Tuesday, November 26, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 65, "Till Nephews Do Us Part"... and a look ahead

"Part"ing the first season is such sweet sorrow...

"Till Nephews Do Us Part" was intended to be a blockbuster and delivers the goods, though it would be a stretch worthy of Mr. Armstrong himself to call it a masterpiece.  Most of the ep's weaknesses lie in the area of characterization -- and, no, I'm not referring to Scrooge's "mushin' out" as he falls under the spell of that wily woman on the make, Millionaira Vanderbucks.  HD&L are noticeably more naive and bratty than was their normal first-season wont (though, as Greg has pointed out, this may have been a harbinger of the way the boys would occasionally be written during subsequent seasons).  Mrs. Beakley and Duckworth, meanwhile, don't have the excuse of naivete to fall back on in their cluelessness regarding Milly's sinister plans for the household.  Ken Koonce and David Weimers' script, while nowhere near as inept as some of their lesser efforts, doesn't contain a fraction of the imagination and laugh-out-loud humor seen in the likes of "Double-O-Duck," opting instead for "money-related terms of endearment" (GeoX) and characters misunderstanding words and expressions (and if you don't recognize which ones I'm referring to ASAP, then you truly must BE a sap).  Still, the plot is reasonably good, we get a nice mixture of "domestic" and "adventurous" material (though the latter has a distinct touch of the farcical), and, of course, there's the now-legendary wedding scene with all of those character cameos.  I've no idea whether "Till Nephews" was in production at the time that the decision was made to extend the series' life with additional new episodes, but the mere existence of this scene, with its air of "wrapping things up," suggests that it was not.

The idea of a conniving woman zeroing in on Scrooge's fortune is anything but a new one.  Glittering Goldie herself was the original (and literal) "gold-digger" in "Back to the Klondike," "drugg[ing] and roll[ing]" miner McDuck and swiping his Goose Egg Nugget.  However, Barks' Goldie doesn't fit the mold of a "gold-digger" in the modern sense, in that she would have been perfectly content to have cut and run with that one treasure had fate (and a peeved Scrooge) not intervened.  She acted more like a pure opportunist than someone who was in it for the long haul.  The DT version of "Klondike" represents the other side of the coin, as it were, suggesting that Scrooge and Goldie might have enjoyed a happy life together in Duckburg had Dangerous Dan not queered the relationship between them.  After reconciling with Scrooge, both versions of Goldie receive unexpected opportunities to reunite with him -- with the offer being rather more obvious in the DT version of "Klondike" than in Barks' less sentimental original -- but the hard-hearted "greediest gal in the Klondike" has long since become content with her backwoods life and consciously sets aside any further designs on Scrooge or his money.  (In the DT version, at least, she does compensate for this by apparently tying some fairly substantial apron strings around her man.  More on that later.)


If Goldie is a character whose "gold-digging" tendencies have atrophied over time, then Romano Scarpa's Brigitta MacBridge is one who never had specific designs on Scrooge's money to begin with, but who nonetheless manages to come across as a "gold-digger."  That's "dig" as in "keep burrowing and burrowing like El Capitan at the end of 'Too Much of a Gold Thing', determined to win Scrooge over."  It is this maniacal persistence that drives Brigitta-bashers crazy.  Disney's original "annoying business lady" (apologies to Rebecca Cunningham) is something of an acquired taste for us American Disney comics fans.  For my own part, I find her an enjoyable addition to the Duck cast and wouldn't have minded seeing her in a DT episode or two.  (I even have a voice actress picked out for her -- Tress MacNeille, doing a "friendlier-sounding" version of her sneering Lady Bane-esque voice for Milly.)  Brigitta's apparently sincere affection for Scrooge makes her easy to like.

