Monday, April 1, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 29, "Duckman of Aquatraz"

I'm back, lads & lassies... and to WHAT?  Ugh.  And to make matters worse, those ever-loving Disney lawyers appear to have chosen the period of my mental convalescence as an opportunity to conduct one of their periodic purges of all "offending" DuckTales vids on YouTube.  The only remaining sources that I could find were "marred" (so to speak) by unremovable graphics on the screen.  That explains why I don't have a title card displayed below.

We haven't seen a "split decision of opinions" like this for quite some time.  Greg came within a  feather's breadth of giving "Duckman of Aquatraz" a perfect five-star rating, while GeoX seemed just about ready to TAR and feather writer "Francis Ross."  I put Ross' name in quotes because (1) I've seen it spelled elsewhere as "Francis Moss," and (2) given that this is "Ross"' only writing credit ever according to IMDB, it's not out of the realm of possibility that "Francis Ross" is some sort of self-incriminating "Alan Smithee" substitute.  For sure, if I had been a DuckTales freelancer and had presented this script for approval, I might have wanted to hide behind a pseudonym.  Though the ep doesn't truly collapse until the third act, collapse it most assuredly does, done in by a deadly combination of excessive sentimentality, some overly simplistic writing, and a view of the Duckburg legal system that is, to say the least, quirky (though, to be sure, some future eps will make the legal system look even worse).

  Another Japanese laserdisc "Did they really watch the episode?!" moment!

"Ross" appears to have been under the impression that Flintheart Glomgold isn't Scrooge's main challenger for the title of "money champ" so much as he is a jealous, chiseling petty rival, sort of a John D. Rockerduck with even more questionable ethics.  I say this not because Flinty warned partner-in-conspiracy Pierre L'Oink to wait to cash his check -- though I can understand why GeoX hated this gag, I did kind of like the twist on the old "cheapskate" routine -- but because Flinty's scheme to frame Scrooge for the theft of the Duck a L'Orange was so, well, cheesy.  Surely Glomgold could have come up with a more ingenious plot than dressing up as Scrooge, stealing his own painting, and then basically hoping that no one was smart enough to watch the security video all the way through.  Thank goodness (for Flinty, anyway) that Glomgold managed to have the trial take place in a court where a defendant is apparently not allowed to DEFEND himself -- at least, not unless he blurts out convenient plot points in total violation of the rules of order.  The manner in which Glomgold's perjury is disposed of at the end has been a bone of contention ever since Robert Ingersoll wrote about it in one of his THE LAW IS AN ASS columns in the (sadly, recently deceased) COMIC BUYER'S GUIDE, but I would argue that the depiction of the original trial is even harder for persons in possession of their normal logical faculties to swallow.  And there's more to come.

"Sorry, Mr. McDuck, I won't be on retainer for another 65 episodes or so."

The business in Aquatraz itself is probably the best thing about the episode, though, in all honesty, that's a pretty low bar to clear.  (Get it?  Bars?  Prison bars!  I made a funny!)  The boat ride out to the forbidding island stronghold, and a shuddering Scrooge's initial interview with the smilingly sardonic warden, are particular high pointsScrooge then literally gets "thrown in" with the rich-duck-despising Mad Dog McGurk, who, despite the stickily sentimental manner in which his relationship with Scrooge is ultimately worked out, is a pretty enjoyable character.  Peter Cullen is a big reason why McGurk comes across so well; the voice actor gives the lug an outsized personality that somewhat resembles that of Neighbor Jones (a character for whom I've always thought that Cullen would have provided the perfect voice -- say, in some House of Mouse short that should have been made but wasn't).  Even when McGurk is throwing his new "roomie" around the cell and squishing him by lying down in the top bunk, you can't help but chuckle just a bit.  Why, McGurk makes prisoner-on-prisoner abuse seem almost... cute.

Scrooge's subsequent "mettle-showing" also plays into well-worn prison stereotypes in a reasonably clever way.  Scrooge will land in jail a couple more times before the series is over, of course, but "Aquatraz" represents the only time that he is actively obliged to participate in jailhouse culture to any real extent.  I've no problem whatsoever with Scrooge demonstrating an ability to arm-wrestle far burlier opponents into submission; the "lifting moneybags makes one stronger" gag must have been used as a cover gag for a $CROOGE comic book at some point.  Plus, the arm-wrestling challenge is a perfect way for Scrooge to demonstrate his physical prowess to the other inmates without getting really physical, if you know what I mean.  I wonder whether the Beagle Boys ever had to undergo such an "initiation" during their stays at Aquatraz (at least, I'm assuming that they have stayed there; even the Duckburg CJ system would surely have figured out that the Beagles belonged in such an escape-proof prison, right? Right?).  Scrooge's grappling triumph, plus his covering for McGurk and the suspiciously high-voiced con over the lunch-table incident, establishes the old miser's bona fides with the locals once and for all. 

