of the episode swings our sympathies in his direction and he receives due punishment for his "original sin" in the end.  The universe's balance is thereby restored, though Fenton might not appreciate the fact at the moment.

In three of Fenton's last four appearances of the series (counting "Knew Too Much"), he either doesn't use the Gizmoduck suit at all or has only a tangential relationship with its ultimate use. This strikes me as the DuckTales' writers' tacit admission that, when all is said and done, Fenton is truly more interesting than his Gizmoduck alter ego.  (One has to wonder how many more Fenton-only eps we would have gotten had the series extended beyond 100 episodes.)  Writer Doug Hutchinson (whose last animated episode of any kind this was, thereby concluding a brief, but highly fruitful, career with WDTVA) certainly takes full advantage of the opportunity; Fenton is in excellent form throughout, spouting quips, donning disguises, and acting the harried victim to a T.  The fact that we also get to enjoy Gandra Dee's most multifaceted and enjoyable role (just in time, too; it's also her last) is merely a bonus.  Not only that, the episode is surprisingly mature, touching on sexual themes more than any other ep outside the overheated "Metal Attraction," and perhaps deserving some extra credit in that human beings (or the Duckburgian equivalent thereof) are driving the "steamy engine," as opposed to a lecherous, crazed robot.  So, there is quite a lot to like here.

Unfortunately, we can't leave things at that...

... because this episode also features some of THE worst transition sequences the series has ever seen.  Greg brought a lot of these up in his review, but the "sitch" is, if anything, worse than he describes.  Throughout the first act and into the second, we are fed a constant stream of "WTF??  I thought that...??" moments that test, and ultimately break, our patience.  At the same time, the episode is acutely aware of itself, sometimes almost to excess, and the constant "nudge-winks" to the audience as we are trying to figure out "how we got from scene A to scene B" ultimately become a bit grating.  Thankfully, things get straightened out as Act Two progresses, and we get a thoroughly first-class conclusion in Act Three, but there is no way that we can entirely forget what has gone before.  Entertaining, to be sure, but unquestionably frustrating.

I'm not sure whether to blame Hutchinson or story editors Ken Koonce and David Weimers for "making the mess" (green jello and swizzle stick not included) here.  Actually, that's not strictly true. Since the final version of the episode is already packed full of incident to begin with, it is possible that Hutchinson originally included even more material, and, when K&W trimmed the ep down to a 22-minute length, they excised scenes that "seemed" unnecessary but actually provided for better transitions.  Or, perhaps Hutchinson wrote the script that we saw on TV, and K&W simply didn't bother to ask Hutchinson to tighten those transitions up.  (I prefer the former theory, for a reason I'll describe below.)  Other theories are possible, but I'm sensing that K&W may have been the ones who really fell down on the job (or into the jello-filled kiddie pool) in this case.

Despite the silliness of the whole Let's Make a Mess scenario, we get an early indication of the "mature matter" to come when the tackily triumphant Fenton "detumesces" in response to a kiss from the gleeful Gandra Dee.  The fairly hot "demo-babe" who suggestively swizzles her stick for the camera doesn't detract from the mood, either.  I do wonder, though: Since Mrs. Crackshell was watching the broadcast, shouldn't she have heard Fenton ask Gandra to "come ski with me"?  Wouldn't that have dissuaded her from automatically assuming that she would be going to Swizzleland with Fenton?

After Scrooge (who swings between grumpiness and cluelessness throughout before one final, glorious moment of redemption) violently rejects Fenton's request for vacation time, Fenton channels... well, Donald, Fred Flintstone, take your pick of any number of sitcom stars... and pulls what Major Courage would term "the old sickness ploy."  To his credit, Hutchinson handles the other characters' reactions to Fenton's invalid indisposition well.  Mrs. Crackshell warns Fenton of possible consequences (how responsible of her! -- though she will ultimately backslide a bit later in the ep), while Scrooge initially balks before being convinced of Fenton's illness for economic reasons (the possibility that Fenton might infect all of Scrooge's other employees, or at least those at the Money Bin).  Nicely played, Mr. Hutchinson...

