Saturday, February 1, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 70, "Time is Money, Part Five: Ali Bubba's Cave"

Once one's thunder is stolen, all that's left for one to do is to bang together the implements closest to hand, in a brave but vain effort to raise the same Furies.  I'd always expected that my return to "Ali Bubba's Cave" would be the occasion for a lengthy rehashing of Joe's and my longstanding beef with one of DuckTales' most notorious logical errors: the "Great Duckbill Island Blooper," in which Scrooge, having failed to pay off Flintheart Glomgold in time, was mistakenly awarded the "worthless" westernmost piece of Duckbill Island -- which actually should have been returned to Flinty along with the piece holding Bubba's diamond cave.  Thanks to GeoX and his correspondent "Christopher," however, all of our complaints about the climax of "Time is Money" being fatally compromised have been more or less blown out of the water.  It turns out that it didn't matter who wound up owning the westernmost island.  As noted in my comments on "Ducks on the Lam," Glomgold never had the authority to make the contract with Scrooge in the first place.  Instead of creating a hopeless mess, the "Blooper" merely added a figurative cherry on top of an already-sloppy narrative sundae.  Misguided though it may have been, the decision to return Bubba Duck to Duckburg and put him under Scrooge's care (at least until the reruns have run their course) actually winds up being among the less objectionable features of this final chapter.  Indeed, with only a couple of exceptions, the put-upon caveduck gets most of the best scenes here.

I'm sure it was sheer coincidence, but the opening scene of "Cave" is a mirror image of the conclusion to "Too Much of a Gold Thing," with the Ducks' transport plane heading towards the camera this time.  By contrast, Launchpad's "unsuccessfully successful" crash-less landing of the plane looks forward to the end of the series and the landing on the temple mount in "The Golden Goose."  It's safe to say that the version we see in "Cave" is less distinctive.  In "Goose," the desperate Scrooge ordered LP to crash, because, with the future of the world literally at stake, there was no time to fool with a landing.  LP's Duckbill Island descent, by contrast, is just a goofy incident.  Even Scrooge's complaint that LP landed on the "wrong side of the island" is pretty weak sauce, since the island is very small to begin with.

The landing contretemps is one of several attempts made by scenarists Jymn Magon, Len Uhley, and Doug Hutchinson (how such massive combined talent could produce something as poorly thought out as this STILL baffles me) to liven up the ep's pre-Bubba antics with some good, old-fashioned Scrooge-LP banter.  Thanks to the downplaying of Launchpad's role in the series' final 35 episodes, we won't be getting many more chances to enjoy that particular flavor of first-season goodness.  Unfortunately, most of the palaver, which consists primarily of Scrooge hurling verbal barbs, is fairly mundane.  GeoX mentioned one of the limper examples in his review.

We also harken back to better serials past with a few scenes in which the Ducks are put in authentic physical peril.  HD&L, in particular, are subjected to a considerable pounding when the plane goes into its nosedive, and, later, when LP uses the plane to widen a crack in a wall in the subterranean cave system.  In the opening scene in the cargo hold, it doesn't appear that there's all that much stuff stored back there...

... so it's actually somewhat surprising, and not a little creepy, to watch the hardware suddenly multiply out of thin air, just to ruin the Ducklings' day (not to mention imperil their bones, beaks, and other body parts).  No wonder Huey is willing to voice the opinion that the boys might wind up dying!

For me, this ep really began to "die" when Glomgold showed up with the Beagle Boys in tow.  I've never heard a convincing explanation why this wasn't an egregious misreading of the Beagles' character.  Never in a thousand years would I believe the Beagles would abandon possession of the Money Bin without some sort of fight or "last stand."  I don't even think they'd do it in order to enjoy a little Schadenfreude at Scrooge's expense -- and here, we're expected to accept that they'd join Flinty to enjoy HIS triumph over Scrooge.  I'd sooner accept Glomgold building that massive protective wall in a manner of minutes with one of Gyro's spare construction robots than I would the Beagles ceding control over the object of their longstanding desires.

