Saturday, February 16, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 26, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Three: Three Ducks of the Condor"

In addition to serving as the "tipping point" for the remainder of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," "Three Ducks of the Condor" features the "formal series debuts" of one classic Carl Barks character, Gyro Gearloose, and no less than three of DuckTales' significant original characters -- Mrs. Beakley (the second "e" remains a matter of some debate, at least in some circles), Webby, and, above all (but soon to fall and crash, no doubt), Launchpad McQuack.  In retrospect, however, I think that its most notable legacy is the fact that it gives Donald Duck the closest thing that he would ever get in the series to a featured role in an adventure story.  There are other eps for which one could argue: "A Whale of a Bad Time" (part two of the "firefly fruit" serial "Catch as Cash Can"), for example, in which Don and Scrooge team up to take on Dr. Horatio Bluebottle.  But more often than not, Donald is something of a put-upon character in his DuckTales roles.  In "Sphinx for the Memories," "Spies in Their Eyes," and "All Ducks on Deck," Donald is certainly at center stage, but primarily because other characters are doing things to him -- using him to reanimate the spirit of a departed king, manipulating him into stealing Navy secrets, even trying to help him win medals.  By contrast, in accompanying Scrooge and Launchpad on their journey to what Don Rosa would probably call "an alternate section of" the Andes, Donald makes his closest DT approach to something resembling a Barks-style adventure.

Insert joke about Donald's "work rate" here.

Umm... no, I don't think so.

I have a draft of the script for this episode, and it reveals a surprising fact: a "character-based subtheme" that was intended to be showcased here was dropped along the way.  This involved Scrooge's imperiousness.  Specifically, Scrooge was supposed to throw his weight around on several occasions during the episode, pissing off Launchpad and Donald (among others) in the process, only to see the error of his ways and ultimately apologize to LP and Don for getting "just a wee bit bossy."  Basically, it was the same approach that was taken later in "Aqua Ducks", only with somewhat less irritatingly crude execution (nowhere does Scrooge call LP and Don "morons" during "Condor," for example).  Scrooge's apology was ultimately deleted, but signs of the abandoned theme pop up throughout the episode.  Think of Donald snapping "You're as bossy as [Joaquin Slolee] is!" when Scrooge orders him to go help Launchpad find and fix the Golden Condor, or Scrooge telling the stubborn Slolee that "we're both used to gettin' our own way."  In at least one instance, a line of Scrooge's was softened to reflect the shift.  When he leaves the unhappy Nephews behind with Mrs. Beakley, instead of telling them "I have to do what's best," Scrooge originally was supposed to say, "I'm in charge, and you have to obey me."  And you thought HD&L were acting like brats BEFORE... I can only imagine how the boys would have taken this.  Even the milder line earned a trio (sextet?) of cold shoulders.

The Nephews... how shall I put this... do not exactly put their best webbed feet forward during their brief time on screen.  After all that admirable bonding and co-adventuring with Scrooge during the first two parts of the adventure, they're suddenly back to their hell-raising days.  The misogyny that the boys show here, and also during "Cold Duck," has certainly been a part of their personalities in the past, but I'm hard pressed to think of a Barks story where they acted like female-hating jerks to such an extent as this.  Even their famous griping at the start of Barks' "The Chickadee Challenge" had a comedic aspect to it, with the boys assuming the mantle of outraged dignity at the temerity of "mere girls" to challenge their mastery of Woodchuck-craft.  Here, there's no real comedy, there's just... dickishness.
Mrs. Beakley and Webby get low-key introductions here -- Webby's, in truth, is little more than a glorified cameo -- but make good impressions.  Mrs. B. quickly shows her considerable mettle by refusing to fall for the "He's not Huey, I am" ruse -- between this and the offer to "work for nothing," Scrooge's "favorite price," I get the idea that she was determined not to let this job get away and boned up on the details of the McDuck household very thoroughly -- and even Webby gets to show a side of her personality that we seldom see thereafter, giving the Nephews a surreptitious "Nyaahhhh" and then going back to default "angelic" mode.