Millionaira Vanderbucks seems at first glance like a typical, overbearing, MacNeille-voiced female villain.  In fact, she's considerably more subtle than that.  Consider that when Scrooge goes to the Web Corporation building to inquire about purchasing the Malaysian land that harbors the "lost relics," Milly does not give clue one that she knows who he is!  For the "wealthiest woman in the world" not to recognize Scrooge on sight seems most improbable.  Scrooge has more of an excuse for not initially recognizing Milly, given that he seems to hold a low opinion of the very idea of a distaff tycoon.  (Who knows, maybe Brigitta DOES exist in the DT "universe.")  It's never made clear when, exactly, Milly hatched her devious plot to ensnare Scrooge in the coils of "matrimoney."  Assuming that she had no prior idea that Scrooge would be coming to buy her land, the whole notion must have popped into her head during this initial conversation, before she suggests that the two of them talk about the deal over dinner.  I don't know about you, but any villain who shows the ability to think on her webs as quickly as that has got MY respect from the off.

The ensuing dinner at McDuck Mansion (BTW, did they even have time to EAT dinner?  We cut directly from a conversation over empty plates to Scrooge escorting Milly to the door) sets all the character dynamics for the rest of the episode in motion.  Scrooge is smitten with Milly; the Nephews and Webby are suspicious, with fairy-tale-conscious Webby even evoking Snow White's Wicked Queen as a comparison; Milly is appalled by the mere existence of the "ghastly" children (I imagine that Scrooge keeps media references to their presence in his household to an absolute minimum for safety's sake); and Mrs. Beakley and Duckworth seem oblivious to the poisonous atmosphere.  Note that when Scrooge returned home after his initial confab with Milly, he was "tetched," but not so much so that he didn't think "business first" when giving instructions to HD&L.  It's only after the second parting, after Milly presumably has had time to plan her "charm offensive" more thoroughly, that Scrooge acts in a hopelessly punch-drunk manner.

Milly: "I'm thinking of expanding..."
Me: "I think a certain amount of contraction is in order."
Needless to say, I think that Koonce and Wiemers went a teentsy bit overboard with the financially-themed pet names; even a money-hungry "gold-digger" would probably have been sickened by at least a few of them.  Scrooge and Milly's "cash-ship" is actually at its best when K&W pull back on the pecuniary throttle and try to underplay things.  The scenes in the "lovers' park" are cute and charming...
Note the "$" signs encircling the lovers' heads.
 
... (though what guard allows an armored car to be driven with its doors open?  Must be one of Scrooge's), while the "proposal/merger" scene itself has so many good lines ("It's rare that a woman compounds my interest daily," "I can't wait to take you home to meet my accountant") that the pet names are only a minor annoyance.  Ignore the surrounding context, and some of these scenes and lines might even have worked for a Scrooge/Brigitta romance.  Of course, tip things slightly the other way and you've got a Duck-version of Beverly Hills Teens.

Of course, Milly's intentions throughout all this are decidedly dishonorable, even though some of them don't seem to make sense.  Plans to send Webby to a "finishing school" would be rather pointless if Mrs. Beakley were to be given the pink slip at the same time -- and speaking of jettisoning the servants, wouldn't Scrooge and Milly need reliable servants anyway?  Does Milly expect that Scrooge would simply accept her kicking out Mrs. B. and Duckworth and (presumably) importing that butler-ish guy ("Bottoms"?  "Bubbums"?) who's following her around at the end of Act 2 and later helping her suit up before the wedding?  Milly's loud proclamation of her plans outside HD&L's door (whether she recognizes it as being such or not) suggests that, even as her scheme seem to be proceeding according to plan, she may not have the mental discipline required to keep it together and may end up, well, cutting her OWN throat.

Act Two starts with the low point of the episode, Mrs. Beakley's casual dismissal of HD&L and Webby's warnings -- until the nanny realizes that she, herself, is to be a casualty of the "New Wench Order."  GeoX calls this "a mean and not-too-believable interpretation of her character," and I have to agree.  The Mrs. B. I know would have ignited the second she heard about Milly's plans to send Webby to "finishing school."  Thankfully, Mrs. B. makes a quick recovery, and soon, the plot to scare Milly off by putting her through the wringer on the relics-seeking trip to Malaysia is well and truly under-web.  The sequence of "rotten pranks" begins with a swipe from the Disney movie The Parent Trap (1961).  Just as Hayley Mills and... um, Hayley Mills tried to spook their divorced father's gold-digger sweetheart by pouring honey on her feet to attract bears, so HD&L use the honey spray (where would you buy that, I wonder?) to send "a whole bunch of bees" in the direction of Milly's corpus.  Amazingly, the scene doesn't end as you might expect, with Milly swelling up like a balloon due to dozens of bee stings; instead, she merely endures a water-ducking.

