Wednesday, November 20, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 64, "Ducky Horror Picture Show"

If the decision on "Ducky Horror Picture Show" were any more split, it would put the 7-10 exacta to shame.  You can't get much more daylight between opinions than that glimpsed between Greg's "What an awesome episode this was" and GeoX's "Seriously, f*** this episode."  So where do I sit in this capacious chasm?  Closer to GeoX than to Greg, but my negative opinion isn't as extreme as GeoX's.  The episode tries to make a point about judging others based on appearance and image but doesn't do a particularly adept job of it, and most of the monster-related verbal humor really is simple-minded enough to fairly qualify as "stupid."  Still, there are a few bright spots, even though you have to shine a powerful searchlight into a cobweb-festooned crypt in order to see some of them.

Seeing as how Scrooge sets the main plot in motion by taking a chance on renovating a decrepit pierside building into a convention center, it seems somewhat strange that he would then spend most of the rest of the ep in the atypical role of fall-guy and victim.  At the core of his sense of victimization is the fear of suffering "the first business failure of his entire life," which is, of course, an absurd notion.  Even when you discount those highly compromised situations in which Scrooge sustained losses after losing his "lucky" Old #1 Dime, you still have to take into account such Carl Barks stories as "The Queen of the Wild Dog Pack" (which opens with Scrooge raging over some of his business interests leaking red ink) AND such DuckTales episodes as "Ducks of the West" (Scrooge literally losing everything in the cowboy contest with J. R. Mooing) and "Once Upon a Dime" (Young Scrooge being swindled out of his Klondike swag by the "Oklahoma timberland" salesman).  The neglect of "Ducks of the West" is particularly irritating because (1) Scrooge notoriously evinced virtually no reaction whatsoever to losing his fortune in "West," yet cries like a river here, and (2) Richard Merwin, who wrote "West," co-wrote "Ducky Horror" (with Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron) and should therefore have recognized the contradiction.  Geo's condemnation of Merwin as "a hack of the first order" seems rather harsh, given that Merwin did pen at least one unquestioned DT classic, but there's definitely something "hack-ish" about Merwin's blithe dismissal of his earlier effort for the sake of plot convenience.

As was the case in numerous previous Merwin-scripted episodes, the Scrooge of "Ducky Horror" is first and foremost concerned with making money -- even more so than "usual," I should say.  Nowhere is this more evident -- and more problematic -- than in his decision to use his Mansion as a "hotel" to squeeze some extra dough out of the conventioneers.  Even if the visitors hadn't been "incredibly destructive" monsters, this would have represented an out-of-character business move by Scrooge.  He could just as easily have arranged to put the visitors up at a local hotel and split the proceeds with the hotel management.  (That's assuming that there would have been any proceeds after the monsters had finished trashing the place in the manner of Kimba's animal friends ruining the human hotel in "A Friend in Deed."  Of course, Scrooge didn't know about the nature of his guests until it was much too late.)  From the start of the TV series, Scrooge has generally used his Mansion as a domestic refuge from the outside world.  For departing from past practice here, Scrooge kind of got what he deserved... namely, a whopping repair bill.

The episode's "monster-rights" subtheme (the monsters protesting the movie marathon at the Scroogerama Dome because of its "unfair" portrayal of their kind) is not only kind of pointless but leads the ep into a somewhat disturbing ethical cul-de-sac.  Even if the monsters succeeded in shutting down every monster-movie promotion in the world, they would have no more "rights" than before.  Indeed, Mr. Wolf's complaint that the monsters "don't get a dime out of" the profits from monster movies undercuts whatever righteousness the "monster-rights" protest can be said to have had.  (It also unintentionally predicts the sordid future of certain human "civil-rights movements" I could name.)

Shouldn't the "scary" portrayals of monsters on those signs be a little... well, scarier?

