Sunday, July 15, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 1, "Back to the Klondike"

Before we get rolling here, one quick note. As you can see above, I've decided to change the overarching title of this feature.  You can blame this alteration on my determination to maintain arithmetic precision.  DuckTales' "kickoff year" being 1987 means that 2012 is, and always will be, the silver anniversary year of the series.  Since my one-ep-per-week plan will obviously take us well beyond the end of '12, I decided to remove the numerical indicator.


Play along with me here:  Imagine that you are a Disney TV Animation exec trying to decide how you should commence production on your ambitious new series.  Everyone is still feeling his or her way (well, yeah, there are those who've worked on Gummi Bears, but you get my drift) and you'd like to get the series off to a good start.  You intend to take your inspiration from the works of Carl Barks, and, at this point, you have Barks' full complement of UNCLE $CROOGE tales upon which to draw.  You decide to pick a story with:

(1)  fairly extensive gunplay, including gunfire aimed at juveniles;

(2)  drug dependence (Scrooge's reliance upon medicine to jog his memory);

(3)  kidnapping;

(4)  sexual tension, coupled with implied cohabitation (so what did Scrooge and Goldie do when they weren't digging up White Agony Creek?);

(5)  a lengthy scene in the questionable environs of a "honkytonk";

(6)  heavy reliance upon an historical flashback.

For some inexplicable reason, this bear of a project gets green-lighted, and you begin beating it into shape for televised consumption.  Of necessity, you have to change some things; for example, the meds have got to go (at least at this early stage of the series; you'll get more leash later on).  Less justifiably, you undercut the battle of wills at the heart of Barks' story in favor of a more conventional "misled heroes vs. conniving villains" approach.  But you still retain many of the elements listed above, even amping some of them up to a surprising extent.  For your pains, you get raked over the coals by numerous Barks fans, and the criticism is, at least in part, deserved.  But you still merit some extra points for sheer chutzpah.

Boy, is this a choice episode with which to start our journey!

"And 100 mint sodas for me little partner -- Superdoo!"

Joe can attest to the fact that my original reaction to the DT "Klondike" was of the "recoil in horror" variety.  In my first written output of any sort related to DT ("DuckTales: A Review," THE BARKS COLLECTOR #38, June 1988), I went all "Comic Book Guy" on adapters Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron for turning the "unforgettable ambivalence at the end... where Scrooge goes bawling into the sunset, having just purposely given up his claim to Glittering Goldie (and feeling ashamed about it)" into the now-infamous "perching on a bear and smooching while heart-shaped smoke plumes waft into the sky" TV wrap-up.  My first draft of "Klondike" comments for the DUCKTALES INDEX upped the rhetorical ante, as I used the word "atrocity" to describe the episode.  Joe helped talk me "off the ledge" by making a few of the same points that GeoX made in his review -- yes, the adaptation took immense liberties with the original, but it did have its own inherent charms (mostly of the visual variety), and, given its self-imposed limitations and simplifications, it did manage to capture a fairly substantial piece of the ambiance, though certainly not the complexity, of Barks' original.  The intensity of my original reaction to the TV "Klondike" can be set down to the fact that I was still in the first, flushed stages of my enthusiasm for Disney comics, when "keep the canon unspotted" still had the feel of a prime directive.  It was a good learning experience; I've been critical of other products since then, but I've generally eschewed extremely over-the-top language.  If you don't agree that that's a good plan, then stop and reflect for a moment on the 10,000-plus-hit "holy heck" that followed my comparatively mild description of kaboom! DUCKTALES #3 as a "train wreck."

How did the DT "Klondike" give us "a little something extra," even as it changed the nature of Scrooge and Goldie's spat and introduced Dangerous Dan as the oily, altogether-too-obvious heavy?  Start with sex (no, I don't mean that literally).  Don Rosa's "The Prisoner of White Agony Creek," with its now-notorious "between the legs!" and "Crash, tinkle, tinkle *silent cabin*" scenes, has NOTHING on the DT "Klondike" insofar as sexual innuendo goes.  After the Goose Egg Nugget goes missing, Goldie offers to help Scrooge replace it by working at his claim.  And you don't see her going home after each day's work is done.  Did WDTVA really expect us not to put two and two together?  I see GeoX's point about Goldie's voluntary change of heart being a rather abrupt swerve for a character who has presumably been seducing and/or fleecing unsuspecting sourdoughs for quite some time before this.  But when sex is entered into the equation, Goldie's decision looks more like a plan to seduce Scrooge (for presumably nefarious purposes) that winds up backfiring -- by growing into love.

