Monday, July 22, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 46, "The Golden Fleecing"

I'm undergoing (kidney-related) surgery on my arm tomorrow, and I'm not sure how long it will take to regain the full use of my arm, so I don't know when I'll be sending out the next of these.  In the meantime, enjoy.

I'm in rough agreement with GeoX that DuckTales' adaptation of Carl Barks' "The Golden Fleecing" (UNCLE $CROOGE #12, 12/55-2/56) is "not a bad episode on balance."  The changes made to the original story are fairly substantial, but, while there's certainly plenty of silliness on display (for my money, there's more at the back end of the ep than in the beginning), enough of the source material is present to make this a pretty entertaining watch, both for comics devotees and for folks unfamiliar with Barks' story.  The main problem is one we've seen before: in order to squeeze a "it's not nice to steal!" moral into the story, adapters Ken Koonce and David Weimers are forced to twist a main character out of character.  Here, Scrooge's simple interest in making and owning a gold coat is turned into a lifelong obsession with finding the Golden Fleece. The way in which K&W handle this touchy matter is the main reason why, despite my general enjoyment of the episode, I don't count it as among the series' better Barks adaptations.


GeoX describes the mindset displayed by Scrooge here as evidence of his "corruption," which I think understates matters.  For one thing, the word "corruption" often suggests the pernicious influence of some sinister "external stimulus" (as psychologist Ludwig Von Drake might put it).  Think of the "outside force" that suddenly seemed to possess Doofus when he got the "diamond doughnut" in "Superdoo!".  Even the "Gold Fever" that nearly doomed our heroes in the Valley of the Golden Suns displayed some of the earmarks of a "communicable disease" of sorts; why else would the normally level-headed HD&L suddenly join Scrooge in searching out treasure at all costs?  Scrooge's Fleece fixation, by contrast, is far more troubling precisely because it seems to be so ruthlessly "localized."  The sheer number of times that Scrooge reiterates his need to have the Fleece suggests that the poison of irrational desire had taken root in his soul long before the events of this story.  (I get the impression that Scrooge's father -- or, in the unfortunate terminology of the later "Once Upon a Dime," his "McPapa" -- kindled the flame by reading Greek myths and legends to his son, much as Scrooge reads from the book to HD&L here.) The consequence of this constant harping (sorry...) is that Scrooge's sudden change of heart at episode's end, like Doofus' abrupt turn to the dark side in "Superdoo!", simply doesn't ring true.  I sincerely doubt that Scrooge would have been able to suppress such a powerful lifelong ambition so quickly, much less advertise the fact with a grandiloquently melodramatic speech.  About all that was missing was Scrooge apologizing to the Harpies "on behalf of all rich Ducks everywhere."

Thankfully, the general tone of "Fleecing" is kept light enough that the leadenness of Scrooge's reformation doesn't seem quite so onerous.  We start off with a bang (and a chuckle) as Von Drake commences his only appearance of the series, and a memorable one it certainly is.  It's a funny thing about Ludwig: most of his WDTVA appearances were... how shall I put this... undertaken under less than promising conditions (Bonkers, Quack Pack, Raw Toonage), yet they always seemed to work out rather well.  Doesn't that suggest that making him a quasi-regular member of the far superior DuckTales cast would have been a good thing?  A REALLY good thing, even?  Of course, some care would have to have been taken to clearly distinguish him from Gyro Gearloose, casting him instead as the DT equivalent of Mr. Whoopee, "the Duck with all the answers."  But if the series had incorporated "real" Von Drake and a late-80s, legwarmer-less version of Quack Pack's "reporter Daisy Duck" into its cast, then imagine what might have resulted.


"If you t'ink Daisy and I vould have been vorse dan zat Bubba Duck, you're CUCKOO!"

I originally thought that Launchpad's LVD-influenced use of "Om" was rather silly and might tend to date the episode in future years.  I've come to accept it, though, and even to regard it as a backhanded reference of sorts to Barks' original, in which the Larkies (whose censored title of "Harpies" was happily restored for TV; thank goodness for the ephemeral nature of slang) didn't shed their disguises and reveal their true, "non-figmental" nature until the story was well underway.  I can well understand why K&W chose to jettison Barks' elaborate opening sequence, retaining only the scene in which the flying vulture-women carry a victim (in this case, Launchpad) away to their lair.  Barks' Larkies' feat (literally) looks better on paper, but the LP-napping business also works OK in context, partially because the fear-wracked LP sells it so well.

