Sunday, August 18, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 49, "Scroogerello"

In all honesty, I don't savvy the lack of enthusiasm that both GeoX and Greg appear to have had for "Scroogerello," one of the more imaginative and risk-taking episodes of DuckTales' first season.  Greg inadvertently put his finger on the reason why this off-the-wall take on Cinderella deserves more than its share of respect when he comments, "Yeap; this is our first reality bending episode." Precisely -- and it's the first time that such "reality bending" has taken place within something close to an established "Duck context."  "Scroogerello" works because the storyline manages to respect the parameters of the Ducks' world (or the DT version of same) while putting the characters into some wholly unrecognizable situations.  The ep very rarely flags and keeps coming up with imaginative and amusing ideas to enliven the familiar fairy-tale tropes.  Several future episodes ("The Uncrashable Hindentanic" comes quickly to mind) would execute the trick more efficiently -- "Hindentanic," in particular, has a much stronger framing sequence -- but give "Scroogerello" full credit: It got there first.

The opening could be considered something of an "indirect reboot" of the old idea of an "overly bossy" Scrooge.  Recall that this aspect of Scrooge's personality was toned down from original script drafts in parts three and five of "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  Here, we get a full faceful of the "Wrath of Scrooge," a mad-on exacerbated by his extremely atypical bout of illness.  I suppose that Scrooge could hardly be blamed for lashing out at anyone who tries to "help" him while he's in such a unusually vulnerable physical state.  "Difficult patients" are fairly common in hospital settings, after all.  Still, Scrooge's anger towards his family and servants in the opening minutes winds up playing a surprisingly small role in the context of the Cinderella parody.  Only Scroogerello's comment "Why do I feel so guilty?" when he encounters the aged, imprisoned Duckworth makes any sort of direct reference to it.  Usually, when a character has a "mental experience" like this, the "dream" or "hallucination" or whatever is chock full of references to the underlying reason for the "experience."  The "Cinderella Stone" episode of The Flintstones (which, for all I know, may have inspired this little experiment) is one good example of this.  Scrooge's illness, by contrast, basically creates only the physical reason for his mental adventure.

It's no surprise that Glomgold and the Beagle Boys (or an unusual combination of same: Big Time/Burger/Bebop-Bugle) play the roles of wicked stepfather and stepbrothers here.  The fun really starts to flow when HD&L are introduced as Junior Woodchuck cookie peddlers.  Teleplay writer Evelyn Gabai displays some cunning attention to detail when she depicts the Woodchuck cookies as being heavier than concrete.  This is at once a reflection of the TV series' somewhat more jaundiced view of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook and the traditional vision of the Woodchucks as a hyper-competent organization.  Only such an organization, you must admit, could possibly create such utterly inedible cookies.

As the "fairy godchild in training," Webby produces one of her most winning performances of the series.  We have come to expect Webby's enthusiasm and desire to pitch in (though her gung-ho-ness does seem to tick the impatient Scroogerello off at one point), but she gets to display some additional character traits.  Later in the episode, after she's stopped the topiary-animal stampede in Prince Lilypad's garden, Webby gets to bask in universal approbation and even to flash a little bit of ego with the "When you've got it, you've got it" comments.  I would have liked to have seen this somewhat more assertive version of the character -- somewhat akin to the heckling Webby in "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," but with more inherent charm -- in a few additional episodes.

Speaking of making an impression -- wow, until my most recent viewings of the episode, I don't think I ever fully appreciated just how good a performance "Princess Goldie" puts in here.  It was natural enough that Goldie would serve as Scroogerello's love interest, but Gabai gives the Klondike gal far more to do than simply play the distaff version of Prince Charming.  The extremely feisty, lout-clouting, in-your-face-sandwich-shoving, karate-chopping Goldie we see here is a worthy predecessor to the Goldie who features in a number of chapters of Don Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK.  In fact, the success of the characterization in "Scroogerello" may be even more remarkable considering that Goldie has been taken completely out of her standard "Klondike context" for the very first time, yet is immediately recognizable AS Goldie.  Joan Gerber's fine performance certainly helps make this impression, but it is clear that Gabai understands how Goldie works and what can believably be done with her.

