Monday, December 17, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 20, "Send in the Clones"... plus a VERY Belated RIP Joan Gerber

I'm finally "out the other end of the tunnel," final-exam-wise, and am free to do a DT RETRO for the first time in several weeks.  There will be a special addendum to this edition, however.  I had heard rumors last year that Joan Gerber (Mrs. Beakley, Glittering Goldie, the "original" Webra Walters) had died, but I was never able to get an absolute confirmation of the fact.  (Some sources still haven't; Wikipedia's entry for Ms. Gerber, for example, still does not list her death date.)  Now, however, I have confirmed from multiple sources that Ms. Gerber did indeed pass away last August 22.  After Hal Smith, Hamilton Camp, and Kathleen Freeman, she's the fourth principal cast member of DuckTales to have died.  I'll pay a tribute to her following "DuckBlurbs."

Even at this late date, it's possible to engage in reasonable speculation as to why certain DuckTales episodes were chosen for broadcast in the series' all-important first week of syndication (September 21-25, 1987).  "Sphinx for the Memories" probably made the cut to reassure nervous viewers (those who hadn't watched "Treasure of the Golden Suns," anyway) that Donald would have some sort of role to play.  "Armstrong" and "Robot Robbers" had an explicit continuity link (with Scrooge angrily referencing Gyro's near-disastrous creation of Armstrong when he gets a load of the titular automatons in the latter ep), and it therefore made sense to broadcast them reasonably close to one another in time order.  In my post about "Armstrong," I suggested that WDTVA chose to spotlight that episode in the first place in order to showcase its outstanding animation.  "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" placed an homage to Star Trek in a Duck-context -- certainly, a slam-dunk choice to grab folks' attention.  And then, there's "Send in the Clones," which got the honor of leading off that first week.  How come?

1.  It's a first-rate introduction to Magica De Spell for newbies, and a fine "initial animated experience" with the character for viewers who are already familiar with her.

2.  Its semi-farcical, mistaken-identity-focused, slammed-door-filled approach provides a nice contrast to the more-or-less "classic" treasure-hunting subject matter of "Golden Suns," giving viewers a hint as to the vast range of thematic approaches that DuckTales would ultimately spread before the camera.   

3.  The setting of the healthy majority of the episode inside McDuck Mansion provides a similar contrast to the extensive globe-trotting seen in "Golden Suns."  Indeed, given how little we saw of Scrooge's "home life" in Carl Barks' stories -- truth be told, it was hard to tell if Scrooge even HAD a "home life" most of the time -- "Clones" provides an early indication that the world of what Pete Fernbaugh termed "The Domestic McDuck" will get a good deal of attention during the series.

4.  Despite occasionally shaky figure drawing, the animation is excellent, even flashily flamboyant at times. The animation definitely gets across the idea that the characters are delighted to be starring in a syndicated strip series.  Why, they're positively jumping with joy!






Seriously, did someone involved with this episode take inspiration from Van Halen?


Given all of the frenetic activity (vertical and otherwise) that's to follow, it's not surprising that Magica De Spell comes off as what GeoX accurately terms "entertainingly flamboyantly maniacal" in the opening scene of "Clones."  It is, however, something of a departure from Barks' treatment of the character in the 1960s.  The typical Barks Magica story concluded with a frustrated Magica pitching an hysterical fit, but she generally spent most of the rest of the story acting as a reasonably cool customer.  (One notable exception is "For Old Dime's Sake," in which she works herself up into a lather as she summons various natural phenomena to attack Scrooge's Money Bin.  By that time, with several unsuccessful Dime-glomming schemes already under her garter [and no doubt galling her skin], she could perhaps be excused for working out some of her resentment right off the bat.) In "Clones," by contrast, she's "on" from the off, as if to drill into our brains for all time the importance that she attaches to Scrooge's Old #1 Dime and the uses to which she plans to put it once she gets her hands on it.  It's not exactly subtle, but it's effective.

