Friday, December 21, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 21, "Superdoo!"

We DuckTales dissectors appear to have reached another "split decision" in the course of assessing "Superdoo!".  This time, though, only one guy appears to be seated on the low end of the teeter-totter (not a bad metaphor to use when you recall the last scene in which this ep's featured player ever appeared).  Greg, you're definitely in the minority here, as Joe and I were both less than thrilled by this well-meaning but messily executed homage to Super Goof, while GeoX was not thrilled so much as chilled.  As DT's one episode focusing entirely on the doings of the Junior Woodchucks  -- granted, "Merit-Time Adventure" was heavily flavored with essence de marmotte, but Scrooge's activities got just as much attention -- this represented a golden opportunity for the series to delve deeply into the workings and traditions of the organization in a Barksian, if not a Rosa-crucian, manner.  Instead, we get a series of insults, "snide remarks," and attempts at one-upmanship that literally makes every protagonist except troop leader Launchpad (well, and the squirrel who winds up in possession of the superpower-dispensing alien crystal) look very bad indeed.  The undeniable sincerity of writer Michael Keyes' intentions gets lost in the shuffle.

To answer the obvious question first: Yes, I definitely do think that someone involved in the creative process here was consciously thinking of Super Goof.  The idea of a klutz or otherwise unlikely individual becoming a superhero is certainly not new -- you can probably trace it all the way back to here -- but Doofus' superhero garb is a dead giveaway.  Can we possibly consider the use of long underwear by Goofy, Doofus, AND Ma Hunkel as establishing a definitive visual shorthand for "Yeah, it's kinda absurd that this person is playing hero, but let's go with it anyway"?

Doofus' duds may be similar to those of his predecessors, but his deportment is definitely not.  Keyes may have been able to salvage this ep and explain Doofus' descent into duplicitous dickishness (OK, I'll dispense with the constant use of the D-words) by taking a cue from Huey's comment that the alien crystal "sure has changed" the Nephews' pal -- namely, by originally depicting the crystal as literally BEING an agent of negative change. Specifically, if it had been established early in the episode that the "diamond doughnut" had the ability to directly alter Doofus' personality for the worse -- that is, that the negative side effect of becoming all-powerful by using the crystal was that he would alienate everyone around him -- then we would have had more empathy for the suddenly friendless Doofus' sad plight.  Moreover, Doofus' ultimate decision to throw the crystal away despite its baleful influence would have been made to seem even more admirable than it actually was.  I'm not sure how this idea could have been planted -- perhaps the bumbling alien criminals (who would, of course, also have been affected by the crystal's powers) could have been fighting over possession of the crystal and then lost it in Earth's atmosphere -- but, as written here, Doofus' immediate change of personality is simply too abrupt to be convincing.  In the absence of any context, the Machiavellian leering that Doofus does when he's thinking about how to exploit his new powers comes completely out of left field.  Perhaps falling from the sky and crashing headfirst into that boulder really did have some lingering effects, after all.

Of course, HD&L don't exactly cover themselves with glory, either.  Keyes appears to have been somewhat confused regarding how badly the Nephews should have behaved before Doofus finds the crystal.  Bill and Webster (I don't know why Keyes went to the trouble of naming those characters if their names were never going to be spoken aloud) start out the episode as the real assholes, verbally mocking Doofus, while Dewey sounds sorry for Doofus when he comments that "everyone got a geology merit badge but him." This sounds a lot like a verbal version of the sort of camaraderie and mutual support that one would expect from "fellow Woodchucks," and HD&L in particular...

... but then, entering Camp Woodchuck, the boys make with the fat jokes about their laggard pal.  Worse yet, they do it surreptitiously.  I suppose that these actions wouldn't technically count as "being a jerk TO Doofus," since HD&L don't mock him openly, but that just makes the boys' uncharitable attitude seem worse.

Having now seen all the Woodchucks exhibit contempt for Doofus, the audience can perhaps be excused for not particularly minding the be-crystalled Doofus' insufferably cocky behavior as he bags merit badge after merit badge.  Had Keyes made the Nephews more sympathetic to Doofus and established that Doofus was not entirely in control of his own actions due to the baleful influence of the crystal, Doofus' mocking Huey's attempts to start a fire, and Louie's plaintive comment "So why aren't we happier for him?", would have been much more effective moments.  We would have felt some sympathy for both Doofus and HD&L.  Instead, it's tit-for-tat jerkishness, and I agree with GeoX that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I don't want to take anything away from Doofus' ultimate decision to ditch the "diamond doughnut" and make up with his friends.  It's certainly the single most emotionally powerful moment of his career, just as "Hero for Hire" is arguably his finest overall performance.  However, I definitely would have avoided Doofus' pratfall in the final campfire scene...

... because it completely negates the effectiveness of the previous scene, in which Doofus trapped the timberwolves using his own wits, and simply reinforces GeoX's idea that the true moral of the story is "know your place."  Or, "once a klutz, always a klutz."  I imagine that Keyes thought he was being clever here by ending the episode with a pratfall, just as he had started it with Launchpad and all the other Woodchucks tripping over the outcropping.  If so, then the notion... well, backfired.

