Sunday, September 2, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 8, "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan"


As this RETROSPECTIVE grinds on, I'll occasionally post DuckTales-related findings that I've gleaned from Internet searches.  Today, I'm offering you a DT commercial of exquisite rarity.  Most of us have probably seen the commercials featuring Launchpad ("It's me, Launchpad McQuack!") and Scrooge ("He's the original million-dollar duck..."), plus perhaps the "Lights -- Camera -- DuckTales!" bit with the Beagle Boys.  (If some of you haven't, just let me know and I'll be sure to post them.)  This Webby-focused commercial, by contrast, I have no clear recollection of seeing at all.  I MUST have seen it at some point, but, if so, it was at most once.  It's of canonical significance because it marks only one of two times that Webby's last name, Vanderquack, was ever revealed; the other came during next week's featured episode, "Pearl of Wisdom."  It's curious that the beans were spilled so early in the game but that Webby's cognomen was never referred to in any other episode.  Perhaps the other writers simply forgot to pick up on the hint?


With its adaptation of Carl Barks' 1956 adventure "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan" -- why the definite article was dropped is a mystery to me, too -- DuckTales replicates its success with "Scrooge's Pet" even as it takes far more liberties with the Barks story than it did with "The Lemming with the Locket."  I agree with GeoX that a number of the alterations are for the better; in fact, I'm willing to go him one better by heartily wishing that we'd seen more of The Explorers' Club, the gaggle of adventure-lovers that are competing with Scrooge to find Khan's fabled diadem in Shadow Pass.  Putting aside antagonist Sir Guy Standforth for the moment, Percival and the never-named "thin explorer" might have played the same role in future Explorers' Club stories that Jackson and Finch do in the Egmont TNT stories, with their efforts serving as a comical contrast to Scrooge's during the course of various races for riches.  (Significantly, when we visit the Explorers' Club HQ early in the episode, a line of portraits depicting various adventurous exploits is shown, and Scrooge's is the only one not showing a slapstick "impending disaster" gag.)  Elderly Lord Battmounten appears to have been reduced to the role of "armchair expert" by this time, but he could have advised Scrooge as to the existence of treasures and otherwise served as a genteel kibitzer.  Scrooge has always had more than his share of foes; a group of adult characters who are at worst "friendly rivals" of his would have been a refreshing addition to the stable of supporting players.



This episode also takes a few notable chances by not being afraid to show the characters -- very much including the youngsters -- in legitimate peril.  As well-told as Barks' story was, you never got the feeling that Scrooge, Donald, and the boys were in any real danger; the Himalayan setting was as climatologically benevolent as such a setting can reasonably be expected to be, and the somewhat pathetic appearance and nature of "Gu," the Abominable Snowman who had the crown and imprisoned the Ducks only to be bought off by a ticking watch, made the Ducks' travails in the ice cave seem something a bit South of serious.  In the DuckTales version, by contrast, our gang survives sabotage and a plane crash, then endure a fierce mountain storm and an avalanche... and, in the gender-bended "Snowy"'s frigid subterranean home, Scrooge, Launchpad, and HD&L come within a feather's breadth of freezing to death!  The scene in which LP and the boys face their gelid fate seems more disturbing today than when I first saw it.  The "blue beaks" are a bit of overkill -- we've never seen the Ducks suffer that malady in other stories set in ultra-cold climes -- but the quartet's valiant efforts to stay awake and avoid falling into what might be an eternal sleep are truly nothing to chuckle at. Some real polar explorers, as we know, were not so lucky

The lengthy ice-slide sequence that lands LP and HD&L in this predicament is still visually impressive today, but I've come to appreciate the above sequence a lot more.  As feather-raising as the sliding business is, it's all of a piece with a good deal of more or less "conventional" cartoon action, with the only true frisson arising from the presence of children.  It took a lot more guts to show kids on the verge of hypothermia.  I believe that it was Greg who complained at one point that WDTVA seemed unwilling to skin HD&L up in the manner in which Kit Cloudkicker was often imperiled during Tale Spin.  A revisit of this scene might oblige him to do a rethink. 