The bee ploy could have been employed on anyone; the next scheme relies completely upon Milly's total ignorance of life in the outdoors.  That's the only possible reason why a smart cookie like Milly would believe that one can keep away "Malaysian Thistlesmashers" (or, as Tress pronounces it at one point, "Thishlesmashers") by burdening oneself with an expedition's worth of luggage.

Greg confessed a sneaking admiration for Milly's ability to stand up to all the abuse she takes during these scenes.  I suppose so, though her persistence, like El Capitan's, may have more to do with sheer greed (which by now must be shading to obsession) than anything else.  I will, however, give her full marks for surviving that terrible fall down the cliff after she's been scared by the Bush Duck.  Scrooge provides a cute contrast to what is actually a fairly tense scene by coming out of the cave with the "lost relish," tearing away any lingering sense of seriousness about the nature of the Ducks' "adventure" and revealing it as a mere excuse for gaggery.

Even before their "rotten pranks" had come to fruition, of course, HD&L had been acting in a more childish manner than we have become accustomed to.  The opening scene in which they scare Mrs. Beakley by riding the dumbwaiter could have come from any randomly selected 30s or 40s cartoon short...

... and Duckworth's helpful definition of "trespassing" reveals that they've recently raided a neighbor's apple orchard.  (Applejack would not be amused.)  The classic "we hate girls" reaction to Scrooge's infatuation with Milly is not out of line with their previous characterization, but one can't say the same about Dewey's comment, "I haven't seen Unca Scrooge so loony since he told us about his old girlfriend Goldie!"  Given that the boys have actually met Goldie and witnessed (if not entirely appreciated) the two characters' feelings for each other, Dewey's sentiment strikes me as being decidedly uncharitable.  Presumably, the idea of inviting Goldie to Scrooge and Milly's wedding was primarily motivated by Webby, who responds to Dewey's remark by suggesting that the kids remind Scrooge of how much he loves his old flame.

Of course, Webby isn't on hand to tamp down the Nephews' natural inclinations when they finally confess that they don't want Scrooge to marry Milly.  This follows the waterfall-plunge scene, which might have been made more interesting by improved staging and animation (we only see Scrooge and Milly's tumble in longshot) but does deliver Launchpad's one priceless contribution to the ep: "That darn eject button is always gettin' in the way!"  Given that LP is present in the main story strictly for utilitarian reasons -- to get the party to Malaysia -- and that Koonce and Weimers didn't even see fit to let him crash the 'copter, this was a welcome reminder of LP at his laugh-out-loud best.  Also, the "ASAP" gag worked better with Launchpad than it did with Duckworth, which isn't much of a surprise.

And so we reach the wedding... and the famed boatload of cameos therein.  Some kind soul created a panoramic image of the scene outside the bank, for which I am eternally grateful.  Click on it, and it should enlarge.  Oddly enough, this wouldn't be the only time that Walt Disney TV Animation tried something like this.  101 Dalmatians: The Series wrapped up its 65-episode manifest with the three-part adventure "Dalmatian Vacation" (1998), which climaxed with Roger and Anita Dearly reprising their wedding vows.  (Actually, they're technically getting married for the first time, since their original wedding was overseen by a con artist.)  Whereas the McDuck-Vanderbucks wedding was presumably planned very carefully, with formal invitations being sent out to all of the invitees (except the villains, of course), the one-shot characters who returned for the wedding in "Dalmatian Vacation" were quite literally rounded up on the spur of the moment, with no explanation given as to how they got to the site so quickly -- or at all.  Then again, 101D tended to be sloppy that way.

Of course, DuckTales' use of recurring background characters (the members of the Explorers' Club, the "pignitaries," Vacation van Honk, etc.), which seemed so ground-breaking at the time, has long since been one-upped by the immense casts of shows as diverse as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  But, as I have said before on several occasions, DT deserves credit for "getting there first."