Gyro's brief bow-in is just as successful; I recall that Hal Smith's vocal interpretation of the character seemed absolutely spot-on to me at the time, and it still does.  The somewhat phlegmatic Gyro of the Barks stories certainly worked in context; more often than not, those brief tales were extended vignettes on the trials and tribulations of creation, with Barks perhaps working out some of his own feelings on the subject as he composed them.  The animated Gyro (at least, once production had gotten well underway and Smith's earlier vocal querulousness had been ditched) is, well, animated: chipper, optimistic, "glad to be of service" (when he's not undergoing the occasional soul-searching, that is).  Coming on the heels of the earlier characterizations of the Beagle Boys and Glomgold, which departed somewhat from what I had expected, this appearance by Gyro really was like watching the comic book come to life.

And Launchpad, of course, makes the BEST... ENTRANCE... EVER.  With the possible exception of Kit Cloudkicker in "Plunder and Lightning, Part One," this is the Disney Afternoon introduction sequence that has stuck to people's memories like glue.  I realize that LP's role in Darkwing Duck was rather different than it is in DuckTales, but the contrast between this bang-up debut scene and LP's first encounter with DW in "Darkly Dawns the Duck" is, quite frankly, jarring.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Scrooge and Launchpad shared at least one adventure long before this, Gyro appears to be more familiar with LP than Scrooge is here.  Gyro, for example, immediately knows that LP is the pilot who's crashing the plane, while Scrooge merely says that "This guy's in big trouble."  Seeing as how Gyro and "test pilot" Launchpad co-starred in a couple of gag stories by William Van Horn in the late 80s, perhaps the duo's partnership was more extensive than the series hinted...

So, it's off to the Andes we go -- and I'm not sure that some of the material we got in the episode didn't represent something of an indirect call-out to Barks' "Lost in the Andes".  The aerial shot of Joaquin Slolee's temple doesn't look all that different from the splash panel in which the Ducks first glimpse the layout of Plain Awful, especially when you consider the viewing angle:

Then, too, the natives whom generations of Slolees (who reproduced... uh, how, exactly?  Does Joaquin seem like the type who'd willingly take a native concubine?) have controlled with the Golden Sun coin labor under the same kind of "mind control" that "Professor Rhutt Betlah of Bummin'ham" inadvertently fastened onto the Plain Awfultonians... the difference being that the Awfultonians have been bamboozling themselves for years (and, of course, have loads more personality than Slolee's unfortunate peons).  As Don Rosa would demonstrate in "Return to Plain Awful," the Awfultonians are quite good at slavishly "following trends."  Slolee's natives have simply followed the same trend for an inordinate period of time... though, in the end, they do prove capable of escaping the vicious cycle.

Scrooge and the arrogant Slolee make worthy antagonists, and they probably would have made even better ones had Scrooge's bossiness been given completely free rein.  (This may be another reason why Scrooge's attitude was modulated; did someone along the line think that Scrooge and Slolee were coming across as more alike than the series' creators were willing to admit?)  The "war of wills" provides useful cover for the prosaic reality that one of Slolee's main functions is to serve as an "info dump," getting us up to speed on how Scrooge might find the Valley of the Golden Suns with the help of Marcheen Slolee's bifurcated map (and also, indirectly, revealing the chilling true identity of El Capitan).  I must admit, though, that some aspects of the backstory now give me a bit of pause.  For example, Marcheen and "his partner Juan Tanamera" get out of the Valley with a "boatload" of treasure without succumbing to the "dreaded gold fever" that will play such a huge role in "Too Much of a Gold Thing."  How convenient... and how strange that, after El Capitan stole the treasure and sailed away, the partners went to all the trouble of making the map and tearing it in two, as opposed to simply going back to the Valley for more treasure.  "Gold fever" didn't stop them the first time, so why should it keep them from returning?  

Action sequences dominate the latter half of the episode, and they're executed quite niftily, though the logic behind them is a little raggedy.  Since the natives could presumably have thought up any number of more convenient ways to punish Launchpad for "angering children of Sun" than having him fly a giant condor, the only reason that I can think of that LP's "birdman" act was included was to give him a chance to show off the more "off-the-wall" aspects of his aerial skills.  LP does wind up crashing the giant bird (and "convincing" the semi-hysterical Slolee to give up his section of the map just so Scrooge and company can leave), but one can't help but be impressed by his improvisational skills here.