... alas, now we get:

Bad Transition 1:  We jump from the Crackshells' trailer to the airport with NO explanation as to how (a) Fenton convinced his "M'Ma" to stand down; (b) Fenton managed to convince the jealous Gandra Dee that there was no "other woman" involved.  Leave aside for the moment the question of why the normally placid Gandra is suddenly so quick to don the green eyeglasses.  Presumably, Fenton had to go to or call Gandra just to convince her to get on the plane with him.  Here, though, Fenton is proclaiming his love for Gandra as they are sitting down in their seats.  Is this supposed to explain why Gandra looks so pissed off?  But then, why did she consent to board the plane in the first place?

Scrooge's presence on the plane is the first of many "near misses" that Fenton will have before the two finally meet again at the close of Act Two.  This would be more contrived if it weren't quickly made clear that Swizzleland is so tiny (with all the main settings of the drama located so close together) that the two characters NOT crossing paths would be less likely than them actually doing so!  Of course, some awkward contrivance will be involved, as well...

Bad Transition 2:  We jump from Fenton and Gandra getting ready to take off from Duckburg right to the train station in Swizzleland... or is it ACTUALLY Switzerland?...

... with no intervening scenes.  So how did Fenton and Scrooge miss each other during the flight and its aftermath?  One of them would have had to have gone to the "little Duck's room" at some point, no?  Or go to baggage claim?  Or go to currency exchange?  Or meet during the trip from the airport to the train station?  Or meet after Scrooge saw Gandra at some point?  After all, the two have met before, in "Metal Attraction," and Scrooge does know about Fenton and Gandra's relationship.

I'm willing to give Fenton a bit of a pass on making a pass at Goldfeather, because he was hit on the head by some luggage a moment before, and so his brains might still have been a bit croggled.  If this is an indication of the hidden depths of Fenton's subconscious mind, though, then perhaps Gandra has a reason for her "jealous-o-meter" to be set at "10".  (BTW, Susan Blu's "French" accent for Goldfeather has GOT to be the worst stab [no pun intended] at such an accent that I have EVER heard, even including Ruth Buzzi's horrific performance as Miss Ma'amselle Hepzibah in I Go Pogo: Pogo for President [1980]).  I honestly have no idea why Blu was allowed to get away with it.  Perhaps they thought they were trying to be funny, or ironic, or something, but it really is a distraction.)

The subsequent near-misses, hesitations, threats, and goof-ups on the train do have a number of bright moments, for example, Fenton pretending to be "suggestive" when he closes the curtains in his and Gandra's compartment, and a curiously dyslexic Scrooge continually misinterpreting the warning notes that a furtive Fenton tries to send him...

... but they also provide us with:

Bad Transition 3:  The frantic Fenton hides on a luggage rack in Goldfeather's compartment and then immediately hears and sees her below, talking to Agent X (the swizzle-stick magnate Von Doghousen).  Greg pointed out that Goldfeather would have no reason NOT to see Fenton when she went into the compartment.  I suppose it's possible that she sat down without noticing that Fenton was in the luggage rack above her, but then, you have to account for the fact that, when the rack breaks, Fenton falls down directly in front of Goldfeather, suggesting that he was on the opposite rack.  (Also note that Fenton appears to be looking forward when he listens to Goldfeather's conversation.) Questionable logistics, no matter how you slice things.

Bad Transition 4:  Fenton's notorious jump from the foreground of the picture inside the train onto the outside undercarriage of the train.  "Kids, don't bother trying this at home -- it can't be done, except by a trained Toon professional!"

Bad Transition 5:  Fenton and Gandra arriving at "Gducks" together at the start of Act Two, though we never saw how they made up after Gandra caught Fenton in Goldfeather's compartment and ran away in tears.  This is even worse than Bad Transition 1, or, for that matter, the scene at the train station.  Gandra actually saw the two characters together in what could easily be described as an intimate ("suggestive"?) setting, and Gandra had already been made suspicious of Goldfeather, thanks to the train-station incident.  Gandra's offhanded comment about Fenton "acting weird" doesn't even BEGIN to paper over the chasm here.

