Friday, September 27, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 56, "The Uncrashable Hindentanic"

When it comes to out-and-out, no-holds-barred, no-messages-in-the-mix, fun-first DuckTales episodes, "The Uncrashable Hindentanic" is the unquestioned champion and probably will always be regarded as such.  "Scroogerello" and "Double-O-Duck" previously brought roughly comparable "levels of funny" to Duckburg, but those episodes could be considered special cases: a fantasy setting in the former, a single-character showcase in the latter.  In "Hindentanic," by contrast, the majority of the main cast gets to participate in a showy, guffaw-filled spoof that takes place solidly within an established Duck context -- in the case, the eternal "battle of bucks" between Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold.

As they did in "Double-O-Duck," writers Ken Koonce and David Weimers manage to do the little things right here.  Their numerous pop-culture references treat the audience with respect and do not intrude upon the larger narrative (what there is of one, anyway).  They eschew facile moralizing (oh, there's a line or two about Scrooge ruing his initial decision to "gamble" with Glomgold, but that's strictly a throwaway bit) and stick doggedly to the task of making the viewers laugh.  The pacing is brisk, the lines (including the "so-bad-they're-good" ones) clever, and, despite all of the zaniness, there are only a small handful of plot points that could legitimately be criticized on a strictly logical basis.  They even manage to toss some surprisingly scary moments into the mix, though you have to be paying attention in order to fully appreciate them.  Watching this tale unspool makes one wonder all the more why Koonce and Wiemers, who could be so "on" in their best moments, could slip so badly off the beam in eps like "Down and Out in Duckburg" and "The Right Duck."  My own theory is that K&W began to flounder when they tried to force morals and/or extraneous gags into their scripts in an unnatural or clumsy fashion.  In terms of tone, "Hindentanic" is about as far from K&W's earlier gem "Hero for Hire" as could be imagined, but I think that both episodes possess the signal virtue of devotion to first principles. 

Perhaps Glomgold would have thought better of challenging Scrooge to "make money off of anything" had he realized that Scrooge somehow managed to sell the citizens of Duckburg "toys" (the old tires) that they could just as easily have procured themselves or picked up off the nearest junkpile.  Actually, rather than laughing at Scrooge for taking on the task of renovating the Hindentanic, Flinty should probably be looking at himself in the mirror and asking why HE hadn't tried doing that himself, since he had presumably possessed the contract for some time.  Someone watching this episode "cold" could perhaps be forgiven for not realizing that Glomgold is every bit the aggressive entrepreneur that Scrooge is.  How else could Flinty have gotten to be the world's second-richest Duck in the second... er, first place?

As for Greg's point that Scrooge seemingly forgot his earlier activities as "a gambling man," let's run down the existing evidence:

(1)  The money-piling contest in "Catch as Cash Can," like the similar duel in Carl Barks' "The Money Champ," did not involve any monetary betting (though I wouldn't have been surprised if the Duckburgian kibitzers watching the piling had made a few friendly wagers amongst themselves).  The only bet seen in either of these two adventures was Flinty's agreement to "eat Scrooge's top hat" if he lost in "The Money Champ."

(2)  The bet in "Wrongway in Ronguay" involved a similar ingestion of headgear (Glomgold's tam, this time).

(3)  There was no evidence that Scrooge and Glomgold placed any actual bets on the Kenducky Derby during "Horse Scents"; they were simply competing for the prize money that would go to the owner of the winning horse.

(4)  Scrooge's gambling at cards at Dangerous Dan's honkytonk during "Back to the Klondike" (Hah! Did you forget about that one?) was what Hergé of TINTIN fame might have termed "les péchés de jeunesse" (the sins of youth), and "The Goose Egg Nugget" was probably worth less than $1 million anyway.

I think we all would agree that Scrooge's wager on the outcome of the Hindentanic project is by far the largest monetary gamble that Scrooge has essayed to date.  In that sense, Scrooge truly is a "gambling man" here in a way that he never has been before, at least in a DT context.

