Saturday, September 15, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 10, "Master of the Djinni"

On the face of it, isn't "Master of the Djinni" the sort of DuckTales episode that Barks fans should have been thrilled and delighted to get?  Scrooge...  Flintheart Glomgold...  magic lamp...  desert adventure...  "lost" civilization...  I'm there!  Yet, neither GeoX nor Greg appear to have been particularly bowled over by it.  The ep certainly has its share of flaws -- though, as GeoX noted, some of these arise from the efforts of writers Sam Joseph and Manette Beth Rosen to pack too much into their fast-paced script -- but it's been a favorite of mine from the very start, and I honestly don't think that it's lost all that much over time. 


Joe once mentioned to me that he knew that DuckTales was going to be something special when Flintheart Glomgold made his OUT OF NOWHERE appearance at the start of (what would become) part two of "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  You kind of figured that the Beagle Boys would be "naturals" as regular menaces, but Flinty hadn't appeared in an original American comic-book story since 1965.  I've previously argued that the DT crew's choices of Barks stories to adapt may have been influenced by the contents of UNCLE $CROOGE McDUCK: HIS LIFE AND TIMES.  Since "The Second-Richest Duck," the 1956 tale that introduced Flinty, was part of that collection, I wouldn't be surprised if the crew first came to know of Scrooge's doppelganger through that story.  The original (1985) design of the animated Glomgold certainly seems to have been inspired by Barks' earliest version of the character, right down to the central button on the broadcloth coat:


As to what happened next... well, my guess is that someone at WDTVA complained that Flinty "looked too much like Scrooge."  Since the Beagle Boys were given different names and personalities in order to help the viewer keep them straight, I can easily imagine the same fate befalling Glomgold.  The "reconstructive surgery," of course, turned out to be quite comprehensive:

Just to make darn sure no one gets the nutty idea that Glomgold is, you know, SOUTH AFRICAN.  In truth, I can certainly understand why WDTVA didn't want to slice open that particular boerewors, and I had no trouble rationalizing away Flinty's changed appearance and his presence in Duckburg by speculating that (1) he was a native Scot who made his fortune in the Transvaal, rather than the Klondike, and (2) he moved to Duckburg to keep a closer eye on his eternal rival, Scrooge (much as Scrooge's spies were hired to watch over Magica De Spell's activities on Mt. Vesuvius -- but I suppose Flinty felt that no one but himself could be trusted with the job of spying on Scrooge).  I've even conjured up a justification for Glomgold's retention of his kilt: in America, the great melting pot, Scrooge found it easier to discard the sartorial trappings of his ancestral home, while Flinty's garb reflects the stronger and longer-lasting British influence in South Africa.

In DuckTales, of course, Flinty is typically far more of an out-and-out villain than he was in two of Barks' three Glomgold stories, the exception being "So Far and No Safari."  The attitudes that Scrooge and Glomgold display towards one another during "Djinni," however, appear to be just as heavily influenced by the events of "The Second-Richest Duck" and "The Money Champ."  What Greg called the "playground-level insults" that Scrooge and Flinty hurl at each other in Aladdin's vault and on the desert sands are, in fact, rather mild compared to the knock-down drag-outs in which they engaged in those two 1950s stories. 



Oh, come on, fellas... you have a reputation to live down to.

Towards the end of "Djinni," the more nuanced elements of Barks' early Scrooge-Flinty duels appear to come into play, with the two old money-grubbers actively cooperating in their efforts to escape the palace of the Sultan of Sim-Sala-Bim.  In fact, they go to somewhat... extreme lengths to do so.

I get the harem clothes being readily available, but how'd their eyelashes grow so fast?!

Scrooge and Glomgold would form a similar mariage de convenience in the later episode "Robot Robbers."  As was perhaps inevitable, however, Flinty's evilness vis-a-vis Scrooge won the day, and Glomgold spent the rest of the series in his terminally dyspeptic "So Far and No Safari" mode.  That's not to say, of course, that he wasn't already showing a few signs of it during "Djinni," most notably in his employment of two strong-arm goons. 


As GeoX indicated, the plot of "Djinni" moves like greased lightning, to the point that several logical potholes are left in its scorched wake.  The lack of an explanation for how Scrooge returned to Duckburg so quickly (how many weeks was Glomgold forced to WAIT for Scrooge in the ice cream parlor, anyway?) has always bugged me, but I have just as big of a problem with the sudden appearance of Glomgold's plane as Scrooge and the Nephews are nearing Aladdin's vault.  Wouldn't Scrooge have gotten a tiny bit suspicious that someone had picked up on the media reports of his expedition (which themselves don't seem like S.O.P. for Scrooge, who generally keeps details of his treasure hunts under his top hat) and was now trying to beat him to the lamp?  At the very least, wouldn't Scrooge have noticed that the plane was clearly coming in for a landing behind the mountain?  But, no, Scrooge and the boys climb up the mountain without anything further being made of the incident, and Scrooge seems legitimately surprised to find Glomgold on the trail of the lamp.  The whole business was awkwardly staged, to say the least.  Still, I'd much rather watch an episode like this than several of the sludgier eps that the series has produced to date.