Then, too, the grand condor-airplane conflict that leads to Slolee losing his coins is triggered by Scrooge and Launchpad absent-mindedly leaving Donald behind.  I can understand Launchpad and Donald (who work quite well as a team after that early unpleasantness centering around Don's voice) neglecting that little detail in their plan, but Scrooge really should have been quicker on the uptake here.  As a result of the negligence, Donald gets to play "bump machine" as the revamped Golden Condor takes on Slolee's Condor Legion.  Well, I won't complain about this too much, since Donald also filled somewhat more dignified roles in this episode.  


Donald's final line of dialogue in the episode seems like the conclusion of an extremely long shaggy-dog story.  Thankfully, it's bracketed by some arresting, dramatic visuals: Scrooge and Donald's dignified parting, Scrooge's wind-buffeted drop into the sea, and the last shot of Scrooge and his little raft drifting away to a new destination.  The final visual actually had more impact in the full-length version of "Golden Suns" than in the two-hour version, since it served the former as a literal cliffhanger but was merely a bridge to "another commercial" in the latter.

"Condor" isn't my favorite chapter of the "Golden Suns" story, but that may simply be because I missed the participation of the Nephews.   I still appreciate it as a rousing good adventure, a great debut for Launchpad, and a rare chance for the DuckTales Donald to shine.
 
.

.

.

"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX)  It's pretty clear that the nature of [Donald] the animated character is pretty unavoidably determined by his voice--the show may center on Barks' characters, but this is most definitely not Barks' Donald, for better or worse (or, really, neutral, since as I said, I don't think anything could really have been done about it).

It's also difficult to describe this Donald as the animated-shorts DonaldHe has several spasms of temper, one of which can hardly be faulted (how would YOU react if YOU were roughly picked up by a giant condor?), but I'd say he behaves himself reasonably well.  The clumsiness is somewhat irritating, and the sudden camera fetish seems like one of those one-note contrivances that is slapped onto a character for the purposes of gags and plot contrivances.  I'm inclined to agree with you that it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Barks (or even the Rosa) version of Donald could be successfully brought to the screen.  Pairing Launchpad with Donald more often, however, would have served both characters and the series well, allowing the writers to play on the very real differences between them.


(Greg)  Mrs. Beakly in a sad way is a political hot potato in that she had the character to work well; but her stereotypical mannerisms got in the way of success in getting over.... The reason most critics didn't automatically condemned Grammi Gummi, Princess Calla and Sunni Gummi is because they were in a time period where you would expect extreme sexism. However; Ducktales basically takes place in the 1980's time period (as least the elements were in place for it) where sexism wasn't really going to fly anymore and Miss Beakly was considered too behind the times. However; the problem with Beakly was not her stereotypical mannerisms or role (since she chose that role and wore it on her sleeve as we will see; and also Duckworth is basically doing the same thing so Scrooge is a equal employer on that level at least.); it was because she was ultra fussy. 

"Stereotypical mannerisms" and even "fussiness" don't necessarily doom a female character to archaic status; it's what the creators do with the character within those limitations that makes the difference.  Just look at Mary Poppins.  The episode "Jungle Duck" hinted at one possible way of giving Mrs. B. more meaningful roles: gradually reveal various aspects of her "mysterious past" and give her chances to display hitherto-unseen skills (in light of the story we're discussing here, you might call the latter the "getting back the clothes" skills).

(Greg)  As for Joaquin; he was actually fine until they got to the climax and he turned heel which would have been fine in itself if he didn't look like such a weak ass in the end with his sobbing like a baby.  

Well, he had just lost his "total power" over the natives and screwed up 400 years' worth of family tradition.  How else should he be expected to behave?


Next:  Episode 27, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Four: Cold Duck." 

7 comments:

Daniel J. Neyer said...

This episode is actually my favorite out of the whole Golden Suns mini-series; I like Ducktales' standard Scrooge/Nephews combination well enough, but the Scrooge/Donald/Launchpad trio allows for much more colorful character interplay than the teamings of Scrooge and the boys usually do.