LP's bug-eyed take here is just one example of the way in which director Terence Harrison influenced the look of this episode in a positive manner.  Harrison, who started his career as an animator with Hanna-Barbera in the 60s, hasn't done any work in TV animation since the turn of the century, which seems a real shame.  He directed 20 DT eps, 18 of them in the first season, and reached his apotheosis in "Double-O-Duck" and "All Ducks on Deck," in which his trademark rubbery, lively style is seen to greatest advantage.  The "pop from pose to pose" style of "Double-O-Duck" is arguably his most distinctive aesthetic contribution to the series.  Harrison isn't quite so adventurous in "Fleecing," but he does presage the future, in a sense, with some memorable character takes, mostly involving Launchpad.  With the design of the Harpies being slightly less ugly and menacing than that of Barks' Larkies, Harrison evidently felt that the characters really had to make their fright convincing in order to grab the audience's attention.  It's probably no coincidence that the animation style of the series' last 35 episodes reflected Harrison's influence more than that of any other director.

I realize how irritating it must be for a Barks fan to accept that, Huey's claim to the contrary, the DT Junior Woodchuck Guidebook can be wrong on occasion.  Unfortunately, that toothpaste cannot be shoved back into the tube at this point; the principle of a fallible Guidebook was established in the very first half-hour episode when the "bear trap" didn't work.  The manner in which the Guidebook is handled in "Fleecing" is legitimately troublesome, though, because of its extreme inconsistency.  There's nothing wrong with the boys' creation of a "JW totem pole" (though they probably could have gotten the same basic idea without reading the book), and HD&L's building of the "flying bike" from the scrap of the Ducks' helicopter is borderline impossible, a task which only the Guidebook could possibly help them accomplish.  (Were you, like me, wondering where the little wheels and pedals came from, or how HD&L managed to fasten the thing together without any visible tools?)  The "dragons are a myth" gaffe, however, seems to have been thrown in merely to exploit the "Skepticism Failure" trope... and the execution isn't even all that funny.  K&W would have been better off having the Guidebook suggest a "dealing with dragons" plan that wasn't possible under the circs, such as having a broadsword or two handy, and then having Scrooge make a sarcastic comment about the scheme's impracticality.

Once the Ducks reach the Harpies' stronghold, the episode begins to track the plot of Barks' story with a bit more fidelity.  Even the role played by the lovestruck Anastasia (whose passion for Launchpad is never explained) has a Barksian parallel in the focus on the one Larkie who promises to help Scrooge and Donald find the Fleece in exchange for helping her win the cooking contest.  The "big deipno" (aka: fattening up Launchpad) business is substituted for the contest, but, to be honest, that change isn't much of an issue, even if you object, as Geo does, to the whole notion of fattening someone up by stuffing him or her with food.  (Do the names Hansel and Gretel ring a bell?  And I'm not talking about the witch-hunter versions, either.)  The logistics do turn a bit wonky along the way, however.  It doesn't really make sense for Agnes to shout "Din-din, come and get it!" at the Hall of Echoes' mouth when the Sleepless Dragon is supposed to be chained up to begin with, and inside a very small cavern to boot.  Likewise, the booby trap that nearly does Scrooge in after he's grabbed the Fleece seems like a bit of overkill, especially in light of the fact that a menacing, ever-vigilant guardian is lurking nearby.  Barks' Fleece wasn't protected by anything in particular, and that story certainly wasn't lacking in "excitement." 

While Scrooge and HD&L are on their way to pick up the Fleece, Koonce and Wiemers burden them with an additional menace in the form of a labyrinth.  This suggests that the writers might have consulted "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone" in addition to Barks' "Fleecing."  In contrast to the "blink-and-you-missed-it" maze seen briefly in "Sphinx for the Memories," we actually witness the Ducks getting out of this trap.  It seems to me, however, that they could just as easily have done so by climbing up the maze's none-too-steep walls and walking across the top to safety.