Earlier in the episode, of course, our heroes aren't in much better shape.  Occasional gags -- Scrooge duplicating Kimba's "man-shake" of "The Day the Sun Went Out" comes immediately to mind -- lighten the mood just enough to make us temporarily forget that the Ducks are stranded in the mountains with few provisions.  Tellingly, one incident that writer Anthony Adams, about whom more later, did preserve from the Barks original involved one of the Nephews shivering with fear.  Remind me again... even if Scrooge DID intend to leave Webby and HD&L behind in the village while he and Launchpad headed for Shadow Pass, why did he bring the kids to the village in the first place?  Wouldn't it have been simpler to have left them in Duckburg?  Perhaps he remembered "Dinosaur Ducks" and figured that he'd be better off if the kids were under his watchful eye at all times, as opposed to being tempted to stow away.  Whatever Scrooge's rationale was, it's safe to say that it blew up right in his face.  He admits as much by deciding to abandon the search for the Crown and get the kids back to safety, only to have those plans fatally disrupted by Sir Guy's TNT-powered avalanche.  Those looking for prima facie evidence that the DT Scrooge is "softer" than Barks' Scrooge should probably make this episode one of their first stops... though the "softness" displayed here is entirely rational.



The substitution of Launchpad for Donald is this ep's third major advantage over Barks' story -- and here, unlike the series of insults that Scrooge shot LP's way during "Scrooge's Pet," the strength of LP's contribution seems as solid today as it did in 1987.  DT fans are well aware of the numerous references to Launchpad as a "ladies' man" during this episode, from the Russian dance that he does for the village females to the quip "Usually, it's the girls chasin' me!" to his ultimate fate of being pursued by the amorous "Snowy" after having rescued the snow beast from a fall off a cliff.  Less noticeable, but just as funny, is LP's stashing of dozens of glossies of himself in the airplane lockers where the parachutes would normally be stored.  That sounds much more like something Darkwing Duck would do.  (Perhaps all of that egotistical "life force" got sucked out of LP during those years of playing sidekick to DW?)  Adams cleverly pairs these examples of exalted self-regard with more than the usual number of situations in which LP makes a mental and physical fool of himself -- banging his head on an airplane wing, forgetting the chutes, plopping face-first into a snow bank.  LP even flirts with "hero hypocrisy" when he teases finking out of the Ducks' search for the missing Webby because he's scared of the as-yet-unseen "Snowy."

As for Sir Guy Standforth, I think that he makes a reasonably solid villain, a claim that is at least partially supported by his successful "return to action" in kaboom!'s DUCKTALES #4.  Sure, Pat Fraley's voice for the character is whiny, but then, you're supposed to dislike this guy.  If I have one complaint, it's that he would probably have seemed a stronger adversary had his villainy not come served with so many Looney Tunes-style trimmings.  Pulling cages of bunnies, sticks of TNT, and badly designed Yeti costumes out from behind one's back make it just a scoche harder to take one completely seriously.

As enjoyable as this version of "Lost Crown" is, a few logical lapses prevent me from awarding it the "Full LP" (you can only get the "Full Monty" when Rescue Rangers eps are involved).  Even with Launchpad operating at less-than-optimal mental capacity, I think that even HE should have been able to see that the gasoline was draining out of the plane -- and I'm truly shocked that none of the other Ducks picked up on it.  It's never made clear why "Snowy" has amassed such a stockpile of gold in addition to the Crown; "Gu" didn't seem to have a need for all that additional bling (quite the opposite, in fact).  Perhaps I should just mumble something vaguely offensive about "women needing accessories" and let it go at that.  Plus, of course, there's the old "attenuated ending" gambit that I really hate.  How on Earth did Scrooge get back to Duckburg quickly enough to literally pursue Sir Guy through the door of the Explorers' Club?  Since Scrooge and Launchpad both appear in this closing scene, are we to assume that the kids were simply left behind to fend for themselves? 