I find it quite interesting that, while "Princess Goldie" is depicted in the younger form seen in the flashback sequence of "Back to the Klondike" (both Barks and DT versions), Scroogerello is the elderly Scrooge of the present day.  Perhaps Scrooge's dreaming of a young Goldie (not to mention his concluding remark, "I guess it didn't work out this time either, old girl") is a reflection of a long-held desire to return to some sort of "cohabitation" with her in the Klondike.  Surely, that is the underlying message of Don Rosa's "dreamscape" tale "The Dream of a Lifetime."  Amusingly, both "Scroogerello" and "The Dream of a Lifetime" include a rescue of Goldie, though the Goldie of the former is far more aggressive in fighting against her fate than the Goldie of the latter.

I began to fully realize that "Scroogerello" had taken Duck-based storytelling into what fans might call "a whole weird new area" when Scroogerello was provided with a... cookie-box limo... to get to the ball.  (I've heard rumors that George Harrison originally wrote "Crackerbox Palace" with that very title in mind.  No, not really.)  And, of course, the cookies didn't crumble there: we got more gags involving using chocolate chips and cookie crumbs as weapons before midnight struck and the whole shebang devolved into... well, um, cookie dough, I guess.  (That would certainly be preferable to some of the possible alternatives.)  The refusal to let go of the bizarre cookie-car idea, but instead to milk it for all it is worth (see what I did there?), is a clear indication of this episode's commitment to the off-the-wall.

Oddly enough, the characterization of Prince Lilypad is probably the most predictable part of the ep, except that he tends to splash, rather than crash.  (Note how many times he douses the unappreciative Scroogerello.)  Lilypad does get a priceless line when he channels The Elephant Man in declaring "I am NOT an animal... I am an amphibian!"  The biological mistake is more than compensated for by the cleverness of the reference.  More movie references follow as the topiary garden resurrects memories of both Disney's animated version of Alice in Wonderland and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.  From my own peculiar perspective, I couldn't help but think of the Kimba the White Lion episode "The Red Menace" during the "bush-animal barbecue" scene.  The constant references to Lilypad's "cas-tull" do tend to annoy after a while, in the same manner as Bebop/Bugle's "Be-bop-a-lu..." rhyming scheme.  This ep is so good at coming up with new ideas that it's a shame that such old-fashioned jackhammering was found acceptable.

The "rescuing Goldie" sequence is reasonably conventional (or as "conventional" as anything in such a setting can be) apart from the decision to literally turn Glomgold and the Beagles into "bullfrogs."  That weird little bauble was presumably added simply to justify the concluding gag about the Wuzzlified villains finding "an ugly princess who'll kiss anyone on the first date!".  GeoX's negative reaction to this gag is a bit mystifying, since the innuendo is mild at best -- not to mention legitimately funny.  Besides, after the "silent cabin scene" in Rosa's "The Prisoner of White Agony Creek," I think it can be safely said that the "bar" for the appropriateness of sexually charged scenes involving the Duck characters has been raised considerably.

The "take a number" sequence is, of course, a somewhat anachronistic distaff reversal of the "post-ball search for Cinderella," and a clever one it is.  Several figures from the Pick-a-Prince Ball can be seen in the line of would-be matches, though none of them get featured lines.  Goldie's somewhat demure pilgrimage to find "Mr. Right" is also good for a chuckle; I get the impression that Gerber was making a particular effort to channel the spirit of Mae West here.  If only Goldie could have swung her hips just a bit more...

After Scrooge wakes up, of course, we get the old miser's expected apologies for his previous shortness, which (as noted above) would have carried even more meaning had the disputes with the family and servants been more in evidence during the dream-adventure itself.  I am not all that enamored of the decision to have Louie ask whether the penitent Scrooge is "feeling all right"; I think that it is safe to say that the Nephews should know full well by now that Scrooge's bark is rather sharper than his bite.  And, much as I hate to admit it -- because I find the gag to be hilarious -- I have to agree with GeoX and his correspondent "Christopher" (no relation, obviously) that the "fries and hamburgers" business does lead to all sorts of distasteful questions about exactly what the Ducks ate when Scrooge took them out to restaurants in the past.  The only way of getting around the dilemma is to assume that this is the first time that Scrooge has EVER taken his family out to dinner, but we know that such is not the case, because the whole gang went to Quack Maison during "Down and Out in Duckburg."  As GeoX suggested, this was probably a case of Gabai tripping over the "Law of Unintended Complications."  All of these issues combine to make the episode wrap-up a little bit of a letdown, despite the exquisite ending that brings back both the "magic gold topper" and the statue of Goldie from "Scrooge's Pet."  I guess that Scrooge moved the statue out of his Money Bin office after Lucky knocked it over and almost broke it in that episode.