True to his frugal nature, Scrooge eschews hiring outside workers and enlists his family to help him fix up the Hindentanic.  (Where was Webby during all this, I wonder?)  It's a fun little exercise to compare the Ducks' diligent activities here to those of the Cutie Mark Crusaders when they fix up their parade float in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "One Bad Apple."  I actually think that the CMC's effort is just as impressive: they do their job overnight, do not have the assistance of adults (not to mention fingers and thumbs!), and sabotage their handiwork at the same time that they are completing it!  Sure, the Hindentanic was much bigger than the Golden Apple Float, but the CMC were working from a skimpier infrastructure.  Judge for yourself...

The "christening" and "all aboard" sequences, in which we are introduced to our cast of stereotyped passengers, may go on a bit too long for some folks' tastes -- cutting as they do into the time allotted for the Hindentanic's fateful flight -- but they're squarely in the tradition of the 1970s disaster movies that are the focus of parody here.  They also provide the tantalizing hint that, despite the director's credit being given to David Block, Terence Harrison just might have had a hand in putting this ep together.  The "jerk and jolt" animation during the christening scene has a definite Harrison-esque "vibe" to it...

... as does Scrooge's decidedly un-thrilled reaction to the appearance of skywriting Launchpad.

"Jerking and jolting" also combine to make Launchpad's "first crash" (at least in this episode) surprisingly violent, even by his standards.  The doomed plane bounces several times, shedding parts all the while, before settling into a pile of mashed metal, and the short time duration between the bounces is a little startling to the viewer.  If LP were ever fated to actually be injured in a crash, then this would probably have been the one that would have done the job.

Launchpad literally "pops" back into form with his out-of-nowhere Casablanca riff, which, in terms of imitating Humphrey Bogart's actual mannerisms (including Terry McGovern's voicing), is far more exaggerated that what we saw at the end of "Double-O-Duck."  Needless to say, the overplaying works well in this particular context.  (And, GeoX, regarding the "play it again [sic], Sam" error, at least this episode is in some pretty distinguished company in that regard.)

The episode's animation snaps back into a relatively conventional style once the Hindentanic gets off the ground, leaving some intriguing "behind the scenes" questions lingering in its wake.

Of course, "the great Gloria Swansong" is by far the most memorable of the visiting players here.  Koonce and Weimers not only show considerable confidence in the ability of the viewers to recognize that Swansong and her porcine retainer Quax were spoofs of the Norman Desmond and Max characters from Sunset Blvd. (1950), but also showcase a fairly deep knowledge of arcane movie trivia by making Swansong's long-awaited "comeback" movie a disaster flickGloria Swanson had not made a theatrical movie since 1956 before agreeing to appear in Airport 1975 (1974) as, quite literally, herself.  The only explanation that I've ever seen for this decision was Swanson's announced desire to appear in an "old-fashioned family movie" of which she didn't have to be ashamed.  Well, there are different kinds of shame, as those who have seen Airport 1975 are well aware.

Compared to Swansong, the other celebrity parodies who board the blimp are relatively casual in nature, with no serious attempt being made to render the parodies in an accurate manner.  "Generic film director" Irwin Mallard and "bespectacled nerd scientist" Carl Sagander bear no real resemblance whatsoever to their real-life counterparts, apart from their professions and Sagander's constantly-evoked "billions and billions" catchphrase...

... while we don't even get a clear idea of what sort of critter Burt Quackarach is supposed to be.  (GeoX speculates that he's a parrot or a turtle; Joe and I always figured that he was meant to be a "lounge lizard.")  At least Koonce and Wiemers acknowledge the inspiration for Quackarach in an indirect manner; apart from his brief riff on "Light My Fire," all of Burt's little tunelets are swiped from Hal David and Burt Bacharach songs.