Ironically enough, the best part of Act One, by far, takes place in 1,000,000 BC:  Bubba comes home, quickly finds it a bore, and takes off in a quest to return to Scrooge.  The night scenes, including Bubba's recovery of the marker, are particularly fine, though I can't help but notice that the position of the "Millennium Shortcut" switches between touchdown (when the nose of the craft is pointed away from the cave) and takeoff (when the nose is facing the cave; see below).  Since these are among Bubba's finest moments of the series, I'm willing to let the smallish stuff slide.  (BTW, Greg, Bubba did take the marker with him.  You can see it in his hand when he beckons to Tootsie to come and join him in the time machine and then runs up the ramp.)

Act Two bounces us between Bubba's travels through time (at least, I'm assuming that the visit to Mount Duckmore occurred at some point in the past) and Scrooge, Launchpad, and HD&L's attempts to evade the cave monster.  The latter is actually pretty well-handled, with a lot of funny high points: Launchpad's turn as an "avian flotation device," the monster proving that it's "not a movie buff" by snuffing LP's supposedly fearsome flame, and a sneezing Scrooge giving away the Ducks in the mushroom field (the mushrooms actually seem to be growing out of rock, rather than in a literal field, but I don't know what else to call it) after warning LP not to do so.  Even these enjoyable scenes, however, aren't entirely satisfactory.  Greg was right to question the Ducks' decision to have a faceoff with the creature on the cliff's edge when they could just as easily have fled in the other direction.  Also, why is Huey suddenly holding the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook during the showdown scene, why is that fact never referenced, and why does the Guidebook then suddenly disappear in an immediately subsequent scene?  Was Huey planning to hit the monster with the Guidebook if all else failed?

Bubba's time-trip is similarly silly fun, though it sounds a legitimately poignant note at Mount Duckmore when Bubba briefly despairs of ever finding Scrooge.  The "run things by punching a bunch of buttons" philosophy has never been put to a stiffer test than it is here.  The sight of the melting bombastium is also a highly effective touch, though it is never explained why the bombastium should be melting to begin with, since Gyro presumably fixed the freezer at the same time that he was giving the "Millennium Shortcut" an overhaul.

I don't blame GeoX for concluding that Bubba ultimately finds his way back to Scrooge through "magic." The use of the "crude picture of Scrooge" doesn't come completely out of nowhere, though.  In one shot of the clockface in the back of the "Shortcut," you can see faint pictures drawn on some of the triangular points.  I couldn't make them out, but presumably they are "frequent destinations in time," and the pictures are meant to be the equivalent of a shortcut command on a computer screen; instead of punching in complicated commands to visit those places, you can simply use the clock to access them.  Had Bubba, Gyro, or someone referenced this feature prior to Bubba sketching the picture of Scrooge, we would still have had a "magical element" to contend with here, but the solution wouldn't have seemed quite so haphazard.

So Bubba returns -- neatly paralleling Scrooge's fortuitous arrival in 1,000,000 BC by materializing just in time to crush the triumphant monster's tail -- and miser and caveduck are reunited.  However one feels about this decision, one must admit that Bubba does play his rightful part in the Ducks' ensuing scramble to pay off Glomgold before the time limit expires.  The major palm, though, goes to HD&L for fixing up that "instant laser beam."  Having contributed relatively little of importance to the adventure up till now, HD&L save face with this example of nick-of-time ingenuity.  To be fair, luck did have something to do with their success.  Of all the "exotic flora and fauna" populating Duckbill Island -- the existence of which was never hinted at until this episode, BTW -- the most unlikely might be the series of small bushes that just happen to be growing in the proper place and with the correct alignment to allow for the creation of the laser beam.

After Scrooge's last-gasp victory is suitably teased -- complete with Flinty countdown -- we get the "awful truth," and the "Great Duckbill Island Blooper" follows, with the seemingly victorious villains tossing the Ducks onto "that lovely piece of property"... which, of course, soon becomes far lovelier after the eruption of the "diamondgasm."  Yep, this whole solution would have been incredibly contrived even had the "Blooper" not taken place.  Remember, also, that the dispute which triggered the whole thing was Scrooge and Glomgold dickering over the multiquadzillionaires' equivalent of pocket change.  Given the lack of context for the meaningfulness of Scrooge's victory and the flukey nature of said victory, the climax can't help but feel a bit "Peggy Lee"-ish ("Is that all there is?").