Though it can certainly be flyspecked, "Scroogerello" deserves the respect of all Duck fans as a bold initial effort to use the TV medium to bring a certain approach to the world of the Ducks that had never been used before.  I think that my relative lack of experience with Barks' world at the time made me a bit more receptive than some of the more curmudgeonly "old sourdoughs" in the audience to what Gabai was trying to accomplish here.  (I wonder whether Barks ever screened this ep.  That would have been fun to watch.)  It is safe to say, that by this time, the comparative stateliness of the early DT eps has well and truly been jettisoned, leaving the field open for numerous other departures from the "Duck-expected."  Some of the latter failed, of course, but we tend to remember the ones that succeeded quite fondly indeed.  "Scroogerello" is not the least of them.

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) Brief, non-speaking appearance by Ludwig [von Drake], as one of the guys who gets his head smashed in the food by a Beagle Boy.

Well, he certainly looks a bit like Ludwig, but I'm not quite willing to pin the definitive ID on him.  Unless Ludwig has suddenly taken to wearing contacts, that is.

(GeoX) The beatnik Beagle is now some sort of combination beatnik/disco Beagle. Very strange.
(Pan Milus) It's Scrooge dream man! For him disco and beatnik culture is the same thing ;)

I figured that it was appropriate to address Pan's comment on this issue along with GeoX's in a more "open" forum than the comments section.  It's pretty clear that the writers who used Bugle/Bebop -- Koonce and Weimers, Anthony Adams, and Gabai -- were provided with only a vague idea of how this character was supposed to be presented.  "Just make him a 'hip dude' who digs music" was probably the sum total of it all.  I do think that Pan comes up with a pretty good take on how Scrooge might have hallucinated about B/B being a "disco Beagle" (even though B/B seems more into a sloppy version of go-go than actual disco).  Just as comic-book writers in the late 60s used references to the Beatnik era when writing dialogue for their "far-out" characters, so too might Scrooge pack several strata of musical history into a single imagined character.

(Greg)  This episode was written by John Pirillo... John Pirillo's IMDB script reads almost exactly like Cherie Dee [Wilkerson]'s in terms of resume.

Actually, it looks more like James Markovich's ("Back Out in the Outback").  Pirillo's story (not writing) credit here is the only one listed under his name.  Just as I did for "Outback," when I interpreted the story as an example of teleplay writer Richard Merwin's work, I chose to regard "Scroogerello" as Evelyn Gabai's baby.  For all I know, Pirillo's "story" simply consisted of the suggestion, "Why don't we parody Cinderella using Scrooge?"

(Greg) Duckworth then brings out the cod liver oil (believe me; that would NEVER work in real life) as Scrooge blows him off (remembering to swear in DUBBED SCOTTISH STYLE to boot) for trying to poison him. HAHA! I agree; Cod Liver Oil is terrible, crappy and totally pointless. 

Actually, cod liver oil seems to be a pretty useful supplement, though I imagine that the liquid form has long since been superseded by capsules.

(Greg)  Scrooge wants to go warn the princess; but he of course loses his balance and screams loudly and drops with a wussy bump into the wheelbarrow as we see logic break #1 for the episode as somehow the Beagle Boys manage to provide the wheelbarrow and show up within about four seconds. I know this is a dream; but COME ON! Show some logic in your dreams guys. It makes it more believable. Even Scrooge is questioning the logic of that spot calling them speedy devils.

If the "speedy devils" line HADN'T been included, then this bit would indeed have stretched logic quite a bit.  But the self-referential comment by Scroogerello makes up for it, I think, especially in the context of such a "reality-bending" storyline.  No argument about Burger misplacing his mask, though...


(Greg) Dewey proclaims that [the boys] are spending their years shining Bebop's shoes. Then why was Bebop asking Scrooge to do it? Logic break #2 for the episode.

