Saturday, September 22, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episodes 11a and 11b, "Magica's Magic Mirror" and "Take Me Out of the Ballgame"

Must I?  Isn't picking through these two perfunctory, generally disappointing "episode-lets" for additional meaningful nits simply a case of breaking a butterfly on the rack?  Well, thanks to the "production-order approach" that I'm taking with these retrospectives, I can at least attack the problem from a different angle.

"Magica's Magic Mirror" (originally titled "The Mirror Quack'd" -- they should have kept the name) features the first "official" series appearance of Magica De Spell, and the first quasi-meaningful role for Doofus is tacked on for good measure.  "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," meanwhile, features... features... well, um, features what at the time seemed to be (and probably still remains) the single DUMBEST moment of the series, the one moment when young and old viewers alike rolled their eyes in unison and would have "R'dOTFLTAO" if that expression had been in common use back then.

I wish I knew the true story behind the making (or would that be "the stitching together"?) of this rivet-necked monstrosity of an episode.  Gummi Bears had a fair amount of success using this format, but for DT to employ it frankly smacks of desperation.  Joe's and my "working theory" back in the day was that these eps were originally slated to be 22 minutes in length but were edited down after the writers and story editors encountered intractable development problems.  In the case of "Magica's Magic Mirror," such problems honestly shouldn't have existed.  Surely a bit more could have been mined out of the idea of Magica using trickery to convince Scrooge that he's "viewing the future" through the titular speculum and thereby get him to give up his Old #1 Dime?  By contrast, I can't even comprehend the possibility that the simplistic plot of "Ballgame" was originally believed worthy of a full-length episode.  Unfortunately, there's probably more evidence herein that "Ballgame" was shortened than there is evidence that "Mirror" was stripped down.

I've never had a problem with the idea of June Foray using her Natasha voice to give life to Magica.  Sure, an Italian accent would have been more appropriate, but "generic European" is good enough for me, especially considering the source.  Where an actress like Tress MacNeille might have done a better job was on those rare occasions when Magica had to disguise her voice to fool Scrooge.  In this episode, as well as "Raiders of the Lost Harp" and "Duck to the Future," Scrooge's inability to recognize Magica's voice leaves the audience with the impression that he's a few shekels short of a quid -- so to speak.

Greg makes the interesting point that the saucy sorceress' dime-glomming gambit here involves "science" as much as it does magic.  Of course, that's stretching the term "science" to cover an awful lot of ground.  In truth, I would expect the Magica De Spell who displayed the ability to command comets and master meteors in one of Carl Barks' stories to do a little better than rely on fairly crude manipulatives and "simulations" that the Big Three Networks wouldn't have found acceptable during their coverage of the Apollo space missions in the 60s and 70s.  GeoX's description of the ruses as "pretty dumb" is a bit harsh, but not entirely inaccurate...


 


... and the complete bamboozlement of Scrooge, Launchpad, HD&L, and Doofus in the face of this somewhat tacky onslaught is dubious, to say the least.  We would surely have gotten a better impression of this scheme had the phony futures been presented in a more artful manner.  However, that would have required a more leisurely development of the plot.  The multiple "black slugs" and other annoyances in "Mirror" suggest that such artfulness was not a high priority on the agenda.

I feel your apparent pain, Scrooge.

The best evidence that "Mirror" was a rush job has nothing at all to do with the "mirror trick."  In one of his "stray observations" on this episode, GeoX asked, in his inimitably low-key way, "What the hell is the deal with the kid at the picnic dressed as Glomgold?"  Greg thought that it was Flinty's son.  Horrifying as the thought may be, I think that that was actually meant to BE Glomgold!  I mean, just look at how poorly Gyro is drawn in the very same scene.  I suppose that we should count ourselves fortunate that Mrs. Beakly wasn't drawn as thin and svelte here.

A ghastly scene like this bespeaks a breakdown in quality control, and here's a possible reason as to why such a breakdown occurred.  Towards the end of "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," there is a clear cut in the scene in which "temporary coach" Duckworth is telling the Junior Woodchucks' baseball team to use golfing methods to hit the wibbly-wobbly "Beagle Ball."  Right after Duckworth says "I'll tell you what I mean when it's our turn to bat again" and tells the kids to "give [the Beagle Brats] what for," the Woodchucks ARE up to bat again, and they've already mastered the golfing approach without Duckworth having "told them" anything.  Could it be that "Ballgame" was trimmed in several places, not just this one, and "Magic Mirror" was quickly rushed into production at some point to fill the remaining air time?  Say it ain't so, Jymn et al.

