Tuesday, August 28, 2012

*croak*

Wouldn't you just know it... Just as the fall semester started, I came down with a major case of "frog in the throat," with a side order of aches and chills.  I was barely able to make it through my Monday and Tuesday classes, but I persevered with the help of bottled water, lozenges, and bags of Craisins.  I think that I may need the full Labor Day weekend to recover.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"One Dead in Ohio"?

Oh, how I wish this were a parody on the order of something in THE ONION.  But, no, it's apparently clipped from a "straight" online news report.  This gives the phrase "I don't believe the liberal media!" a whole new meaning.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Now THIS makes me feel old.  I can just barely remember the Apollo 11 flight; my parents had our next-door neighbors in Wilmington over to watch the coverage of the moon walk, which took place late at night.  Try as I might, I can't recall whether I was able to stay awake to watch Armstrong take those epochal first steps on the lunar surface.  Of course, the landing was far more stressful for all concerned, especially the astronauts themselves.



Will I live to see the 21st century equivalent of Neil Armstrong take the first steps on Mars?  It's not looking too good at present.  Still, I have hopes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 7, "The Money Vanishes"

Curse me kilts!  Sometimes great minds really DO think alike, to a positively frightening extent.  Consider the following appraisals of "The Money Vanishes," written a cool two decades apart:

It's silly time in Duckburg...  This is the kind of story that helped kill off the Whitman Disney comics.  The plot, such as it is, is exceptionally slight and fairly absurd, reminiscent of the farcical Vic Lockman-scripted stories in the BEAGLE BOYS comics of the 60s and 70s.  -- Chris B. and Joe Torcivia

It reminds me very strongly of those intensely mediocre Vic Lockman stories from the 70s, all incredibly contrived plotting and forced zaniness... -- GeoX

Greg seems to have had a higher opinion of this episode than any of us did, which is probably due to his relative lack of familiarity with the types of Duck stories that we were referencing here.  One Lockman-scripted story in particular, 1984's "The Atom-Mover," is almost spookily similar to "Vanishes," dealing as it does with Scrooge's use of a matter-transporter to shift his money from place to place and the Beagles' subsequent use of the gizmo to rob Scrooge.  That story was published by Western just as the Whitman comics line was gasping its last, and the level of inspiration that it displayed matched the depressing circumstances.  "Vanishes" is better than "The Atom-Mover," in large part because some of its attempts at humor yield scattered laughs, but the loopier aspects of this episode -- clueless protagonists, cheesy disguises, pink clouds of gas that conveniently move from place to place for the sole purpose of setting up lame displacement sight gags -- are, quite frankly, unworthy of a series as ambitious and ground-breaking as DuckTales.  The first series appearance of the Beagle Boys gives the ep a bit of historical cachet, to be sure, but, given the *cough* *cough* mixed reviews of the "personalized" DT Beagles, even this plaudit comes with a distinct caveat.  I happen to have a higher opinion of the DT Beagles than does GeoX -- "It'd be impossible not to!," as one Nephew said once upon a time -- but I do take his criticisms seriously enough that I'll address them at length below.     
 
Writer David Schwartz may have been a bit more "Barks-literate" than GeoX gave him credit for being.  Schwartz may have called Gyro's Helper "Little Bulb," but at least he made use of the light-bulb-headed character, who isn't mentioned in the write-up on Gyro in DuckTales writers' bible.  Moreover, while Helper/LB doesn't get to do much, he does more "acting" here than in any of his other appearances. No, where Schwartz fails in capturing the "spirit of Barks" is in his characterization of Scrooge, who's depicted as exceptionally gullible and strangely passive.  Would the "real" Scrooge really have been fooled so easily by the Beagles' transparently phony TV commercial warning of the danger of "Money Moths"?  Wouldn't he have sufficient brain cells to realize that money-munching insects would pose no threat to paper money in bags and gold coins, which seem to make up the vast majority of riches in his Money Bin?  Above all, would the "real" Scrooge have collapsed so dramatically after his money vanished, doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to get it back and completely relying on the Nephews to work their magic?  Momentary despair, as in "Only a Poor Old Man," I can understand, but not this total fold-up.        

Perhaps Scrooge's "Barksian life force" was transferred to Dewey somewhere along the line.  The cleverest of the triplets (so saith Dan Haley -- and so the series will later implicitly argue in "Duck in the Iron Mask") clearly outshines his brothers here.  He's the first to question the veracity of "salesman" Big Time Beagle, the first to figure out the evil nature of the "CashGuard" spray, and, of course, gets to play Clint Eastwood with Gyro's furniture-mover ray when the tables are turned on the Beagle Boys at the end.  For good measure, Dewey then dopes out how to zap his brothers, Scrooge's fortune, and himself back to the Money Bin.  A good day's work under any circs, wouldn't you agree?

Of course you would, with Dewey pointing that ray gun at you.

I've always felt that the first act of this episode moved at an ungodly slow pace, seemingly taking forever to get the "plot" in motion.  Since this was the first episode to feature the Beagle Boys, perhaps the sludgy getaway was caused by the desire to give the Beagles a "proper," well-detailed introduction to the audience.  Seeing as how the Beagles' personalities are crystal-clear within seconds of their initial appearance in Duckburg Jail, I fail to see why this was necessary.  Add in the overly long chase sequences that take up most of the third act, and one must marvel at Schwartz' ability to mine 22 minutes' worth of screen time out of so little tangible content.  The lack of "meat on the bones" quite naturally causes the viewer's attention to focus on the "newbies," namely, the retrofitted, newly-individualized, "modern-desigh-a-nized" Beagle Boys.  Is that a good thing?