We may not get an animated equivalent of Barks' famous censored splash panel of Scrooge licking everyone in sight, but the DT "Klondike" also gets away with a surprising amount of stuff during the honkytonk scenes.  The wonderful "reveal" of a performing Goldie is a highlight, of course, but we also get a lengthy gambling session and some indoor gunplay courtesy of Dangerous Dan.  (This last was apparently trimmed at some point during Toon Disney reruns, as was the later scene in which Goldie threatens to "take another shot" at Scrooge.)  Again, consider that these fairly daring sequences were included as part of DT's first effort to capture Barks' world.   

The central conflict involving Scrooge, Goldie, and Dangerous Dan is, of course, not a patch on the tremendous ego-tilt between Scrooge and Goldie in Barks' story.  Even here, however, DT didn't completely miss the boat.  The idea that an old debt must be repaid is preserved; the difference is that Scrooge and Goldie can't agree on who should pay whom.  This approach has the advantage of both showing "newbies" that Scrooge is capable of less than admirable behavior and getting the audience on Scrooge's side from the start (since one can easily sympathize with him over the misunderstanding).   As great as it would have been to have seen the original, much more grasping Scrooge, it's not hard to see why the adaptation took the approach that it did.  Scrooge is going to have to be the lead character and "hero" for a good many episodes to come, after all.

Several aspects of the TV "Klondike" have not held up so well.  The Valentine theme really contributes nothing of importance to the story, save for providing an ending visual that has dogged this ep's reputation forever after.  (BTW, how ironic is it that the ep's first spoken words -- presumably, the first words ever recorded for DT -- consist of Scrooge saying, "There's nothing like a quiet evening at home"!  Well, at least he didn't say anything about feeling a hankering to join the circus.)  The Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, in its first animated appearance, is imperfectly realized, proving to be of decidedly limited help to the Nephews; it's almost as if the writers were considering making a running gag out of its fallibility.  Thankfully, they seem to have done a re-think after the fact.  Most troubling of all is the ridiculous ease with which Scrooge and Goldie accidentally discover that there is still gold on Scrooge's claim.  If the other prospectors truly believed, as Goldie says, that "all the gold ran out years ago," then the fact that gold is lurking several millimeters below the surface of a boulder suggests that those other guys didn't have a fraction of the gumption and stick-to-it-iveness that Scrooge -- even during his lovelorn and unkempt "hermit" phase at Red Agony Creek -- displayed during his time in the Klondike. 

All in all, for a Barks fan, the DT "Klondike" remains a decidedly mixed bag -- a dusty gunny sack containing a mixture of shiny nuggets and clinkers.  I respect what it does well and have come to tolerate most of its gaucheries and simplifications.  If I were a complete newcomer to the world of the Ducks -- and we must remember that the vast majority of people watching this for the first time in the Fall of 1987 fell into that category -- then I would probably give it much higher marks.  It delivers the visual goods and, for all of the eye-rollingly cliched aspects of the Scrooge-Goldie romantic relationship, respects the intelligence of the audience.

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We'll conclude with a little sub-feature which I'll call DuckBlurbs.  Here, I'll address various issues raised by other folks who've done reviews of the episodes.  In my case, that means calling upon the services of GeoX and Greg Weagle.  Note:  In case any additional comments of note are sent my way, I may update the remarks below. 

(GeoX) 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.

Cue all those aged prospectors simultaneously whacking their temples and exclaiming, "Shee-yoot!  Why didn't I think of that?"

(Greg) Okay; we cut to the seats [in Dan's honkytonk] as Scrooge enters as we cut to various furries including the guy playing the piano as it's an old manual piano.