The Djinni should perhaps count himself fortunate that this episode was produced half a decade before Disney's big-budget version of Aladdin, else he surely would have been tinted blue.  (Genie Goofy should have been so lucky when Disney Comics reprinted the 1960s story "A Lad 'N His Lamp" in 1993.)  Despite his "heel turn" and sorry ultimate fate, I've always found the Djinni to be a very likable character, certainly more so than the vaguely Satanic fellow in the much inferior Rescue Rangers episode "A Lad in a Lamp."  Most of the credit goes to Howard Morris and his always enjoyable riff on the wailing voice of comedian Ed Wynn.

Even if "Djinni" were a mediocre episode -- which it is not -- it would still merit extra attention for an easily overlooked reason: it is a time-travel story.  There have been some reasonably meritorious efforts along those lines in Duck comics, of course, but Barks himself only touched upon the idea in "Back to Long Ago" and "King Scrooge the First."  Even those versions of the trope came with large asterisks attached; the Ducks didn't actually go back in time, but merely thought that they did.  Thanks to the luxury-loving Djinni, however, Scrooge and Flinty take the temporal trip in both spirit and body.  Though the rivals spend a relatively short period of time in ancient Sim-Sala-Bim -- there's that "overstuffed plot" problem cropping up again -- their adventures there are memorable, and the transitions from modern to ancient times and back again are exceptionally well staged and animated.  The success of this episode no doubt encouraged the DT crew to revisit the time-travel idea multiple times, albeit with somewhat mixed success (at least where certain caveducks are concerned). 



This episode also features the first example of what will become one of DT's most enduring and endearing traits: its ability to imaginatively reinterpret the elements of classical myth and legend in a "Duck-universe" context.  "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan" hinted at this approach, but, of course, it was based on a Barks story to begin with, so it had a "webfoot up" in a manner of speaking.  "Djinni"'s clever spin on 1001 ARABIAN KNIGHTS is entirely new, and immensely winning.  Whereas the "real" Scheherazade was obliged to tell cliff-hanging tales in order to keep her ruler from executing her, Schewebazade, the lovely Somnambulan captive of the Sultan of Sim-Sala-Bim, uses her ability to bore her listeners to her advantage (not to mention Scrooge and Glomgold's).  I can easily imagine a character like Schewebezade appearing in one of the lighter-hearted, more satirical Barks $CROOGE stories of the early- to mid-60s.

We've seen "reverse-English" endings like this episode's before, but I think that "Djinni" handled the conceit about as well as it could be handled.  Scrooge's banishment was depicted in an appropriately dramatic fashion, and Flinty's inadvertent "slip of the tongue" in his expressed desire to "see the expression on [the marooned] Scrooge's face" didn't seem particularly forced to me.  You've still got to deal with the "replay of past history," of course, but time-travel stories deal with that sort of thing all the time.  The collapse of Aladdin's vault -- and the plaintive cries of the Djinni for "[somebody] out there" to come and release him -- make for an exceptionally effective and memorable ending.  It's still quite early yet, but the "classic" era of DuckTales is starting to take shape.   

.
.
.
.
.
.

"DuckBlurbs"

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

But you can just imagine the Scrooge and Glomgold of "The Second-Richest Duck" and "The Money Champ" doing that, can't you?  If they were willing to roll balls of string up through the heart of Africa, then...

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

At least Roger C. Carmel seemed to be enjoying himself in the role.  This was Carmel's last performance of any kind; the fruitily entertaining character actor (who also voiced one of Glomgold's goons and the sleepy-eyed Emir of Somnambula) died in November 1986, which suggests that "Djinni" was in production during the Summer of that year.  It makes one wonder: which "Glomgold comeback story" was put in production first, "Djinni" or Don Rosa's "Son of the Sun"?  Rosa's first full-length $CROOGE adventure was published in April 1987, beating "Djinni" into the market by some five months, but I don't know when Rosa actually began work on his story.  The two productions were clearly unrelated, but the fact that they were undertaken at roughly the same time indicates just how fructiferous a period 1986-87 was for American Duck fans.  It was a great time to hop aboard the fandom train, as I did in the mid-80s, but it certainly meant far more to the "old sourdoughs."  Five Disney comics publishers later, will we ever get that vibe back?    


Next:  Episode 11, "Magica's Magic Mirror" and "Take Me Out of the Ball Game."  (Hey, look, a real "two-for-one sale"!)

9 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Of all the eps you’ve reviewed so far, this one is the best! I can watch it over and over. I love the way Glomgold just propels himself into the thick of the adventure.

Outstanding guest cast, with Howard Morris and Roger C. Carmel. That latter having taken on Captain James T. Kirk, Admiral Harriman Nelson, Batman and the Green Hornet… and Scrooge McDuck! That is one heck of an enemies list!