There are actually two questions to consider here: (1) Would DuckTales, even if it had wanted to, have been able to accurately reproduce the Barksian "clone" Beagle Boys?  (2)  How successful were the personalizations that we actually did get?  I'd argue that the jury is out on both questions (a pretty apropos metaphor to use where the Beagles are concerned).

As it happens, there IS an animated featurette that drew inspiration from Barks' original conception of the Beagle Boys: Sport Goofy in Soccermania.  This peculiar 1987 production, originally meant for theaters but ultimately "thrown away" as part of an NBC TV special, features the "clone" Beagles as the adversaries to Scrooge, HD&L, Sport Goofy, and their soccer team.  Only these Beagles aren't "clones," not exactly.  In the first "Beagle mass group shot" of the cartoon, one gruff-voiced Beagle immediately assumes the role of leader and holds it to the end:

Moreover, several of the lead Beagle's "brudders" are clearly different from him, in terms of being what Greg would call "bump machines" and/or being of a somewhat lower order of intelligence than the "Beagle norm":


We're not done yet.  During the climactic soccer match between the Beagle Boys and the "McDuck Greenbacks," several of the B-Boys are given names by announcer Chick Hearn.  Hearn drops names like McGruder, Switchblade, Shaw, Wheels, and The Weasel, among others.  I checked a Web site of some of Hearn's pet sayings and nicknames and found nary a mention of any of these Beagle descriptives.  Nor do any of the members of the production crew that worked on Soccermania appear to have been tributed here.  Perhaps Chick was simply going with the flow and saying what popped into his head, but the mere fact that he did so makes him a pioneer in the field of Beagle-personalization.



And all of this occurred during the span of a single 20-minute cartoon.  What do you think would have happened had these Beagles been given a full syndicated season's worth of work?  I think it's highly likely that some degree of personalization would have seeped its way into the Beagle clan, if for no other reason than to provide opportunities for visual and verbal sight gags.  The question now is, did DT use the right sorts of characterizations when it decided to "go all the way" and make the Beagles distinctly different in appearances, voices, and personalities?  Here, I think that GeoX has a somewhat stronger case, though "I can't f***ing stand these Beagle Boys" seems unduly harsh.

As fate would have it, the four Beagle Boys who debut in "Vanishes" -- Big Time, Bouncer, Burger, and Baggy -- would become the de facto Beagle Boys after the first season, as such alternate figures as Bankjob, Babyface, and Bugle/Bebop sank out of sight.  I think that this was a mistake, and not simply because the episodes in which the "B-Boy B-team" appeared had the annoying habit of being classics ("Hero for Hire," "Time Teasers").  Big Time and Bouncer, I would consider to be keepers; Big Time's cockiness and aggressiveness are fun to watch, and Bouncer (who apparently was a late creation, since he isn't mentioned in the writers' bible) is the closest of the quartet to a Barks Beagle Boy, though perhaps a little dimmer than the standard Barks Beagle.  Baggy, however, gets more irritating the more often he appears.  Arguably his two best lines of the series come in this very episode ("It's not easy bein' wanted when you're wanted!" and "That [mugshot] wasn't my best side!"); thereafter, it's "terminally moronic" gags out the wazoo.  As for Burger...  yes, he's got an amusing voice, he's reminiscent of the Barks Beagle who loved prunes, and he's as likable as any Beagle is ever likely to be, but, let's be honest here, using a bottomless appetite as the entire basis for a personality ultimately tends to cramp one's dramatic range.  Bankjob, Babyface, and Bugle/Bebop (and, yes, damn it all, I'm even willing to throw Megabyte Beagle in there, mortarboard hat and all) had their own limitations, but giving the "Core Four" a few extra episodes off in favor of the "B-team" would certainly have bred less contempt, at least among certain segments of the audience.


Truthfully, the Beagle Boys aren't the reason this episode stinks.  Gyro and Scrooge come off much, much worse, and the logical loopholes (How did the spray reach the money that wasn't on the top layers of Scrooge's money bin?  Did that pink cloud have a mind of its own, or something?  How can all of Scrooge's money fit inside the Beagles' dilapidated hideout?  Why can't the police see the shovel sticking out of the cake??) are ultimately too much to accept, even in a "comedic" episode.  After the relatively successful "Dinosaur Ducks," this second "original" DT episode is a BIG step backwards. 

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DuckBlurbs

(GeoX)  The Beagle Boys steal [the ray], in an intelligence-insulting sequence where they pretend to be doctors and discombobulate it out of Gyro (yes, Gyro's always kind of clueless, but are we really to believe he's that dumb?).

Is this Gyro's single worst moment of the series?  It's certainly one of the finalists, and that's saying something when no fewer than three future episodes involve Gearloose-built robots going haywire for various reasons.  At least Hal Smith's Gyro voice is pretty well pinned down by now.  Speaking (as we were just a moment ago) of logical lapses, when did joggin' Gyro have time to change into his running outfit and join the Duckburg Marathon?  Given how gullible he seemed while being bamboozled by the Beagle Boys, you expected him to literally follow the Beagles' orders and run a few hundred miles without changing his clothes.

(GeoX)  Scrooge forgets that he owns jillions of businesses: "Now that I'm broke, I'd better start checking the want ads for a job!" To be fair, he's been known to do this in Barks stories as well. 

And I would have given Scrooge a pass for this very reason... except that I was so pissed that Scrooge had thrown in the towel so completely.

(Greg)  Man; the TaleSpin police are REASONABLE compared to the Ducktales ones. I mean; there is a FREAKING SHOVEL in the cake and somehow [Officer Parolski] DOESN'T NOTICE?! 

According to the DT writer's bible, this brain-boggling notion of the Beagles getting badly disguised escape tools in baked goods was apparently meant to be a running gag throughout the series.  No matter that it made the Duckburg police and penal system look dumber than dirt...  The gag would appear several times in the future, but it appears to have been abandoned after a certain point.  For one thing, the Beagles began to make their initial appearances in episodes while outside of jail.