Similarly, I really liked Aqua Ducks thanks to the offbeat teaming of Scrooge, Launchpad, Gyro, and Doofus (unlike you, I relished Scrooge's rudeness irritability in that episode, since it seemed more Barks-like than usual and also in-character given that Scrooge was probably on edge after losing his entire fortune to the ocean floor).

Back to Three Ducks of the Condor, I rate the climactic fight with the condor riders at the end as one of the best action sequences in Ducktales--funny, exciting, and very well-animated. My fondness for this scene and the episode as a whole might be colored, however, by the fact that this another episode I missed during its original TV run but read about in Gladstone's Ducktales episode guides; the brief plot description really fired my six-year-old imagination and led me to enact my own version with my vinyl Scrooge, Donald, and Launchpad figurines.

My imagining of the adventure included a sequence of Launchpad "flying" one of the condors, as well as a climactic aerial condor-battle between Launchpad and the natives (my Launchpad tamed his own condor in this version); imagine my pleasure when I saw the episode for the first time at twenty-odd and saw that my childish imagination had worked somewhat (though not entirely) along the same lines as the writers' minds.

About Slolee's ancestry; notice that Marchin is decidedly lighter-complected, while Slolee is about the same skin tone as the native chief--Slolee does seem too arrogant to take a native mate, but it seems fairly obvious his family have been doing so for generations (which means that, even if he hadn't lost the coins, Slolee might have been the last of his line).

The information about the planned subplot is interesting; I'm glad it was excised, myself, since its vestiges allow Scrooge to display some Barksian crabbiness and craftiness (I love his bargaing scene with Slolee--"think of it--ye can have twice the power ye have now") without having to deliver an apology that would probably have been a little awkward.

Pan Miluś said...

Well I like this part more the two upcoming episodes.


Actually it's odd... My Favorite is "Ship" one and then it's basically goes downhill but each part is interesting in it own way...

Comicbookrehab said...

This part is my favorite of the five, though part 5 comes close to tying with it. It's a shame we don't get another adventure with the Scrooge-Donald-Launchpad trio again, which is probably why it's considered so special. I was counting on seeing more episodes like it (especially when it seemed like they kept coming up with new ways for Donald to pop up). It certainly deserves a spot in the "baker's dozen" of great Ducktales episodes.

i forgot that kids thought Launchpad was a cool character until after I read this.

I'm convinced that aircraft's design was the inspiration for The Thunderquack and The Ratcather vehicles in DW, though there's no mention of that anyplace.

I think the last time we get a dose of Scrooge's not-so-nice side is during the "Time Is Money" five-parter. But Scrooge at his toughest is shown in part 5 of "Golden Suns" and THAT episode has one or two outstanding moments that stay in the memory banks even more than Launchpad's intro in this one!

Chris Barat said...

Dan,

If your theory about Marcheen and Joaquin is correct, then I must say, it was a remarkably subtle way of making a point about how the Slolees propagated their dynasty! I will say that it is not mentioned in the script that I have.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

Yes, LP 's coolness did leach away a bit thanks to the DW sidekick role, didn't it? In truth, I have to wonder how much cooler Darkwing himself would have seemed had the breezier version of LP been his right-hand duck. You could still have had the pratfalls and goofs, but LP could have handled them with more insouciance, much to Darkwing's presumed dismay. The dynamic could have been similar to that of a Donald-LP relationship. Plus, you could have worked up a theme of Gosalyn loving her dad but still thinking LP is way cool.

Chris

Pan Miluś said...

I wish "Tale Spin" was all about LP as the oryginaly plan...

kenisu said...

I think the two-hour movie version had an extra few seconds at the end of this episode. My evidence? The music here was composed specifically for this scene, but it skips a beat in the broken-up version, which I wouldn't have caught if it weren't for the cue's repeated uses in other episodes.

They cut out an extra quotation of the "heroic" leitmotif, which would have occurred between the lieutenant's line "Don't you usually salute a superior officer, Duck?!" and Launchpad's "Ease up, lieutenant!"

Based on what the cut music suggests, I have a feeling they snipped a shot of Donald woozily trying to salute the officer.

Another reason why I wish Disney would release single discs of the TV movie versions of the specials, in addition to Volume 4. I'm dying to know about all the little differences.