On balance, though, this is a splendid debut for Anthony Adams, who will turn out to be one of the series' most consistently successful writers.  Adams himself appears to be a rather fascinating individual; he's the head of his own entertainment company and has produced several well-received documentaries on the music of the "Summer of Love" and the history of the guitar, has written several TV movies, has produced a couple of feature films, and has composed and performed his own rock operas and musicals, including the oh-so-early-70s concoction excerpted below.  In his scripts for DuckTales, Adams seemed to have a particular predilection for exploring myth and legend.  I suspect that a combination of his personal artistic interests and (I'm purely speculating here) a youthful interest in Barks' Duck comics contributed to this bent.


For whatever reason, starting in 1987, Adams began writing cartoon scripts, but his contributions to series like Popeye and Son and Fraggle Rock were modest indeed compared to his commitment to DuckTales.  After 1989, however, he left the field for good.  A shame; I would have liked to have seen him tackle a Tale Spin episode or two, or perhaps even a Darkwing Duck episode featuring Morgana Micawber.  But I'll be forever grateful for his fanciful and frequently elegant contributions to DuckTales -- and I'm even willing to include THIS notorious scene in the credit column.  Fanciful and elegant it's not, but it's certainly become... um, mythic.


.


.

.

DuckBlurbs

(Geo)  [T]he ending, where the yeti comes back to the explorers' club with Scrooge [sic; Launchpad] and chases around evil-dude? Egregiously silly, no question about it.

I kinda agree, though for different reasons.  See above.

(Geo)  [P]ortraying the yeti as a more sympathetic character was definitely a good idea--I thought making him into a her would end up being kinda dumb, but it actually works, and most of the original's condescension is removed. 

I could have done without some of the female stereotyping -- the lips, the rouged cheeks, the skill at cooking (cooking soup in an ice fireplace, though??) -- but "Snowy" is certainly a more memorable snow beast than "Gu."  She bonds with Webby (one can see the "Webby's way with animals" theme taking real shape now) and interacts with the Ducks far more, and in far more varied ways, than did "Gu."

(Geo)  There's also a lot of good character stuff--as when Scrooge finds the crown, excitedly declares himself "King of the Explorers once again!" and then wilts as he realizes that, having lost his entire party in the process, this is a hollow victory. Finally, there's a very atmospheric night blizzard scene, in which the ducks are sleeping in their tend as the winds howl until they are awakened by the yeti, who they can just make out heading off into the storm.

And this last scene makes me very suspicious of the role that Herge's TINTIN story, "Tintin in Tibet," may have played in Adams' development of this adaptation.  The presence of a "misunderstood" Yeti, the theme of a youngster falling in with the Yeti and being searched for by the heroes, and the central role played by a crashed plane are all suggestive of the fact that Adams may have been aware of Herge's famous story... and the blizzard scenes featuring "Snowy" are exceptionally suggestiveI couldn't make a really good screen grab from "Lost Crown" to show "Snowy" trudging away after having pillaged the Ducks' camp, but here are several scenes from the animated version of "Tintin in Tibet" that may look somewhat familiar:

Need I point out (since Greg already did) that "Snowy" is the English translation of the name of Tintin's dog?  Very suggestive, ver-r-r-r-r-y suggestive.

(Geo)  The persistence of Scrooge's anger at the yeti is somewhat inexplicable.

Not to me.  Scrooge was probably feeling guilty for bringing the kids with him, so it's entirely understandable that the pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction and he's being overprotective to a fault.

(Greg)  Launchpad goes over to Snowy and Snowy grabs his hand and of course she's just TOO FAT. However; Launchpad manages to do the old wrestling flip over his head and manages to get Snowy up over and landing safely. Now THAT is an amazing feat of strength on par with Kit getting Baloo up in Lost Horizons from LP there.

Yep, that was pretty amazing.   It's almost enough to cancel out the egotism and stumble-bumble-itis from the earlier part of the episode.  Almost. 

Next:  Episode 9, "Pearl of Wisdom." 