(Greg)  Big Time orders them to get the ray gun as the nephews stands their ground as Dewey cuts the lamest Clint Eastwood [promo] in history. You wish you were Flint [Shrubwood] Dewey. The Beagle Boys realize that they are screwed and they bail stage left as we get the SCOOBY DOO CHASE SEQUENCE THE MANHOOD EDITION~! A rare sight when the babyfaces are chasing the heel with a gun; even if it's not a killing gun. More so when it's kids.

A very good point!  Would this scene have passed muster today? 

Next:  Episode 8, "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan." 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 6, "Dinosaur Ducks"

Watching DT dubbed into another language can be a real eye- and ear-opener -- and, in some cases, can cause you to have a new-found appreciation for the original version.  The Italian dub is a good case in point.  In it, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are voiced by three different child actors.  Now, I have no objection to kids being used to do the boys' voices, but, the more actors you have to hire, the greater the likelihood that you're going to make a bad casting decision... and, wouldn't you know it, the voice of the Italian Huey is high-pitched, whiny, and altogether unpleasant to listen to for any length of time.  (I wonder whether the Italian production crew knew that Russi Taylor is fluent in Italian; I would have loved to have heard her try to wrap HD&L's "semi-quacky" voices around those torrents of rapid-fire vowels.)  The irritating nature of the Italian Huey's voice is actually relevant to "The Ep at Hand," because one of the subtler subthemes of "Dinosaur Ducks" involves Huey hectoring Louie as the latter's attempts to trap a baby hadrosaur in the "Lost World" backfire again and again.  You can imagine how that comes across in the Italian version. 

With "Dinosaur Ducks," we see DuckTales, in the manner of that long-ago creature taking its first tentative steps out of the primordial ooze, slowly easing its way into the telling of "original" stories.  Now, when I say "original," I certainly don't mean that we've never seen a plot like this before; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pioneered the "hidden land of dinosaurs" trope in his 1912 novel THE LOST WORLD, Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse famously visited "The Land of Long Ago" in 1940-41, and Carl Barks took Donald and HD&L to "Forbidden Valley" in 1957.  "Dinosaur Ducks" stands out because it is the first episode for which one could reasonably argue that the production crew made no use of Barks material.  Indeed, in their placing of the "Lost World" on a plateau atop a vertiginous jumble of cliffs, writers Ken Koonce and David Wiemers appear to have gone all the way back to the original Conan Doyle tale to find their inspiration.  The duo's diligent borrowings paid off, as the episode has held up quite well indeed, despite the familiar trappings. 

DT didn't go in for "action openings" all that often, and this ep's is one of the very best.  Launchpad's "transcontinental crawl" is, of course, the comedic highlight.  For some reason, the Italian dub completely cut out Terry McGovern's heroic panting, which, to me, was half the fun of the entire sequence.  At Scrooge's zoo (which contains yet another of Scrooge's satellite offices -- at least this one doesn't appear to have a giant safe), we get our first glimpse of Scrooge's secretary Miss Quackfaster, er, Mrs. Featherby.  I've no idea why they decided to change her name, but I agree with GeoX that they probably weren't paying close attention; in her handful of future appearances, she will have a different voice and a somewhat less acerbic personality than she displays here.  Given that DT made an effort to endow Duckworth and Mrs. Beakly with distinctive personalities, it's a shame that the series didn't do the same with Miss Q./Mrs. F.  It would have livened up any number of scenes at the Money Bin.

This is one of the very few times when both HD&L and Webby are obliged to play "tagalong" to participate in an adventure.  Barks didn't use this idea very much either, and, in retrospect, I'm glad that DT maintained the tradition.

Was the box in which HD&L were hiding aboard the transport plane some sort of TARDIS device?!  Where could the boys have been hiding that Launchpad missed seeing them when he rummaged through the box to find an aspirin?  LP's dense, but not that dense.  And that's not the only wonky thing about the transport.  Why would a bench on the plane come equipped with a parachute, the better to allow the "ejected" Nephews to "drift into the Lost World"?  And what aeronautical designer in their right mind would put a control that releases the rotor within easy reaching distance on the pilot's dashboard?


Once we get to the "Lost World," things begin to play out in a fairly conventional fashion -- Scrooge and LP encounter and are captured by the out-of-place caveducks, while the boys butcher their dino-catching operations.  To be fair to Louie, I should note that the "Junior Woodchucks Tiger Trap" did indeed work as it was supposed to; it captured a prehistoric tiger (which, like the caveducks, shouldn't really exist in tandem with dinosaurs, but there you go).  As GeoX suggested, perhaps the boys should have consulted the index to find the instructions for constructing an actual dinosaur trap. The fruit trap also "worked" in that it caught a dinosaur, albeit the wrong kind.  The trap that was inexplicably triggered OUT OF NOWHERE seems more like a mishap that might have happened to Unca Donald.  Give Louie credit for persistence, however; his plan to ride the baby hadrosaur to the rescue of Scrooge and LP comes off without a hitch.  Huey and Dewey should also get credit for giving Louie those multiple chances in the first place.

   
Webby's attachment to the baby hadrosaur represents the first stirring of what will become one of her defining personality traits, namely, her "way with animals."  But it's her fractured fairy tale at the caveducks' camp that makes the bigger impression here.  DT appears to have had some difficulty in giving Webby good comedic bits during the first season; not until the somewhat looser and wilder second and third seasons would the writers feel comfortable in sticking Webby into slapstick situations.  The funny fable she relates here is an imaginative compromise.