I don't normally hold with the use of aliens as corny as these fellows, but their bungling is definitely one of the more enjoyable things about "Superdoo!".  I wonder whether Keyes consciously tried to make them "less than ept" in order to play them off against the infamously fallible Doofus.   Probably not, but the goofy gags and the Yoda-speak (however inconsistently written) definitely lend some much-needed levity to the proceedings.

On a (literally) higher plane, I also greatly enjoy the sequence during which Doofus takes his "nighttime journey" and discovers his new powers.  As Greg notes, one scene in particular was most definitely inspired by a certain Steven Spielberg movie...

... but the episode creates its own brand of magic when Doofus wakes up to what he thinks is a dream and later flies gleefully through the night sky.  Ron Jones' musical accompaniment here adds effectively to the sense of wonder and enchantment.

Had the interpersonal conflicts been handled more adroitly, "Superdoo!" would probably be remembered much more fondly than it is.  As it happened, it would take a couple of years and a completely different medium before Doofus would get a starring role in a really first-rate adventure -- and, in that case, he WAS under the evil influence of mind control.  Better late than never, I suppose.





(GeoX) "One more, and I become the all-time Woodchuck merit-badge champion!" So…the current all-time record is nine? The "excessive Woodchuck awards" business was present in the pilot, but now it appears to have been jettisoned.

Boy, has it ever.  The merit-badge-related activities of the Junior Woodchucks, as presented here, are surprisingly -- and disappointingly -- simplistic.  One could possibly imagine "Superdoo!" as taking place before the events of "Merit-Time Adventure" -- perhaps the self-confidence that Doofus gained from trapping the timberwolves spurred him on to become a competent merit-badge winner and a challenge to the Nephews in that area -- but, since HD&L won a bucketload of medals immediately upon joining the JWs in "Don't Give Up the Ship," watching them struggle to make pottery, weave baskets, and even build a fire looks decidedly strange.  (It looked even stranger when this episode was originally broadcast after "Treasure of the Golden Suns.") 

(Greg)  Then [Doofus] gets the MIMI JOKE ZONE PLAN as he runs into the cabin and rips a red sash from the wall and goes to the CHEST OF DEMONS to find some boots and under suit. He's going to have a disguise see and then he runs out and does this silly fanfare sounds. He then runs into the outhouse and opens the door and goes inside. He changes and shakes the outhouse a bit before coming out disguised as a super hero. He wears his woodchuck hat over his eyes and I see the problem here: The glasses he wears give him away as well as the body mass.

Not to mention the Junior Woodchuck cap itself.  If the plot of "Send in the Clones" relied on "Cartoon Duck Syndrome" in order to work, then Doofus' secret identity depends upon it in the same way that a drunk "depends" upon a lamp post.  Or something like that.  The "funny fanfare" is definitely good for a chuckle, though.

(Greg)  So we head to the river as the aliens cool their asses off in the river (EWWWWWW!) as purple alien wants a new plan and then notices it right in front of him as there is a dam right behind the camp. Now this proves that Mr. Woodchuck has lost his mind. Who in their right mind would place a camp right in front of a dam?!

All the better for the Woodchucks to display their survival skills when the dam bursts, I suppose.  BTW, there are some soundtrack glitches hereabouts; Purple Alien speaks with Green Alien's voice when he says "New plan we need," and Dewey subsequently calls Huey "Louie." 

Next:  Episode 22, "Hotel Strangeduck."


Joe Torcivia said...


One of the best entries in your series! Very well done!

It IS a shame there weren’t just one-or-two more “Woodchuck-centric” stories over the run of DT. They certainly would have been an improvement over some of the later ones – and taken some of the load off of Scrooge, sparing him from things like “Ducks of the West” and “Once Upon a Dime” – and, you know, like finding Bubba, and turning the series toward an eventual sit-com-ish focus, and all kinds o’ stuff like that there!

Yes, it would have been nice (and, ultimately, more beneficial to the character of Doofus) to have “Big D’s” personality and character slowly evolve toward more egotistical, selfish, and maybe even sinister pursuits BY prolonged exposure to the “doughnut” – not unlike the “Cyborg-making machine” did to Doctor Smith in the LOST IN SPACE episode “Space Destructors” . Instead, we think less of Doofus, even though he saved the day.

As with Smith, it would have worked well to explicitly reveal that it just “brought-out” some of the darker thoughts and impulses that were already there to begin with! I could see a character like Doofus harboring such thoughts, even if they were unknown to him.

Nice shout-out to Ron Jones, who still does “DT like scores” for many of the exaggerated action-oriented scenes that often take place on FAMILY GUY. Seth MacFarlane has explicitly referenced DuckTales on FAMILY GUY (Having Peter do the “Money Bin Dive” in a great recreation of that opening credit scene –except Peter finds out what the Beagle Boys did, back in 1952!), and perhaps there’s a direct link to having Jones score the show.

The aliens were perfect comedy-relief. After all, that can’t ALL be like Darkseid, Brainiac, and Mongul, can they?


Pan Miluś said...

"Hotel stragneduck" was ultra creepy when I was a child, hope the review will be as great to read as this one ;)