Sunday, March 2, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 73, "Super DuckTales, Part Three: Full Metal Duck"

We're in "full hunker" mode here as yet another winter storm appears set to screw up yet another week... 

Is this the most "active" title card DuckTales ever presented?  Usually, the opening scenes are relatively sedate, to the extent that simple scenes like the Nephews walking to Gyro's ("Sir Gyro de Gearloose") or Scrooge's limousine traveling through Duckburg ("Down and Out in Duckburg") come across as relatively lively.  I guess that Launchpad trying to escape the Lost World with the Booby Bird ("Dinosaur Ducks") would be a close rival to "GICU2 Meets All Quiet on the Western Front," but not a terribly close one.

Living up to this initial promise, "Full Metal Duck" never seems draggy, despite essentially being "Super DuckTales"' equivalent of "Bubba Trubba," an episode that is supposed to get us comfortable with the existence of a new figure in Duckburg.  What "Trubba," with its hollow core of aimless "Bubba causes trubba" gag sequences, got wrong, "Metal" gets right.  Before the Beagles use brainy brother Megabyte's remote-control device to gain sway over the Gizmosuit, we see just enough of Gizmoduck in action -- both in casual and in more "formal" battle settings -- to leave us wanting more.  We also see Fenton Crackshell, bereft of the lost instruction manual -- yet another "small detail" in a DT ep the working-out of which has immense ramifications -- "learn by doing" in his efforts to gain more knowledge about the supersuit.  As a result, despite being relatively plotless (a scenario which led to some fairly substantial chunks of footage being deleted for the Magical World of Disney broadcast), the episode never comes across as simple filler.

Greg is just one of a number of folks who have expressed the opinion that they find Fenton to be a much more sympathetic character than Drake Mallard.  I agree with them, and I would also argue that the advantage is "certified" in this very episode.  In the previous two installments, we were quickly filled in on Fenton's hyper, go-getting nature and some of the demons that drive him, but it has to be admitted that he brought a lot of his troubles on himself: dumping Scrooge's cash in the lake, falling for various Beagle Boy ruses, accidentally causing the dam to be destroyed, and bungling through all those efforts to regain the Old #1 Dime.  In "Metal," by contrast, Fenton doesn't sin (by either omission or commission) so much as he is sinned against (not to mention skinned up).  We start, of course, with Gizmoduck getting beaten to an iron-plated pulp by the GICU2:

Seeing as how Fenton still knows very little about the workings of the Gizmosuit, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did against this supposedly invincible robot guard.  The "state of the art Duck" ultimately resorts to "pushing all his buttons," a gimmick that, if anything, was underused during the series.  One can imagine the animators having all sorts of fun trying to come up with new and creative outcomes for this "punch and pray" desperation option.  Here, it results in Gizmoduck turning into a sphere (which has apparently increased in mass??  How is that possible?) and ultimately a projectile that renders the GICU2 harmless.

The victory results in Scrooge giving Gizmoduck the job as his security guard... a decision that, as GeoX correctly notes, raises all sorts of intriguing questions regarding the double-dipping Fenton's prioritization of his McDuck Enterprises-related duties.  The series used the "Fenton has to be two individuals at once" trope to complicate Fenton/Gizmo's love life in "Metal Attraction" but never did explore the idea in a strictly "business-related" context.  The creators did, however, seem to come to an unspoken conclusion that the character of Fenton took precedence over that of Gizmoduck.  In only one post-"SDT" episode ("The Unbreakable Bin") did Fenton appear primarily in the guise of Gizmoduck.  He made several brief appearances there without the suit, but the vast majority of the time, he was in uniform.  Most other future Fenton/Gizmo eps involved Fenton in the story first, bringing in Gizmoduck later as needed.  This had the advantage of grounding Fenton more firmly as a "real character" with problems and crises to which the audience could relate.  Drake Mallard, by contrast, never came across as "his own Duck" as much as he did Darkwing Duck in civilian dress, with all the famed stubbornness and waffle-brainedness of his caped alter ego.  As for Fenton/Gizmo's priorities from Scrooge's perspective, my guess is that Scrooge probably ultimately decided to retain a number of his regular security guards and called upon Gizmoduck to assume primary guard duties only when a serious imminent threat (such as a raid by the newly-freed Beagle Boys) presented itself.  It would be just like Scrooge to have such backup security plans; how else would you explain those famed "overkill traps" inside the Money Bin?

Gizmo's reaction to Scrooge's job offer, and his later reaction to HD&L's formation of the Gizmoduck Fan Club, display a certain sense of humor and perspective that Darkwing Duck rarely evinced, even on his more selfless days.  He lets the flags and rockets do (most of) the talking for him when accepting Scrooge's offer...