Scrooge's ultimate decision to leave the baby hadrosaur with its mother in favor of "bring[ing] Duckburg to the dinosaurs" seems like a perfectly satisfactory ending, not to mention a classic manifestation of his somewhat "kinder and gentler" DT persona.  But... but... unless some security precautions are taken, I can see this generous scheme backfiring on him at some point down the line.  What's to prevent some unscrupulous big-game hunter from participating in the "Dinosaurfari," scoping out the "Lost World"'s location, and then coming to collect beasties for his own nefarious purposes?  The example of O'Roarke in Tale Spin's "Paradise Lost" comes quickly to mind.  If debating "Prime Directives" is more your speed, then you should probably also be concerned about how rapidly the caveducks might develop now that Launchpad has shown them the secret of the wheel.  In failing to address these points, "Dinosaur Ducks" comes across as rather naive, but entertainingly so.  Unlike Mickey and Goofy in "Land of Long Ago," there is never any serious doubt that the Ducks will escape unscathed, or that Scrooge will find some way to turn the situation to his pecuniary advantage.

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"Duck Blurbs"

(GeoX)  Anyway, naturally, Scrooge wants him some dinos for his zoo, so it's off to this Lost World, with HDL and Webby as stowaways. They tangle with the bad carnosaur and help out the good hadrosaur mother and child (I've always found this business of assigning moral agency to animals based on their perfectly natural characteristics to be pretty goofy, but at the same time, it's entirely understandable).

Also goofy: the temptation to portray non-sentient baby dinosaurs, such as the little hadrosaur here and Bubba Duck's pal Tootsie, as the functional equivalent of dogs.  Who started that trend, I wonder?



(GeoX)  So HDL are trying to protect the baby hadrosaur that's trapped in a canyon from the evil carnosaur--and then it turns out that, oh, there's actually a cave right there. Hard to see why help was even needed.

I'm willing to give this one a pass on the grounds that the baby hadrosaur hadn't had time to look around when it was chased into the canyon and had started to panic before Dewey pointed out the location of the caveThere's a subtle, but clever, shout-out to this scene later in the ep, when the Ducks and the caveducks hide in a cave from the rampaging T-Rex, but the baby hadrosaur can't join them because he can't fit inside the entrance.


(Greg)  Funny how the baby dinosaur was so smart to avoid all the traps the nephews had; but couldn't find the way out of the T-Rex's trap.

I think that it's less a case of the baby hadrosaur "avoiding" the traps on purpose and more a case of it being so intrigued by the presence of the Nephews that it literally wasn't paying much attention to the existence of the traps.

(Greg)  Launchpad takes the wheel and rolls it down and we get the bowling pin spot on the cave ducks. I can see why that cave man from the GEICO ads is so pissed off at the world now. How stiff can you get with the animation TMS?! Pause at 17:48 of the DVD and see what I mean.

Stiff animation was a problem at several points during this ep.  In the opening scene, when LP is trying to escape in his plane with the booby bird, the plane literally bounces around the sky in short, choppy steps.  The contrast with any number of TaleSpin episodes is heartbreaking!

Next:  Episode 7, "The Money Vanishes."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 5, "Scrooge's Pet"

After a brief break to watch the Olympics and attend to other pressing matters, it's time for me to polish off my last hunk of "good imported cheese," pull up to the computer, and revisit DuckTales' first truly successful adaptation of a Carl Barks story.  Now, in all honesty, it would have been pretty hard for DT not to have presented a reasonably faithful version of "The Lemming with the Locket."  The plot of Barks' story is simple, many of its scenes are easily translatable into animated form, Donald's role is generic enough that it's easy to insert Launchpad as his replacement, and some of the changes made to the Barks version represent legitimate improvements, at least on an objective level.  Heck, even though what GeoX calls the "surprising and charming" theme of Donald and HD&L enjoying the Norwegian cheese is dropped, there are enough additional references to cheese in the episode to make me think that adapter Jack Enyart (who claims on his Web site that he "developed Disney's first TV cartoon" DuckTales...[sic?!?!]) was trying to do even that little detail some sort of justice.  No, despite the inexplicable lack of a story credit for Barks and a few other logical holes, the literary aspects of this episode aren't the problem.  A fresh viewing, however, reveals a fairly egregious animation mistake that serves to bollix up the climax a bit (and, to be fair to the animators, may have been triggered by a writing decision).  Then, of course, there's that distressingly bland title...

Apart from being unnecessary -- would "The Lemming with the Locket" really have been THAT hard for viewers to understand? -- the change is somewhat misleading, because Lucky the lemming literally doesn't have time to be Scrooge's pet.  All that Lucky does is try to eat Scrooge's cheese sandwich, get the locket entangled about his neck, and then lead the Ducks on the merry chase to Scandinavia.  Honestly, calling the ep "Scrooge's Potential Pet" would have made more logical sense.

Right off the reel -- an apropos expression to use when the opening scenes deal with a fishing trip -- we get two improvements on the original, as Scrooge uses a statue of Goldie on which to hang the locket (Dangerous Dan's honkytonk had a gift shop?) and the pet-seeking kids meet Lucky through Barnacle Biff the sailor, as opposed to the little guy simply showing up in the Ducks' lunch bag.  I'd posit that we also get an improvement on past (and future) series practice, as Webby wears a charming sun hat over her standard bow.  I think that this headgear is quite becoming on her, and I wish that it had been used more often.  At the very least, its use would have given pause to those carping critics who used Webby's "cute widdle pink bow" as one of the excuses to loathe her.

I am less enamored of how Enyart handled the "replacement vault" business.  Barks used the first page and a half of his story to let us know in advance WHY losing the combination would be a big deal (at least until Scrooge had time to memorize it).  The way it's presented in "Scrooge's Pet," however, Scrooge's new vault door appears to be... well, just another vault door.  It's not made of "impervium metal," or super-wax, or Protectoglass, or anything like that.  Greg makes the obvious point that Scrooge should at least have considered drilling the door.  Later in the series, Big Time Beagle will use a giant can opener to cut into the vault, so, really, how hard could it be?

