Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 5, "Scrooge's Pet"

After a brief break to watch the Olympics and attend to other pressing matters, it's time for me to polish off my last hunk of "good imported cheese," pull up to the computer, and revisit DuckTales' first truly successful adaptation of a Carl Barks story.  Now, in all honesty, it would have been pretty hard for DT not to have presented a reasonably faithful version of "The Lemming with the Locket."  The plot of Barks' story is simple, many of its scenes are easily translatable into animated form, Donald's role is generic enough that it's easy to insert Launchpad as his replacement, and some of the changes made to the Barks version represent legitimate improvements, at least on an objective level.  Heck, even though what GeoX calls the "surprising and charming" theme of Donald and HD&L enjoying the Norwegian cheese is dropped, there are enough additional references to cheese in the episode to make me think that adapter Jack Enyart (who claims on his Web site that he "developed Disney's first TV cartoon" DuckTales...[sic?!?!]) was trying to do even that little detail some sort of justice.  No, despite the inexplicable lack of a story credit for Barks and a few other logical holes, the literary aspects of this episode aren't the problem.  A fresh viewing, however, reveals a fairly egregious animation mistake that serves to bollix up the climax a bit (and, to be fair to the animators, may have been triggered by a writing decision).  Then, of course, there's that distressingly bland title...

Apart from being unnecessary -- would "The Lemming with the Locket" really have been THAT hard for viewers to understand? -- the change is somewhat misleading, because Lucky the lemming literally doesn't have time to be Scrooge's pet.  All that Lucky does is try to eat Scrooge's cheese sandwich, get the locket entangled about his neck, and then lead the Ducks on the merry chase to Scandinavia.  Honestly, calling the ep "Scrooge's Potential Pet" would have made more logical sense.

Right off the reel -- an apropos expression to use when the opening scenes deal with a fishing trip -- we get two improvements on the original, as Scrooge uses a statue of Goldie on which to hang the locket (Dangerous Dan's honkytonk had a gift shop?) and the pet-seeking kids meet Lucky through Barnacle Biff the sailor, as opposed to the little guy simply showing up in the Ducks' lunch bag.  I'd posit that we also get an improvement on past (and future) series practice, as Webby wears a charming sun hat over her standard bow.  I think that this headgear is quite becoming on her, and I wish that it had been used more often.  At the very least, its use would have given pause to those carping critics who used Webby's "cute widdle pink bow" as one of the excuses to loathe her.

I am less enamored of how Enyart handled the "replacement vault" business.  Barks used the first page and a half of his story to let us know in advance WHY losing the combination would be a big deal (at least until Scrooge had time to memorize it).  The way it's presented in "Scrooge's Pet," however, Scrooge's new vault door appears to be... well, just another vault door.  It's not made of "impervium metal," or super-wax, or Protectoglass, or anything like that.  Greg makes the obvious point that Scrooge should at least have considered drilling the door.  Later in the series, Big Time Beagle will use a giant can opener to cut into the vault, so, really, how hard could it be?

Enyart provides another unfortunate "dumbing down" of a Barks bit when the Ducks and Launchpad fly to Novay.  Barks had the Ducks first attempt to reach the Moony Gull with a helicopter, then decide to wait until the ship enters a port and take a plane to that location.  All very logical, you'll agree.  The DT version gives us the awkward business in which Launchpad tries to fly Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby to Novay in a helicopter without the necessary fuel on board... and then continues on his way even after Scrooge loudly points out the grotesque absurdity inherent in this procedure.  Ah, I know why Enyart did this; so that we could have a "crash sequence" involving Launchpad and do a tribute to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Edgar and Chauncey (or is that The Flintstones' Oley and Sven -- I can't decide) with the two dock-loitering Novaygians.  I don't think that the egregious logic break was worth it, especially since everyone wound up getting wet as a result.

The interesting thing about the chase on board the Moony Gull -- which is exceptionally faithful to Barks, probably because the duplication of the sight gags was a natural thing to do -- is that Lucky, who is (as GeoX notes) somewhat more anthropomorphic than Barks' unnamed lemming, actually displays less personality than the latter critter.  Barks' lemming purposely bites Scrooge several times, causes HD&L to fall off the rigging, sneaks its way into some would-be cheese bait, and even appears to trigger the harpoon gun of its own accord.  Most of the damage that Lucky causes is purely accidental.  I also wonder whether HD&L's fall was edited out of "Scrooge's Pet" because the DT crew didn't want to show the boys in such active peril.  At least, not yet.