What makes the "monster-rights" notion fizzle into incoherence is what happens after the monsters discover (with a little prodding from Scrooge) that "kids love monsters," presumably because they like to be frightened once in a while.  The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Luna Eclipsed" used this conceit to help the forbidding, socially awkward Princess Luna become accepted by the citizens of Ponyville by reprising her role as the evil Nightmare Moon to help the town celebrate Nightmare Night (read: Halloween).  The monsters in "Ducky Horror" do something reasonably similar, teaming up with Scrooge to stage a "monster show" for the denizens of Duckburg, but then cap off the performance with... a song-and-dance routine based on "Let Me Entertain You."  GeoX's comparison of this bit to a minstrel show may be more accurate than he intended.  Having just presumably displayed the full range of their "scare-abilities," albeit in an audience-friendly form, the monsters opt to make their last bow a goofy, semi-comedic one.  Since we don't actually get to see any of what came before (apart from Mrs. Beakley's brief turn as Fay Wray in the paw of "Ping Pong"), we are left with the impression that the monsters, for all their bluster about wanting to be accepted as members of the community, are actually perfectly content to present themselves as a different set of caricatures, "playing the fool" for profit.  The fact that these monsters are, in fact, more like out-of-control children than real miscreations muddies the waters even further.

From the moment the monsters first appear on screen, getting ready for their convention, moss-covered monster jokes and puns flow thick and fast.  That's "thick" as in not displaying all that much intelligence.  Ironically enough, the best gags turn out to be non-verbal in nature: the Quackenstein monster going for a morning jog and knocking down a wall like it weren't no "thang," a cackling Quackimodo heaving water balloons off the roof of McDuck Mansion, Count Drakecula having the devil of a time dealing with a recalcitrant cape (he should have taken some lessons from Darkwing Duck on that score), and, most memorable of all, the "Creature from the Blue Lagoon" celebrating his invitation by yanking a party hat and horn out from behind his proverbial "Toon back" and blowing up a storm of bubbles.  Yes, even most of these bits are pretty cheesy, but they don't trigger audience groans the way most of the verbal jokes do.

Scrooge and Duckworth do their best to maintain a decent level of humor by engaging in yet another amusing set of verbal thrusts and counterthrusts of the same type that enlivened "Down and Out in Duckburg" and "Nothing to Fear."  Merwin, Anasti, and Cameron pooled their talents to write the latter, so perhaps their use of the same type of byplay here could be considered an extension of previous practice.  Duckworth, showing a peculiar amount of skepticism regarding Scrooge's ability to turn a profit under the least promising of conditions -- he was along for the Hindentanic's comeback flight, after all -- makes with the dry wisecracks when he first glimpses Scrooge's "colossal blunder," er, the future convention center.

Later, at the Mansion, Duckworth responds to Scrooge's proclamation that the residents are going to "help [him] make money" by providing hotel service with a dubious, "How touching, sir." Throughout the episode, Duckworth seems to anticipate bad things happening to Scrooge, which I suppose would make sense for a dogsbody (heh) who has spent as much time with Scrooge as Duckworth presumably has.  At least he resists the temptation to gloat when he informs his master that Scrooge's insurance "doesn't cover monster damage."

There's one other thing that troubles me about "Ducky Horror," but it's not a problem with this episode per se so much as the combined effect of several recent eps, including this one.  Where the heck is Webby hiding?  She hasn't had a major role in an episode since "Scroogerello" (I don't count "Duck to the Future" because Future Webby got most of the attention in that one).  In "The Uncrashable Hindentanic," "Nothing to Fear," and "The Status Seekers," most, if not all, of the inhabitants of the Mansion played key roles, but Webby was nowhere to be found.  The Webby who stowed away in "Cold Duck" and "Dinosaur Ducks" rather than miss out on the fun of an adventure would NOT have taken these omissions lying down.  Say it ain't so, DuckTales crew: Were you actually considering phasing Webby out of the show at some point, just as you ditched Doofus during "Super DuckTales"?  Almost certainly not, but you certainly seemed to be giving that impression during "Ducky Horror," yet another ep in which Webby was mysteriously left on the sidelines while Scrooge, HD&L, Duckworth, and Mrs. Beakley got screen time.  And the dissing of Miss Vanderquack didn't end there.  After appearing in "Till Nephews Do Us Part," Webby played a minimal role in both of the serials introducing Bubba Duck and Gizmoduck, and she would have to wait until "The Good Muddahs" for another really meaty role.  That seems a long time for a "major new character" to wait to be used.  Of course, all things considered, Launchpad fared little better during the second and third seasons.

I guess that well-behaved women really DON'T make history.

And so, after 16 months, we're on the brink of finishing season one.  I'll have some news next time on how I plan to attack the Bubba Duck/Gizmoduck era.





(GeoX) Okay, I'll admit I kind of liked the sad-sack, Steve-Buscemi-esque human (duck) form of the werewolf. But that's all.

