Saturday, June 22, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE, Episode 40: "Ducks of the West"... Plus... well, something considerably MORE fascinating!

I must admit, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this return to retrospection -- not because I've lost my enthusiasm for the whole retrospective enterprise, but because "Ducks of the West" surely must rank as one of the five worst DuckTales episodes.  If possible, I like it even less now than I did back in the day, because very rarely does the series indulge in misbegotten mischaracterization to the extent that it does here.  When you find yourself wishing that writer Richard Merwin had scripted this DT "adventure" MORE like a conventional and modestly competent Scooby-Doo episode, you know that dire doings are a-web.

Thankfully, while Internet-surfing earlier this week, I ran across an utterly fascinating piece of overseas DuckTales trivia.  (Actually, "trivia" may not be appropriate in context here, as you'll see.)  What made it doubly fascinating and meaningful for me was the country involved.  The fact that I'm putting the discussion here, rather than in the "DuckBlurbs" section at the end of the post, reflects (1) my own indirect personal "connection" to the matter and (2) my intense desire to avoid talking about phony ghosts, missing oil, and contrived cowboy contests for as long as I possibly can.

We Americans have come to call the generation born in the last two decades or so of the 20th century the "Millennial Generation."  (The designation used to be "Generation Y," following up on "Generation X," but evidently it was felt that we'd started too close to the end of the alphabet for comfort.)  In Hungary, by contrast, the same generational cohort is popularly known as Kacsamesek generacio, or "the DuckTales generation," because many young Hungarian adults associate the show with the first significant post-Communist political event in their lifetimes.


DuckTales began running on Hungarian state television channel MTV1 in the early 1990s.  On Sunday, December 12, 1993, a broadcast of the show was interrupted for an announcement of the death of Jozsef Antall, Hungary's first democratically elected prime minister after the fall of Communism.  Someone preserved a VHS tape of the original broadcast and has put it up on YouTube.  The coincidence would be intriguing enough... but guess what notorious scene from the series was so abruptly interrupted?


It seems that a LOT of kids were left wanting to know what happened to Scrooge's "ice cream" and what became of that "sea monster"!  In fact, there's apparently a Facebook page entitled Akik nézték a vasárnapi Disney-t, amikor meghalt Antall József (Those who were watching Disney Sunday when Jozsef Antall died) with over 10,000 followers.  And, yes, I have confirmed all of this -- here, for example.  (Also here, but watch out, reading Hungarian is known to cause the eyes to bleed.)

UPDATE (6/23/13):  In preparing the next retrospective, "Sphinx for the Memories," I went back to Pete Fernbaugh's piece on that episode and noticed that he mentioned the "DuckTales generation" business in passing.  For whatever reason, I didn't pick up on it then. 

I think you can understand why I find this so amazing: the combination of series, episode, and country simply boggles my mind.  I don't doubt that, had a more mundane scene from a more mundane episode been cut off in this case, the memories would have not been nearly as indelible.  And if a scene from "Ducks of the West" had been cut off... well, the interruption might have come as something of a relief.  (Nice segue, eh?)

.

.

.


GeoX pretty much nails just about EVERY SINGLE problem with "Ducks of the West" in a single paragraph of his review:

I'm not gonna lie to you: this episode caused me physical pain with its stupidity. Scrooge will go broke if the oil doesn't start up again? In spite of the fact that, as the series (let alone the comics) has made abundantly clear, he has all sorts of other business concerns? He's willing to gamble away his entire fortune* without even knowing the details of what the contest will involve? And then, having done this (and not having bothered to question the incredibly obvious tricks that JR [Mooing] used to cheat), he has barely any noticeable reaction--instead he's more concerned with finding the missing oil, which wouldn't be his anymore anyway? And then, after finding said oil, JR conveniently morphs into a good guy and just gives back his whole fortune, no further action needed? Seriously, was this episode written by people with severe head injuries?

*Reminding me of his insane decision to give his entire fortune in exchange for a lentil concern in that batty-ass Romano Scarpa story "The Lentils from Babylon."


