Sunday, February 23, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 72, "Super DuckTales, Part Two: Frozen Assets"

"Frozen Assets" my ass...ets!  This episode should have been called "Lo, A Gizmoduck Cometh," or something similar.  That seems far more appropriate for a production featuring the debut of a high-powered, famously histrionic superhero. 

Jymn Magon may have supplied the teleplay for this effort, but the fingerprints of Ken Koonce and David Weimers are all over the narrative.  They play up the obvious borrowings from the live-action Robocop (1987) to the hilt and (in what will become something of a trend-setter for them) may even have swiped from themselves, turning several key portions of the story into what seem for all the world like semi-homages to their first-season classic, "Hero for Hire."  Basically a giant series of set-pieces -- the Ducks' recovery of Scrooge's "cash-flown" funds, Fenton's increasingly desperate attempts to retrieve Old #1 from the Beagle Boys, Fenton's inadvertent accession to the Gizmosuit, and Gizmo's ultimate recovery of Scrooge's cherished coin -- the ep isn't a storytelling masterwork by any means, but it gets its job done in workmanlike fashion.  It also lays to rest any lingering doubts that, in joining the main cast, Fenton/Gizmo has permanently altered the humor dynamic of the series.

The last, lingering bits of borrowing from Carl Barks' "Only a Poor Old Man" are quickly dispensed with in the opening scene, in which we learn that the Beagles have planted sandbags so that Scrooge's cash will wind up in Ma Beagle's yard.  The Beagles pursue the draining dough in the same jalopy that they used to try to escape from Launchpad at the climax of "Hero for Hire"; the rattletrap vehicle will be put to similar chase-related use in this ep before too long.  "Dripping dunderhead" Fenton (so saith Duckworth, making his first truly significant contribution to either of the second-season five-parters) returns to Scrooge's "Worry Room," there to display his continuing literal-mindedness... and to give Scrooge the notion that will salvage the latter's fortune.  I suppose that Fenton's inadvertent "ray of brilliance" was the only reason that kept him from getting fired immediately.  Scrooge's slight delay in pulling the trigger actually displayed more understanding and patience than I would normally have expected from him under the circs.  Then again, Scrooge took the possession of the Money Bin by the Beagles in "Bubba Trubba" surprisingly well, so perhaps this is yet another manifestation of the "kindler and gentler" nature of the DuckTales version of the patriarch.

Koonce and Weimers' gift for media parody serves them well during "Operation Ice Tongs," as they directly reference the famous Ride of the Valkyries helicopter-assault scene in Apocalypse Now (1979).  Actually, this is one or two levels of "awesome" higher than K&W's usual resort to such popular parodic targets as The Wizard of Oz (1939).  It ranks right up there with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic's insertion of a Big Lebowski (1998) reference into the episode "The Cutie Pox." Not even the later reuse of the notion in a comparatively trivial scene with Magica and the Quackanyeeka Yeekers in "The Unbreakable Bin" can spoil the poetry of the original moment.  By the bye, Greg, Fenton can be seen flying on the giant ice cake with Scrooge and HD&L, so he certainly wasn't forsaken here.

 
Alas, Fenton proceeds to piss away all the good will he'd just banked with his employer by spending Old #1 on an "emergency phone call"... and, here, I'm going to take exception with GeoX's claim that this mistake is another display of "excessive dumbness" on Fenton's part.  Given Fenton's already-well-established literal-mindedness, it's certainly in character for Fenton to think that the dime had been isolated from its brethren for some "special purpose."  Granted, he certainly ought to have checked with (for example) HD&L to determine what that "special purpose" WAS, but I'm willing to give K&W credit for laying sufficient groundwork for this gag to "work."  And "work" it certainly does; I can recall howling with laughter when I first saw it.  My (then) ongoing education in Barks' works was partially to blame for this; the gag took all those notions I had built up in my head about the immense psychological significance of Old #1 for Scrooge and rudely chucked them out the window.

 
It'd be a fun chore to try to explain the pay-phone and phone-company-HQ scenes to someone raised in the age of cell phones.  I suppose that pay phones can still be found fairly easily, but, unless you explained that Kathleen Freeman was parodying the over-exaggerated tones of a live operator in her voice for the desk lady, then the young modern viewer would probably assume that the poor woman had some sort of bizarre speech impediment.

More "Hero for Hire" callbacks follow as "The First Interfeather Bank" turns out to be one of the banks that "Webbed Wonder" Launchpad robbed.  Also note the reappearance of the armored truck that LP and Doofus used to escape Ma Beagle's place at the end of that earlier episode.  Like the "Wagner-copter sequence," these "small details" will also be returning in future eps.