I agree that Mr. Wolf was by far the most interesting (or should I say, "innnn-teresting"?) of the monsters.  He even gets to star in the ep's scariest moments: frightening the hair color out of the phone-booth bully, swiping Scrooge off the pier, and directly threatening Scrooge during the "monster-rights" protest.  Of course, he's anything but a conventional werewolf; he pays no attention to what time of day/night it is and seems to be able to transform between human/duck and wolf form at will.  But I'll take what I can get.

(GeoX) "Ping Pong:" he's like King Kong, but he has a giant ping-pong paddle. See? This is what happens when you let six-year-olds write Ducktales episodes. 

Well, someone at Toon Disney thought P.P. was scary:

(Greg) And so we pan to outside the Scroogerama Dome AFTER HAPPY HOUR (after dark) and we know this because it's written in golden letters and has a neon sign picture of Scrooge McDuck's face. Oh; and it also has a top hat for a roof; just to put it over the top. I see Scrooge's ego is not in check in this episode which may or may not be a good thing for the episode quality. 

Since the available interior evidence (during the opening scenes with HD&L) shows that the theater is obviously NOT a dome, I suspect that the use of "Dome" here was meant to be a pun on the bodily part typically covered by a hat like Scrooge's.

(Greg) And so we logically go to the house of Quackenstein as Quackenstein is sitting in his chair reading the newspaper. So the scary monster has been reduced to being Fred Flintstone as Mrs. Quackenstein... talks to her hubby about going shopping in Duckb[u]rg. And unlike Mr. Quackenstein; Mrs looks like a regular duck in a white dress with boxing promoter Don King's hairdo.

Actually, Mrs. Q.'s "do" is a copy of Elsa Lanchester's coiffure in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which makes perfect sense.  So does Joan Gerber's use of her stilted "artificial voice" as the voice of the character.

(Greg) Scrooge laughs it off as he doesn't care as long as they carry a major credit card...and then he catches himself and asks how different. HAHA! I smell screw job in your future Mr. McD. And then Scrooge panics right on the bus honking as we cut to the edge of the docks and see a pink bus (!!!) as Drakecula (with the horn honker), The Creature from the Blue Lagoon, The Mummy, THE BLOB! (with cameras in tow) and Quackimodo with purple water balloons.

We also hear one of the monsters shout "Wokka wokka!" to complete the homage to The Muppet Movie (1979).  It's also amusing to note that the bus has the skeleton of a greyhound painted on its side.  If only a FEW of the verbal jokes had been this clever!

(Greg) [The police chief] orders the crowd to break up and go home as Scrooge arrives and grabs on the police chief's clothes wanting the Army and the Air Force called. That's a no-no Scroogie. The police chief peels him off and blows him off for the stunt. He then threatens jail time if he doesn't remove the gorilla within 24 hours (balloon or robot of course) as he walks out and orders the crowd to move along as there is nothing to see here. 

The Chief O'Hara clone from "Robot Robbers" gets a lot more to do here, coming across as much more of an authority figure.  I do wish that this stronger version of the character had been carried over to the second and third seasons.

Next:  Episode 65, "Till Nephews Do Us Part"... and a look ahead to the future of DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE.


Pan Miluś said...

I remember I LOVED this episode a lot when I seen it for the first time as a young kid. At the time I love all the Universal Monsters stuff... I especialy remember loving the part when all of the monster's get their invetaions and the Bloob. At the time I found him very scary, but it was "creepy good fun" ;)

Looking back it's very far from the best but there are few enjoyable points about the whole thing. Scrooge lamnenting about failing is a bit annoying.

I always asume that Mr. Wolf (who yes, Is the most enjoyable of the pack) was base upon Peter Lorre not Steve Buscemi as Geox points out

And to make this whole cooment even more nostalgic to me, here some "FUN" trivia :
In Polish dubb they change the dialog when Coun Drakeula is making the invetation. Insted the refence to some momsnter who was made into a pie (???) Drakekula say (as he nameing people his inviting) : "And also My Mom, my dad and Baba Yaga" (a pun made on "Baba" bein short for grandma in Polish) to which Quackimodo replies : "Haven't Hansel and Gretel roast her in the oven?". "Ow, I forgoten".

The refrence to BigFoot in the very next line was replace by "The Whitch" for some bizzare reason... (It's not like this fameus "monster" isn't recognisable here)

Debbie said...

I'm more surprised that Disney let them keep the title...what was their thought process on this, "Let's reference as non-Disney a movie as possible on a kids' show"?