Enyart provides another unfortunate "dumbing down" of a Barks bit when the Ducks and Launchpad fly to Novay.  Barks had the Ducks first attempt to reach the Moony Gull with a helicopter, then decide to wait until the ship enters a port and take a plane to that location.  All very logical, you'll agree.  The DT version gives us the awkward business in which Launchpad tries to fly Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby to Novay in a helicopter without the necessary fuel on board... and then continues on his way even after Scrooge loudly points out the grotesque absurdity inherent in this procedure.  Ah, I know why Enyart did this; so that we could have a "crash sequence" involving Launchpad and do a tribute to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Edgar and Chauncey (or is that The Flintstones' Oley and Sven -- I can't decide) with the two dock-loitering Novaygians.  I don't think that the egregious logic break was worth it, especially since everyone wound up getting wet as a result.

The interesting thing about the chase on board the Moony Gull -- which is exceptionally faithful to Barks, probably because the duplication of the sight gags was a natural thing to do -- is that Lucky, who is (as GeoX notes) somewhat more anthropomorphic than Barks' unnamed lemming, actually displays less personality than the latter critter.  Barks' lemming purposely bites Scrooge several times, causes HD&L to fall off the rigging, sneaks its way into some would-be cheese bait, and even appears to trigger the harpoon gun of its own accord.  Most of the damage that Lucky causes is purely accidental.  I also wonder whether HD&L's fall was edited out of "Scrooge's Pet" because the DT crew didn't want to show the boys in such active peril.  At least, not yet.

Then we get our lemming stampede, which is generally well-animated, despite the occasional reliance on "moving brown blobs."  (To be fair, in his splash panel on p. 15 of the original story, Barks was forced to resort to such a device as well.)  For the life of me, I can't understand why the Novaygians and the inhabitants of Herringtail aren't better prepared for this predictable onslaught of ravenous rodents.  Why not start moving out furnishings, food, and so forth SEVERAL MONTHS before the lemmings' expected arrival time?  Forget the "cartoony Scandinavian accents"; this is a real insult to the inhabitants' intelligence... though I suppose that they come off a little better than the Ronguayians who fled the once-a-century Monsopis during "Treasure of the Golden Suns."

Unfortunately, after the (lemmings') fall is over and Scrooge appears to have lost his fortune, some lazy animated scenario-setting trips the story up in a BIG way.  Earlier in the episode, we saw the kids hanging up their cheese for safekeeping, just as HD&L did in "The Lemming with the Locket":


As the supposedly defeated Ducks plod their way dockwards, we get a POV shot of the scene from the opposite direction:

Say, where'd that broken shutter come from?  And where'd the drainpipe go?  No, those are not the problem.  What follows the recovery of the locket, and Lucky's subsequent tumble out of the cheese, IS:



There's the "ladder to the cheese" that you missed, Greg!  It's not surprising that you overlooked it, because it appears from OUT OF NOWHERE.  Honestly, it would have made more sense for Lucky to have clambered up the pole on the left and gotten to the cheese that way.  I think that this screw-up was an indirect casualty of the decision to excise the Barks scene in which two of the Nephews discover that the lemming has built a ladder under the cheese, find the lemming stuck inside, and then decide to hold off on revealing all to Scrooge until they've tried to get some kind of reward out of their uncle.  That scene only "worked" because the boys had gone ahead of the other Ducks to recover the cheese.  Since the Ducks were moving as a group in the animated version, the only way to have preserved the original's "surprise reveal moment" was to refrain from showing the ladder at first.  If only Enyart had had the guts to go with the original version, its somewhat negative depiction of the Nephews and all!  But I suppose that it would have been foolish to have expected the HD&L of an early DT episode to display such naked opportunism.  Now, if this episode had taken place after the events of "Dangerous Currency"...

"Cool beans!  I musta rubbed off on those guys!" -- Gosalyn Mallard

Both Barks and DuckTales soft-pedal the ultimate fate of the lemmings, though DT handles it in a somewhat squishier fashion by having Webby refer to Lucky and the other lemmings being "back in Novay."  So they're simply swimming around in the ocean, happy as clams?  Right.  The early-series temptation to play things a bit safe is on display here, as it is at several other points during the episode.  I give Enyart full credit, however, for recognizing that the best way to handle an adaptation of a Barks story was to let as much of the original effort "speak for itself" as possible -- albeit in a somewhat goofier manner.

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"DuckBlurbs"

A Note on Place Names:  This episode is the first notable example of DT's occasional tendency to replace a real place name with a fanciful placeholder.  Later examples include "Great Written" in "Much Ado About Scrooge" and the use of "Emerald Isle" as a euphemism for Ireland in "Luck O' the Ducks."  The strange thing about this is that the series didn't seem reluctant to use real place names at other times: England, Scotland, Greece/Troy, Panama, Singapore, Greenland, Malaysia, the Bermuda Triangle, Egypt...  I put this down to the sheer diversity of writers who worked on the first-season episodes.

(GeoX) There's some decent interplay between Scrooge and Launchpad.

This was one of the better points about the episode -- at least when I watched it the first few times.  Now that I have seen it in its proper order, I'm not quite so sure.  In "Micro Ducks from Outer Space," we got all those insults directed at Gyro by Scrooge.  Here, Scrooge takes a steady stream of shots at LP.  Hey, I realize that LP is a tempting target and sometimes brings comical condemnation on himself, but an unpleasant pattern seems to be developing here.  Thankfully, future barrages of insults will not be as "concentrated" as they were in this episode.

(Greg)  As for Captain Frye; and while Chris doesn't have an official confirmation on this; it is supposed to be the debut of the late Phil Hartman (although USIMDB has it as a Sea Captain only)...