After the "deipno party" is broken up, we get a few more obvious borrowings from Barks; a character (in this case, Anastasia) is swallowed by the Dragon, and, of course, the Dragon is finally neutralized by the pulling of the wool over its eyes.  I'll give the ep props for actually showing Anastasia getting gulped on-screen; Barks merely showed us the aftereffects.  Unfortunately, due to the requirement that Scrooge repent of his Fleece-fancying ways, the "Dragon-down" sequence can't help but pale in comparison to the original, in which the Nephews dope out the plan with the Guidebook's assistance and then consciously carry it out.  In the DT version, Scrooge just... well... seems to let the Fleece fall where it may.  For all we can tell, his hand slipped.  Either that, or he was so overcome by guilt that he temporarily lost control of some of his bodily functions.  (Given Chris Matthews' infamous "tingle down the leg comment," the analogy between Scrooge and Matthews here may actually be closer than we realize.)

The Harpies do indeed "turn friendly" at the end, but it's not as if they had very far to travel during their pivot.  For example, they didn't originally throw Scrooge and HD&L in jail when the latter appeared to rescue Launchpad.  Even when they're preparing to feed LP to the Dragon, the Harpies don't display any malice, with Agnes explaining that it's "nothing personal."  The more benevolent characterization of the Harpies makes it possible for the characters to achieve some sense of closure.  The last we saw of the Larkies in Barks' story, they were being scared out of their wits by airborne mice and scattering to goodness knows where.

As nice as it is to see Von Drake one final time, the last scene is rather contrived, not to mention being uncomfortably reminiscent of the windup of "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan."  Even Launchpad -- who is again subjected to a stream of belittling remarks from Scrooge rivaling the barrage he braved in "Scrooge's Pet", and sometimes with good reason -- would surely realize by this time that the Harpies are not "figments of the imagination."  The Dragon, the feast, and so forth were, after all, quite real, and LP dropped the "Om" business as soon as he was brought to the Harpies' lair, suggesting that he had finally gotten wise to the truth.

"The Golden Fleecing" is a somewhat frustrating ep, but not one without its rewards.  Thanks to the lively animation and the retention of numerous chunks of the original story -- albeit chunks that have been reconstituted into an occasionally unrecognizable "stew" -- the gist of Barks' original conception is still present.  Only the gist, however, which is why I rather wish that Anthony Adams had done this adaptation.  The man who gave us "Home Sweet Homer" and "Maid of the Myth" would probably have had more confidence in his ability to meld the legend-heavy Barks story (which, let us remember, required several "Woodchuck Information Dumps" to get all the details in) and the somewhat lighter touch required for a DT script into a satisfactory whole... without feeling the need to warp and spindle Scrooge's personality a bit in order to do so.  Unfortunately, the "sins of adaptation" committed by K&W here will be compounded in the very next episode -- and this time, there will be no appeals to myth or legend available to save them.

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) If the catalyst for the action in [Barks'] original is somewhat contrived, this one takes contrivedness to a whole new level. Get this: Launchpad claims that his plane was messed up by flying bird-women (depicted after the manner of that one Twilight Zone episode, sort of); then, Scrooge is reading a book about the golden fleece to HDL and sees a picture of a harpie (no longer "larkies"), and thinks HOLY CRAP! Those things Launchpad saw must be harpies! Which must mean the golden fleece is real! That's some Glenn-Beck-level logic right there.

I think that you're overstating things a bit at the end there.  Scrooge says, not once but twice, that if the Harpies are real, then "the Golden Fleece might be real too."  MIGHT.   So he doesn't completely commit himself.

I don't doubt that the opening Black Sea sequence was influenced, at least in part, by that plane trip taken by the unfortunate Mr. Shatner... the difference being that animation allows for Launchpad's reactions to be much more exaggerated than even Shatner's.

You offhandedly mention one thing that has always bothered me about the way K&W set up the trip to "Greece" (or a reasonable facsimile).  The whole plot is set in mention by HD&L's need to research the Fleece for a book report.  That has always struck me as somewhat... humdrum.  In the Barks story, the boys have to piece things together as they go, expounding on the legend of the Fleece as they do so, and they wind up being the true heroes of the tale.  In the TV version, apart from building the flying bike, they're basically just along for the ride, with LP's phobias and Scrooge's determination to obtain the Fleece getting most of the attention.  When Scrooge grabs LP and dashes off to find the Fleece, the boys literally shrug their shoulders and follow their elders.  The contrast is striking.