I swear, Geo must have been reading my mind when he wrote this.  The real shame of it all is that, if Merwin had really been bound and determined to do a Scooby-Doo plot with the DT characters in a Western setting, then Carl Barks had already teed up the ball perfectly for him.  This situation simply screamed for an adaptation of Barks' "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad" (UNCLE $CROOGE #56, March 1965).  In addition to employing the same "phony ghost" and "ghost town" conventions, "Railroad" added a few bits of lore from Scrooge's past and two good one-shot female characters in the forms of Scrooge's old acquaintance Hashknife Kate and her gun-toting granddaughter "Ducky Bird."  (I'm sure that Joan Gerber and Tress MacNeille could have dished up fitting voices for these characters.)  J.R. Mooing, complete with dead-on Frank Welker voice parody of Larry Hagman, could have served as a more effective "red herring" as one of the other characters holding railroad stock certificates (and perhaps conniving on the side to buy out some of the other old investors).  Launchpad, of course, would have to be involved, if only for his participation in the climactic train chase.  Even the "phony ghost" business in "Railroad" is handled far more expertly than in the TV episode, where the "ghost of Jesse Jones" just happens to have exactly the same voice as one of the few incidental characters that had been introduced into the narrative.  The only reasonable objection that I can see to using the plot of "Railroad" here is that the rationale underlying Barks' plot -- the desire to snaffle up the old railroad shares and "make a stock market killing" by selling out to the missile-base people -- might have been regarded as overly dry and not sufficiently "interesting" to kids.  Funny, that didn't seem to bother Barks any... and if "Railroad" had been included in the Celestial Arts collection, or if someone (Jymn Magon?) had been a little more persuasive about the quality of the Barks story, then I can easily imagine the DT production crew reaching the same conclusion.

"You have chosen... UNWISELY."

There are some mildly funny bits in the pre-Texas stages of "West."  Scrooge's encounter with the stuttering gas-station attendant (surprisingly, this is a dated reference today, at least to those of us who don't frequently traverse the New Jersey Turnpike) is good for a laugh, simply because Scrooge literally walks down the side of his limo to go beak-to-snout with the guy.  When McDuck business is at stake, it seems, Scrooge is capable of at least partially defying gravity.

Then, of course, after Scrooge discovers that Launchpad can't fly him to Texas due to the lack of McDuck fuel, Scrooge has to submit to the massive indignity of flying Air Glomgold.  I'm glad that Merwin resisted the temptation to actually give Glomgold himself a walk-on here, opting instead for the picture of Flinty on the sign.  I am puzzled, however, at the... um, irrelevance... of LP's brief appearance.  How many of us, when we first saw Launchpad appear in this scene way back when, figured that LP would have to play some sort of role in the adventure to follow, gasless plane or no?  (After all, LP has at least a couple of planes available back at the "Launchpad Unlimited" hangar.)  It hardly would seem worth the trouble to bring LP on stage -- and with a speaking part, yet -- for such a comparatively trivial moment.  Perhaps Terry McGovern had more voice responsibilities here than I had originally thought.  (For example, he, rather than Alan Oppenheimer, might have voiced our rope-belted, grease-jockeying friend above.)

In the hurry to get to the Scooby-Doo/cockeyed contest stuff, the Ducks' sojourn at Tex Dogie's Lucky Duck dude ranch gets virtually no screen time whatsoever.  This may not seem like a major problem, but it makes for an awkward moment at the climax of the ep, when HD&L snaffle the as-yet-unmasked "ghost of Jesse Jones" using the roping skills they "learned at the ranch."  Uh, when, exactly?  Right after Tex Dogie reveals the existence of the ghost town, the boys (no surprise) are off on their trusty mount Gluefoot to investigate.  When they finally return, Scrooge has just lost his fortune to J.R., and the Ducks immediately go back to the ghost town to seek out the oil that the Nephews had discovered.  Since I can't imagine that Scrooge wasted any time in plunging into his initial investigation of the oil famine with "the original" Wildcat, the Nephews had, what, maybe a couple of hours to absorb the delights of Dogie's spread?  I know that they're quick-witted and have the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook as a resource, but BOY, is that a quick turn-around time.

I can't imagine how unendurable this episode would be had Merwin taken inspiration from the "Texarock" episodes of The Flintstones and thrown a few "Ever'thang's bigger 'n better in Texas" tropes into the mix.  As it is, for all the sneering and attitude, J.R. Mooing comes across as almost low-key in terms of visual bling, with the satellite dish and hot tub in his limo (which also boasts spurs on the tailfins) being the only real signs of excess.  His mansion, seen in medium shot several times, is positively modest -- heck, he didn't even pay to have the flag on top of it animated so that it would float in the breeze -- and he even drives his own limo!  Of course, the whole point about the "real" J.R. Ewing was not how much money or how many possessions he had, but how he behaved towards others.  In that respect, Welker provides an outstanding, if somewhat diluted, version of the live-action TV inspiration... until things fall completely apart at the end.