Yes, and I think he voiced at least one of the Novaygians who spoke.  He may have been one of the dock loiterers (the other one was definitely Alan Young) and/or the running guy with the plant.  Captain Frye's gravelly voice appears to have been something of a stretch for Phil, given what we know about his work on The Simpsons



(Greg)  Now despite the obvious stupidity of Scrooge McDuck; this was a really good episode although the pacing could have been a bit better. Launchpad was his usual smooth self and while I like the entire episode premise; it did make Scrooge look stupid. As I said several times; he got upset over nothing in the context of the episode. Now if the locket was the main focus because of his relationship with Goldie; the whole episode would have been awesome and it would have made Scrooge look a lot better than him simply losing his money. As I said; blaming the nephews and Webby was silly because Scrooge could have memorized the locket during lunch or drill the vault combination off and the episode would have been resolved either way.

I think that Scrooge's perceived "overreaction" was more a result of Enyart not setting up the nature of the new vault door properly than anything elseAll Enyart needed to do to fix the problem was to trim or shorten one or two of the scenes with the kids at the dock and replace them with some sort of clear explanation about the vault's supposed impermeability.  Unless you're familiar with the original story, for Scrooge to panic in the manner he did would seem a little nonsensical.

Next:  Episode 6, "Dinosaur Ducks."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fanfic Review: KIM POSSIBLE in "A FAIR TO REMEMBER" by Richard Smyers

WTFB co-alumnus Richard Smyers is back with yet another pop-culture mash-up featuring Kim Possible... and, since the karate-kicking WDTVA heroine has already starred in a much-loved direct-to-video movie on the subject of time travel, we probably should have seen this one coming a mile (pardon, a kilometre) away.  Rather atypically, Richard doesn't spend much time scene-setting or background-infilling, but instead cuts straight to the good stuff.  Ducking into a strange-looking phone booth to escape the rain at the Middleton Mall, Kim and Ron Stoppable find themselves inside Doctor Who's TARDIS.  (Don't bother asking me which "version," or "life," or whatever of the Doctor is on display here; I'm hardly the person to ask.  In his story notes, Richard hints that those who are familiar with the Doctor Who series should be able to dope out the answer.)  The "original DW" takes Kim, Ron, and Rufus on a journey to the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, where the teens get to dress in period-appropriate clothing, experience the first Ferris Wheel and the original Midway, unwittingly give a not-yet-famous author the idea for his best-loved story...  and, needless to say, participate in a couple of rescue and crime-busting operations along the way.  When another TARDIS is stolen, however, the "sitch" gets trickier, and we close with the Doctor, Kim, Ron, and Rufus preparing to pursue the thief "somewhere and somewhen."  Stay tuned.


Richard is already one leg up on the Internet's most notorious exemplar of a Doctor Who crossover, simply because he doesn't succumb to the temptation to explain the wonkier aspects of one "universe" in terms of the effects of the other.  Then again, I wouldn't expect him to.  I am, however, curious as to why he chose the 1893 Exposition as the setting for his story.  Could it have something to do with the fact that a major bestseller of the recent past also told an intertwined tale set at the fair?  (If reading that book sparked this idea, then all I have to say is:  Richard, I'm so glad you didn't try to make your crossover a "three-way.")  I don't know enough about Doctor Who to judge the quality of Richard's characterization of same, but the dry humor and quirkiness that one would expect of a classic British TV production are certainly present from the off.  There are guest-star turns by several characters who I assume made regular or semi-regular appearances on the Doctor Who series, and it would have been helpful had we gotten notes on where these folks originated, but their presence doesn't severely impede the progress of the story.  The action sequences are few in number but well-done, with Richard making the standard point about the dangers inherent in trying to change historical events, even if it is for the greater good.  Richard could probably have made a bit more of the contrast between the teens' 21st-century-style empathy and the Doctor's "above-it-all" view of the various follies, triumphs, and crimes he's witnessed in his travels, but he does at least touch upon it.

Richard promises to post the sequel to this story soon.  If you're a Kim Possible fan, a Doctor Who fan, or a devotee of well-written and well-thought-out fan-fiction, then you should check out both this tale and its successor.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The "Boarder" Has Left the Building

The cat that sequestered itself in the crawlspace underneath our addition has apparently departed.  Nicky has been working under there to install some pipe insulation and reports no sightings.  We've taken measures to secure the door against any additional gate-crashers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Clean Colon: Period.

My 50th birthday is two months away, and the academic year is fast approaching, so I decided to get my colonoscopy out of the way this month.  I had mine on Thursday morning at Hopkins.  Everything turned out well in the end (yes, I really did have to go there) and I'm literally "good to go" for another 10 years.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 4, "Micro Ducks from Outer Space"

Joe, GeoX, and I had an interesting exchange regarding just who the holy hay at WDTVA was responsible for (1) dreaming up the likes of Quacky McSlant and Vacation van Honk and (2) actually thinking that these characters possessed sufficient chops for any sort of meaningful role on DuckTales.  My own opinion is that there may have been a conflict between creators like Jymn Magon, who, thanks to Gummi Bears and Wuzzles, had some experience working in the WDTVA environment, and "outside people" who were brought in to beef up the crew in preparation for the production of the studio's first syndicated series.  Quacky and VVH have the feel of "gimmick characters" who fit right in with the approaches of such contemporary hit series as Smurfs (is it mere coincidence that DT story editors Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron-Anasti came to WDTVA directly from that series?).  So, for that matter, does the later Benzino Gasolini, who actually fared better than the earlier "dubious duo," garnering reasonably meaty roles in both "Hotel Strangeduck" and "Top Duck."  The cursory nature of these characters' ultimate contributions suggests that those who had a better sense of Duckdom than did the veterans of 80's kid-vid approaches got the better of the final argument.