As I noted in my commentary on "Magica's Magic Mirror," Magica's adoption of a Russian (or, if you prefer, "European") accent is a small price to pay for the privilege of getting June Foray into the voice cast.  The ditching of the "Italian connection" is also made easier to accept due to the fact that the "Mount Vesuvius" that serves as Magica's base here is clearly NOT the "Mount Vesuvius" on the shores of the Gulf of Naples.  For one thing, it's an isolated island in the middle of a large body of water, as we see in the climactic "backfiring spell" scene.  For another... well, I doubt very much that the Italian government would approve of Magica's "remodeling" of the mountain's summit to suit her purposes.  I suppose we'll just have to count the DuckTales Vesuvius as being a different construct altogether.  At least now, it would make sense for airlines to have "flights to Vesuvius" (as opposed to Naples or some other nearby location).  The idea of "flights" to a natural phenomenon (a potentially dangerous one, yet!) never did seem right to me in Magica stories, but now, one would almost HAVE to fly in order to get to Magica's stronghold.  Strangely, though, in the later "Raiders of the Lost Harp," we see a mailman drive his van right up to Magica's mailbox.  Right hand, left hand...

We also have a bit of a problem regarding Magica's ultimate plans for Old #1.  The "melting" and "amulet" aspects are preserved, but... "taking over the world" with the help of the coveted coin?  Perhaps Magica should have specifically referred to "taking over the financial world"?  I agree with GeoX; this additional motivation simply seems like overkill.  I do, however, think that I understand why Magica claims that she will only turn Poe back into her brother once she's created her amulet.  In the spirit of "pour encourager les autres," I rather think that she's holding out on restoring Poe to his normal self until he, er, "cooperates" and helps her get the dime.  (BTW, if we're going to pull DT's chain for giving Magica a Russian accent, then shouldn't we jump on the series with just as much force for not giving Poe an accent AT ALL?)

If Magica's demeanor, home base, and dime-tactics are rather different here than what a Barks purist might expect, then Scrooge's preoccupation with his public image is just as unexpected.  Despite the perceptible "softening" of his character in the end, Scrooge still had his moments of public asperity in "Golden Suns," reaming out a whistling employee and tossing solicitors out of his office for fun, to take just a few examples.  Even when he acceded to the interview at the candy factory at the end of "Don't Give Up the Ship," he spoke in bland business platitudes and was initially baffled by the TV reporter's question about his family.  In "Clones," however, he opens his mansion to Webra Walters specifically to allow her to do a story on his family.  The Scrooge who howled about having his picture printed in JOLT magazine in "North of the Yukon" would not be amused.  Of course, Scrooge's desire to exploit the interview in an attempt to project a "positive image" makes the clone-caused confusion (and Scrooge's panicked reactions to it) all the funnier.  It must be said, however, that this is purely a DuckTales scenario; it's hard to imagine it occurring in a typical Barks tale.  The same holds true with the episode's heavy reliance on what Greg terms "Cartoon Duck Syndrome."  In order to keep the plot from vaporizing before our eyes, everyone must overlook the Beagle-Nephews' obviously faked voices, Webra must be suspicious enough of the goings-on to create humorous tension between herself and Scrooge but not sufficiently suspicious to blow the whistle on the whole deal, Magica and the Beagles must be unable to hear Huey and Mrs. Beakley's loud voices in Magica's lair, and so forth.  If a hard-core Barks fan missed "Golden Suns" and started his or her DT-watching with this ep, then for him or her to have had a condescending reaction to the "non-Barksian" aspects of the plot would not have been a major surprise.  "Golden Suns" watchers, however, would quickly have recognized a continuation of the "kinder, gentler" Scrooge and the somewhat more "relaxed" TV-animation logic of the pilot adventure.

The Magica/Beagles crossover here is intriguing, but not a whole lot is done to take advantage of the contrast in these characters' villainous styles. No sooner has Magica gotten the Beagles out of the slammer than the clone-scheme is underway and subtle characterization is put aside (partially because the characters are playing the roles of other characters a good deal of the time).  The scene in which the Beagles pridefully sneer at Magica's request that they go after a "measly dime" is the closest that the ep gets to playing with the contrast in any meaningful way.