This is a LOT of oversights to forgive.  It's fine for an episode to have (in GeoX's terms) a "manic" pace, but there's "manic," and then there's just plain SLOPPY.  Unfortunately, we're not quite done yet:

Bad Transition 6:  Fenton knows enough (and why not -- he already supposedly knows "too much"?) to go to the Whizzle Swizzle Stick Factory to intercept Goldfeather and Von Doghousen, despite the fact that neither Goldfeather nor Von Doghousen ever mentioned the factory during their conversation on the train.  Nor does Goldfeather mention it when she asks the desk clerk for a taxi to go to "ze very important meet-ING."  This is the best evidence of all that some material had to have been cut or removed from the initial script.  It strikes me as highly unlikely that Hutchinson would have completely neglected such an important plot point.  Scrooge just happening to own the factory -- and, rather improbably, taking time out from supervising his gold shipment to do "surprise inspections" of "all [his] Swiz properties" -- is a mere "hop of logic" compared to this mighty leap across a canyon of unexplained deduction.

Thankfully, once we hit the factory, the episode FINALLY finds its webs and proceeds to deliver the intrigue and excitement we have been hoping for.  Fenton gets a chance to strut his stuff in several on-the-spot disguises and manages to remain undetected until the unfortunate incident with the sloppily slipshod swizzle-stick stomper.  (I'd ask you to "say that three times fast," but that joke, which isn't all that funny to begin with, is all but used to death during this sequence.  The earlier self-referential moments -- the real-life "idea bulb"; "Don't try this at home"; Fenton's warning to the audience that he does, too, have wits; the Alan Oppenheimer-voiced Von Doghousen dissing the code word "Oppenheimer" -- were cute, fairly clever, and generally isolated; here, the ep tries too hard to punch a gag over, in a textbook example of unnecessary "jackhammering.")

Once Fenton manages to explain things to Gandra, the pair turn out to make a pretty good team, so much so that I'd like to have seen them have at least one additional dual starring role before the series closed up shop.  Gandra gets most of the priceless moments; even her momentary lapse into inappropriate Spanish is made up for by the quick recovery into French.  Then, of course, she gets to show those hard-won "night school" skills by manipulating the giant robot mantis with ease.  Her ultimate ejection certainly isn't her fault, due to Goldfeather's possession of the remote control.  Gandra probably had as many "hidden talents" as Mrs. Beakley; too bad we never got to see more of them.

With the late-arriving Scrooge now a part of the good guys' team -- and "Gizmomamma" finally making up for her previous lack of attention to the ringing phone by bringing the Gizmosuit on-site -- Act Three whizzes by in a riot of laughs and generally impressive action, some of which is legitimately perilous.  The robot mantis legitimately does seem unstoppable as it "taps" the gold out of Scrooge's gold trucks...

... and Fenton earns some "gonad points" for daring to use the telephone workers' equipment to attempt to electrocute the mantis, putting himself in quite a bit of danger in the process.

Then, of course, "Gizmomamma" pushes all of the Gizmosuit's buttons (the last time we will see that particular shtick) and destroys the mantis, in perhaps the ultimate display of the adage that "motherhood is all about suffering."  In the end, though, you REALLY have to give it up to Scrooge for "getting dangerous," at least where the WDTVA censors are concerned:

Oddly enough, you could argue that Scrooge might have gotten the idea for the fake-gun trick from a notoriously feeble-souled comic-book story published during Western Publishing's terminal decline phase.  "The Jack-in-the-Box Plots" (UNCLE $CROOGE #193, February 1982, written by Vic Lockman, art by Pete Alvarado) found The Beagle Boys reduced to intimidating Scrooge into giving up his money by literally pointing fingers at him in unlikely places.  At one point, Scrooge moans that he can't tell the world about the Beagles' crimes because he would be too embarrassed to do so, and you can hardly blame him.

The late-episode rush is strong enough to make this episode a good one... but, as should be more than obvious by now, not as good as it could have been with a little additional care and thought.  The immediately subsequent "Scrooge's Last Adventure," like "Knew Too Much" and "Ducky Mountain High," will be a similar combination of conceptual gold and tactical dross.  Whichever episode contains the highest gold-to-dross ratio... well, that's up to every viewer to decide for himself or herself.  Myself, I think that it's a three-way tossup.