The slightly vague nature of these tribute characters (and poor, generic John D. Rockefeather and Mr. Webworth don't even qualify as vague tributes!) lends credence to the notion that "Hindentanic," like the eternally popular Airplane! (1980), was more attuned to the goofier, more exaggerated iterations of the disaster-movie genre.  Nowadays, films like Airport (1970) and Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure (1972) are routinely lumped in with the likes of Airport 1975 and Allen's The Swarm (1978), but the former two are works of great art compared to the latter two, which begged to be taken seriously but could ultimately only be accepted as unintentional comedies.  The Hindentanic's Airport 1975-style lack of a pilot (once Captain Foghorn bails, that is), Mrs. Beakley's "Roy Rogers counter staff" wardrobe, and, of course, John D. Rockefeather's loosed bees are all clear signs that the "decadent era" of disaster movies was the target here.  That being said, K&W's inclusion of the mallet-wielding "hijackass" who wants to go to London is probably the single most memorable gag of the lot, because it is not instantly recognizable as 70s-inspired and, well, it is just so hilariously unexpected.  I don't recall "Hindentanic" being pulled off the air in the wake of 9/11, so evidently even the would-be "cleansers of potentially offensive imagery" managed to take this scene in the goofy spirit in which it was meant.

While I'm more than happy to give K&W the benefit of the doubt on most "plotular" twists and turns here, I can't ignore the ep's biggest gaffe: HD&L's inexplicable abandonment of their bee-watching post.  This whole sequence, starting with the boys' discovery that the disguised Glomgold has surreptitiously opened the bees' cage (as if they couldn't have gotten out through the mesh easily enough before that), does not appear to have been sufficiently thought through.  Why did HD&L open the door to the luggage compartment in the first place?  And, after they've discovered the truth and kept the bees "locked in," why did they suddenly leave the premises?  Surely all of them didn't need to go to the "little ducklings' room" at the same time?  Even HD&L's obligatory consultations of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook reflect a certain lack of common sense: couldn't they have figured out how to trap bees and "keep a leaky blimp afloat" all on their own?  And then there's Huey's inability to pronounce "dirigible"...  Some people have complained that HD&L's intelligence level dropped precipitously during DT's second season.  One can argue that point, but the lads are certainly not at their best here.

"Let's get hopping"... yeah, right.

For all of Scrooge's pledges that he won't let Launchpad near the controls of the Hindentanic no matter what, the old miser should have realized that allowing LP to be part of the crew in any capacity wouldn't end well.  Fatalism that the Launchpad of "Top Duck" would have wholeheartedly embraced kicks in as LP accidentally bursts the blimp, Duckworth's attempt to take the controls leads to Poseidon Adventure-style upside-down sky-high hijinks, and the Ducks' efforts to keep the Hindentanic afloat with additional "hot air" quickly go up in smoke.  Scrooge finally bows to the inevitable and gives LP the controls for the final dégringolade, leading to the ep's best exchange:

Launchpad: I won't let you down, Mr. McD!
Scrooge: You'd better... why do you think I'm hiring you?

There follows a dramatic explosion-and-crash sequence that would probably have spelled a real-life finis for any non-Toons on board...

... and the "happy ending" rescue that leaves Scrooge with an unexpected profit, Glomgold with a familiar mad-on, Irwin Mallard with a free movie, Gloria Swansong with a new lease on her professional life, and... well, the viewers with a strange new respect for Captain Foghorn's psychic powers.  (I mean, really: first he knows that the steering mechanism is stuck without testing, or even looking at, the wheel, then he knows exactly where to bring the rescue ship to find the crash victims?  How can one not be impressed by that?)