It's pretty hard to find anything complimentary to say about "Ballgame," but I'm going to try to do so anyway, at least until Doofus hits that absurd, ocean-spanning, game-winning home run.  The dialogue and plot may not be outstanding, but there are definitely some funny expressions on display in this episode.  The "tilted-hat" shots of the Nephews are cute; they remind me a bit of similar moments in Barks stories when Barks was trying to get across the idea that the boys were acting in a bratty manner (for example, when complaining about school or playing hooky).



Webby goes the canted-capped boys one better with her memorable "Let's make the little creeps cry for their mommies!" rant.  You're right, GeoX, Webby should have been given a few more somewhat-out-of-character moments like that.  When would be the next truly memorable one?  "The Good Muddahs," perhaps?  (As for Ma Beagle being the "only mommy" of all those Beagles, Greg, I only hope for her sake that she wasn't.)

I knew that steroids were a problem in baseball, but I never
expected Webby's Quacky Patch Doll to get involved with them! 

We also get some amusing moments as Duckworth's interference with the Woodchucks' game play "in the interests of promoting proper behavior" leads to mounting frustration on the part of the kids.  It's especially fun to watch one of the Nephews finally snap and let Duckworth (verbally) have it.  It's too bad that Dan Haley wasn't around to flag this moment as a case of a Nephew showing strong "leadership skills."



It's a legitimate surprise (shock, even) to see the Beagle Brats here, though I must say that I am impressed that writer Tedd Anasti knew about them.  No amount of paging through Barks' collected works would have helped on that score.  (We're fortunate that Anasti's knowledge of Beagle family history didn't descend to the depth of knowing about the original Beagle Babes, or else the Marcie clone who represented the Beagle team's gesture towards gender diversity would have had some rather unwelcome company.)  A far more significant debut here is that of Ma Beagle, who makes a very good first impression.  In his discussion of the DT cast, GeoX argued that Ma became more annoying the more she was used.  I can certainly understand what he meant, especially when it comes to several of the flimsier 1989 episodes.  Here, though, Ma functions exactly as a matriarch of the implausibly extended Beagle clan ought to function -- as a plugger of and enthusiast for "Beagle tradition," ignoble though it may seem to the outside world.  She serves much the same purpose in the upcoming "Hero for Hire" and in several other eps.  Granted, the Beagle Brats don't actually start to follow "Beagle tradition" and cheat until the game is well underway, but, hey, it's the thoughtlessness that counts.

I'll throw in one more positive (at least to me) aspect of this episode: Duckworth's line "We mustn't allow them to tally any more points!".  I still use that line to this day when watching various sporting events with Nicky, even ones like football and basketball where the joke about the misuse of the word "points" is negated.  Unfortunately, all of these pluses are completely swamped by the misbegotten portrayal of Duckworth (well, at least he'll have better "starring" moments down the pike) and the idiotic denouement.  GeoX hits it on the nose (pun intended):  it makes no sense that Duckworth's dictum to Doofus to treat the ball as a cream puff "would cause him to want to get rid of [it] as expeditiously as possible."  And in a geographically, physically impossible manner, to boot...

The bombs, sticks of TNT, and pictures of baseballs in the dugouts of the two teams pretty much sum up how cut-and-dried and conventionally "cartoony" the execution of "Ballgame" truly is.  It's clear in retrospect that "Magica's Magic Mirror" should have been given the full 22-minute treatment, with the sense of realism, danger, and high stakes being amplified.  At least "Mirror" simulates a true DuckTales adventure.

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DuckBlurbs

(GeoX) "Great Grandma Tragica"

... goes in the pantheon with such ephemeral figures as Magica's niece Minima, who first appeared in a DT story in DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST and subsequently guested in a couple of lengthy Italian stories, with the last one being published in 2002.  Then there are Magica's "older brother" Magico and Magica's mother, imaginatively named Mrs. De Spell, who appeared in "The Witch, the Dime, and an Old Friend," a lengthy DT fanfic that, alas, has recently been pulled from fanfiction.net.  Since "Witch" (1) intimated that Magica was Polish and (2) featured Scrooge and a disguised Magica meeting at a bar, having a one-night stand, and GETTING MARRIED, perhaps it is all for the best that Tragica never made an on-screen appearance.