Uh, it's a player piano.  He's playing a player piano.  The only other character that I've ever seen do that was Snoopy in "What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown," and even that took place within the context of a dream.  Said dream also was set during the Klondike gold rush.  Was the night life in the Klondike so boring back then that people felt the need to pretend to provide entertainment, even when they didn't have to?

  
Giving "faking it" a whole new meaning.

(Greg) So [Scrooge's decision to return to the Klondike] logically leads us to a far shot of a tunnel as the wolves are howling and a train waltzes down the tracks making good time. We then go inside the passenger cart as Scrooge and the nephews relax as Dewey bounces badly in excitement. Man; TMS' animation is stinking up the joint for some reason...

Actually, I thought that Dewey's bouncing here was quite charming, not poorly animated at all.  The bit didn't have to be included, but the fact that it was indicates that TMS was putting a little extra into this first effort.  I will grant you that they did mess up Goldie's beak movements earlier when she said "feather face."  


(Greg) We then cut to Dangerous Dan and Dan's partner (ah; I see he got his gun back and holster; no logic break there though) point their guns at the babyfaces inside proclaiming that he got the best of him again. Scrooge blows it off because he couldn't have done that. Except he's done it like three times already in this episode alone. Dan then blows his cover and admits that he stole his last shipment of Klondike gold as we get the flashback as we see Dan doing the deed which makes no sense since we clearly saw Dan's PARTNER steal it since in one of the shots; it was a dogsperson's nose. Logic break #4 for the episode and a bad one at that. 

Well, I looked over the shot in question, and it was hard to see any details on the face of the person who stole Scrooge and Goldie's gold.  More to the point, perhaps, there was no indication that Dan's partner (who never does get a name, but gets no fewer than THREE distinct voices, courtesy of Hal Smith) WAS Dan's partner at the time of the gold rush.  Did Dan, the bragging master of the honkytonk, really need an acolyte at the time of his first encounter with Scrooge?  I've always figured that Dan hooked up with the guy with the smelly aftershave and the appearing and disappearing Swedish accent long after the honkytonk closed down.  Also, TMS was consistent in showing Dan's cuffs on the unseen thief's shirt.  I'm willing to give TMS the benefit of the doubt on this matter until I see a shot that definitively establishes the dogsperson nature of the thief.

Next:  Episode 2, "Earth Quack."

21 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Ah, it’s just like old times, kickin’ back and enjoying your analysis of DT! This is gonna be a great week for blogging -- at the beginning AND at the end!

Funny thing , about ME talking YOU off the ledge in those bygone days. Over time, I’ve become less tolerant of DTVA’s flaws, than you. That was certainly true by the time of Goof Troop and especially Bonkers! Still love everything up through Darkwing Duck, and always will.

BTW, regardless of anything I might have told you in the ‘80s, you have always been right about the “Heart Shaped Smoke Plumes”. Or, maybe I just see it that way now, too – now that I’ve become more accustomed to seeing comic book stories I’ve loved most of my life adapted to animation! That was a “new thing” to me back then – and I would have forgiven many flaws just to see Carl Barks, or later Batman comics brought to the screen.

I also can’t believe that the “playing of a player piano” gag wasn’t done in SOME Warner Bros. or Tex Avery cartoon! It’s too much of a natural. KUDOS to DTVA (…Yeah, I know I’m giving them props here!) for doing the gag in such an understated manner -- as opposed to what Avery might have done in some western or gold rush spoof.

Well done!

Joe.

Comicbookrehab said...

I still have that book! I thought it was funny how they had Scrooge with gray side-whiskers. Man, those books were large - I also have "Master of the Djinn/Send In The Clones" - where Webra Walters was called Mary Query(?). I guess they thought Barbara would be on the warpath...:)

I wonder if the writers were inspired by the barfight in "The Looney Lunar Gold Rush" when they decided to include Dangerous Dan?...

Gregory Weagle said...

Funny that you mention the six points of assuring your show gets shot down. However; the problem is that DTVA already did a kidnapping plot way back with Bumblelion & The Terrified Forest (although to be fair; the Silvania has no intention of kidnapping Butterbear on purpose.).