You'd have to ask Imelda Marcos about how many servants would be needed to service the number of shoes that B/B appears to own.

(Greg) So we cut to outside as Scrooge thanks the fairies for their spring out and I see Mrs. Beakly's dress has changed from pink to purple. How about that?! I guess Webby's magic does have out of control properties after all.

I'd like to think that this was a reference to the running gag in Disney's Sleeping Beauty in which the three good fairies couldn't agree upon the color of Aurora's dress and kept on changing it up until the very end of the movie.  The "coloring error" explanation seems more believable, somehow...

(Greg) I also sense logic break #4 for the episode as Huey the limo driver was changed to blue. Shouldn't that be Dewey since he wears blue?

...and this is why.

(Greg) Burger takes [Goldie's] hand as the food goes flying and Goldie calls this waltzing in a cheap cafeteria. HAHA! The music stops and Burger asks where is the movie? Huh? Explain THAT one kids! 

Obviously, some bit of dialogue was cut somewhere in the vicinity of this remark, but the continuity error wasn't caught in time.  Since "movies" have nothing to do with what's going on, I wonder what the excised material could possibly have involved.

(Greg)  Flint blows off Scrooge's tactics as they near a church which so happens to not have a Christian Cross on it. Ahh; I see that BS&P finally stepped in on these religious symbols. And then the clock on the front strikes midnight and I betcha everything turns back to normal for Scrooge and company. I check the DVD....Damn; I'm good as Webby explains that her magic doesn't last past midnight.

Note the "Donald Duck" watch here.


(Greg) So we go into the forest as Scrooge and the nephews walk looking defeated for some reason. Then he tells the lads to have courage as he picks up a trail of golden sequins from Goldie. Umm; check your internal logic there; there are no sequins on the blue dress. Logic break #6 for the episode. 

Had "Princess Goldie" been wearing her "Belle of the Klondike" garb, then there would have been sequins aplenty available for the purposes of falling and trailing.  The odd thing here is that the sequins don't resemble sequins as much as they do coins.  Might there have been some miscommunication here between what the script intended and what the Wang Films animators were told to portray?



(Greg) ...Duckworth and Mrs. Beakly panic and back up to the wall thinking that [Scrooge] is going to diss them again for being mother hens on him. Scrooge then goes over to them and breaks logic again as he's now wearing his purple robe with purple slippers again after wearing a red robe when he was sleeping. 

Actually, I think that the "red robe" was red pajamas, and that he was wearing pajamas under the purple robe.  Naturally enough, you wouldn't be able to see the PJs when the robe was on.  It would be unlikely that Scrooge would wear a robe to bed when he's running such a high temperature.  I imagine that Scrooge took off the robe when he got (or was put) in bed and stowed it under the covers, making it easier to put on when he finally did get out of bed.

Next: Episode 50, "Double-O-Duck."

5 comments:

Pan Miluś said...

To be fair If you would look on Don Rosa resume on IMDB'S not knowing who he is you would think he isn't much better :

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4040631/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 ;)


I think the reason why we get young Goldie in Scrooge's dream is simply becose it's the way he remeber her better. For all we know he only seen old Goldie for like two days and know the young one for months if not years...


My bigger problem is wondering do viewers - out side of Baks fans - remember Golie since she previously made only one apperance (plus cameo as a statuet in "Scrooge's Pet")?
It dosen't matter I guess but I think in context of the show with so many episodes It would made more sence to use her in a episode like this if it was her 5'th apperance or something.
You don't see The Simpsons using one time characters to play somebody in the Halloween episodes...

Pan Miluś said...

And yes, thank you for quoting me :D

Pan Miluś said...

Note that season 1 tries every possible Beagle combination of "BigTime, Burger + one more".

It's a shame tht BigTime + Burger + Banjkob gruop was only seen briefly in "Till nephews do us a part" since I would love to see BigTime/Bankjob relation since their both are "leaders"

Yossi Horowitz said...

This was Wang Film's first episode, right? I'm surprised that you didn't comment on that, and the associated stylistic change and drop in animation quality.

Chris Barat said...

Yossi,

Generally speaking, I'm more comfortable concentrating on themes and plots, unless the high or low quality of the animation is GLARINGLY apparent.

Chris