Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 74, "Super DuckTales, Part Four: The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club"

For the benefit of those who skipped the prerequisite course on the ephemeral pop culture of the 1980s: The Billionaire Boys Club (1987) was a two-part TV movie starring Judd Nelson and Ron Silver and based on the real-world exploits of a bunch of high-school buddies who got rich in commodities trading and ultimately got involved in murder.  Needless to say, the DuckTales Beagle Boys, after having come into possession of Scrooge's Money Bin at the end of "Full Metal Duck," don't go to such extremes -- though the gleefully overbearing Ma Beagle, in what is certainly her most... muscular role of the series, does creep right up to the line at times.  The dodgy logic and inconsistency that pockmark the episode, however, do push the viewer's patience with the overarching "Super DuckTales" narrative to a certain sort of limit.  The ep isn't without its share of high points, but a certain sense of narrative desperation becomes increasingly apparent as we move along.  Ultimately, it will take a complete "swerve," in the form of an "out-of-left-space" alien intervention in "Money to Burn," in order to justify extending the story arc to a fifth chapter.  

 Um, guys... your titles are slipping...

Greg dubbed "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club" "DuckTales: The Abridged Series," and there sure does seem to be a lot of old ground being plowed here.  Not that there's anything wrong with giving shout-outs to past ideas.  The problem is that the ep seems to gets its "messages from the past" garbled more often than not.  Start with the basic premise, that of "poor" Scrooge and his family being forced to leave McDuck Mansion in the hands of a spendthrift adversary.  Ken Koonce and David Weimers no doubt had memories of their "masterful" (*cough*) handling of the same theme in "Down and Out in Duckburg" animating them as they worked on this spiritual sequel.  Unfortunately, to mangle a common metaphor, they overlooked a nearby tree while looking back at the in-the-past forest.  "Time is Money" used the exact same notion of Scrooge being separated from contact with his Money Bin... and, while its handling of the situation was anything but ideal, it did acknowledge that Scrooge had some other sources of income from which to get the money to pay off Glomgold.  Here, once Scrooge has been served with foreclosure (as if he wouldn't have paid off the Mansion long before this!) and has been obliged to sell out to "motivated buyer" Ma Beagle, he and his retinue are rendered well and truly busted, forced to bunk with Launchpad.  (I guess the reticence Scrooge felt about asking LP for help in "Down and Out in Duckburg" is a thing of the past.)  GeoX is right -- the exact disbursement of Scrooge's fortune has always been somewhat fuzzy -- but you honestly can't avoid "dinging" this episode for inconsistency, considering that the previous story arc provided a scenario that flatly contradicts this one.

I will give K&W credit for restraint in one area of this grand rehash: they did not show the Beagle Boys running completely wild and spending Scrooge's cash left and right.  Ma Beagle's opening "shopping spree" lasts only a few minutes and, despite the extravagance of the store and statue purchases...

... it is actually reasonably mild when compared to the behavior of Carl Barks' Beagles in "The Case of the Sticky Money" (UNCLE $CROOGE #42, May 1963), a story that may well have been consulted here for a reason I'll amplify below.  Having created a surreptitious way of stealing a little of Scrooge's fortune at a time, the Beagles of "Sticky Money" tape the equivalent of a "SUSPECT ME" sign to their collective cans and practice the most ludicrous sorts of "conspicuous consumption" for all the world (including an appalled Scrooge) to see.  The Beagles are so obviously guilty of some kind of "ultra-grand theft" that Barks doesn't even bother to hold the reader in suspense, instead revealing the truth well before the final pages.  The Beagles' behavior in "Sticky Money" is the four-color equivalent of, let us say, hiding your ill-gotten gains in the middle of Duckburg inside a flimsily disguised "doughnut factory."  (Even if you buy the notion that the citizens of Duckburg are stupid or blind enough not to notice the obvious presence of the Bin, there's still the question of how the Beagles managed to drive the Bin from Ma's country place into town with no one noticing.)

I'm not willing to cut K&W nearly as much slack when it comes to the reuse of the "identical Nephews" trope -- not after I spent not one, but two, posts rallying to the defense of "Duck in the Iron Mask"!  The odd thing is that HD&L have more of a justification for getting themselves mixed up when they are dressed in identical commando outfits...

... than they did at the beginning of "Iron Mask," where the colored sleeves that were visible under their identical baseball jerseys clearly gave away who was who.

Of course, the fact that "BBBC" plays the "identical Nephews" idea strictly for laughs -- during HD&L's biggest moment of the serial, no less, when they are trying to get evidence that the Beagles have Scrooge's money -- undercuts the logically superior setup and renders the whole business somewhat silly.  Too bad; in the (surprisingly) long line of productions in which HD&L have dressed and acted as guerrillas, starting with "Pearl of Wisdom" and extending all the way through to (sorry, Greg) Quack Pack's "Feats of Clay," "BBBC" represents one of the boys' more impressive efforts in the role.  They were in more actual physical peril during the infiltration of the Money Bin in DuckTales: The Movie (1990), but they showed a good deal of resourceful improvisation while trying to evade the Beagles, including imitating stuffed toys, riding the dumbwaiter (aka "The Nephew Emergency Escape Elevator") as they did in "Till Nephews Do Us Part," and even channeling the "playing 'aircraft carrier' moment" from "Don't Give Up the Ship" by sliding through and out of the Mansion on a dessert trolley.