Scrooge's custom-built cave for Bubba and Tootsie is a clever conceit on which to end, but it will never be referenced or seen again.  Future appearances by Bubba will find the caveduck hanging around McDuck Mansion as if he were "just another Nephew" (or, for that matter, Webby).  I wonder whether Scrooge ultimately regretted the expense.  I know that he regretted buying those boom boxes. 

UPDATE (2/2/14):  Several alert readers reminded me that Bubba's cave CAN be seen briefly in "Bubba's Big Brainstorm."  Sorry for the mistake.

No question, "Time is Money" hasn't aged particularly well, and I've had to revise my opinion of it downward to a considerable extent.  The question is, how could this have happened?  How could such a group of justifiably praised creators have missed the boat so completely on a project as ambitious as this?  Here are several theories:

1.  Mark Zaslove's contribution to the success of "Treasure of the Golden Suns" may have been more significant than we imagined.  Jymn Magon may have been better versed in Barksian lore, but Zaslove may have been the prime reason why "Golden Suns" held together in a logical sense.  Anyone who's watched "Sir Gyro de Gearloose" knows how "tight" an episode script Zaslove could deliver at his best.  Sound logic in "Time is Money," by contrast, was conspicuous by its absence.

2.  It's quite possible that "Time is Money" was a literal rush job.  I'm not sure exactly when the decision was made to produce more than 65 episodes of DT, but the fact that the only DT releases of the 1988-89 season were "Time is Money" and "Super DuckTales" is suggestive.  Between the continued production of DT eps, the early work on Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers, and other projects in the process of development, WDTVA must have been in a considerable state of flux at this time.  Not wanting to let an entire season go by without new DT episodes, WDTVA may have gambled that it could pump out the stories introducing the new regulars on the cheap, at least in terms of the time expended.  "Super DT" fared better than "Time is Money," not just because Fenton Crackshell/Gizmoduck was a better character, but also because Ken Koonce and David Weimers were in charge of the project from the start and were able to maintain a certain consistency of vision (as screwy as said vision might sometimes have been).  Falling into an "assembly-line mentality" frequently plays havoc with quality, as fans of long-running animated series well know, and "Time is Money" may have been a harbinger of the problems that the increasingly bureaucracy-bound, less self-confident WDTVA would run into in the mid- to late 1990s.

Onward to "Super DuckTales"... and the one cast addition that unquestionably DID deserve better!

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Bumper 5: "Crash"
"Whoa!  And my reputation's restored, just like that!"

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The Funnybook Bubba

Before "Blurbing," I thought I'd briefly pick up on a train of thought I left parked on a siding during my comments on "Bubba Trubba."  What of Bubba's comics career?  In how many stories did he appear?  The answer, I think, speaks volumes as to the general consensus regarding this character's usefulness:

Four.  FOUR!

And, had it not been for DUCKTALES ACTIVITY MAGAZINE, DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST, and that one-panel appearance (along with every other Duck-comics and DuckTales bit player) fighting the "slime" in "Dangerous Currency," the count would have been zilch.  I must confess to being surprised by this.  Surely, I thought, Egmont would have commissioned at least a couple of stories featuring Bubba, but it did not.  After DT MAG published Don Rosa's "Back in Time for a Dime" in 1990, Bubba made bows in two eight-page DISNEY ADVENTURES tales in 1991: "The Family's Shrewd" and "Slugga Bubba."

Of this handful of offerings, Bubba is arguably the "star" of only one, that being "Slugga Bubba," in which Scrooge buys the Duckburg Westerns baseball team (Duckburg Mallards?  Calisota Stealers?  Never heard of 'em?) in order to give club-swinging Bubba an opportunity to strut his stuff as a baseball "natural."  The story is better than "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," which isn't saying much, but I'll take what I can get.  Contra Inducks, "Slugga" also features the only comics appearance of Tootsie... with one decidedly peculiar exception: the cover to a 1995 Brazilian comic that reprinted "The Family's Shrewd" (Scrooge's family vs. the badly disguised Ma Beagle and her boys in a parody of one of those "messy" Nickelodeon game shows).

Someone down Rio way didn't get the memo: Tootsie is not Dino!

Bubba's slime-busting moment in "Dangerous Currency" will almost certainly be his last appearance in comics... though one can only hope.  If "hope" is the right word, that is.