The Toon Disney version of the episode cut out a chunk of the initial encounter between HD&L and the "ghost of Jesse Jones."  The music suddenly swells as Jones comes down the stairway and reveals himself at the end of Act One, with the whole "dance while I'm a-shootin' at your feet" sequence being removed.  Act Two begins with Jones complaining "I ain't ready yet!" as the boys vamoose, after which we see Jones shooting at the backs of the fleeing kids.  So... purposely shooting to miss is verboten, but actively trying to shoot someone in the back is not.  Got it.  Compounding the censorial confusion, the later scenes in which Jones barely misses HD&L's heads (including the one in which Louie gets spattered with oil and thinks he's been hit) are preserved.  Those shots came almost as close to the heads of the boys as some of the shots aimed at Kit Cloudkicker, which were cut by TD.  If YOU can spot the consistency here, then I'd appreciate some enlightenment on the subject.

The episode, of course, starts its irrecoverable trip down the "inglorious hole" when Scrooge decides to play cowboy, put on a laughably transparent disguise, and accept J.R.'s challenge to the winner-take-all contest.  OK, now... the Barks Donald Duck of the 1940s might have done this, or something reasonably similar, and I can even imagine the young, full-of-beans Scrooge of Don Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES accepting a challenge to risk SOME of his money on a point of honor at SOME point in his development.  But this, this is... beyond ludicrous.  Merwin doesn't even get Scrooge's ultimate admission of fault right; he has Scrooge realize that "I'm no cowboy" and "I should never had tried to be what I'm not."  Of course, Scrooge has been a cowboy in the past, and many other things besides; at the very least, his experiences in the Klondike should have equipped him with some elementary Western survival skills.  The "proper" reaction here (not that such a thing could possibly exist under the circs) would have been for Scrooge to realize that he's too old and out of practice to be playing cowboy.  In practice, however, this creative decision is simply unsalvageable.

Once Scrooge has been cleaned out, he suddenly turns detective and joins HD&L to track down the missing oil... which, as GeoX noted, is completely irrelevant to his present predicament.  In its own way, this reaction is more irrational than either his passive resignation in "The Money Vanishes" or his over-the-top, Magyar-youth-traumatizing tantrum in "A Whale of a Bad Time."  The ep actually improves a little once Merwin decides to turn it into a pure Scooby-Doo caper, with the "white buffalo" nicely repaying the Nephews' earlier kindness by helping the Ducks break out of the decrepit jail cell (for some reason, this scene has always reminded me of the Brady Bunch two-part episode set in the Grand Canyon) and HD&L taking the wrangling lead in literally bringing the villain to his knees.  Anyone who has heard the ep's dialogue knows who the man behind the mask will be, of course, so let's rejoice that "McDuck Oil is back in business! [sic!!!]" and quickly cut to the non-Chasen's chili...

... and J.R.'s OUT OF NOWHERE switch to the side of the angels, or somewhere near there.  WHAAAAA...?!  This is Barks' signature end-of-story phrase "And things are again as they were" taken to an absurd extreme.  I'm shocked that the story editors actually allowed Merwin to get away with this nonsense.  Forget "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad"; Scrooge entering his "cactus wildfire chili" (and given that's he's "no cowboy," where did he learn to make it, I wonder?) against Ma Beagle's glass-cutting "red" in a chili cookoff would have made for a more coherent and entertaining episode than the mess we wound up with here.  Whoosh goes all of the audience good will that Merwin had built up thanks to "Top Duck."  (Either that, or it's the "cactus wildfire chili" backing up on me.)  Sorry, Greg, but "Citizen Khan" is... well, Citizen Kane compared to "Ducks of the West."
.

.
.
"DuckBlurbs"
(GeoX) There were a few small things I liked about this episode: Scrooge's affectation of a Texas accent is pretty hilarious, and I enjoyed his foreman, Wildcat's, laconic "yeps" and "nopes." Oh, and the "ghost" buffalo that the kids save is pretty cute. But that's all.  