Greg seemed to think that a segment of the viewership -- namely, Christians -- might have been put off by the "money-grubbing version of a wedding" that we got here.  Well, I didn't find it offensive in the least, just as I had no problem with "god-ruler" Princess Celestia marrying Prince Shining Armor and Princess Cadance in MLP:FIM's "A Canterlot Wedding."  As Greg himself pointed out, context is everything in this situation.  There is such a thing as a "civil ceremony," after all, and being married at a vault door by a banker reading from a ledger is merely an "extreme" version of same.  Say what you will about the overall quality of K&W's writing here, they took the idea of a "money-themed wedding" and exploited it for all that it was worth (which was probably a few obsquatumatillions).

Donald displaying "ring wrath"?

At the "vaultar," Milly finally cracks under the strain and reveals her true motivation for marrying Scrooge.  I will give her credit for holding out a bit longer than the evil Queen Chrysalis in "A Canterlot Wedding."  Disguised as Princess Cadance, Chryssie literally sings about the impending culmination of her scheme as she is marching down the aisle.  They say that marriage ceremonies are stressful, but they don't know the half of it...

... And speaking of halves, Scrooge's would-be better one literally blasts her way onto the scene (shouldn't she have suffocated while waiting inside that cake?) to begin a sequence that, quite frankly, should be much more iconic than it is.  It's amazing enough that DuckTales got away with depicting Goldie attempting to blow Scrooge away with a shotgun, but to explicitly state that Goldie did it because she believed Scrooge to be cheating on her takes the whole thing "one step beyond."  Granted, it wouldn't have made much sense for the Barks Goldie to have done this, seeing as how Scrooge and Goldie parted peaceably, and with no apparent plans to resume the relationship, at the end of the comics version of "Back to the Klondike."  But for the DT Goldie, who presumably cohabited with Scrooge at White Agony Creek before Dangerous Dan broke them up, the idea of Scrooge "two-timing" her would probably have caused a much stronger -- and much more intensely physical -- reaction.  Had we been privy to Scrooge and Goldie's entire "bear-back" conversation at the end of the DT "Klondike," we would probably have heard Scrooge, who had just admitted that Goldie had "stolen [his] heart," make some kind of pledge to be eternally true to his backwoods gal.  If that were the case, then Goldie's violent reaction here wouldn't have "tarnishe[d] the Goldie mystique" (as GeoX would have it), but, in a DuckTales context, would actually have burnished it.  Again, context matters.

We shouldn't forget poor Milly, literally left at (or, more accurately, leaving herself at) the "vaultar," where she's "comforted" by Glomgold.  Flinty does not actually propose to Milly here -- he merely makes a cutting reference about Scrooge -- but that's enough for Milly to start a new campaign.  Presumably, Flinty's aghast reaction to Milly's attentions was due to his overhearing her "confession" at the "vaultar"; had Milly set her sights on him from the beginning, he presumably would have fallen for her the way Scrooge did.  Or perhaps, being a meaner, more cynical sort, he would have seen through a fellow villain's ruse more quickly? 

And that's a season.  I still think that DuckTales' first 65 hold up extremely well, though I've been pickier about errors both large and small in these reviews.  The show's range and ability to tell different kinds of stories -- in an era, let's recall, when many of its competitors were "telling stories" as an excuse to advertise toy lines -- continues to impress.  The animation, while it doesn't look quite as dazzling as it did back in the day, still features plenty of high points.  Most important of all, despite some moments of annoyingly inconsistent characterization -- many of which I put down to the sheer number of people who wrote for the series -- DT accomplished the signature feat of making the audience truly care about the characters, which was a tougher task than you might think, especially when it came to the main character.  Harry McCracken put it best in an article in ANIMATO! years ago: Scrooge McDuck is a character that no focus group or marketing executive could ever have come up with.  Even the "decaffeinated" Scrooge of DT was one of the more improbable heroes in TV animation history.  

So... the greatest animated series ever made?  No, I can't in all honesty claim that now.  But a great series that transformed an industry and had as profound an impact on me as any cultural construct has ever had?  You bet.


