Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wing Doesn't Need a Prayer

So, have you had the opportunity to read Eric Wing's fine article commemorating DuckTales' 25th birthday?  If not, go ahead.  I can wait.

Let me take on a few of Eric's points:

(1)  To be completely fair, Eric, some DuckTales merchandise DID manage to get into the stores.  It even merited several TV commercials.  Artful, however, the spots generally weren't, even when measured by the modest standards of the medium.

Quack-quack.  Right. To make matters worse, the narrator seems to assume that the term "DuckTales" referred to the group of characters featured on the show.  (More painful even than this was the fact that the misbegotten Marvel-Disney DISNEY AFTERNOON comic-book title once used the phrase "DuckTales in..." to introduce a DT story.)

Several items produced during the original run of the series -- the Panini sticker album, a number of the figurines, and particularly the well-received video games -- have achieved semi-legendary status.  Unfortunately, there weren't enough of these to sustain the long-term interest of the "civilian" population as the 1990s wore on.  It would have helped, I think, if the DT-based comic books had been regularly plugged during broadcasts of the show.  But then, you can say exactly the same thing about all of the other series produced during the "Golden Age" of WDTVA.  Next to the video division's ham-fisted, unimaginative handling of the DVD releases, the refusal to partake of what would seem to be a straightforward opportunity to exploit "synergy" is the most infuriatingly puzzling aspect of Disney's superintendence of this marvelous product. 

(2)  As for the troubling question of why DT has not sustained more of a legacy, over and above the "mere" lack of enough store-buyable baubles, I addressed this question at some length a couple of years ago in "Free DuckTales!", a piece I wrote as part of my RICHVILLE RUMINATIONS column in Mark Arnold's THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!.  I identified the following potential reasons:
  • Duck fans were divided on the question of the series' viability from the very beginning, and so the show lacked the solid phalanx of fans that helped perpetuate interest in, say, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.
  • The comic books were of uneven, aesthetically confused quality, which made it easier for some to write off the DT concept as inferior.
  • A number of the new characters had as many detractors as they had boosters -- and some had more of the former than the latter (see Duck, Bubba).
  • The series lived a more or less "natural" lifespan of 100 episodes, and it was easy for Duck fans to go back to reading the "standard" comics after it was all over.  Rescue Rangers and TaleSpin, by contrast, gained a second wind because they were taken out of production "before their time."
  • The era of TV animation that DT ignited has ended, and we're living in a different aesthetic world today.
To this list, I'd now add:
  • Disney DVD's treatment of the DVD releases as throwaway product has helped to obscure the true historical and aesthetic significance of the series.
(3)  If I were as comprehensive an authority on DT as Eric seems to think me to be, then I'd certainly know a lot more behind-the-scenes information about the series' production history.  I do know that the show was officially put into development in 1985, as indicated in the copyright notice below:

Also, episode voice tracks were being recorded as early as the Spring of 1986.  I have a news article noting the recording of the track for "Micro Ducks from Outer Space" as taking place during April of that year.  The production order of the eps as a whole, I've gleaned from a couple of sources.  But "inside infor"?  I wish.


Pan Miluś said...

I find it so odd how in the game "Duck Tales 2" Lunchpad refrence Scrooge as "Uncle Scrooge".... O_o

I so hope one day you comment on my duck-fanfic ;) : (this is version translated into English from Polish)

Chris Barat said...


Apparently, the RESCUE RANGERS 2 video game is even more screwed up than this: Gadget speaks like Monterey Jack, and so forth. I guess the quality control wasn't quite as rigorous in the rush to capitalize on the popularity of the first game.


Anonymous said...

Chris, thanks for the critique!

So didn't intend to say merchandizing was non-existent, but it was minuscule, particularly compared to the might that Disney is capable when they care.

I didn't know about those DuckTales stuffed animals. (But no Scrooge though, eh? Boo.) As a data point, it was pretty easy for me to find Chip and Dale stuffed animals in their Rescue Rangers attire. I had actually won Dale and a few other trinkets in a Rescue Rangers postcard contest being run in 1989 and I bought Chip a few years later at The Disney Store…big giant display of stuffed animals from all facets of Disney. But not a single DuckTales related item in the entire store. (I asked the salespeople.)

I have vague recollections of Happy Meal toys for DuckTales in the US. Those promos don't usually last more than a month though.

I am however very familiar with the NES DuckTales games. (I might be described as an ex-gamer.) I love the Moon theme. So the funny thing is that it is usually a rule that tie-in video games suck. DuckTales was rare in that it was one of those few that was actually good.

I linked to The Angry Video Game Nerd's review because the whole concept is he is supposed to review crappy video games. Going into it, I suspect he thought it was going to suck (it would be a good bet), and then he had to abort the review and say it was a good game. The video is in his DVD extras.

(For some examples of AVGN reviews of tie-in games, here are just a few off the top of my head: Ghostbusters trilogy, Back to the Future trilogy, Indiana Jones trilogy, Superman 64, Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle.)

But yet another place Disney really dropped the ball was that they actually had an excellent video game series on NES, but they never followed up with it on Super Nintendo or Genesis. If having a video game tie-in was going to help, they really needed to get on these consoles because combined they had almost double the market penetration. Most of the great games on NES cemented their legacy by having a 16-bit successor (e.g. Metroid/Super Metroid). In contrast, there were some games that could have probably cemented their legacy but didn't by not having a sequel on a 16-bit console (e.g. Kid Icarus).

And even if they only ported DuckTales to one console, they could have fed fuel into the SNES vs. Genesis wars which would still have been valuable.

And just hearing the moon theme professionally remixed with better hardware would have probably sold copies of the game :)

And you (and Joe Torcivia) are definitely authorities. The fact that you guys keep coming up as my source reference material proves it. :) I suspect that the insider information will never be released at this point and will probably be lost to the ages if not already. (25 years is a long time.)

To me, it looks like you and Joe and pieced it all together like what a historian has to do since they don't have the benefit of being there. That counts, and you probably know more than any one person on the inside and have a better understanding of the big picture.

Chris Barat said...


I do remember seeing stuffed Scrooge dolls as well, but you can imagine why the commercial emphasized the young'uns.

I've managed to scavenge a pretty decent collection of DT PVC figurines in addition to the McDonald's toys. Some of the PVC's are quite good and include such characters as Magica, Glomgold, Gyro, and the Beagle Boys. Most of these I picked up at comic-cons.

My hope for the retrospectives is that I can say some things about the series that haven't been said before! (It's easier for some eps than for others.)