I'd have to agree, adding on the two funny early bits that I mentioned above.  It strikes me that Frank Welker's J.R. Ewing parody is getting to be almost as dated as Chuck McCann's imitation of Gary Cooper was in 1987.  Perhaps not as badly as the Morton Downey Jr. parody Lawrence Loudmouth in "The Masked Mallard," but there's a difference between a youngster of today knowing of the character of J.R. Ewing and knowing how he sounded and acted.

(Greg)  So we cut back to the nephews checking on their remote control airplanes and they proclaim that they are out of gas. Who in their right mind would sell gas powered remote control airplanes?! Don't these whippersnappers know about BATTERY operated aircraft? And wouldn't gas powered be too dangerous of a fire hazard for children to use?

You can still find gas-powered model airplanes on the market.  Here, for instance.  I gather that you would have to have considerable experience in handling simpler craft before you were ready to try a gas-powered model, though.

(Greg)  So we logically go into the desert as the nephews are riding west (HA!) on a gray horse as Louie is singing a Texas song so badly that Louie would be shot in the face by Dick Cheney just for being such a bad singer. Yeah; I went for the low blow; but seriously, the singing is crappy. Oh wait; it's Huey which somehow makes it worse. He calls Dewey Deadeye Dewey which at least sounds witty. Louie is Lonestar Louie as they are riding on the range like real cowboys....and doing a decent job of it; bad singing notwithstanding. Louie of course screws up on the Texas accent as we cut to the ghost town. We know this because there is no one in the town and there's nothing but tumbleweed being animated by TMS. We pan over east as the horse rides into town with a lot of wind blowing. The horse is called Gluefoot as it stalls while Huey tries to get it to sell properly. Gluefoot goes all Scooby Doo on us (he even sounds like a crappy Scooby Doo which means Frank Welker is voicing him.)

I think that it would have been clever had Gluefoot been designed in the manner of Tanglefoot or another classic Floyd Gottfredson model horse.  Granted, it wouldn't have come close to salvaging the episode, but it would have provided a nice link to past Disney comic-book and comic-strip stories set in the West.  The semi-realistic equines of "Horse Scents" and the look of the series as a whole probably made this wish impossible to fulfill.
(Greg) The nephews bail stage right and head for the sheriff's office and remember to close the door this time. We know it's the sheriff's office because it has a silver star on top.

A nice bit of visual continuity here: as in Duckburg, stores and other public buildings are "identified" by a visual marker above the door.  For example, the stables in the ghost town have a horse's head posted on them.  Also recall the handcuffs signifying the police station in "Hero for Hire" and the cheese above the door to the Novaygian cheese shop in "Scrooge's Pet."  

Next:  Episode 41, "Sphinx for the Memories." 

12 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

There is NOTHING good that can be said about this episode!

It is an insult to everyone watching who was over the age of 5 – and the worst insult to Carl Barks in the vast history of “Slap-in-the-Face-to-Creator” insults!

It is my sincerest wish that Mr. Barks lived the final 13 years of his life without ever seeing the atrocity that was committed upon one of the all-time greatest original comic-book creations – his own Uncle Scrooge McDuck!

Um, anybody unclear as to my feelings?

Pan Miluś said...

Far from my favorite episode. I recall my cousin (who is big fan of Don Rosa's "Life and times'...) whach this episode not knowig it was made BEAFORE the comic book and was confuse why Scrooge dosen't know how to be a cowboy...


BTW -> I find the upcoming one super creepy :) Hope to see a great review on that one :)

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying your retrospective, even as a very young kid I was left bewildered how Scrooge could get his oil back from Jesse Jones having already lost it in a bet to J.R.

I wonder if, in your opinion, the episode could have been salvaged if:

(1) Rather than Scrooge saying he'd go out of business without the oil, he'd lose billions as he relied on his own cheap (below-market price, at cost) oil to keep down his costs and undercut his competition (i.e. Glomgold).

(2) Rather than bet everything in a cowboy contest, bet a ridiculously large amount of money (i.e. $100 billion). J>R. could say something like "I'll bet you my oil land against say - well, with oil drying up everywhere, I'd say it'll be worth no less than - well, 100 billion of your dollars.
This would give, at least, the opportunity for the episode to continue without Scrooge having gambled away his entire fortune (or anything near it).