Speaking of new characters, here's an interesting (and apropos, given the subject matter of this entry) comment from a 2004 Animation World Network interview with "Mr. Rockwell" himself, Tad Stones:

At that time [1988], I pitched three new characters for DUCKTALES.  I drew some pictures and I said, “Here's Space Duck, an alien duck; here's Bubba Duck, a caveman duck, and here's his personality. You know the big hit of last summer, Robocop? Kids, nobody knows the real hero is — Roboduck!” [Roboduck] eventually became Gizmoduck.

So now you know who to praise (or blame) for those second-season additions.  But... Space Duck?  That's distressingly... vague, don't you think?  Why not borrow directly from Carl Barks and bring back the much-loved Micro-Ducks for occasional return engagements?  I mean, the original story is well-regarded, and DT had already established the Micro Ducks (sans hyphen -- that sound you hear is Stan Lee sobbing) as viable characters in a first-season episode, right?  Only... well, um, er, not.  The way the Micros were characterized in that initial go-round, they might as well have been given generic names on the order of Space Duck #1, Space Duck #2, and so forth.  And that has always been my primary beef with this handsomely produced effort, in which the characterization of the Micros is kicked to the curb in favor of a well-imagined, frequently exciting, but ultimately hollow Land of the Giants-style exercise in which our shrunken heroes must make their way through super-colossal surroundings.  Others, including GeoX, have expressed very similar sentiments. 

The irony of the diminution (sorry) of the Micros' personalities and role is that, as set up by scriptwriters Jack Hanrahan and Eleanor Burian-Mohr, the little Ducks actually had the potential to excite more empathy in the audience.  One of the problems that I have with Barks' original story is the somewhat contrived rationale behind the Micros' journey to Earth.  I mean, establishing trade is all well and good, and it's cute to see Scrooge bargain with the tiny visitors over minuscule amounts of grain, but... a four-year one-way trip across deep space, just for that?  Shouldn't the Micros have a more compelling immediate reason for taking on such a daring mission?  The fact that the TV Micros need a large amount of grain because of a "terrible food shortage" on their planet -- though it may seem like a similarly contrived way of helping Scrooge get rid of his surplus -- gives the situation a certain urgency that the Barks story did not possess (at least, not until John the Con began trying to trap the spaceship so he could bring it to the Skeptics' Club).  Unfortunately, any ruminations over the Micros' desperate plight are pretty much shot to hell right at the start, when the Micros' stiff-as-a-stick female commander (who may be teentsy, but is definitely NOT a teen) insults a hapless, dangling Gyro to his face.

This acerbic initial exchange presages a series of script lines that teeter back and forth between cliched sci-fi movie exchanges and rather crude insults.  Lines like "A tiny spaceship, and tiny beings from outer space!", "We've scanned your grain, it is perfect for our needs," and "Farewell, Earthlings!" just don't have the homey, sympathy-inducing feel of:


And, no, the honorific-mangling, bumbling crewman Dekaduck is not an acceptable substitute.  (BTW, since the prefix deka- means "multiply by 10," which would imply that the Micros are larger than average Earth size, why not use a smaller unit to name the guy, say, Picoduck or Nanoduck?) As for poor Gyro, just as Scrooge will fling a whole flock of barbs Launchpad's way in the next episode, the old skinflint takes the skin off the inventor on several occasions here.  Not that Gyro comes off that well himself; his voice is finally rounding into form after Hal Smith's earlier "experiments," but he gets shocked, falls off a roof, practices grandiose speeches to "wel-come" the "space trav-lers," and falls asleep during his search for Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby.  Had it not been for Launchpad getting wrapped up in sticky "duck tape" (you may commence groaning now) and duplicating Gyro's plunge, Gyro would have been left naked and exposed as the ep's ranking stumblebum.  Even LP gets some glory when he winds up being the (admittedly cleverly set up) means by which Scrooge and the kids regain access to the Micros' "molecular manipulator" and are able to return to normal size.

While the Micros themselves have little substance, the run-up to Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby getting shrunk is generally well-done, with alterations both understandable (e.g., Scrooge using an insect sprayer, rather than smoke from an Indian peace pipe, to force the Micros' ship to land) and puzzling (do you keep a sledgehammer within arm's reach at all times, Scrooge?  I thought you already had plenty of traps for solicitors).  It does, however, seem rather unlikely that the mechanically efficient (except for Dekaduck, of course) Micros would have forgotten to take their "manipulator" with them, much less take so long to realize their oversight.

Well, at least he didn't trip and fall on them.

Of course, DuckTales debuted well before cell phones, laptops, and the like became common, else the shrunken Ducks might have found it a bit easier to communicate with the over-sized outside world and hence obviate the need for their cross-Duckburg trek to Gyro's "barn."  (Gyro's lab will also be described that way in "Armstrong," but the curious descriptor was dropped after that.)  Of course, then we wouldn't have gotten the fine travel sequence that graces the latter portion of this ep.  The miniaturized Ducks' trek contains numerous memorable moments, but the very best just may be the scene in the sewer, when Scrooge sets the Ducks' matchbox boat on fire to scare off the rats.  The rats are drawn in a very hardcore, realistic fashion, so their reaction to the threat packs a legitimate visual punch.

Legendary, too, is the scene in which Webby gets caught in the spider's web and famously wonders what this adventure will do to her dress.  I do wish in hindsight that the spider had been drawn in a more realistic manner to match that of the rats.  The two eyes don't bother me -- I get freaked out by seeing normal spider-eyes as it is -- but the lip-licking adds a cartoony element that detracts from the sense of peril.  If only there had been some way to flip-flop these scenes and allow the Ducks' encounter with the rats to be the pre-commercials cliffhanger.


