Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 35, "Magica's Shadow War"

"Magica's Shadow War" reminds me a bit -- A BIT -- of those low-budget, black-and-white, late-50s-early-60s "horror shockers" that Mystery Science Theater 3000 parodied to such great comedic effect.  Those movies tended to be 5% "shock" and 95% verbal exposition, giving contemporary audiences plenty of time between "shocks" to get candy and popcorn, visit the restroom, or do... whatever.  "Shadow War" is also extremely talky; if you don't feel like rewatching the episode to confirm this observation, Randy Lofficier's original episode script is available online for you to peruse.  Even so, despite occasional dragginess and questionable leaps of logic, "Shadow War" succeeds in establishing a fairly legitimate mood of spooky ambiance, and the characters involved are, of course, much more interesting than the cardboard humans who "starred" in those low-budget cheapies, though Lofficier may have ultimately tried to shoehorn in too many cast members whose presence really wasn't needed.  The decision to broadcast "Shadow War" immediately after "Robot Robbers," with its similar theme of "Scrooge being forced to cooperate with lifelong adversaries," may have taken some of the edge off of the former's initial effectiveness.  On balance, however, the episode remains very entertaining, giving Magica one of her meatiest and most memorable roles in the series.

Reading the original version of "Shadow War" reveals that Lofficier and/or her story editors actually added to the planned dialogue in certain places in order to make character plots and motivations a bit clearer, while also trimming a few superfluous scenes and gags in order to bring the script in under the 22-minute time limit.  It's not hard to understand why the opening business with HD&L going gaga over Gyro's new camera was downplayed a bit; the gag with Mrs. Beakley was clever enough, but the "flashing" of Scrooge didn't really go anywhere and made little sense besides (why would an inventor, even one as... er... unpredictable as Gyro, create a flash camera that has the potential of bleaching colored objects?  Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of creating the camera in the first place?).  Still, it wouldn't have hurt for HD&L to have used the camera once during the middle of the episode, just to remind the audience that it still existed, before bringing it (or should I say, them) during the final scene in the Money Bin.  It's also too bad that no one thought to insert an "in-joke" reference linking HD&L's sudden camera-philia to their Unca Donald's newfound obsession with picture-taking (seen most memorably in "Three Ducks of the Condor").

The "shooting script" also eliminated a longish sequence in which the Ducks, having failed to stop the shadows at the baseball diamond, must elude them in a department store.  Instead, we cut from the "monster shadow" scaring the Ducks in the alley to the scene in the Money Bin where Scrooge has to "spit out" his apology to Magica for not taking her earlier advice on how to stop the shadow-scheme.  With the shadows already having been established as legitimate menaces, this excision made sense. 

Along with GeoX, I must confess to being underwhelmed at the ep's development of the shadows' relationship to the "real world" and the low level of plausibility of the evil shadow's "enslavement" scheme.  The idea that "shadows must grab the shadows" of things in order to steal them was quite clever, and the scene involving Magica and Vacation van Honk was staged in such a way that it was possible to accept that Magica's shadow was grabbing the shadow of VVH's wallet rather than the wallet itself, but I can't for the life of me understand why the shadow would want the wallet in the first place.  Was it planning to shadow-spend the penumbra of VVH's pelf at the local umbra-ella store?  To say the least, this was a clumsy way of foreshadowing (hyuck) the shadow's ultimate turn to the dark(er) side.

The shadow's transformation and announcement of its plans at the end of Act One was a similar case of an imaginative idea being undercut by some poorly-thought-out execution.  We are simply asked to believe that all shadows would be willing to follow the example of the evil shadow in wanting to "enslave" their masters.  I think that we can safely assume, however, that the shade of an evil sorceress would not be a good template to impose on the shadows of the rest of the world.  As it is, the evil shadow only acquires allies after Scrooge's stadium plan has backfired and produced an infestation of "little black Magicas."  Also, we never learn exactly what "enslavement" might mean, or why Scrooge's dime is needed in order for the "master spell" to work.  Lofficier's original script gave us even less of an explanation than did the filmed version, but neither version is really successful.  It's a tribute to June Foray's voice acting and some high-quality visuals that the evil shadow still comes across as a legitimate threat, as confused and confusing as its scheme might be.

With the "power-lighting" of Scrooge's house for the purposes of Dime-protection, we begin the accumulation of unnecessary characters -- and, in some cases, the questionable absence of characters who logically should be present.  Launchpad doesn't really contribute all that much to the proceedings; in fact, I'm shocked, shocked that Scrooge gave him the all-important job of hooking up the lights at the stadium.  Scrooge should certainly know by now that that way lies madness.  Mrs. Beakley shows up at the Money Bin during the final "entrapment" scene, along with Webby, whose presence comes completely out of nowhere.  Why would Scrooge even want to put Webby in danger like that?  (And things could have been worse; Lofficier originally wanted to throw Doofus into the mix as well.)  Meanwhile, Duckworth, who was present when Scrooge freed Magica from the closet, (rather ominously) disappears from the narrative after having been told by Scrooge to "keep an eye" on Magica, and Gyro, who presumably would have been needed to provide the Nephews with the three cameras used to "foof" the evil shadow out of existence, doesn't appear at all.  DuckTales was usually quite good about giving its major cast members something useful to do whenever they appeared, which makes the "wotthehell" use of the cast here seem all the more peculiar.