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I've given a fair amount of thought to how I will cover the Bubba Duck and Gizmoduck era of DT.  Through experience, I've learned that it takes much more time for me to make appropriate screengrabs than to actually write the notes that form the bases for these commentaries... and, as of right now, I don't have that many screengrabs of the second and third seasons.  For that reason, I've decided to take a short hiatus while I focus my attention on getting images from the 35 remaining eps of the series.  I plan to spend December doing that, at the same time as I'm getting ready for Spring classes.  By the beginning of the New Year, I should be ready to move forward again, and "retro prep" should take less time.  So, you can expect "Time is Money" to roll your way (Roll?  Wheels?  Cave duck?  Get it??) early in January.  Will I be able to finish this feature by the end of 2014?  I think so, if luck and my health hold out and I don't bump into any more ceilings in the meantime.

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"DuckBlurbs" 

(Greg) We begin this one with the STOCK FOOTAGE OF DOOM we zoom in and cut to the nephews room as Louie stops the alarm clock on the dresser drawer with his hand (NOT THOSE ONES!) and the nephews all wake up in color coordinated striped pj's. They then change their clothes as their shirts are underneath their PJ's. How about that?!
Yes, how about it, indeed.  I can see where that might come in handy in a pinch... though I certainly hope that HD&L take showers before going out in public.

(Greg) Duckworth goes to the front door and opens it to reveal Mrs. Vanderbucks in a classy red dress with some gold metal trim and black gloves with black heels. Very classy for a sneaky heel there.

And the effect is enhanced by that... highly interesting "from the bottom up" shot.  Though I have to say that the wad of red lipstick at the end of Milly's beak rather weakens the effect for me.  Once again: Lipstick on female Ducks, no matter how sexy, is weird-looking.

(Greg) Vanderbucks decides to sell the land after all and then they walk out as the nephews give the thumbs up and feel that Vanderbucks isn't so bad after all. 

And thus begins an intriguing intra-episode meme: The joint "thumbs up" shot.  It stands out precisely because we rarely saw the characters indulging in such choreographed activity before.  Not even HD&L have gone in for it that often, and they, of course, did the famous shtick of completing sentences as a group in the shorts and in many of Barks' early stories.  With all the thumbs on display here, you'd think that the characters were rating movies or something.  (Would that mean that the kids' "throat-slashing" joint at the end of Act One was meant to signify "Cut!"?)


(Greg) ... We cut back to inside the hallway as the nephews and Webby are pacing around sulking because Scrooge hasn't played with them or read to them in weeks. There is a picture of Goldie with her blunderbuss on the right side of the wall. 

It's the same picture that we saw in Scrooge's bedroom in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck."  Wonder why Scrooge relocated it to a public area.  BTW, I was glad to see Koonce and Weimers avoid the "whirlwind courtship" cliche and admit that it took a while for Milly to really get her hooks into Scrooge.


(Greg)  After the commercial break; we go to the hallway as the nephews and Webby look around and see that the coast is clear. They then practice the fine art of not being seen as their clothes are on a stick and they make it down the stairs and they have a meeting of minds with Mrs. Beakly. And it wasn't at the dumb waiter. Mrs. Beakly wants answers to this sneaking and Webby basically states that they are running away. Now if I was going to make a case here; I would not call Millie mean. Besides; I would have said: “We overheard Millie talking about you and she wants to fire you.”. That would have more credi[bility]. 

Webby is the one who refers to Milly as "mean," which I can easily see her doing.  The bigger issue is that HD&L couldn't have warned Mrs. B. that Milly wants to fire her, because they apparently don't know what a "pink slip" means.

(Greg) So we see a lot of people going into the [bank]... Everyone is there including Gladstone Gander, John D. Rockefeather, Magica DeSpell (!!!!) (we see her sign the marriage book in the scene to the left pan) along with Flintheart Glomgold, Feathers Galore (!!!), Carl Sa[g]ander, Ma Beagle, Burger Beagle, Bouncer Beagle and Big Time Beagle among them that I can clearly see outside. 