6 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

You write: “This Webby-focused commercial, by contrast, I have no clear recollection of seeing at all. I MUST have seen it at some point, but, if so, it was at most once.”

Not so, per my recollections of those bygone days. And the proof is found in “Appendix B” of our now-legendary DuckTales Index “DuckTales Commercials”. It is the 4th one listed and called “Webby Focus”.

It’s also where, at least for me (more so than the episode it came from), we immortalized the quote: “This adventure is just going to ruin my dress!”

In response to a previous question of yours in another DT post: This is one of the episodes I look less favorably upon these days (vs .THOSE days). Despite some great “senics” (as Famous / Paramount used to call them), the wonderful members of the Explorers’ Club, and one of my favorite gags of the series “Lord Battmountain” casually tossed off in expository dialogue… the alteration of Carl Barks’ “Gu” is too much of a departure for me in my less forgiving and more curmudgeonly days! It seems too much like “Interference for the Sake of Interference”!

…One can only wonder what BARKS must have felt!

Joe.

Pan Miluś said...

I should post this in the last review since it would be more on the topic but do you think Burger Beagle desing was inspired by this panel in "Only Poor old man"?

http://desmond.imageshack.us/Himg24/scaled.php?server=24&filename=burgerbeagle.jpg&res=landing

(yhe, I'm first one to point it out so I take credit for discovery - hurrah!)

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Oh, I remembered that the "Webby focus" commercial was in our list of DT commercials. I just can't remember seeing it MYSELF. I probably saw it once, but darned if I can remember when or where...

"This is one of the episodes I look less favorably upon these days (vs THOSE days). Despite some great “senics” (as Famous / Paramount used to call them), the wonderful members of the Explorers’ Club, and one of my favorite gags of the series “Lord Battmountain” casually tossed off in expository dialogue… the alteration of Carl Barks’ “Gu” is too much of a departure for me in my less forgiving and more curmudgeonly days!"

In what specific way(s)? I'd be interested to know!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

"I should post this in the last review since it would be more on the topic but do you think Burger Beagle desing was inspired by this panel in "Only Poor old man"?"

I'd be more inclined to believe it if the design had been taken from a CLOSE UP panel. Here, "the camera" is far enough away that it's hard to conceive that WDTVA would have taken inspiration from such a small picture.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Don’t glom onto that “credit” so quickly, Pan!

An “excited Beagle Boy” does not “Burger Beagle” make! And, that’s all that is… An “excited Beagle Boy”! Food obsessions or weaknesses have nothing to do with that!

If Burger has ANY inspirational ancestors, it would be the “Prune-Loving Beagle Boy” of Carl Barks’ “The Giant Robot Robbers” – and WE KNOW DTVA had a copy of THAT story, because they adapted it! So, I’d say that theory holds water – or “holds its lunch”, as it were!

In fact, I think I’m going to “levy a fine on you against any future credit” for making me needlessly go to that link! You’re now in “credit arrears”, my friend! :-) It’s fun being “curmudgeonly”!

And, Chris… What I don’t like about the episode is “…the alteration of Carl Barks’ “Gu” is too much of a departure for me in my less forgiving and more curmudgeonly days! It seems too much like “Interference for the Sake of Interference”!” (Forgive the repeating comment!) Why the foolish "girly stuff", over an ordinary dumb beast?

I’m fining DTVA for that as well! Now, they’ll have to produce TWO GOOD NEW SERIES (…like THAT’LL happen! ), before I’ll praise them again! (MWAH-HA-HA!)

Pan Miluś said...

I was just pointing aut similar desing/face expresion :P

Still my theory that one of DuckTales writers seen this one panel and went "HOLLY MOLEY! I just got a fantastic idea for a great new character! He name will be Burger and he will eating food all the time it will have a squicky voice and will be funny as hell and he piss of GeoX by share existance"
and then Carl Barks went "Boy, o boy! This is way more interensting that those boring smart clones Beagle Boys I created! Good job, have a cookie"

...is pretty acurate :P