Interestingly, during its "tribute to DuckTales" phase, kaboom!'s UNCLE $CROOGE title served up a brief morsel of a story that brought back distinct memories of this episode: "Big Blimp in Little Trouble."  It was a serviceable enough story, but the main reaction that it evinced from me was nostalgia for the genuine article.  Would it ever have been possible for a back-in-the-day DuckTales comic-book adaptation to have captured the spirit of "Hindentanic"?  At their best, John Lustig and William Van Horn might have been able to do so, and, if DUCKTALES comics were still being produced today, so might a moonlighting Katie Cook and Andy Price.  The mere fact that I have to invoke such comedic comics talents for such an imagined job tells you all that you need to know about the quality of "Hindentanic."





(GeoX) have the mentally incompetent captain [Foghorn] from "Bermuda Triangle Tangle"...

... who, despite that silly sojourn with the steering wheel in hand, does seem to possess a level of self-awareness that he didn't have in that earlier appearance.  "Bailing out" may not have been a brave thing to do, but it's a classic example of the truth of the quip, "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."

(GeoX) "I'll make this turkey fly even if it takes all the money in my money bin!" "But sir, turkeys can't fly either!" There's no good reason for me getting as annoyed as I do when people make this mistake, but the fact remains: TURKEYS CAN FLY.  Thank you.

Perhaps K&W should have substituted "white elephant" for "turkey."  That would have made pretty much the same point (since "white elephant" means "valuable but burdensome possession") and allowed for the same type of gag (Duckworth hearing a trumpeting elephant flying overhead).  They aren't the first people to make that mistake about flying turkeys, however.  I did the same thing when I reviewed a LITTLE LULU collection some time ago.

(Greg)  So we head into Scrooge's Money Bin office as Scrooge runs in and puts his cane on the vault door and sits down at his desk which has the oldest golden phone and name plate in history. Man; he is cheap to hire a gold polisher. Scrooge goes to his phone and dials the phone for the Duckb[u]rg Daily News. Scrooge wants to announce the return of the Hindentanic and [we hear] the gobbling on the phone as Scrooge blows it off because he knows turkey[s] cannot fly and orders them to print it. Nice to see Scrooge show that he gets the figure of speech.

But what happened to his phone?

(Greg) This is of course Gloria Swansong...  and she's voiced by Joan Gerber. The Mrs. Beakly voice gives it away. By the way; I also noticed a BS&P decision of using a weird rose in place of the long black smoke pipe. 

Good catch, and a clever SWERVE around the whole smoking issue.

(Greg) So we logically return to Flintheart's office as we pan over to Flint reading the newspaper proclaiming that according to Scrooge; a flight on the Hindentanic will be like a trip back in history. And you know Flint is a little bit of a sadist when he has a picture of Scrooge holding a golden cane and top hat in his office.

Was this some sort of an attempt at continuity with "Duckman of Aquatraz"?  If so, then someone must not have gotten the proverbial memo, both in terms of the appearance of the portrait and its placement in Glomgold's home.

(Greg) Scrooge has a champagne bottle in his hands and tries to break it; but stops and questions Duckworth on the cost of the bottle of alcohol. HAHA! Duckworth calls it the cheapest and that's enough for Scrooge to break it over the ship and it must be red wine because it sure as hell looks like it. Logic break #2 for the episode. I don't think champagne is red in color guys.

Um... and that's what makes it so cheap?  I guess. 

(Greg) [Swansong and Quax] go to Duckworth as she hands the ticket over and Duckworth answers the letter pleading for help because [Mr. Webworth] is having a beak transplant. Wow... I didn't expect them to allow dismemberment in any context in DTVA; but here it is.  

Don't forget the mamluks in the Aladdin seriesFor them, dismemberment was one of the common side effects of their profession.

(Greg) John [D. Rockefeather] gives [Duckworth] a yellow ticket (I guess the different colors and styles are for security reasons) and asks if there is trust that the honey bees are safe for this trip. Duckworth states that it will; just don't call him honey. 

Airplane! shout-out!  Rockefeather does not seem to be amused, which makes him one of the very few individuals who has not laughed at the gag being referenced.

(Greg) Farley [Foghorn] of course doesn't know how to pilot an airship and cannot pronounce it properly (Neither can I for that matter) as Farley walks up the stairs. Scrooge sulks on the fact that he made that wager on Flint. 