Actually, the Beagle lineup changed in midstream.  In the panorama shot, Ma, Big Time, Burger, and Bankjob can be seen heading for the bank.  However, when the disguised Beagles rob the bank, Ma, Big Time, Burger, and... hmm, is that Bouncer?  I suppose it is... are the ones doing the deed.  I guess that Bankjob and Bouncer switched off when the Beagles ran home to plan their caper.  Speaking of changes, June Foray's Ma Beagle voice is noticeably different here than it is at any other point of the series.

(Greg) I remember hating this episode back in the day as I [was] with the nephews on the whole thing and I had no sympathy for Scrooge. Today; my views are different and I think this is one of the best episodes I have seen. I call it a case of a really good heel in Millie being a trooper through the whole thing until the nephews pushed their pranks one too far (which I thought was pointless since there was enough idiots in the scene to do Millie in by themselves without the nephews resorting to low tricks). I ended up having a little sympathy for Millie and Scrooge and not so much for the nephews, Mrs. Beakly or Webby. 

I think you were subconsciously picking up on the Nephews' increased "brattiness quotient."  While Milly certainly deserved some rough treatment, the boys did pour it on and evoke at least a small amount of sympathy for her.  Koonce and Wiemers may have reflected that by allowing Milly to close the ep on an up note (for her), chasing Glomgold with renewed vigor.

Next:  I'll be back in early January with Episode 66, "Time is Money, Part One: Marking Time." 

10 comments:

Pan MiluĊ› said...

Qackaroony!! You got all the way to end of the season 1!

Let's cellebrate this with a Scrooge song :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0EaygJdxyc

Cute episode BTW! It use to be among my top favorite. I trully love how much character it got at the same time... The only part I don't get is :
WHY THE HECK SCROOGE WOULD INVITE MAGICA TO HIS WEDDING!? OR WHY SHE WOULD WANT TO COME!? It makes a little more sence with Glomgold since the guy is a respeceted buissnesman so it would be odd it he would plan to do something nasty on Scrooge's big day.
But Magica!? A very, very odd thing to see...


Ow, well! Here's another Scrooge song :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHEgzRtKC5o

Yaaaay!

Anne Johnson said...

Haha, so Adam McCabe isn't the only one who thinks it's weird for duck women to put lipstick on just the front of their bills (look up Tales of the DuckTales on YouTube; there's a review of this episode and he comments on it).
I've noticed that paintings and even rooms move around a lot in DuckTales. In this episode, Scrooge and Millie walk out of the dining room into the front hall - through what should be the closet door according to "Nothing to Fear." I wish there were an official map of McDuck Manor so I'd know where everything is supposed to be.

Regular GeoX said...

Hey, congrats on finishing the season. These are some impressively in-depth reviews you've got going, and I look forward to more.

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

Perhaps Magica figured that Scrooge would be bringing the #1 Dime with him (for luck, you know) and wanted to be there to swipe it if she got the chance.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Anne,

I think that we can expect to see a floor plan of Scrooge's mansion at about the same time that we see one of Richie Rich's family's mansion.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

GeoX,

Thank you for the nice comments! I hope I can keep up the standards in the remaining seasons.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Great job on the first season, Chris! …The occasional equine intrusion excepted. :-)

I’m glad to see that you will tackle the next ten episodes as the individual eps they became (and remained), and not as two mega-specials.

Interesting that your Blogging issue echoes mine, in that it is the formatting and illustrating that is far more formidable and time-consuming, than is the actual research and writing. That aspect has slowed, or outright canceled, many an ambitious Blogging project for me.

Hard to believe there was a time where we knew little or nothing about Brigitta, and that she wouldn’t come reflexively to mind when viewing this episode.

Ryan Wynns said...

Chris,

Congratulations! The 65 reviews to date are a very impressive body of work.

Can't believe it's been almost two years already ...

-- Ryan

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Breaking up "Time is Money" and "Super DuckTales" into their component parts was always my plan. It's especially important in the former case because the parts differ so drastically in quality.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Ryan,

I devoutly hope that I'll be done by this time next year!

Chris