... and then lightly mocks his newfound status re: HD&L by coming up with some overblown titles for himself.  His "advice" to the boys has a similar nudge-nudge-wink-winkiness to it.  A lot of the success of these scenes depends upon Hamilton Camp's skill at delivering the lines, but the writing itself bespeaks a lighter touch than would typically be used for either Drake or Darkwing.

HD&L's immediate hero-worship of Gizmoduck doesn't emerge from a vacuum, quite.  True, they have always had a somewhat more realistic view of Launchpad's fallibility than their erstwhile buddy Doofus (Remember him?  You'll get a reminder before long), so it may seem a little strange that they would fall so hard for the new superhero on the block.  But based on their love of Courage of the Cosmos, their excitement at discovering that Scrooge has become "The Masked Mallard," and their canonical enjoyment of the comic books starring Super Snooper, they do seem to have something of a weak spot for costumed crusaders.  It makes one wonder what they thought of "The Webbed Wonder" during the latter's crime-spree; did it affect their attitude towards costumed heroes, and, if so, then for how long?  Based on the available evidence, the effects must have been rather short-lived, as the boys essayed the long-underwear bit themselves (albeit only briefly) after Scrooge retired "The Masked Mallard" for good.  ("T-Squad"?  Never heard of such a thing, sorry.  The particular memory cells in charge of that reminiscence must have been scrambled when I had my unfortunate accident last Fall.  Ducks?  "Scrambled"?  See what I did there??... Um, let's move on.)

To no one's surprise, Mrs. Crackshell is far less enthused about her son's new identity than... well, just about anyone.  We get not one but two "coming-home-to-the-trailer scenes" in this episode, making three for the serial to date (with one big one still to come in "Money to Burn" -- were all those re-dos intended to be a running gag of sorts?), and, in all of them, Mrs. C.'s reactions are pretty much interchangeable.  The only truly meaningful "actions" that she performs in any of them are her accidental discovery of the "secret word" that activates the Gizmosuit and her equally fortuitous use of the remote to set Fenton free.  The latter leads to the frankly depressing line, "Too bad your father didn't see this -- he thought I was worthless!"  For the NBC broadcast, this was changed to "I'm not the only thing that falls apart around here!".  On the surface, this seems like less harsh of a line, but it also seems somewhat less believable coming from Mrs. Crackshell.  Unknowingly pointing up the emptiness of her existence by ridiculing the words of her ex-husband seems like the sort of thing a completely self-absorbed character would say, at least at this point in her development.

Having surmounted his first true "secret identity career crisis," Fenton/Gizmo proceeds to earn Duckburg-wide hero status by taking out the Beagle Boys, who have hatched a plan that seems a little out of character for them: holding hostages (including HD&L) in the Statue of Duckburg until Scrooge, presumably, hands over the key to the Money Bin.  ("Give us what we want!" could have been made a little plainer, fellas.)  Fenton proves that he has thoroughly internalized his lesson from the end of "Frozen Assets," taking advantage of Burger's food-philia to lay the Beagles low.  Darkwing Duck's "learning curves" should have been this shallow.

Even as Duckburg is at his feet -- or, should I say, beneath his wheel -- Fenton manages to maintain some perspective, dutifully going to work in the finest time-clock-punching tradition after receiving an emergency hot-wiring from "M'Ma."  (This entire sequence was cut from the NBC airing, which made sense; it didn't really move the narrative forward in any meaningful way.)  Unfortunately, Gizmoduck soon becomes Duckburg's Public Enemy #1 thanks to the treacherous tech of Megabyte Beagle, a character I should dislike but can't (at least not anymore).  Normally, I dislike such obvious "this guy is a genius" stigmata as bow ties, mortarboard hats, and over-sized glasses, but it's just so, well, refreshing to see an unfamiliar Beagle Boy at a point in the show when (despite the briefly seen mass Beagle confab that planned the Statue of Duckburg caper) the predictable quartet of Big Time, Burger, Bouncer, and Baggy have established their hegemony.  I also like Mega's matter-of-fact attitude, which is punched over nicely by Frank Welker's vocal performance (and is a nice echo of the cocksure demeanor of Bomber Beagle in "Top Duck").  To be sure, Mega isn't the most ingenious bit of cast-building DuckTales ever produced, but he's a lot more memorable than Vic Lockman's "specialty Beagle" Intellectual-176, whose name always reminded me of an interstate highway spur route.

Judging by the number plate, I guess that all those months in stir with Megabyte made the pig prisoner an honorary Beagle Boy.