While Scrooge bonds with the boys in stir, HD&L go about their amateur detective work in their attempt to clear their uncle's name, with logic again being taken for the proverbial "one-way ride" along the way.  Forget what GeoX described as the "delayed-action water" that ruined the family portrait; where on Earth did the boys suddenly get their scuba gear during their nocturnal pursuit of Pierre L'Oink?!  Are we to infer the existence of a 24-hour scuba supply store somewhere in downtown Duckburg?  Note that HD&L's normal clothes also conveniently vanish during this time... and Mrs. Beakley isn't even around to get them back (at least I don't think so).  The pig judge then inexplicably gives the videotape evidence away to the boys after they visit him and show him the muddled remnants of the portrait.  Just like it would have happened in real life.

The treacle starts to trickle with the "visiting day" scenes involving, first, Scrooge's family, and then, McGurk's "dear mudder."  There is one nice, subtle moment in the first of these decidedly unsubtle scenes: Mrs. Beakley's face visibly falls when McGurk refuses her initial offer of fudge bars, only to perk up when the big con takes her up on the offer after all.  Likewise, when Scrooge pays for McGurk's "dear mudder" to come and visit, the fact that the long-awaited reunion quickly turns into an arm-wrestling contest is worth a chuckle.  But, boy, is the sentimentality laid on with a trowel here. 

With the "great escape" at the start of act three, the whole rickety structure comes crashing down about our ears... and I'm sure as heck NOT talking about Aquatraz itself.  First off, you would think that a grateful McGurk, whom we will soon learn was actually framed by Glomgold, might now be willing to let Scrooge in on the secret that the two of them are both victims of the same sort of injustice.  After so doing, he might then offer Scrooge the chance to cooperate in a joint escape, which would have set up an interesting dilemma in which Scrooge would have to choose between the pleas of his newfound ally and the demands of the law.  This conflict of wills would have been challenging to pull off in an animated format, but at least it would have given Scrooge something meaningful to DO during the climactic action.  Instead, by literally shanghai'ing Scrooge "over the wall" against the latter's will, and without any explanation whatsoever apart from the standard desire to "bust outta dis joint," McGurk completely changes his whole mindset (from grumblingly resentful acceptance of his status as "an old jailbird" to a rebellious hunger for freedom) and transforms Scrooge into a passive pawn in a game that McGurk can't possibly win without the last-second reprieve that ultimately (and improbably) arrives.  Scrooge stops being a "victim" only after McGurk brains himself on the rock and Scrooge must drag him to the shore.  Once there, Scrooge makes a brief but truncated reference to the two giving themselves up to the authorities as "the only way" to proceed -- a faint echo of what might have been a really interesting conflict had "Ross" thought things through a bit more.

Of course, "Ross" provides the very escape hatch that both McGurk and Scrooge need by allowing HD&L to discover the video's hidden secret (I've heard of Easter eggs being hidden in various media, but never a "Get Out of Jail Free" card).  "Sheer insane idiocy" might be overstating things a bit, GeoX, but I've been shaking my head over this transparent dodge for a good long time, trying to figure out why "Ross" wasn't called in by Jymn, Mark, et Cie. and asked to come up with something just a tad more reasonable.

The infamous "Glomgold's only crime was stealing his own painting!" argument was originally taken to the cleaners by Robert Ingersoll, who pointed out the obvious fact that Glomgold could have been found guilty of perjury (assuming he was ever actually asked to take the stand, of course!) and/or the bearing of false witness (a violation of a Commandment, at the very least).  But there is one other problem with the "tearfully joyous" wrap-up dock scene.  Even assuming that McGurk was cleared (and I'm assuming that Glomgold would have had to do that somewhere along the line, thereby adding to the list of sins for which he could presumably have been "sent up" himself), wouldn't he have to face some kind of charge for escaping while still under confinement?  Mudder McGurk's "I'm so proud of you, Mad Doggie!" acquires a somewhat ironic undertone in this context.  I've often wondered why Mad Dog, so well characterized for a "mere" one-shot supporting player, never made another appearance in the series.  The reason why may be more ominous than we would like to admit.

"Curses!  Foiled again... so to speak."

So, was "Ross" consciously thumbing his nose at the intelligence of the viewing audience with this whole sketchy scenario, or was he simply displaying an incredibly high level of naivete?  There's a lot of evidence to support the former hypothesis, but let's face it; only a truly naive writer would be able to come up with a line like, "Unca Scrooge is the richest duck in the world!  Why would he need to steal?!"

Next:  Episode 30, "Home Sweet Homer."


Pan Miluś said...

So not only Glomgold didn't went to jail for frameing two people but he got a Barks oil paiting? Themis sure is blind...

Pan Miluś said...

Can't whait for review of the next episode. I love greek mithology and while this episode isn't word's best interpreation is still fun to watch. The only thing I didn't like abot it was the siren monster which wile had some imaginatin felt to strange... I wish they would have Scrooge meet the Cyclop BTW. It's strange they remove one of most iconic part of the story...

I like thay we the episode uses Donald Duck. He dosen't appear as a main star but with a interesting secondary role plus I think it's nice they show how he still in contact with the boys.

Note that actres who play Circe also play Circe in Oddysey spoof episode of the Simpsons ["Tales from the public domain"] Actually it would be interesting if you would compare the those two cartoons...