(GeoX) [Launchpad says] "Those are some of my best crash [scores] yet," whereupon HDL hold up numbers like Olympic judges--pretty amusing bit of absurdism.

It would have been even funnier had the numbers on the cards been "color-coded" to match the ID's of the Nephews holding them.


(GeoX) A nonsensical, abortive joke with the Hall of Echoes: "amazing! It only echoes the word echo!" But then it proceeds to go ahead and echo the word "fleece" anyway. I have no idea what the writers had in mind there.

I think that they were simply trying to put in a version of the "Seikral/Larkies" gag from Barks' story.  Personally, I thought that this bit was rather clever, and no more "nonsensical" than the echoes in Barks' story coming out backwards.

(Greg) So Launchpad is asking about Scrooge's accuracy in [LP] looking for an excuse to crash a plane. Somehow; I'm 50/50 on this. On the one hand; Scrooge does have a point. For a guy who crashes as often as LP does; it does make a strong case for doing it on purpose. On the other hand; I love it when he screws Scrooge in crashing the plane so screw Mr. McD.

This sudden concern about being a "crashaholic" is a bit strange in view of the fatalistic view taken by Launchpad in "Top Duck."  I thought that destiny drove LP to crash?  Perhaps, like Sen-Sen in "The Duck Who Would Be King," he has suddenly come to the subconscious that "it never hurts to help [destiny] along"?

(Greg) Scrooge has to lean forward harshly to get the old red ribbon book and that rips the arms of his coat which he swears in DUBBED SCOTTISH STYLE (Curse me kilts!) and blows off disposable coat makers.

And, of course, the coat never shows any damage again.  Given that Scrooge would have gone after the Fleece regardless of whether or not he actually NEEDED a new coat, this incident seems entirely pointless.


(Greg) We find out [Launchpad] has been involved in 3,876 crashes.

Based on this figure and the one cited in "Duck to the Future," either Launchpad got better at avoiding crashes as he aged, or he simply started flying less: 4,892 - 3,876 = 1,016 means that LP crashed barely more than a thousand times between "The Golden Fleecing" and "Future," in which he's reached old age.  Of course, the "future" in "Future" was a possible "future," so that larger figure may not be accurate.

(Greg) Scrooge and the boys manage to get out of the cave (huh?! How in the world did that occur?) and they get on the Bicycle Chopper (it was just sitting there in plain sight all this time? I hate magical objects) to flee. The nephews of course don't leave. Why? Because they have to save Launchpad and lose the Golden Fleece silly. Scrooge of course blows him off because it's every Fleece for himself and that gets the boys mad and asking questions about Scrooge's sanity. I think Scrooge has Gold Fever again and it's a mild form that is undetectable. The harpies then fly out of the cave along with Anna holding Launchpad. WHAT THE HELL?! How did she get into the cave?! Logic break #4 for the episode and the first one I don't accept. Man; why does TMS still have Wuzzles syndrome? 

K&W may have been so eager to get to the climactic chase scene(s) that they failed to think the logistics of these scenes through.

Next: Episode 47, "Down and Out in Duckburg."

14 comments:

kenisu said...

Huh. Louie's pun "This is one time we really missed the boat!" reminds me of one of the nephews saying more-or-less the same thing in "Scrooge's Pet" when the boat with Lucky on board leaves port. Must have been influenced by the line from the Barks "Fleecing" story (of course, "Scrooge's Pet" came from a Barks story as well, but I haven't read that one yet so I don't know if the gag here was one Barks was reusing or what).

Not that puns are all that original to begin with.

Anyway, I definitely remember wondering, as a 5-year old kid, why in the world the ducks didn't just climb up to the top of the maze and hop across to each other. I mean the walls were so low, and if the nephews can form a totem pole apparently clear up to the sky, they can certainly draw level with a ledge their own uncle would be able to pull himself onto by only standing tiptoe. I think I explained it away by telling myself, "oh, it's some grownup thing about not cheating". :D

Pan Miluś said...

I like this dragon much more then the one in the comics - Barks one was just goofy, this one is scary when you watch it as a kid.

Scrooge sacrafising the treasure to save his friend is a type of sweet moments that I love and a good thing to put in a kids show.