"Clones" does rather better with another character-based notion -- that of giving one of the Nephews a starring role.  Well, perhaps it would be better to call the role a "semi-starring" one.  Huey's assumption of "extra duties" here is nothing like Dewey's discontent-fueled driving of the key subplot in "Duck in the Iron Mask".  Basically, he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is forced to accompany Bigtime, Babyface, and Magica back to Vesuvius.  I would like to think that, had Dewey or Louie been put in the same position, they would have handled it equally well.  Even so, one has to be impressed with the way in which Huey handled his prodigious workload in the final third of this episode: busting knots, climbing the cliff under extreme duress, being forced to play matador and dodge a dragon, flinging dangerous magical chemicals around Magica's lair, and, of course, executing that eye-popping "vertical leap from a standing start" just before Magica grabs him.  It's only fair to add that, when HD&L excitedly relate their "Quacker-Snatcher" theory to Webra, it's Huey who takes the main lead in doing so.  It's almost as if he were able to anticipate what was ahead for him.


Pete Fernbaugh's review of "Clones" includes an excellent discussion of the "domestic" aspects of this episode -- in particular, its emphasis on the importance of family and how that emphasis helped to mellow Scrooge's character for the TV audience.  I think that this episode's climax struck just about the right note in how it handled the choice that Scrooge must make between Old #1 and Huey.  Scrooge's decision to give Old #1 to Magica in order to get Huey back simply seems "right" in context, especially after the events of "Golden Suns" served to cement the bonds of loyalty between Scrooge and his family members (in particular, the boys).  If Scrooge's determination to reclaim Castle McDuck in "The Curse of Castle McDuck" was backwards-looking, focusing on the importance of the past, then his apparent surrender of Old #1 here indicates a willingness to sacrifice for the future -- specifically, for one of his putative heirs.  The fact that Scrooge winds up outfoxing Magica (with the help of a tremendous slice of luck -- that juggling act with the dimes after Huey broke free from the Beagles and disrupted the trade certainly wasn't in his original plan) makes him seem both compassionate and clever -- a nice combination of Barks' "smarter than the smarties" miser and the "nicer than he used to be" Scrooge of the TV series.

"Send in the Clones" gets its non-trivial job done in a fun and enjoyable way.  It immediately grabs the viewer's attention, introduces a major villain, brings forth plenty of chuckles, and firmly establishes the series' credibility when it comes to producing self-contained 22-minute adventures.
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"DuckBlurbs"
 
(GeoX)  ...[T]here's an incredibly weird ending: the ducks and the reporter fly away from Vesuvius in a helicopter; Magica is swearing revenge in the distance, to which they all simultaneously shrug their shoulders and declare: "she gets so carried away!" Is it a parody of hokey, self-conscious endings like that, or is it the thing itself? And is it supposed to be some sort of punchline? It looks like it's meant to be a one-liner of some sort, but it's not, I dunno, funny, or meaningful, or anything. A strange and infelicitous way to close the show out.

As a commenter pointed out on your blog, Geo, this was merely the climax to a running gag.  To be sure, one can debate about how good the gag was, but at least they tried to pay it off in a big way, with all of the good-guy characters pitching in to help punch it across.  (It's funny how they all automatically knew to say the line at the same time, however.)

(Greg) [Magica] throws more dust into the fire and notice the middle of the pentagram: There is a circle around it; but if you look closely; you can see the shape of a pentagon around it (thus proving that this is a pentagram). Disney would NEVER get away with this ever again even if they sell a DVD set which contains Ducktales episodes with that symbol.

Ah yes, the pentagram!  You get an even better view of the layout when raven-Magica does her power-swoop during the magical battle...


To be perfectly honest, I never paid much attention to the presence of this figure, and I doubt that even the most hypersensitive anti-occultist did so at the time.  Magica is a magical villainess, so it isn't surprising that her lair would feature some contentious symbolism.  The problem with a later banned episode like Darkwing Duck's "Hot Spells" was that it took what was already a more controversial idea (the use of magic-wielder Morgana as a protagonist -- or reformed villainess, if you want to get technical about it) and then upped the ante with references to the Devil, Hell, and the imperiling of souls.  I don't like the idea of any Disney Afternoon episode being banned, but the contrast between these two very different reactions to "occult material" is quite understandable.