Uh... so why is there no front gate where the front gate of the prison should be?  City budget cuts?
Gizmoduck's involuntary "shopping spree" includes the first, canonical appearance of an ATM in Duckburg...
... and a brief but effective encounter with a peeved Gandra Dee, whose voice here abruptly changes from the one heard during "Liquid Assets" to the breathy, Marilyn Monroe-inflected one that will hereafter be associated with the character.  Changing a character's voice in the middle of that character's debut adventure seems a bit peculiar.  I can understand the voice directors wanting Miriam Flynn to give Gandra's voice a more ethereal, "unapproachable" sound -- the better to emphasize the fact that she is idealized in Fenton's eyes -- but why was the initial version of the voice retained in that earlier scene?  It was probably a production oversight.

Gizmo's climactic tying-up of Scrooge and Duckworth seems like overkill (I agree with Greg; what WAS the point of this?), but the ep ends on a good cliffhanger, with the helpless Gizmo driving the "big machine" and the attached Money Bin up to Ma Beagle's door.  Megabyte may have provided the tech-related brainpower, but it was clearly Ma, who made the initial discovery of the lost manual and gained inspiration from it, who set this grandiose, and above all successful, scheme in motion.  Remarkably, her most memorable moments of the serial (and, some would argue, of the entire series) are yet to come.

Despite its status as a "bridge" episode of sorts, "Full Metal Duck" maintains "Super DuckTales"' narrative momentum and generally high quality.  Clearly, WDTVA made the right choice in using this serial, rather than "Time is Money," to showcase DuckTales to the NBC audience.  Whether the train will keep rolling in the last two parts remains to be seen...

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Bumper #8: "Carpet" (or, Aladdin's pal's previous gig)

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) Fenton's mother seems to be emerging as a rather delightful character. Her saturnine line delivery is comic gold (her only response to her son showing up in his new outfit: "Fenton--did you join a heavy metal band?" a line that works pretty much entirely because of how she says it...

Oh, I have no complaints with Kathleen Freeman's performance here.  I think that Mrs. C. still has a little ways to go before acquiring enough of a patina of likability to be described as "delightful," however.

(GeoX)  "You wouldna torture innocent people!" "Oh yeah? We'll make 'em listen to bagpipe music!" "Oh, this is worse than the terrorists who held the city attorney hostage with an accordion!" Seriously, the only people who think bagpipe and accordion music is automatically bad are either completely tone-deaf or lazy hacks who don't know anything about either instrument but are eager to pile on for the sake of dumb jokes because they have the vague sense that it's the "cool" thing to do. 

I happen to be "subjected" to bagpipe music on a fairly regular basis.  One of the music professors at Stevenson plays the instrument and always "pipes us in" when the faculty and students process at the Opening Convocation.  I can attest to the fact that bagpipe music isn't that terrible.  The bagpipe and the accordion have been the butts of musical humor for so long, though, that I think you are fighting a losing battle. 

(GeoX) Brief, non-speaking appearance by Doofus. I hadn't even noticed his recent absence, which gives you an accurate picture of how much I'm into the character.  

And he doesn't even get addressed by name; Dewey calls him "Super Buns"!  I suspect that someone (Ken Koonce and David Weimers?) was getting what they considered to be "even" with a character who had already been condemned to be phased-out.  Doofus did have his moments as a character and certainly deserved a more dignified sendoff than this.
(Greg) [Fenton] goes inside his room (complete with crimson red door) and then struggles off-screen badly as there is clattering off-screen which Mrs. Crackshell blows off and goes into the room as Gizmo takes a back drop right into the dresser with a MAN-SIZED bump. Mrs. Crackshell blows him off and suggests a crowbar and she provides one OUT OF NOWHERE and gets on Gizmo Duck and tries to unpry the suit while Fenton protests. No dice so Mrs. Crackshell runs out of the room and returns with her jackhammer...ERRR...I mean makeup remover. Even Fenton thinks she is crazy; so you know she's CRAZY man. Nice to see them playing around with the obvious symptoms of CDS. Gizmo gets dropped and jack hammered to hammer the point home. We go to the outside shot as the suit doesn't come loose; but her false teeth did. And even those have holes in them.

You know what's funnier than anything else in these scenes?  The decorations in Fenton's room.  The clown poster behind the door seems an unusually whimsical touch for a go-getter who's determined to break into the business world...
... while a small picture on Fenton's dresser suggests that Fenton's pre-Gizmoduck love life may not have been as barren as we have been led to believe (or as it will be if Gandra Dee ever sees that portrait!)...

... and the presence of THIS on Fenton's wall raises some unpleasant questions that it would probably be better not to ask.

"Big M'Ma is watching you... during the commercials, anyway."

(Greg) So we head back to in front of the Money Bin in the morning as Gizmo Duck wheels around guarding it. Gizmo sees someone coming and then buzzes and invokes his 2,367 PROJECTITLES OF DOOM for the kill; but it is only the nephews as they cower in fear.