The Genie’s treachery adds an additional dimension to the Scrooge / Glomgold dynamic. And he gets his comeuppance in superb fashion!

GREAT observation about Barks’ Ducks not actually traveling in time! In all my years, I’ve never really noticed that! “Old California” and “Ancient Persia” also hold to that! So, the first “actual” time travel story in UNCLE SCROOGE was “The Battle of Marathon”? …Really? How ‘bout that!

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Aw shoot, I should have at least made reference to "In Old California"! But that was actually further away from a time-travel story than "King Scrooge" and "Back to Long Ago" were. The Ducks were unconscious and under the influence of drugs when they took their "trip." In the other stories, the Ducks were conscious but were "possessed" in some manner.

"The Battle of Marathon" may have been the first time-travel tale in U$, but it wasn't the first such DUCK story; for example, "Og's Iron Bed" came earlier.

Chris

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I don't consider "In Old California" time travel but more of a methaphorical/fantasy tihng.


I love this episode, especialy first half and I find Glomgold pretty despicable chracter ( banishing Scrooge to an island forever despite the great adventure they had together)

This episode would be among my favorite episode if not for one thing - the ending! I just hate whenever a story makes this deus ex machina thing. It would be perfect if Scrooge was the one to make "I wish I didn't found this lamp" wish or if he would trick Glomgold into making one but this - despite being a great gag - just felt a cheat of an ending.


I also must mention the Polish dubb for this episode. DUCKTALES you see had two diffrent dubbs. One made just few years after the oryginal show air the second one was made like 15 years leyter (for reason I don't remember well but apperently the copies of oryginal dubb got lost) While the oryginal dubb for this episode was perfect in the new one they made an idiotic mistake.
Glomgold dosen't say "I wish I didn't found did blasted lamp" but he says "I wish hell would burn this blasted lamp"
WHAT THE... !? IT MAKES SO LITTLE SENCE ON SO MANY LEVELS AND I'M SO ASKING WHAT THE HECK WHO EVER TRANSLATED THE CARTOON WAS THINKING!!!!!

Heck! Last year I made a article about it when I did article about biggest most embarasing mistakes In Polish dubb history (center on Disney)
http://panmilus.blogspot.com/2011/06/disney-dubbing.html

So ambarasing... :(


P.S. When I can find the "DUCK TALES INDEX" you co-created Chris?

Comicbookrehab said...

Carmel also replaced Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron, the Transformer that transforms into a planet, for the 3rd season of "The Transformers" which was probably recorded around the same time as this DT episode - isn't that an interesting contrast? One program was considered an extended toy commercial (because it really was) the other was part of the new wave that launched a renaissance in television animation.

Don's cover for "Sun" matched that screen shot of Scrooge and Flinty earlier...

Hypothetically, Joe, Barks did tell time travel stories, they just turned out to be very unconventional, like the "Rip Van Winkle" story, which was really just a prank the nephews pulled, or "That's No Fable!" - they would encounter things that we associate with the past or future - lost worlds preserved from modern-day society, or people that managed to cheat death by unconvential means. I don't know who was the first to introduce a time machine in a duck comic. Anyone?

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

That IS quite a dubbing gaffe, isn't it? All you need to do is LOOK at the episode and you see what little sense it makes.

We don't have any copies of the DUCKTALES INDEX available for sale anymore, unfortunately. The disks used to make the copies are long gone. I'd try searching the Internet to see if you can scare up a copy of the abridged version in DUCKBURG TIMES 24/25.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

"Don's cover for "Sun" matched that screen shot of Scrooge and Flinty earlier..."

You mean the one of them pulling at the lamp? The cover to kaboom! DUCKTALES #3 is also pretty close, with Rockerduck standing in for Glomgold.

As for Duck time-travel tales, "Og's Iron Bed" is the earliest one of which I am aware.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

“The Battle at Hadrian’s Wall” (DD # 107) beats “OG” in DD # 109.

And “The Battle of Petras” (WDC&S # 296) beats ‘em both.

Comicbookrehab said...

Yep..."It's mine" "Mine" "Mine" "MINE", etc... And yeah that cover to issue #3 is similar too, but that looked so much like the cover to the DONALD and GLADSTONE album from Gladstone Comics that I didn't picture it!
BTW, the model sheet images...I've got the urge to print this out and use my crayons to color the pages...:)

Ryan Wynns said...

Along the lines of what Joe said: production order-wise, this was decidedly the series' FIRST all-around GREAT episodes! Definitely one of my all-time favorites.

It was quite a harrowing, absorbing experience, watching it for the first time in September '87, at five years old. Scrooge and Glomgold's plight felt real. The atmosphere, exotic setting, and sense of danger -- being trapped in a strange, exotic past realm -- were felt with overwhelming weight. And the twist at the very end was quite a mind-blower, to my fragile little young mind.

-- Ryan