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) For this one, the seminal wikipedia article "List of DuckTales Episodes" claims that "Fenton uncovers an international conspiracy to steal Scrooge's gold overseas while supposedly on vacation." I defy you to tell me, based on that description, who is overseas, who is on vacation, and whether or not these two things are one and the same.

Hey, at least the description isn't factually wrong.  I wish I could say as much for the "official" DuckTales episode capsules that were published in Gladstone's DUCKTALES title.

(GeoX) The only real weakness is the ending, in which, [with Hutchinson] apparently unable to come up with anything really satisfying in the limited space remaining, Fenton comes down with the illness ("the purple-blotch beak-pox") that he was feigning before.

The ending may have been just a bit rushed, but Fenton did get his just deserts.  So there's that.

(GeoX) Fenton and Gandra have separate hotel rooms, I note. Yeah, it's a kids' show, I know, but still…could this have some relationship to the fact that he's so intensely--uncharacteristically, I would have thought--lecherous upon meeting the enemy femme fatale?

See above for my argument as to the possible source of Fenton's sudden bout of "lecherousness."  As to Fenton and Gandra's separate rooms... well, there's always the possibility that the two rooms are part of, you know, a duplex...

(Greg) This episode is written by Doug Hutchinson and the story [sic] is done by Ken Koonce and David Weimers. 

K&W are the story editors, actually... and here, it's a distinction with a real difference.


(Greg) So Goldfeather sticks the pistol in Fenton's face (WARNING! Toon Disney cut might be commencing here) and Fenton does the Peter Piper tongue twister to confuse her and he tries to bail stage left. But Goldfeather teleports in front of him and sticks the pistol in his face. I'm almost happy if Toon Disney cuts this scene actually. Almost.

It didn't.  To review: Waving blunderbusses about to no apparent purpose = OK.  Having a character meet a gun beak-to-barrel = No problem-o.

(Greg) So we finally head to the Swizzle Stick Factory of Doom which is on a snowy hill in Swizzleland. And there is a huge door below the mountain by the way which will probably be used by the end of this episode.

Curiously, though it would have seemed natural to have included a shot of the robot mantis walking through the door, we never actually get such a scene.  Instead, we see the mantis "emerging" from the shadow of the Swizzle Stick Factory hill and advancing on the surrounding countryside.  Apparently we were meant to infer that the creature exited via the door.

 
(Greg)  We see the stamping machine in a far view as Worker Fenton fiddles with swizzle sticks and then in comes a [pig] tour guide with some tourists which includes Gandra Dee who comes in last... The pig fur[r]y (who looks like that furry from somewhere I cannot remember at the moment) wants Worker Fenton to demonstrate since he's behind the control panel now trying to escape. 

It's Sevenchins Snootsbury from "The Land of Trala La."  Earlier, the Quack Maison waiter from "Down and Out in Duckburg" made an appearance as Scrooge's waiter on the train.  And, lest we forget...


Au revoir, Vacation van Honk, we hardly knew ye.  (Literally.)  And Quax is probably grateful that Gloria Swansong allowed him to go out on his own for once.

(Greg)  Fenton whisper yells that he's going to explain why he is here; but grabs Gandra and they run into the storage room with a No Swizzle sign on it. Why is there a sign? I don't know; I don't they will ever explain it.

I think it's meant to be a "Do Not Enter" sign.  The interdicted hand appears to be reaching for a door knob.

(Greg) So Fenton dials the phone and we discover that the motel desk man is known as the Italian Sn[o]b (6.5% of the people in Switzerland speak Italian so there better be someone German and Romanian or I am going to be disappointed.) as Fenton informs the guy that he has an important message to Scrooge that the Swizzle Stick Factory is a cover for a plot to steal his gold signed a friend.

The desk clerk isn't "The Italian Snob"; he is referring to the lodge as "Hotel de Snob."  (Funny, I thought the place was called "Gducks."  Maybe that's the name of the village in which it is located.)  And I think you mean Romansh, rather than Romanian. 

Next: Episode 95, "Scrooge's Last [sic!] Adventure."