(Greg)  [Magica] flings her cape and thanks to the Wii blue flash she turns into a vulture and flies away much to the shock of the Cosplay Spy Vs. Spy of Doom. He proclaims that the Gangster Guy Pizza Place doesn't pay him enough to put up with this. HAHA! Maybe it's time to take a job at a normal pizza place. I wondered where the Themed Pizza Place gimmick from The Weekenders came from? 

I don't know, but "Gangster Guy Pizza" was more likely a takeoff on the Godfather's Pizza chain. Herman Cain would be proud. 

(Greg)  Huey asks if this what the future holds and in comes Doofus with the chili dog asking if they are ready for the picnic and the nephews scatter out like scalded ducks with the mirror. Huh? What was so scary about Doofus Drake? I don't get it at all.

This isn't hard to explain.  HD&L were shocked that the mirror's prediction turned out to be correct!

(Greg)  [N]ow Doofus wants to see into the future as Huey gives him the mirror and tells him how to do it as we cut back to Magica blowing off Doofus' face and remembering to call him a doofus in the process. HAHA! 

This scene strikes me as somewhat weird.  How would Magica even know about Doofus, especially at this early stage of the series -- and given that she spends most of her time on Mt. Vesuvius, anyway?  But not only does Magica recognize Doofus on sight, she knows what pushes his buttons, so to speak: the sight of Launchpad in trouble.

(Greg)  So we cut to the mirror shot as it sparkles and we see Magica trespassing on his property as it's the woman and then we see an inflatable Scrooge waddle in and give her a fake dime. She thanks him for the good decision. Geez [writer] Richard [Merwin]; that's foretelling Scrooge's sex life a wee bit too obvious now don't you think? 

Not if you read "The Witch, the Dime, and an Old Friend."  Seriously, it's VERY difficult to accept that Scrooge would surrender Old #1 for such a relatively petty reason as the loss of a few diamond mines.  "Nothing to Fear" and "Send in the Clones" at least provided Scrooge with somewhat more imperative reasons to give up the dime.

(Greg)  What kind of city allows convicted criminals to play baseball outside of a prison cell? And why are the Beagle Brats dressed up as mini versions of the Beagle Boys? Isn't that setting them up for a life of crime or something? 

In the comics, the Brats have number plates with single-digit numbers on them (1, 2, 3, etc.).  Here, their number plates are blank.  So I guess that they haven't committed any actual crimes... yet.  I agree that dressing the Beagle progeny (even the babies!) up in adult Beagle getup doesn't exactly qualify as responsible mentoring.

(Greg)  Doofus get the football victory spot inside the baseball field from the babyfaces as they win 18-17 and thus make the [Duckburg] Mallards into bigger losers than they already are. They of course drop [Doofus and Duckworth] like bad habits as the nephew proclaim[s] that this is the first error made all day.  

And we get a surprise foreshadowing of "Duck to the Future" as Webby congratulates Doofus by kissing him!  I wonder whether Webby's expressed admiration for Honker Muddlefoot during the "Dangerous Currency" crossover has affected this "predicted future scenario" in any way.


Next:  Episode 12, "Maid of the Myth."

12 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

This absolute travesty-in-duplicate is unequaled for its sheer… its sheer… sheer… (Sputter!) BAD-NESS!

The only things that come close are the utter absurdity of Scrooge betting his entire fortune on a “Cowboy Contest” in “Ducks of the West” (…and this isn’t even the “Don Rosa Scrooge” that – we would later learn – singlehandedly tamed the Wild West) and the… the… (Sputter-Again!) DOUBLE-ABSURDITY of the “Hold Everything and Send It All Back” ending of “Yuppy Ducks”!

By contrast, the great episodes Pete Fernbaugh is reviewing at his Blog (Air Date Order), like “Where No Duck Has Gone Before”, are the ones that captured me early on!

I’m glad DTVA eventually summoned-up the wisdom to bury stinkers like this among better episodes that were apparently created later on. If not, I would probably have walked away in the first week – secure in my conviction that (once the ‘70s began in earnest) nothing animated worth my time would ever be produced again!

That said, the “bombs, sticks of TNT, and pictures of baseballs in the dugouts of the two teams” was a nice touch!

Finally, with regard to Ma Beagle and her vast progeny, as I said in a line of DT dialogue all those years ago: “That Ma Beagle ought to be arrested for LITTERING!”