Then we get our lemming stampede, which is generally well-animated, despite the occasional reliance on "moving brown blobs."  (To be fair, in his splash panel on p. 15 of the original story, Barks was forced to resort to such a device as well.)  For the life of me, I can't understand why the Novaygians and the inhabitants of Herringtail aren't better prepared for this predictable onslaught of ravenous rodents.  Why not start moving out furnishings, food, and so forth SEVERAL MONTHS before the lemmings' expected arrival time?  Forget the "cartoony Scandinavian accents"; this is a real insult to the inhabitants' intelligence... though I suppose that they come off a little better than the Ronguayians who fled the once-a-century Monsopis during "Treasure of the Golden Suns."

Unfortunately, after the (lemmings') fall is over and Scrooge appears to have lost his fortune, some lazy animated scenario-setting trips the story up in a BIG way.  Earlier in the episode, we saw the kids hanging up their cheese for safekeeping, just as HD&L did in "The Lemming with the Locket":


As the supposedly defeated Ducks plod their way dockwards, we get a POV shot of the scene from the opposite direction:

Say, where'd that broken shutter come from?  And where'd the drainpipe go?  No, those are not the problem.  What follows the recovery of the locket, and Lucky's subsequent tumble out of the cheese, IS:



There's the "ladder to the cheese" that you missed, Greg!  It's not surprising that you overlooked it, because it appears from OUT OF NOWHERE.  Honestly, it would have made more sense for Lucky to have clambered up the pole on the left and gotten to the cheese that way.  I think that this screw-up was an indirect casualty of the decision to excise the Barks scene in which two of the Nephews discover that the lemming has built a ladder under the cheese, find the lemming stuck inside, and then decide to hold off on revealing all to Scrooge until they've tried to get some kind of reward out of their uncle.  That scene only "worked" because the boys had gone ahead of the other Ducks to recover the cheese.  Since the Ducks were moving as a group in the animated version, the only way to have preserved the original's "surprise reveal moment" was to refrain from showing the ladder at first.  If only Enyart had had the guts to go with the original version, its somewhat negative depiction of the Nephews and all!  But I suppose that it would have been foolish to have expected the HD&L of an early DT episode to display such naked opportunism.  Now, if this episode had taken place after the events of "Dangerous Currency"...

"Cool beans!  I musta rubbed off on those guys!" -- Gosalyn Mallard

Both Barks and DuckTales soft-pedal the ultimate fate of the lemmings, though DT handles it in a somewhat squishier fashion by having Webby refer to Lucky and the other lemmings being "back in Novay."  So they're simply swimming around in the ocean, happy as clams?  Right.  The early-series temptation to play things a bit safe is on display here, as it is at several other points during the episode.  I give Enyart full credit, however, for recognizing that the best way to handle an adaptation of a Barks story was to let as much of the original effort "speak for itself" as possible -- albeit in a somewhat goofier manner.

.

.

.

"DuckBlurbs"

A Note on Place Names:  This episode is the first notable example of DT's occasional tendency to replace a real place name with a fanciful placeholder.  Later examples include "Great Written" in "Much Ado About Scrooge" and the use of "Emerald Isle" as a euphemism for Ireland in "Luck O' the Ducks."  The strange thing about this is that the series didn't seem reluctant to use real place names at other times: England, Scotland, Greece/Troy, Panama, Singapore, Greenland, Malaysia, the Bermuda Triangle, Egypt...  I put this down to the sheer diversity of writers who worked on the first-season episodes.

(GeoX) There's some decent interplay between Scrooge and Launchpad.

This was one of the better points about the episode -- at least when I watched it the first few times.  Now that I have seen it in its proper order, I'm not quite so sure.  In "Micro Ducks from Outer Space," we got all those insults directed at Gyro by Scrooge.  Here, Scrooge takes a steady stream of shots at LP.  Hey, I realize that LP is a tempting target and sometimes brings comical condemnation on himself, but an unpleasant pattern seems to be developing here.  Thankfully, future barrages of insults will not be as "concentrated" as they were in this episode.

(Greg)  As for Captain Frye; and while Chris doesn't have an official confirmation on this; it is supposed to be the debut of the late Phil Hartman (although USIMDB has it as a Sea Captain only)...