The honky tonk scene was done with Ghost Rustlers and they make no bones about Hoppo's title as Honky Tonk Hoppo. And as for drug dependence: Scrooge's drug is money and let's leave it at that.

I do have to concede that this is the first DTVA series to have actual bullet shooting guns; although TaleSpin would take it up to a level so high that I wondered how many of the producers were members of the NRA.

With that said; I do concede the fact that one of the furies was in fact fake playing a player piano. I wonder if Clamantha's dad plays one in his spare time since he claims to be a flip-flopping pianist.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Fun stuff--you're making me feel sorta nostalgic for a show that played very little role in my life at a time when it would've had a really formative impact. I look forward to following these. Hell, maybe you'll even change my mind about some of my less-beloved episodes. Or maybe not! Let's not get carried away. Regardless, though, it should be a fun trip.

(I totally didn't remember "red agony creek." Double-you tee eff, as the kids say. Red? Is it on fire, or what? It's not like Barks just chose "white" at random!)

ramapith said...

"KUDOS to DTVA... for doing the [player-piano] gag in such an understated manner..."

Frankly, I suspect it's "understated" because nobody realized it was a gag. Someone along the line said "an old-fashioned piano looks like this," and nobody else realized playing it was superfluous.

I'll let everyone else give the benefit of the doubt to a series that, while promoted as a tribute to Barks, was often actually animated straight from 1970s Tony Strobl model sheets.
A series whose makers looked at "Back to the Klondike" and "The Horseradish Story" and "The Status Seeker" and decided that what these stories needed were such "understated" additions as a caveman, a dinosaur, and two prehistoric female stereotypes. Why not throw in the Great Gazoo and call it a day? (No, wait—they did create that character called "Alien Duck" that they ended up not using...)

Of course, I'm Grinch-ishly ignoring how much I love Launchpad, how much I like Fenton, and how darned good many episodes still were made. I enjoyed quite a lot of DuckTales, and feel great comics can still be spun off of it today.
(And there were plenty in the old days, too.) I just say—it's possible to overlook its typical 1980s cartoon weaknesses a little too often. :innocent:

Daniel J. Neyer said...

To be fair, Rampaith, the caveman and the dinosaur weren't in the Klondike, Status Seeker, and Horseradish Story adaptations. I'm one of those who really only cares for Ducktales' first season, since Bubba and Gizmoduck were just to un-Barksian and gimmicky for me to accept. The show's first season, however, had many more hits than misses as far as I'm concerned.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

What you say is true, but the ghastly hash that the show's creators made of the Horseradish Story suggests that the creators had an intermittent-at-best understanding of what made Barks great.

And as far as "gimmicky and un-Barksian things" go, I think once you've accepted the show's themed Beagle Boys, you've pretty well decided that gimmickiness and un-Barksian-ness (there's a word) are perfectly fine.

Joe Torcivia said...

David:

If they were “animated from Tony Strobl model sheets”, why did so many of the dog-face characters look as if they were drawn by Kay Wright? Anyone else have that impression?

Chris Barat said...

CBRehab,

I never saw those books. Where were they sold? They must have been in production fairly early on

It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that someone was inspired to create Dan based on a reading of a different Barks story. DT occasionally "lifted" bits and pieces of Barks stories for use in unrelated plot lines. Classic examples of that would be the "giant Bin mover" and money-dam scenario from "Only a Poor Old Man" in "Liquid Assets" and the bombastium in the "Time is Money" serial. In fact, while reading the "Seven Cities of Cibola" story in the new Fantagraphics Barks collection, I began to wonder whether Captain Ulloa's "abandoned ship in the desert" might not have inspired the treasure ship in "Golden Suns" in some way!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

David,

"Two prehistoric female stereotypes"? I'm confused... Are you referring to compadres of Bubba and Tootsie? The wild women from "Launchpad's First Crash"? Mrs. Beakly and Webby?

And who's this "Alien Duck" to whom you refer? I know of Quacky McSlant and Vacation Van Honk, but I've never heered tell of any "Alien Duck" slated for the DT cast.