(Greg)  Mrs. Beakly proclaims to Scrooge not to worry because this will be perfect. Scrooge changes the mirror on Mrs. Beakly and leaves as Beakly didn't like that one. Then we get logic break #2 as she was in clear sight of seeing the mirror with the Beagle Boys image on it looking for items. She turns around and orders them to go upstairs which stops the Beagle Nephews from stealing. 

Actually, I think that she's looking past the mirror and therefore can't see the Beagles inside it.  Either that, or she is standing at such an angle that she can see figures moving on the surface of the mirror (which prompts her to order the Beagle-Nephews to go and change clothes) but can't make out who the figures are.



Incidentally, why should Magica's clone-spell have the flaw that "mirrors will reveal [disguised characters'] real identity"?  Shouldn't that little detail have been fixed by Magica some time ago?  Or hasn't Magica reached the relevant page of SORCERY FOR DUMMIES yet?

(Greg)  Burger Nephew hugs Webby's Quackerpatch doll (Aw! Burger is sweeter than the real nephews combined in Webby's eyes now and thus making them heel and Burger babyface by proxy.) and Big Time Nephew grabs onto it blowing him off and then we get the tug-o-war on the doll and it gets racked as Webby protests this outrage...

Every time that I see Webby's Quacky Patch doll, I start to search for some kind of meta-comment on marketing.  Is the tug of war here some sort of unspoken criticism of how consumers fight one another for the "hot marketing sensation of the season"?  Probably not, but the thought itself is more imaginative than anything Charles Schulz came up with for Tapioca Pudding.

(Greg)  So we head back to Magica's Satan 666 Jet of Death (Now there is something Don Karnage should have stolen; just to be cool)...

Considering that Barks' Magica usually seemed content to travel to and from Duckburg on garden-variety airplanes, the DT Magica has a most impressive fleet of airborne vehicles.  The "Satan 666 Jet of Death" here and the claw-footed helicopter in "Raiders of the Lost Harp" should each have been used more than once.  Unfortunately, they weren't.  Indeed, in Magica's final appearance in the second season's "The Unbreakable Bin," she goes "transportationally old-school" and rides a broom.  The diverse array of transportation options seems all of a piece with the "flashier" and "splashier" aspects of the DT Magica's persona.

 
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Joan Gerber

Greg had some comments in his "Clones" review about Joan Gerber's frequently "wooden" performances as Mrs. Beakley.  I definitely got that impression on more than one occasion, and Joan's Mae West impression for Glittering Goldie also had its overly studied aspects (though they were more understandable for a voice that was more highly stylized to begin with).  I wonder whether Joan's prior voice work had conditioned her to employ such an approach.  Certainly, her first major voice-acting job encouraged stylized performances, since the "animation" (if you could call it that) was about as stiff and minimal as can be imagined:


Later, as "The Story Lady" -- think a radio version of Jay Ward's Fractured Fairy Tales, in a highly compressed format --  Joan read "fairy tales with a twist" in a purposefully modulated voice:


By the time of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home in 1973, the pattern was well-established.  As Irma Boyle, Joan gave a solid -- but also fairly stolid -- performance, one reflected quite well in the opening theme song:


All things considered, I think that Joan did the best work of her career for DuckTales.  Mrs. Beakley was a very likable character, and I think it's fair to say that a number of Duck fans, irrespective of their general feelings about the series, latched onto Joan's Mae West-ish interpretation of Glittering Goldie and gladly accepted it as canonical.  It simply seemed that a conniving dance-hall girl "in the days of the great Klondike gold rush" OUGHT to sound like that.  The fact that the Mae West impression made Goldie seem more like a sexpot didn't hurt either.  Who knows, it might even have made an impression on Don Rosa.  Not a bad legacy to leave, Ms. Gerber.


Next:  Episode 21, "Superdoo!".

4 comments:

Daniel J. Neyer said...

"Incidentally, why should Magica's clone-spell have the flaw that "mirrors will reveal [disguised characters'] real identity"? Shouldn't that little detail have been fixed by Magica some time ago? Or hasn't Magica reached the relevant page of SORCERY FOR DUMMIES yet?"