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) Anyway, oh no, Glomgold and the Beagles have, um, constructed a barricade in front of the diamond cave! What to do! Well, first, we could step back and contemplate the fact that we're expected to swallow the idea that Glomgold can engage in all of this blatantly illegal stuff, right out in the open, and nobody's gonna do anything about it. He can get away with all that, no problem. But his contract with Scrooge, boy--that's iron-clad, and it has to apply no matter what and if Scrooge is late by ONE SECOND with the payment, Glomgold gets everything he wants absolutely no question THE END. 

The Duckburg legal system, ladies and gentlemen.  Cornelius Coot would be proud.

(GeoX) So what, Bubba has no tribe? No family? No nothin'? I suppose that makes it easier to justify transplanting him like this, but to just have this be the case with NO explanation seems kind of dubious.  

Perhaps Bubba had a tribe, but the T-Rex we saw in "Marking Time" killed them all and was trying to "complete the straight" with Bubba when the "Millennium Shortcut" dropped in.  Wouldn't THAT have given "Time is Money" a bit more gravitas?

(Greg) Opening Moment #1: The title card for this one is Ali Bubba's Cave. That pretty much gives away the ending right in advance doesn't it?

Well... no.  That's the major problem with the title: it doesn't relate in any way, shape, or form to what happens in the ep.  BTW, did you notice the bit in Will Ryan's recap voiceover in which Scrooge is described as returning Bubba to his "rightful home"?  The series sure did a 180 in that respect, didn't it?

(Greg) Scrooge wants LP to nudge the plane a bit to get the crack opened. Ummm; what crack Scroogie? I don't see a crack anywhere. Logic break #1 for the episode four minutes in.

Oh, it's there, all right.  Note the light shining from it in the scene below.

(Greg) Huey refers to the LIBERAL RED BOOK OF LIES THE KIDS EDITION~! POW! OUCH! Ummm...I mean the Junior Woodchuck Guide Book which states that there are animals on Duckbill Island that they won't find anywhere else. 

"On the island?  No!  In the island?  Ah!  But definitely!" 

(Greg) So we logically head to Egypt to a constructed Sphinx (I didn't know that their construction was like us with scaffolding and all) as a dogsperson in a white robe (TerryMcGovern); sandals and black hair is sculpting the final touches to the Sphinx and humming a tune. He does some chiseling (with a metal chisel?) and then proclaims that after years of work; the Sphinx is perfect see. 

It is known that the Egyptians used large ramps while building pyramids to move stones up to various levels, but some sources credit them with using scaffolding as well (though probably not the modern type seen here). 

Next: Episode 71, "Super DuckTales, Part One: Liquid Assets."

5 comments:

Jason said...

Actually, Bubba’s new cave will be seen again, in the episode “Bubba’s Big Brainstorm.” The newly geniused Bubba finds the cave’s “chair” (actually a rock) rather rough on his posterior and elects to stay inside Scrooge’s mansion.

Anonymous said...

Bubba's cave will make an appearance in "Bubba's Big Brainstorm."

The ending could have been easily fixed (if you disregard the fact the Supreme court found the island to be Scrooge's all along) if Glomgold had gloatingly given it to Scrooge, in the same way he threw Scrooge the gold coin in "Don't Give up the Ship."

After all, I don't think a legal system that winks at Glomgold's self induced frustration of contract will be at all concerned with the Statute of Frauds (certain contracts - including sale of land - must be in writing)

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I never liked this episode of "Bubba show"... sorry! "Duck Tales".

It's mainly the little things that bug me. Like the fact that our heroes win by share luck(!) at the end or I hated the desing of the cave monster (still, nice come back of Bubba crashing his tale with a time machine just like Scrooge did with the T-rex)


My least favorite of the five? Propably yes :(

Did someone mentioned that Bubba's cave makes a return in "Bubba's Big Brainstorm"? I think we must be clear about that one..


ALSO -> Wow! I'm supprise this didn't win the award for the milion time somebody in cartoon world did "a goofy explenation of how the Sphinx lost his nose joke". Asterix has still my favorite joke build around it...

Anne Johnson said...

To my knowledge, this is the only episode that shows Duckworth laughing (at the very end when everyone laughs). Too bad we never get to hear him. :(

Chris Barat said...

Anne,

I think you may be right. I can't recall Duckworth laughing (audibly) in any other ep.

Chris