Speaking of callbacks, of the really, REALLY classic variety... Welcome to Acme Acres, the Southwestern American desert, the Warner Bros. Studio lot, or some combination thereof!  Fenton's failed dime-recovery schemes already seemed like a lengthy homage to a certain genre of WB cartoon BEFORE the decision was made to change his "post-first-failure" comment from "Okay, so they're looking for a skirmish!" to "Of course you know this means a skirmish!".  Or perhaps, as suggested by kenisu in his comments on my review of "Liquid Assets," the more obvious Warners homage was the original statement, and it was altered for NBC broadcast because Warners would be more likely to get wind of it there.  I don't know; since the syndicated version of the ep was the one that was repeated over and over, one would think that WDTVA would want to play it safer with that one.  Whatever the truth might be, one can legitimately question Fenton's use of this particular phrase.  "You know this means war!" is indelibly associated with Bugs Bunny, the epitome of coolness under exaggerated fire, whereas Fenton is... well, not quite the exact opposite, but reasonably close.

(You were expecting a scene from some other Bugs cartoon, Joe?)

The censors also had a snip at this sequence when candy-machine Fenton's reaction to an assault by Ma Beagle -- "Right in the goobers!" -- was removed for Toon Disney broadcast.  The truly peculiar thing about this line was that it was also absent in the Magical World of Disney broadcast (I suspect that 1989-era rules about "family prime-time content" were involved in this excision) but WAS included in the initial syndicated broadcasts. Since kids formed a high percentage of the viewership in both the syndicated and Toon Disney cases, why would the line have passed muster for so long, only to be jettisoned later?  Was there a gun involved in this scene that nobody noticed?
Despite these annoying alterations, the coin-seeking debacle remains an entertaining little diversion, and a significant moment for the show as a whole.  After Fenton is allowed to get away with using his goofy get-ups in his attempts to fool the Beagles, there's no turning back; Warners-style humor will now be an acceptable part of the series as long as Fenton is involved.  It won't often be as off-the-wall as it is here, but it is now officially part of the series' creative "toolbox."

Gyro's creation of the "GICU2" guardian robot -- which goes just as well as might be expected, given the inventor's spotty series track record -- sets the Robocop portion of the episode in motion with a vengeance.  The "GICU2" mutters mechanical dialogue that is based squarely on the live-action film's "ED-209" (e.g., "You have five seconds to leave the premises" vs. "You have 15 seconds to comply") and even provides a bonus by displaying the morphing capabilities of a Transformer.  At one time, I thought that relying so heavily on material from a then-popular movie would cause "Super DuckTales" to date rather quickly.  As things turned out, between the ongoing series of live-action Transformers films and the recently-released Robocop remake, the Robocop aspects of "SDT" are aging with unexpected grace.  Lawrence Loudmouth and "MEL" should have been so lucky.

The badly-beaten Fenton's offhand use of an expletive that "nobody uses" turns out to be the only reason why he becomes the master of the Gizmosuit (which will forever betray its original moniker thanks to the retention of the stylized "R" on the breastplate).  Actually, Gyro's definition of blatherskite as "foolishness" only tells half of the story; the word can be used to describe a foolish person, as well.  Fenton isn't foolish all the time, of course, but here the notion, as well as his literal-mindedness, redounds to his benefit; a "fool" attains superhero status by literally saying a word meaning "fool" or "foolish."  It's as if the word Shazam! literally did mean "big red cheese."

Gizmoduck rolls up to Ma Beagle's house just as the mistress of the place is pitching her latest fit at the loss of Scrooge's fortune.  One of the less noticeable, but nonetheless important, subthemes of "SDT" is the implied contrast between the Ma/Beagles and Fenton/Mrs. Crackshell relationships.  In both instances, the children are doing their best to please parents who are, to say the least, less than wholeheartedly appreciative of their efforts.  The DT Beagles may be crooks and bumblers, but the whole plot of the serial was set in motion by their desire to give their Ma a fitting birthday present.  It was a nice touch to permit the villains, as well as the good guys, to participate in such a family dynamic.  (It's also impressive in view of the fact that Ma has a track record of abandoning her boys in time of need.  See "Robot Robbers.") 

The climactic chase routine plays out as the climax of "Hero for Hire" in reverse, with Gizmoduck chasing the Beagles' jalopy.  Some halfway-decent gags are strewn along the route, such as the Beagles' rough ride down the hotel hallway and the still-inexperienced Gizmoduck's frantic efforts to locate the directions for his "helmet-copter."  (It does seem a bit awkward for the user of the Gizmosuit to have to carry around that big instruction manual.  If "SDT" were produced today, the manual would almost certainly be digitized and made accessible inside or on the suit itself.)  The final business at "Mickey-D's," or "Oswald-O's," or whatever the heck it is strikes me as painfully contrived now, but in a good way.  It's the first time that the "feeble-headed" Fenton has consciously used his brains to score a success and suggests that coming into possession of the Gizmosuit may be a tonic for the mallard's shaky self-confidence.  The only question is, what will happen to this new mojo if and when Fenton loses control of his newfound powers and has to rely on his own abilities?
Overall, "Frozen Assets" rates a thumbs-up despite the ever-increasing instances of Cartoon Duck Syndrome (thanks, Greg).  As a stand-alone, it certainly doesn't rank with "Time is Money"'s "The Duck Who Would Be King," but, given that, unlike "King," it's very much a piece of an overarching narrative, it winds up contributing more to its serial.  At this point, of course, "Time is Money" pretty much went off the rails.  Will "Super DuckTales" suffer the same fate?