This idea seems to be a variation of the notion seen in the Dracula movies that vampire's can't be seen in mirrors. Apparently mirrors pose problems that black magicians have never been able to eliminate.

This is one of my favorite episodes, due to many things you mentioned--the lively animation, Foray's vivid Magica, and the comedy centering around the Beagles' masquerade. Speaking of the Beagles, is this the only time in the first season that the "A-team" and the "B-team" of Beagles meld? (Here we have Bigtime, Babyface, and Burger, instead of Bigtime, Bouncer, and Burger or Babyface, Bankjob, and Bugle). "Scroogeorello" might have a similarly mixed-and-matched group, but I can't recall its Beagle lineup offhand.

Also on the Beagle front, "Clones" has one of my favorite Burger moments, when he squeals on Magica (after first proclaiming his lips zipped) when Scrooge threatens him with no supper.

Regarding Magica's raven, it almost seems as if the "Poe-is-Magica's-Brother" idea was dropped after "Clones." In later episodes like "Raiders of the Lost Harp" and "Magica's Shadow War," Poe talks in broken nevermore-style English, more like a pet than a transformed human. Also, Magica calls him "Mr. Poe" in "Raiders," which sounds like a rather formal way to address a sibling. I don't know if the writers simply forgot the relationship mentioned in "Clones" or chose to deliberately change it (personally, I always thought making the raven Magica's brother was an unnecessary embellishment).

Chris Barat said...

Dan,

"Speaking of the Beagles, is this the only time in the first season that the "A-team" and the "B-team" of Beagles meld? (Here we have Bigtime, Babyface, and Burger, instead of Bigtime, Bouncer, and Burger or Babyface, Bankjob, and Bugle). "Scroogeorello" might have a similarly mixed-and-matched group, but I can't recall its Beagle lineup offhand."

"Scroogerello" mixes Bigtime, Burger, and Bebop/Bugle. Earlier than that, "Robot Robbers" features Bankjob, Babyface, and a Beagle who is CALLED Burger but sounds just like Bouncer. The WHOLE Beagle clan shows up in a scene in "Super DuckTales" at one point.

"Regarding Magica's raven, it almost seems as if the "Poe-is-Magica's-Brother" idea was dropped after "Clones." In later episodes like "Raiders of the Lost Harp" and "Magica's Shadow War," Poe talks in broken nevermore-style English, more like a pet than a transformed human. Also, Magica calls him "Mr. Poe" in "Raiders," which sounds like a rather formal way to address a sibling. I don't know if the writers simply forgot the relationship mentioned in "Clones" or chose to deliberately change it (personally, I always thought making the raven Magica's brother was an unnecessary embellishment)."

Poe isn't described in the show bible entry on Magica, so I'm not certain who came up with the idea to create the character in the first place. I put the inconsistency in the depiction of Poe's character and relationship to Magica up to the simple consequence of having multiple writers working on the later episodes. They may have been told that Poe existed (once he was created -- presumably in this ep) but evidently didn't get a lot of guidance as to how he should "work." Perhaps they should have kept it simple (and Barksian) and stuck with Ratface.

Chris

Mike Russo said...

"Also on the Beagle front, "Clones" has one of my favorite Burger moments, when he squeals on Magica (after first proclaiming his lips zipped) when Scrooge threatens him with no supper."

I very rarely laugh out loud while watching Ducktales, but THIS is one of the few times I actually do.

Gregory Weagle said...

Yeah; but I do recall Steve Hullet mentioning that DTVA got complaints about the character in the Animation Guild blog he is still doing.

To be fair; Disney wasn't the first to showcase a pentagram on their cartoon show. Thundercats 1980's edition had one decorated one. Also on the BBC; Count Duckula's opening theme had one in plain sight.

Hot Spells: Which makes it more unjustified than ever since Drake was the one who saved her from certain doom. Flying Dupes at least had the major problem of dealing with something that was so rooted in reality (in this case; blowing up a head of state and causing a war which creates profits for the bomb making factory. That hits way too close to home for some.)

As for Joan: I think the problem was the voice director and the character; not Joan's herself because Joan plays the same character in Balooest of Bluebloods and she sounds a lot more animated in that episode.