I don't see the infamous skunk in there, do you?  Poor little guy... he would be brought in during "Money to Burn" just to be given the "privilege" of running away to what one would presume to be certain doom.

(Greg) We head inside the damaged building in a room as Big Time is on his wooden crate proclaiming to the Beagle Boys (I think there is Babyface Beagle and Bebop there along with Burger, Bankjob and Bouncer) that they cannot steal Scrooge's money with Gizmo around as Burger seconds the motion and Bankjob stammers on the fourth degree. HAHA! Big Time wants Scrooge to give it to him instead. Riiiiiggggghhhtttt. You have truly lost your mind there Big Time and even Burger sounds smarter. Big Time gets flustered as he has a MIMI JOKE ZONE PLAN as they huddle together.

I know that this scene isn't TECHNICALLY the last appearance for some of these guys -- their appearance on the TV monitors in "The Good Muddahs" is still to come, and there's also the scene in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys' Club" in which some of them serve as Scrooge's "hanging jury" -- but I have always regarded it as writing a final chapter, of sorts, to the DuckTales Beagle Boys saga.  How often did they all get together in this manner, anyway?
(Greg) Fenton... goes over to Mama and grabs the remote control to try to change the channel to get the suit back on. Mama grabs it back and asks what station and Fenton picks channel five and that turns on the monitor on the suit as the music plays and we see an island with palm trees and a turkey with the Gilli[g]an cap on. Mrs. Crackshells calls it Gilligander's Island as Fenton wants channel seven and that is football (Frank Welker), so he tries channel eight and it's a police drama show. Fenton is in trouble so he wants PBS. HAHA!

Actually, these clips are: 
  • ("PBS") Some kind of speech, or conference, or something similar by Richard Nixon.  (I'm the least sure of this one, but, from what I could make of it, it sure as heck sounded like Nixon's voice.  Given K&W's penchant for taking pokes at the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plus the use of "Miss Woods" as the name of the evil HD&L's secretary in "Duck to the Future," why wouldn't they do something like this?)
Next: Episode 74, "Super DuckTales, Part Four: The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club."   

5 comments:

Jason said...

One of my favorite gags was the GICU2 throwing a pie along with the firepower barrage at Gizmo Duck. It was also a neat touch for GD to count them all, a reminder of who’s inside that suit.

The “Beagle Scene” and Doofus’ cameo do mark the end of an era for quite a few of Ducktales’ supporting cast. No more Donald stories, no more Doofus, only one more Magica de Spell, and the Beagles are pretty much limited to Ma Beagle and the quartet, excepting the one-shot of the “Beagle Babes.”

Something I thought of recently: wasn’t the idea of emptying the money bin in “Liquid Assets” was because the bin would be too heavy to move with the money inside? Then how did Gizmo Duck move it with the money to Ma Beagle’s house, not to mention the subsequent moves with it in the next episode?

Anonymous said...

Fenton does appear in "The Unbreakable Bin." Fenton (without the suit) is on hand while the Beagles try to break the "unbreakable" glass, and later has a conversation with Scrooge as the latter's packing.

I always considered M'Ma to be a widow, not divorced.

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

Good catch re: Fenton. I will make the appropriate correction.

Chris

Pan MiluĊ› said...

Jason - there are also Beagles redneck cousins in the final Goldie episode.


I think it's odd we see SEVEN Beagles during the "Big-Times Big plan" scene but then we only see three in the statue. Where the rest went and what was the point of teasing us of seeing entire Beagle family together for once?

Chris Barat said...

Jason and Pan,

"The “Beagle Scene” and Doofus’ cameo do mark the end of an era for quite a few of Ducktales’ supporting cast. No more Donald stories, no more Doofus, only one more Magica de Spell, and the Beagles are pretty much limited to Ma Beagle and the quartet, excepting the one-shot of the “Beagle Babes" [and the Canadian Beagles in "Ducky Mountain High")."

I think that the show suffered as the result of this narrowing of its cast. Even Launchpad, while not being forsaken, was somewhat cast into the shadows in favor of newcomer-focused episodes. The humor style became more monochromatic as well. Granted, a lot of the resulting material was funny and memorable, but the loss of flexibility extorted a price in the end.

"Something I thought of recently: wasn’t the idea of emptying the money bin in “Liquid Assets” was because the bin would be too heavy to move with the money inside? Then how did Gizmo Duck move it with the money to Ma Beagle’s house, not to mention the subsequent moves with it in the next episode?"

Ha, good point! One of the Nephews brought the problem up and Scrooge reacted as though he hadn't thought of it before. I don't think that it was ever explicitly proven that there was TOO MUCH money inside to move the Bin. But that's the impression that was given. I may point this out during my discussion of "Billionaire Beagle Boys Club" (which has more than its share of additional logical problems).

Chris