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

"I wonder if, in your opinion, the episode could have been salvaged if:

(1) Rather than Scrooge saying he'd go out of business without the oil, he'd lose billions as he relied on his own cheap (below-market price, at cost) oil to keep down his costs and undercut his competition (i.e. Glomgold)."

I could have accepted this. It would have avoided the whole "But doesn't Scrooge have any OTHER non-oil-based holdings?" issue.

"(2) Rather than bet everything in a cowboy contest, bet a ridiculously large amount of money (i.e. $100 billion). J.R. could say something like "I'll bet you my oil land against say - well, with oil drying up everywhere, I'd say it'll be worth no less than - well, 100 billion of your dollars. This would give, at least, the opportunity for the episode to continue without Scrooge having gambled away his entire fortune (or anything near it)."

It's still hard for me to imagine the Scrooge of DUCKTALES (as opposed to the younger Scrooge of one of the chapters of LIFE OF SCROOGE) making such a deal AND giving power to J.R. to decide what the details of the contest would be. Scrooge has ALREADY seen J.R. try to chisel him out of half of his fortune in exchange for some of J.R.'s oil land; why would he suddenly be so trusting of J.R. to run a contest on the square?

As I said in the review, I'd actually have preferred that Merwin double down on the SCOOBY-DOO mystery angle here and jettison the whole contest angle.

Chris





Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Not that I want to make you feel WORSE about this episode, but... had the ep been produced eight or nine years later, there would have existed a perfect framework for a "dude ranch mystery" story: Pat Block and Ron Fernandez' "Mystery of Widow's Gap"!! That would have made TWO great Duck stories that could have been substituted for this punk plot!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

Well, you can't really fault Merwin for not anticipating stories that did not yet exist. He SHOULD, however, have realized that it was entirely possible for Scrooge to have picked up Western skills at SOME point during his pre-Duckburg adventures... and, even more to the point, that Scrooge behaved completely out of character during the last half of this episode, regardless of what details of Scrooge's life Merwin was or was not aware of.

Chris

Gregory Weagle said...

@Chris: I was completely distracted by the fact that the end arcs to Final Fantasy 4: The After Years were released on VC, so I wasn't so in tune to the episode. Hindsight 20/20; this episode was overrated. Now I think J.R.'s twist face turn was done for the sake of it and some of the Scrooge/JR stuff doesn't make sense, but for me at least; it wasn't really offensive. There are a select handful of episodes worse than this (*cough*Luck'Of'The Ducks*cough*). I probably would downgrade it to a ** episode and a thumbs down.

@Joe: Heh, wonder what the creator of the Jungle Book would think after seeing TaleSpin? Bark's only got one slap in the face from this episode compared to the 65 episodes + comics that TaleSpin did to Kipling.

With that said; I did get off one of the best "rejected Rhinokey jokes ever" from this episode:

"...he thinks the white buffalo is no longer on the roam. So the nephews and the Scooby Doo horse can play... Minus the rabbit of course."

At least Richard give me easy material to work with here unlike some writers did with other Ducktales episodes I know.

Gregory Weagle said...

--- Those shots came almost as close to the heads of the boys as some of the shots aimed at Kit Cloudkicker, which were cut by TD. ---

Toon Disney didn't cut that out. The shot where the rope was shot and the bullet came close to Kit's head was cut for syndication.

At least the nephews having the bullets shot from the back made more sense to cut then when they did the same thing to Kit in Flight School; only he was in the Thunderyak which for all of it's problems, still provided enough protection.

Chris Barat said...

Greg,

I may be misremembering something you reported in your rants. Was there ANY scene involving shots at Kit that was edited out for syndication? I could swear that you said that there was at least one.

Chris

Gregory Weagle said...

@Chris: Plunder and Lightning Part Two when Kit was coming out of the rain from the bullets; and the pirates shot the rope and snapped it. The bullet whizzed right at Kit's head. That small spot was cut in syndication because I watched the DVD of that episode and the spot was not there.

Of course Plunder and Lightning is the only episode(s) that I can 100% confirm had edits made for the second run syndication. Considering the number of post production producer credits in various TaleSpin episode; I wonder...Some have claimed that some animation was changed in other episodes and I do recall someone claim that one of Clementine's lines was change.

Pan Miluś said...

Polish theme song is cool as well :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBCIx30EnC4

Interesting enough our HD&L had three diffrent voice actress.

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

I think that the original German dub of DUCKTALES also had three different actors playing the three Nephews.

Chris