Chris

Daniel J. Neyer said...

Hold on thar, GeoX; the DT Beagle Boys might not have been like the comics ones, but they were still felt like fairly natural parts of the Duck universe (as you've noted before, Vic Lockman and others created--a few too many--"specialty" Beagles.

I suspect the main reason the Beagles were individualized for the show is because of an old animation principle, one Disney animators seem to pay particular attention to--it's considered bad practice, in a visual medium, to have so many characters who look alike. This goes all the way back to 1937 and Disney's individualization of the Seven Dwarfs.

The studio was committed to Huey, Dewey, and Louie looking alike, since they were one of the few exceptions to the rule back in the old days--but notice that even they were colored differently, as opposed to the Barks versions. I suspect the animation team drew the line at having another and larger set of look-alike characters--color-coordinated ones, yet. I'd love to hear from Mike Peraza or some of the other folks who worked on the show and see if this theory is correct.

As for Gizmoduck and Bubba--adding a superhero and a caveman as REGULAR CHARACTERS instead of one-shot characters just smacks of desperation to me--execs thinking, "this will pull more kids in to the show." I will admit to liking Fenton as a character, but feel that his alter ego made too easy of a "deus ex machina" for the second-season writers.

Ryan Wynns said...

For whatever reason, during the the first season's premiere run (I was in kidnergarten), this episode really stood out to me, and for the next couple of years, was one of the most memorable.

Flash forward 25 years, and saying that DuckTales schmaltzy ending pales in comparison to Barks' brilliant psycho-drama doesn't even begin to account for it. Still, the episode has its merits: the flashback is a decent animated adaptation of Barks', even sans the legendary brawl scene. And the rugged, rustic, dangerous frontier ambience is respectably conveyed.

Geo: DuckTales' Beagle Boys were the first Beagle Boys I knew, but even though I now would prefer a conception of the Beagles faithful to Barks', I still accept DT's version. But I would never accept Scrooge being "pimped out" with lots of "bling" and a "sweet ride", nor the nephews being a bunch of slackers habitually wearing baggy, fluorescent clothing ... which actually happened with the advent of Quack Pack, and I would've found it revolting even if I'd only ever known DuckTales and never seen a single panel drawn by Barks'. I understand your objection to the DT Beagles, but I just don't think that you're "you'll accept anything, then" caveat holds.

-- Ryan

ramapith said...

Oops! Or should I say—double oops!

First clarification: Chris, I was referring to Mrs. Beakley and Webby.

Second clarification: his name was really Space Duck (my error), and his creation was documented here.

Pete Fernbaugh said...

Hey Chris,

Those books were from Mallard Press (ironically enough), and they were beautifully done. My grandmother bought them for me one Christmas, and I still treasure them despite the wear and tear.

I'm trying to remember how many there were...I think six.

There was "Armstrong the Robot and Earthquack"; "Dinosaur Ducks and Jungle Duck"; "Back to the Klondike and Superdoo!"; "Masters of the Genie and Send in the Clones"; "Sphinx for the Memories and Sir Gyro Gearloose"; and "Sweet Duck of Youth and Double-O-Duck."

I remember they were pretty pricey at the time; the distinctive feature of each book was seeing Scrooge's whiskers colored grey. I've always kinda liked that.

I think you can find them online for fairly reasonable prices.

Pete

Pete Fernbaugh said...

Hey Joe and ramapith:

I've never seen Tony Strobl or Kay Wright in the DT designs. Those are interesting observations. I'll have to go back and look/compare.

Speaking as someone who saw the Bubba miniseries as a kid, I always thought he was pretty cool. I had a harder time accepting Fenton/Gizmoduck since I felt he and Giz took over the show, but it didn't take me long to really enjoy Fenton's blustery presence. I especially enjoyed his Ma.

They really didn't know what to do with Bubba post-"Time is Money," which is probably why Scrooge (ahem...Scooge) should have sent him back to his own time. But that's getting ahead of where Chris and I are in our retrospectives...

Pete Fernbaugh said...