Yes, and I think he voiced at least one of the Novaygians who spoke.  He may have been one of the dock loiterers (the other one was definitely Alan Young) and/or the running guy with the plant.  Captain Frye's gravelly voice appears to have been something of a stretch for Phil, given what we know about his work on The Simpsons



(Greg)  Now despite the obvious stupidity of Scrooge McDuck; this was a really good episode although the pacing could have been a bit better. Launchpad was his usual smooth self and while I like the entire episode premise; it did make Scrooge look stupid. As I said several times; he got upset over nothing in the context of the episode. Now if the locket was the main focus because of his relationship with Goldie; the whole episode would have been awesome and it would have made Scrooge look a lot better than him simply losing his money. As I said; blaming the nephews and Webby was silly because Scrooge could have memorized the locket during lunch or drill the vault combination off and the episode would have been resolved either way.

I think that Scrooge's perceived "overreaction" was more a result of Enyart not setting up the nature of the new vault door properly than anything elseAll Enyart needed to do to fix the problem was to trim or shorten one or two of the scenes with the kids at the dock and replace them with some sort of clear explanation about the vault's supposed impermeability.  Unless you're familiar with the original story, for Scrooge to panic in the manner he did would seem a little nonsensical.

Next:  Episode 6, "Dinosaur Ducks."

7 comments:

Comicbookrehab said...

I think the episode was about Goldie without actually saying so - Scrooge is clearly playing his cards VERY close, despite going to enormous expense having an exact statue of his sweetie displayed in his office and not discreetly in his desk drawer (like he would later do in "Raiders of The Lost Harp"). What's missing is a cameo - "Oh, Scroogie, you didn't have to scratch half the globe for that old thing. Dan had hundreds of those things made - I keep 'em in a coffee can - why don't you come up sometime and see 'em?"

Lars said...

> Earlier in the episode, we saw the kids hanging up their cheese for safekeeping, just as HD&L did in "The Lemming with the Locket":
> [...]
> As the supposedly defeated Ducks plod their way dockwards, we get a POV shot of the scene from the opposite direction:
> [...]
> Say, where'd that broken shutter come from? And where'd the drainpipe go?

Isn't the second shot from the other side of the same house, rather than from the opposite direction?

Chris Barat said...

Lars,

By "opposite direction" I basically meant "the other side of the house." You would think that if the shutter were hanging out in space like that, we should have seen it in BOTH views.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Knowing what we already know about DTVA from your series of posts, why do you feel so secure in laying the blame for the episode’s shortcomings on Jack Enyart? At least that’s the way it comes across to me. Too bad we don’t have a larger sample of his work to base our opinions on.

I’m certain you don’t blame the adaptation fiasco that was “Down and Out in Duckburg” on Koonce and Weimers. Why? Because they’ve done too much other great work on the series for that.

I think a similar break should be afforded Enyart. What say you?

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"Knowing what we already know about DTVA from your series of posts, why do you feel so secure in laying the blame for the episode’s shortcomings on Jack Enyart? At least that’s the way it comes across to me. Too bad we don’t have a larger sample of his work to base our opinions on."

I suppose that you could throw in the story editors as well, plus anyone else who pitched story ideas to Enyart as he drew up the script, but we don't have the full cast of characters who were involved here. I mentioned Enyart because, as the credited writer, he probably had most to do with the direction that the adaptation took. Note that I also PRAISED Enyart for the relative faithfulness of his adaptation to the Barks original.

"I’m certain you don’t blame the adaptation fiasco that was “Down and Out in Duckburg” on Koonce and Weimers. Why? Because they’ve done too much other great work on the series for that."

Well, one advantage of the chronological approach is that you can see how long-contributing writers developed their styles. K&W's writing in "Sweet Duck of Youth" and "Dinosaur Ducks" is a LOT different in tone from some of their later efforts. Perhaps they had to endure a shakeout period before hitting their stride.

Chris

Gregory Weagle said...

--- ...adapter Jack Enyart (who claims on his Web site that he "developed Disney's first TV cartoon" DuckTales...?!?!) ---


BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Ummm..no Jack.

I think the Wuzzles and Gummi Bears would like to have a word for you. Unless you are implying that it was the first Disney Television Animation cartoon to get monster over. To quote The Iron Sheik from his RF Video Shoot:

"FACKIN BULLSHET!"

and yes; that is how he said it too.

Okay to be fair; I thought Jack did a fine job even though he made Scrooge look really stupid in hindsight and I finally saw the "magical hamster ladder" so now we got that straighten out; I can return to Darkwing Duck in peace now.

Chris Barat said...

Greg,

I'd really like to know what was going through Enyart's mind when he made that claim. Perhaps he played a larger role in getting DT off the ground than we know, but, given that he had only ONE writing credit, he can hardly claim to have "developed" the series!

Chris