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

That stuff's all absurd all right, Joe, but can anything really match the infamous "make coal into diamonds by having elephants stomp on it" bit from "Once Upon a Dime?" I submit to you that it cannot!

Chris Barat said...

GeoX,

Doofus' home run and the "stomping coal into diamonds" probably rank close to one another in terms of physical improbability. I'd vote for the Doofus homer as the more objectionable of the two, if only because it served as the CLIMAX of its episode, whereas the "coal" bit was a "mere" incident in Scrooge's life story.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Geo and Chris:

“Coal into Diamonds” is absurd all right, but it’s not ranked with the others as it has always been interpreted by me as Scrooge “telling the tall tale”, al la Commander Mc Bragg – or Scrooge himself at the start of “Looney Lunar Gold Rush”.

The others are part of the “reality” of the series and are, thus, more egregious!

…And, on the subject of tall tales, did I ever tell you about the time I suggested to Don Rosa that what Scrooge McDuck needed was a good, comprehensive biography?

…I didn’t?

Well, it was dark and stormy night at the San Diego Comic Con… Let me tell you the fanboys were as thick as locusts, and thrice as fierce!

I turned to Don and said: “If we are to escape with our lives, you’ll have to do exactly as I say… First read EVERY Carl Barks story making careful notes on every reference to Scrooge…”

Then… have I milked the tall-tale bit enough to make the point? If not, I could go on… ;-)

Joe.

Comicbookrehab said...

When I saw this episode, I thought they were going to offer more like it. It didn't make me run and hide behind the sofa like it appears to have made the rest of you, but I'll agree it does not hold up to any DEEP thinking. Neither did "Isle of Golden Geese"!
I think I spent more time trying to imagine how that wind-up baseball would work in real life...and wanting to see if their was a Ducktales Play Doh kit. You hear a lot about the dynamics of a perfect baseball pitch, but a wind-up toy that mimic balance the speed and inertia...wow!

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

This episode was released fairly late in the original run. As Joe suggested, perhaps this was intentional. The first week, by contrast, was jam-packed with solid eps, including an appearance by Donald ("Sphinx for the Memories") and star turns by all of the major villains.

Chris

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I just wanted to add that it would've been funny if, upon being asked to visualize the ball as a cream puff, Doofus had just grabbed it out of the air and started gnawing on it, resulting in ignominious defeat. I guess this show was never likely to get quite that mean in that way, though.

Comicbookrehab said...

It does look like it was produced in a pinch - they didn't have a script handy that would replace both, but it wasn't bad enough to toss away. One the one hand, it is the only time we see Magica combine magic with technology to pull off one of her schemes.

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

I think "technology" is stretching it a bit -- just like "science"! But I see your point.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Instead of referencing a cream puff, perhaps Doofus should have been told to visualize one of the bullies who presumably pick on him all the time (for example, "Bully Beagle" in "Nothing to Fear").

Chris

ewmailing said...

Just throwing an idea out there to see what you think. Do you think Sport Goofy In Soccermania had any influence/responsibility, particularly for "Take Me Out of the Ballgame"?

Chris Barat said...

Eric,

"Just throwing an idea out there to see what you think. Do you think Sport Goofy In Soccermania had any influence/responsibility, particularly for "Take Me Out of the Ballgame"?"

I've gone back and forth on this question over the years. Originally, I definitely thought that SGIS was a "prelude" to DT in some sense. That, however, was before I saw the production for the first time in a while (this would have been back in the early 90s) and was reminded that Scrooge was NOT voiced by Alan Young (Will Ryan did the honors). The animation style was also a lot further from what would become the DT style than I had remembered it being. I later learned about the unproduced followup to SGIS, "Swabbies," which would have included Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Daisy, Pete, and the Beagle Boys. That didn't sound as close to DT as SGIS was.

At present, my best guesses are that:

(1) the IDEA of producing animation based on the Duck (and Mouse) comics was in the air at Disney in the mid-80s, after the Eisner regime took over;
(2) SGIS/Swabbies and DT were two clear manifestations of this predilection;
(3) there is no OVERT evidence of any cross-pollination between the two projects.

And, no, I certainly don't think that SGIS had any influence whatsoever on "Take Me Out of the Ballgame." I'd sooner believe that Tedd Anasti was having a coffee break and scribbled the "plot" down on a napkin.

Chris