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Bumper #7: "Gorilla"
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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) "Frozen Assets" is nicely congruent with last episode's title. I wish they could continue this "assets" theme, but alas, 'tis not to be. Not that I really can think of any more "assets" phrases that would be of use...

Well, Fenton certainly got pounded by the Beagles here, so could we get away with "Compounded Assets" at some point?...  I didn't think so. 

(GeoX) Now, Fenton's efforts to get the dime back ARE fairly amusing, especially when he pretends to be "Bermuda Beagle" and tries to infiltrate the family, and Ma Beagle has to flip through the photo album to verify whether or not she has a son named "Bermuda" (again with the lame disguises that work). The problem I have, though, is that...well, Warner Bros cartoons can be highly entertaining, but the characters don't have the emotional range or depth that the best Disney characters do, do they? So if that's the way it's gonna be with Fenton from now on, he's going to be a decidedly limited character.

Thankfully, the series didn't make that mistake.  Fenton isn't the deepest character ever invented, but, by the time DuckTales is over, he will have flashed enough complexity to (IMHO, at least) merit symbolic inclusion as a worthy member of the "Duck Gang." 

(GeoX) Seriously, the kids are toting Scrooge's cash back to the bin one coin at a time? Come on, now! 

From the evidence provided, they had hacked out the vast majority of Scrooge's fortune by this time and were just picking out the hard-to-reach coins and bills.  It still does seem somewhat inefficient to take one coin per trip, though.  Louie's wish that the Money Bin were "in a valley" also seems strange, since he would still have to make one uphill trip and one downhill trip to go to the Bin and back under such circs. 

(Greg) And in comes a sulking Fenton Crackshell dripping like a dunderhead. Fenton pleads for an explanation to his actions before he gets kicked in the ass back to Boston.

Why not "Barkston"?  It would have been SO easy, Jymn... 

(Greg) Bankjob [actually, Baggy] is buried in gold coins (still wearing his regular outfit minus the shoes) as Big Time is building a sandcastle which is made of..sand? Doesn't that kill the CONTINUITY the writers were shooting for?

No.  Big Time was merely decorating a "real" sand castle with coins.  Since the "cash flow" didn't include gold dust -- at least, none of which I am aware -- this seems like a logical extension of the "rich beach" idea.


(Greg) Scrooge throws the phone down and orders it back or he is fired as a gunshot goes off on Fenton's side of the phone. I wonder if Toon Disney cut that one out?

They never did as far as I know.  So I'll give them credit for a bit of common sense.

(Greg) He didn't mean it as the electricity engulfs the entire suit and the armor force fits right on Fenton's chest. Fenton tries to force it off of him; but no dice as the rest of the suit dances around the room and force fits onto Fenton's arms and torso; followed by the helmet and unicycle as Fenton comments on being canned like a tuna. Funny spot: When he transforms fully; they actually SHOW a blue background with a can of tuna for a split second.

The tuna bit was not used in the NBC broadcast.  I suppose WDTVA figured it might freak people out.  (Weirding out kids in syndication, now that's another story...)  Also note that Fenton's yelps as he's being "canned" are recycled from the scene in "Liquid Assets" in which he's hanging onto Scrooge's desk for dear life.

(Greg) We then head to a Merry Go Round Hamburger Joint and...HOLY CRAP?! Those mascots holding the burger look like Oswald the Rabbit. Seriously! I know it's a moot point now; but this was 1989 for goodness sakes. I wondered how they got away with without Universal suing their asses. I doubt Toon Disney cut this out; but HOLY CRAP! 

WDTVA did go right up to the proverbial "line" here, didn't they?  Though more so with Mickey than with Oswald, I deem.  If Mickey had ever had a love child by Oswald's girlfriend, then this burger mascot might have been the result.  Given that the WDTVA of 1993 couldn't even bear to show or name Mickey (aka "The Mouse") in the Bonkers episode "I Oughta Be in Toons," I suppose that we should be grateful for that one clear, full-figure shot of the critter.

Next: Episode 73, "Super DuckTales, Part Three: Full Metal Duck."

4 comments:

Pan MiluĊ› said...

Good review. I'm supprise you didn't bring up the family photo Ma Beagle shown to Fenton. Nice to see ALL of her kids for once ;)



As for this episode and upcoming one I'm supprise how quickly Gizmoduck become popular enough to form, a fanclub. All he did was get the dime bag from the Beagles (which Is hardly something the public would know about) and stop that robot - which agian nobody seen exept for Scrooge and Gyro... odd.

kenisu said...

"...the decision was made to change his "post-first-failure" comment from "Okay, so they're looking for a skirmish!" to "Of course you know this means a skirmish!".

Ah. Got that backwards. "Looking for a skirmish" was the new line. You can tell because the volume level doesn't match the rest of the production... and Fenton's lip-flap is hilariously off, as well. XD

Chris Barat said...

Ken,

Note that I did qualify the comment to include your speculation.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

I guess that Scrooge must have told the boys about the battle and they took it from there. As they later prove when they learn that Scrooge has become the Masked Mallard, they must have a soft spot for superheroes to match Doofus' love for Launchpad's derring do.

Chris