And, in so doing, he does a most un-Scrooge-McDuck-like thing and appears to break the fourth wall!  I mean, who ELSE would he be speaking to here, apart from the audience?  An unseen Cinnamon Teal?  I don't think so.

Don't worry, Scrooge -- you can't be expected to compete with an expert.

(Greg)  Gloria orders Quax to put Sheik Nurse of Baghdad in the projector at once. And yes; Webworth is a duck by the way as Quax agrees to [it]; reminding Gloria that people walked out over Kansas. I'm sure that they DIED in tears and frustration too. Geez; even this show is mocking suicide over a bad movie. 

Another unexpectedly "dark" reference in this "laugh riot" of an episode.

(Greg) So we head to the cleared dining room as Scrooge walks in and sees Launchpad sweeping the floors in his blue suit. I see he left his web boots at home today. Launchpad doesn't like this job because he has to stoop so low and Scrooge blows him off to stoop lower because he missed a spot. And there is a big dust bunny magically appearing from the floor out of nowhere.

Actually, you can see it when Scrooge first enters the scene: check at lower left.

(Greg) We continue inside the dining room with more running and panicking as the fire continues to burn and Irwin Mallard just keeps on filming. I['m] guessing the finish right now: Scrooge wins the bet on the profits coming from the disaster movie Irwin Mallard shoots in these scenes. I'm calling it right now. 

Evidently, Captain Foghorn isn't the only one around these parts with psychic powers.

(Greg) Now that was a balloon ride filled with old movie parodies and lots of chaos, destruction, terror and even Gloria Swansong's bad acting. Flint turned out to be the better terrorist than the real hijacking terrorist just to make the parody even funn[i]er. 

As I noted above, I don't believe that "Hindentanic" was blackballed due to 9/11, but, if it had been, then Flinty's "Middle Eastern gear" would probably have been the reason.  The getup, and even Glomgold's fake voice, aren't particularly offensive, but the mere juxtaposition of a "Middle Eastern character" with an air disaster might have been enough to tip the scales.  Thankfully, cooler heads appear to have prevailed in this case.

Next: Episode 57, "Dime Enough for Luck."

1 comment:

Pan Miluś said...

Funny. When I talk with my friends about DuckTales I usually forget about this one but never the less "Hindetanic" is one of the funnyest episodes.
I like how many funny one-time characters it had at once and each played some sort of part. Gloria Swansong is one of my favorite puns in name btw and all jokes about how bad her movies are were just getting better and better.

I love the absurdity of how Scrooge made money on the old tires. I would love to see commercials for that product...

Beak transplant was great bit of absurdity as well, I wish this show would made more. I love how far they went just to have "This soup came with a bill" pun :D

But YES the best part was the crazzy guy with mallet:D

I also like how HD&L would just throw the piano lizard into the fire if he woudn't jump in the last second. Pretty dark for Junior Woodckucks...

I only hate the fat joke at mrs. Beakley expance...

I wish it was John D. Rockerduck not Rockefeather but what the hell I know...

It's odd how the lizard at the end appeard randomly as a reporter...

BUT THE next episode boy, ow boy It's my all time favorite :D :D :D What a Great way to have Gladstone center episode without the "rival with Donald" gimmick, even if it's a shame the two characters never meet on the show (BTW I love the cult line "I have to get a job like normal people..." So tragic)

On "Fleisher Popeye" DVD they talk how in the 80's cartoons they coudn't have Popeye and Bluto fight over Olive since it was consider sexist (so they only compite in sports etc.) and I always asume it was the same reason they never had Donald vs. Gladstone over Daisy episode (plus Donald was in the navy and such)

Actually it could be a fun episode if Gladone would somehow got to be in the navy for some reason and was outshining Donald in every way. Or maybe an annoying cyvilian they have to escort? Something like that...