One piece of business that I could have done without is Huey's OUT OF NOWHERE speech about the wonders of living in an over-sized world.  For one thing, it's redundant; we can already SEE, with our own normal-sized eyes, exactly what Huey is describing verbally here, so why overkill the point with unnecessary words?  For another, while he's waxing poetic, Huey draws the other Ducks' attention away from the task of piloting their matchbox craft, and the Ducks wind up literally going down the drain and nearly drowning.

The episode's conclusion is also a bit substandard.  After the all-but-tossed-off enlarging scene -- the least Hanrahan and Burian-Mohr could have done is to have given Scrooge a chance to apologize directly to the Micros for messing with their machine -- we get an awkward bit in which Duckworth dumps a tea-tray on Scrooge's desk, with Scrooge sporting what Greg called an "I'm going to hurt you" look and "wah-wah" trombone music playing in the background.  This is all a set-up for Scrooge to "bond" with Twitchy the lost ant (I thought that Webby was worried sick about Twitchy?  Have she and the boys forgotten about him?) and thereby "walk back" his earlier dismissive statement, "Anything smaller than a penny isn't worth ten cents!".  The problem, though, is that it would have seemed much more meaningful had Scrooge expressed such sentiments to the Micros themselves.  As GeoX pointed out, Twitchy doesn't actually contribute anything of importance to the story; Hanrahan and Burian-Mohr seem to be drawing attention to Twitchy in the early stages in order to set the ant up as an ally for the Ducks after the latter are shrunk down to Twitchy's size, but then they seem to have changed their minds, or something. 

My impression of this episode hasn't changed very much since I first viewed it in '87.  It's relentlessly mid-table, the result of one really good feature (the "Little Ducks, Big World" business) and one bad one (the reduction of the Micros' role to that of a convenient source of... well, reduction) cancelling one another out, matter- and antimatter-style.  Why couldn't Tad Stones have had his Space Duck brainstorm during 1986, when this ep was being made?  Then, perhaps, the Micros of Barks' story might just have stood a chance of showing up here.

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DuckBlurbs

(GeoX)  I fail to see why the Micro-Ducks would want to shrink down Scrooge's wheat instead of just taking a few kernels. I mean, I do see why; it's so that Scrooge can get rid of all his wheat, hurrah, but Scrooge's enthusiasm for even a super-tiny deal is quite charming in the original, and now that's lost.

As I noted above, I do give the writers credit for trying to justify the changes by escalating the seriousness of the Micros' problems, but I certainly understand what you mean.  At this very early stage, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that DuckTales' handling of Scrooge lacked the subtlety that would have been needed in order for the "charm" of Scrooge's micro-bargaining to be readily apparent.

(GeoX)  Dammit, if you're going to have a Micro-Ducks episode, I want my Donald/Princess Teentsy Teen romance!

IF the Micros had been handled better, and IF the DT powers-that-were had decided that they rated another appearance, then I certainly would have enjoyed seeing Launchpad fall for a comely young female Micro, if not for Princess TT herself.  It's not as if such off-planet romances were beyond him (cf. the Darkwing Duck episode "U.F. Foe").

(GeoX)  You know, spiders -- even scary spiders with glowing red eyes -- aren't trapped on their webs--there's no reason Shelob jr. here couldn't have given the ducks chase.

But that would have been mean.  Besides, the Ducks' subsequent rides on the skateboard and the pigeon were far more frightening, in terms of goosebumps per square inch of skin, than even Webby's near-miss with the spider.  How the Ducks managed to hang onto that skateboard under the circs is more than I can fathom, and Webby almost fell off the pigeon before being steadied by ScroogeWhat gave the spider scene extra points was the deathless "...ruin my dress" remark.

(GeoX)  In spite of the pointlessness of the ant-farm business, I do like the fact that HDL and Webby are equally enthusiastic about it--there's always this divide between them; you never (until now) see them all playing together like regular ol' kids.

And we will see the same dynamic in the next episode, as well.  The fact that HD&L and Webby can pal around like this at such an early juncture makes later episodes like "The Good Muddahs" and "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby", which really play up the "divide" you mention, seem a touch retrograde. 

(Greg)  So we head to a slow pan right shot of the STOCK FOOTAGE OF DOOM as we head to Scrooge's second office (I've accepted that he has another vault and office inside his mansion now; so it's no longer a logic break, just mere overkill on Scrooge's part.) as he continue to ink some papers and the phone rings.

Scrooge's having a "second" vault and office in his mansion is admittedly redundant, but, if you are going to posit the existence of a mansion right off the top, then it stands to reason that Scrooge should have a satellite office in his home.  Were DuckTales to be made today, Scrooge would no doubt have enough methods of communication to enable him to live inside his bin, as we always kinda-sorta assumed he did in the comics (the occasional appearance of a McDuck "mansion" or "house" aside).

(Greg)  So we go down the sewers as Webby does CPR on Scroogie. BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That's the best spot I have ever seen out of Webbigail Vanderquack ever! 

Yes, and she really appears to be putting her "cute little all" into it, too:

 
(Greg)  We then go to a shot of the skateboarder nearing a sign that said: Don't go over the cliff with a picture and a walking motion X'ed out.

I think that that was meant to be a "Keep Off the Grass" sign.


(Greg)  We then go outside as we see Gyro driving his...I cannot say this on this rant...(Gyro: Just read the script Mr. Weagle.)..The VANILLA MANILLA UFO OF DEATH (Note from the future: It's Barks' canon so claims Chris Barat.) towards the mansion as he tells Scrooge not to worry and that he can fix the alien machine.

Wouldn't you know it, I can't remember the name of the story in which Gyro's hovercraft appeared.  Could someone kindly jog my memory? 

Next:  Episode 5, "Scrooge's Pet."