One other note...I've never had a hard time accepting that the DT ducks and the Barks ducks are two different "takes" on the same characters. Because I didn't discover Barks until later in my childhood post-DT, I don't think I feel as beholden to him as other fans do, and I'm not as offended when his canon is violated. There are Barks ducks. Rosa ducks. Van Horn ducks. DT ducks. Scarpa ducks. The early Disney ducks.

Etc. etc. etc.

Part of what makes these characters eternal is their ability to be spun and woven in different ways. It's how they survive and reinvent themselves to stay current and fresh.

Even the most sacred of fictional canons, STAR TREK, is experiencing this regeneration (heh...STAR TREK: THE NEXT REGENERATION). The franchise was dying, and it needed a swift kick in the continuity, which J.J. Abrams provided (fault-ridden thought it may have been).

Over on the superhero side of things, this happens all of the time. Christopher Nolan's take on Batman is different from Bruce Timm's take. Yet. They're both valid versions of the same Bob Kane character.

That's how I view Barks and DT. DT may have drawn inspiration from him, but that was just a starting point. As the series progressed, the writers became less and less dependent on Barks' work as they found their own "voice" or "quack" or whatever.

I see all of this as a good thing, and I hope Disney gets its act together and produces a whole 'nother take on the ducks. Soon, please!

Comicbookrehab said...

Chris:

I remember the books were sold at a bookshop at Astor Place in NYC that got creamed when Barnes & Noble opened a large store across the street. They only had the one pictured and the Send In the Clones/Masters of the Djinni that I mentioned, but the back cover also promoted further volumes, like Armstrong/Earthquack. Each volume adapted two episodes in storybook form. I've got to dig them up and check. It's one of those "if you were there, you got one" kind of moments; I wouldn't have known about the Little Golden Books, either if I wasn't visiting the book section of the toy stores. There's one book, where the nephews plan a surprise party for Scrooge by leaving a trail of pennies for him to follow - neat stuff like that.

I'm convinced the Captain from "Golden Suns" was inspired by the antagonist in "King Scrooge the First"! The decision to redesign him was probably to not confuse viewers into thinking he was a Duck Family relation.

Comicbookrehab said...

Everyone:

I recall that the designs were based on pre-production/developement by Romano Scarpa - there's a test film on youtube with animation by him of Scrooge and the nephews (in their woodchuck hats) diving into tresure coins in an Aztec pyramid before the Beagle Boys show up.
In fact, the dome on top of the money bin and the cobblestone streets in Duckburg are a dead giveaway that we had input from our overseas friends.

That's not to say that Tony Strobal couldn't have been involved,but his ducks tended to look more compact and "pinched", whereas Scarpa's looked like they could be squashed and stretched, which is how they often looked on the show...did he draw "The Incredible Golden Iceberg"? In that story Magica De Spell looks a lot like how she appeared in Ducktales.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Hold on thar, GeoX; the DT Beagle Boys might not have been like the comics ones, but they were still felt like fairly natural parts of the Duck universe (as you've noted before, Vic Lockman and others created--a few too many--"specialty" Beagles.

To which I say, *double* hold on thar! Sure, seventies comics did all sorts of specialty Beagles, but seventies comics were frequently *gimmicky as hell,* and not at all what anyone means by "Barksian." Unless you think perhaps it would've been Barksian to see guest appearances by Mad Madam Mim or Moby and Dimwitty :p

Chris Barat said...

David,

Space Duck, eh? Why not just use the Micro-Ducks as semi-continuing characters? And I don't mean the blandish Micros used on TV -- I would include Princess Teentsy Teen among others. Now that might have been fun, provided that you could have figured out a reason for the Micros and Scrooge to have regular contact (aside from the Micros getting a shipment of grain from Scrooge every X years).

I would venture to guess that a Space Duck character would have lent himself (itself?) to more story ideas than did Bubba. But adding such a character would probably have made the later episodes even cartoonier than they actually were... especially if Gizmoduck had been the other new face.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

I posted that Scarpa clip some time ago, but it seems to have vanished into the ether, or whatever.

Strobl drew "The Incredible Golden Iceberg." One of the better non-Barks Duck tales of the 60's, I'd say.

Chris