The oryginal story made two of my favorite Barks paitings - Scrooge runing to get the flece and this one : http://media.liveauctiongroup.net/i/4969/7421248_1.jpg?v=8C9EF4B927D3490



NOTE : I still think they wanted used VonDrake in "Yuppy Ducks" and "Attack of 50 foot Webby'. They just turn him to VonSwine for some reason. Pretty much the same character

Pan Miluś said...

Ow, and GOOOD LUCK WITH YOU'RE ARM :)

Pan Miluś said...

"I realize how irritating it must be for a Barks fan to accept that, Huey's claim to the contrary, the DT Junior Woodchuck Guidebook can be wrong on occasion."


BAH! I use own a "Junior Woodchuck Guidbook" and that darn book was worth shit! I was looking for a Crusader Kings treasure in a caslte in Scotland once, you see, and I needed order of the ranks of the first nine templars to pass a booby trap.
And gues what? There was zero information about it!!!! What kind of lame rip-off is that? That was the first and only time I ever touched that over rated bible-whanabe.
Now the The Junior Chickadees - manual"! That's the real deal for me!

ramapith said...

Get better, Chris...

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I hope all went well with your procedure.

I like the idea of Von Drake as a member of DT, as long as they found a consistent way to differentiate him from Gyro, the problem the comics always had – except for DONALD DUCK # 102 and WDC&S # 718, of course!

Daisy, on the other hand, would have required more of a presence from Donald. Would have liked to see that too!

Comicbookrehab said...

Ludwig and Gyeo followed career paths distictive enough to not be redundant - I could easily see Ludwig play a role in "Yuppy Ducks", "Scrooge's Lady Adventure" and "Attack of The 50 ft. Webby" or even as a kind of tutor to Bubba, which could have added something extra to those episodes.
It's not very clear WHY Barks disliked Ludwig, if that legend is true - was it because the design was similar to Scrooge?

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your arm.

I have a rather trivial and very strange question about "Down and Out in Duckburg." Has anyone ever noticed that when Mrs. Beakly leaves the water, she and Duckworth hug.

I suppose the animators are implying they're friends and Duckworth is glad she's okay. Or are they implying that they're dating - the scene just seems strange to me.

Chris Barat said...

Pan and CBR,

I can sympathize with your frustration that Ludwig wasn't used in place of Dr. Von Swine. The problem may have been that Von Swine was explicitly introduced as a medical doctor, taking care of Scrooge and Webby. Von Drake MIGHT have worked in the Dr. Von Geezer role in "The Right Duck," since he's appeared in space-themed stories, such as the Joe Torcivia-dialogued "To the Moon by Noon."

Why was Barks so reluctant to use Von Drake? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps Barks had the (mistaken) idea that he had already covered that particular "base" by introducing and using Gyro. IMHO, Von Drake can fill many roles that Gyro cannot.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

If Daisy had specifically been used in the reporter role, then I don't necessarily think that she would HAVE to have interacted with Donald all that often. She could have done so on occasion, of course, but it would have been a great opportunity for her to establish a new persona that was somewhat independent of Donald.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

"I have a rather trivial and very strange question about "Down and Out in Duckburg." Has anyone ever noticed that when Mrs. Beakly leaves the water, she and Duckworth hug. I suppose the animators are implying they're friends and Duckworth is glad she's okay. Or are they implying that they're dating - the scene just seems strange to me."

Well, Mrs. B. and Duckworth never showed any particular "interest" in one another in any OTHER episode, so I chalk this up as a simple "I'm glad you're safe" moment.

Chris

Comicbookrehab said...

Anon,...

Hmm... "BeakWorth" ? ;) Does this mean we should scan for more circumstantial evidence that Mrs. B and Duckworth are a couple offscreen? What other "'ships" can we infer? Scrooge and Ma Crackshell ("Scrackshell"), or how about Scrooge and Gandra Dee ("Scandra")? Or Donald & Cinnamon Teal ("Deal")? This is fun!

Dan said...

Long time reader of the blog. Love it. One thing that bothers me about this episode is how skinny LP is. We've seen him in short sleeves before in Superdoo and Merit Time Adventure and his arms were much bigger.

Chris Barat said...

Dan,

Thank you for the kind comments!

LP definitely looks skinnier than usual in the scenes in which the Harpies are flying him away and Anastasia is hugging him. Don't worry, though, he will overcompensate when the time comes to serve as Darkwing Duck's sidekick.

Chris