Making up for some of the slackness in the earlier part of the episode, acts two and three feature some neat set pieces -- the shadow's failed attempt to steal the Dime from Scrooge's mansion, the showdown at the stadium, and, of course, the Money Bin climax.  In keeping with the somewhat more mischievous, prank-loving side that they displayed at the start of the episode, HD&L use imaginative shadow-puppetry to foil the first raid.  Aside from being a good gag in and of itself, this nicely foreshadows (hyuck, again) how the Nephews will foil Magica's "heel turn" at the end.  The stadium scene follows in the footsteps of the earlier "shadow must steal the shadow" meme in showing that at least some thought was given to how the shadows should operate, with the boys deducing that the shadows are less powerful when the lights are off, an entirely plausible notion.  Unfortunately, this makes the lack of a coherent explanation for the evil shadow's scheme all the more frustrating.

The highlighted Scrooge-Magica alliance SHOULD have been even more memorable than the Scrooge-Glomgold teamup in "Robot Robbers," primarily because Scrooge possesses something specific that Magica wants (namely, the Old #1 Dime), and therefore, there was greater potential here for Scrooge to undergo a meaningful inner conflict.  Unfortunately, as GeoX pointed out, the execution falls a bit flat, because we never do learn why Old #1 is needed in order to bring the shadows to heel.

Despite all its flaws, "Shadow War" is still a fun watch, mostly because Magica is on stage most of the time.  Episodes like "Send in the Clones" and the later "Raiders of the Lost Harp" marry Magica's personality to far stronger plots and wind up as classics.  Here, by contrast, "the saucy sorceress" carries a less successful storyline across the finish line.





(GeoX) We learn that Ratface's new name is "Poe," which would be more apropos if we hadn't learned in "Send in the Clones" that he's not a raven by birth, but rather Magica's transformed brother. Unless the writers have forgotten about that detail. Who knows.

I think that Lofficier was aware of it, as suggested by this passage from the original script:

MAGICA (VO-CONT) Poe, vake up! Come here! 
Mr. Poe opens an eye, shakes himself, and flies next to the closet.
MR. POE Squawk? What? Squawk?
MAGICA (VO) Go und get help! Quack, er, Quick! Remember, you don't vant to spend your life es bird, no?
MR. POE (vigorously) Squawk! Nevermore!
MAGICA (VO) So, go! Find zomeone to get me out ov here!

The specific reference to the scenario of "Send in the Clones" was omitted in the final script.  Too bad.

(GeoX)  Customs officer to Magica: "Lizard tails, bat shrieks, pickled worms--no fruit! All seems to be in order!"

I can easily imagine Carl Barks using a gag like this in one of his Magica stories.  It has a certain satirical sting that he would appreciate.  Of course, 9/11 has probably rendered this gag somewhat less amusing.

(GregSo we head to the Money Bin as Scrooge talks about spring cleaning to start the day off right. I guess he had to rehire everyone after the Armstrong incident two rants ago; so it makes perfect sense. And he is doing more inside the vault as he has the magnifying glass looking for dust and debris. I only have one thing to say about this: Who in the hell gave him that apron he is wearing? That I think drops Scrooge McDuck down a notch on the dignity scale in my view. 

In Lofficier's original script, Scrooge was also supposed to wear an "Aunt Jemima" kerchief on his head.  How many "dignity notches" would that cost him?

(Greg)  Louie breathes a sigh of relief and the all clear as Scrooge decides to go to the Money Bin for safety since it's airtight. One problem: If it's airtight; then the ducks would die due to lack of oxygen. 

That would be a problem, wouldn't it?  It's also rather surprising that Scrooge didn't keep Old #1 in the Bin for safety's sake before he went out to do battle with the shadows.  Not until "Dime Enough for Luck" will we see Old #1 stored in the Bin (and with elaborate defenses, to boot).  Even that arrangement will prove temporary, as the dime will be right back in McDuck Mansion in "Once Upon a Dime."

(Greg)  [The evil shadow] gets blown out of existence and I just realized something: If Scrooge hasn't told the nephews to return the camera to Gyro; they could have poof[ed] her out of existence without Magica's help or the dime. So this was awfully contrived after all. 

This might still make sense if you accept that Old #1 wasn't strong enough to completely destroy the evil shadow, but was strong enough to weaken it to the point where the cameras could finish the job.

Next:  Episode 36, "Catch as Cash Can, Part One: A Drain on the Economy."


Pan MiluĊ› said...

Ah yes! This is is my favorite Magica episode! There is just so much energy and atmosphere in it...

Hej... you didn't write what will be the next episode :(

Comicbookrehab said...

Hmm..maybe the next time we get a "Ducktales" comic book, we might get to see Poe turned back into a duck. would anyone else like to see that? I imagine he would sound like Peter Lorre. Or Boris Badenov. ;)

Chris Barat said...


I originally DID write what the next episode would be. For some reason, however, I must have saved an earlier copy of the review! I will have to go back and fix this.