Perhaps acting on some advice from fellow "Super DT" contributor Jymn Magon, Koonce and Weimers use the nouveau riche Beagles' "society party" as an excuse to trot out characters and other notions from "The Status Seekers."  Actually, this rerun works reasonably well, all things considered, despite the painfully unfunny disguises that Scrooge uses when trying to crash the party.  In fact, one could almost say that it works too well.  The scenes in which Ma Beagle threatens the Mayor, John D. Rockefeather, Mrs. Pedigree, Lady De Lardo, and other worthies with dire consequences if they don't do exactly what she wants are some of the most depressing scenes of the series.  I know that the authority figures of DuckTales are rarely given the chance to display mere competence, let alone courage, but standing silent in the face of blatant extortion is a cringe too far.  Barks himself was rarely that cynical.  The police chief's arrest of Scrooge at the end of Act Two is simply the final nail in the coffin of what remains of Duckburg's civic integrity.  After these craven displays, is it any wonder that the Beagles are successful in their efforts to pack the jury for Scrooge's sham trial?

Given the obvious disdain with which they treat the Beagles from the beginning, I suppose that the argument can be made that the "Status Seekers Redux" deserved what they got here, just as the original "Status Seekers" deserved to be thrown over by Scrooge.  But the nature of the earlier episode's displays of social hauteur was of a different order of complexity from the simple snobbery on display in "BBBC."  The original members of the ASS (Association of Status Seekers) probably wouldn't have agreed to come to the Beagles' fete in the first place; they were so convinced in the rightness of their belief that "status" was the "golden ticket" to their inner circle that even a few threats like "Show up or else!" might not have fazed them.  Their ultimate downfall was pleasing precisely because of the extreme nature of their exclusiveness.  It's harder to be upset by the behavior of the more "generically upstuck" party crowd, who would quite naturally look askance at the idea of the Beagles strong-arming their way into society.  The fact that the guests refuse to put up a defense against Ma's threats is what really drives the audience's ire.

Scrooge's efforts to expose the Beagles range from the ridiculous (the fire marshal and baby disguises) to the sublimely Barksian (his ultimate recognition of the serial numbers on some of the bills pilfered by HD&L).  This latter idea may well have been inspired by "The Case of the Sticky Money," in which Scrooge becomes suspicious of the Beagles after he recognizes that one of the bills the Beagles have spent around town has a familiar ID number.

K&W make Scrooge's powers of recall even more impressive by having him admit that he knows the serial number of "every dollar [he's] ever made," presumably including those (relatively few) dollars that he has spent over the years.  Alas, this mental gift doesn't prevent Scrooge from being railroaded into jail (and being stuck there for lack of $10,000 bail -- *grumble"Time is Money"*grumble*).  So now we get another do-over from the Bubba Duck adventure, that of getting Scrooge (and, once the attempt to sneak the "loaded" cake into the prison has backfired, Mrs. Beakley) out of jail.  K&W must have completely winged this portion of the ep, as precious little of it makes sense.  Mrs. Beakley appears to have been put in the same cell as Scrooge strictly for purposes of plot convenience (either that, or Duckburg runs a very progressive penal system... which, come to think of it, might help explain why the Beagle Boys are never in jail for very long).  In a similarly fortuitous manner, the location of the cell is suddenly changed from an upper story to the ground floor, just in time for the freed Gizmoduck to come charging through the guards, crash through the prison wall, and smash right into the relocated lockup.  Having Gizmo fly up to the cell window, break through the bars, and carry Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley to safety would have worked just as well -- and, ultimately, Gizmo has to do that anyway in order to get over the wall -- but apparently, K&W simply had to add that little frisson of destruction in order to make the breakout seem sufficiently "dramatic."

The guards then helpfully neglect to pursue the escapees out of the hoosegow, leaving time enough for the latter to have a conversation right outside the main gate.  It's as if K&W zipped through this sequence as a matter of form in their haste to get to the final chase scene... which, in all honesty, is pretty darn nifty.  I'll bet that Barks never dreamed that the "big machine" of his humble tale "Migrating Millions" would ever be put to such uses as this.  You could argue that the Bin-carrier should have caused more damage to the streets and buildings than it did, but the totaling of Scrooge's limousine helps make up for the comparative lack of collateral destruction.

The Bin's harbor-plunge, of course, sets the stage for the salvage operations that comprise the first few minutes of "Money to Burn."  In truth, having Gizmoduck overpower Ma Beagle, take over the controls of the "big machine," and drive the Bin back to the top of Killmotor Hill wouldn't have made for much of a climax (not to mention that it would have eliminated the need for a fifth chapter, unless Scrooge then fought a pitched battle against the highway crew for control of the location, in a sort of modern reprise of the legendary battle of Fort Duckburg).  However, there is some question as to how effectively the Bin-sinking sets up what is to come next.  It is clear that the Bin doesn't sink all that far off shore, and the location of its sinking is easily visible, so why does everyone, including Scrooge, Launchpad, and Gizmoduck, subsequently search for it as if it were a long-lost sunken treasure?  One might argue that the "big machine" could have rolled the Bin some distance away from its original underwater landing spot, but that would make sense only if the "machine"'s motor continued to run, and it's highly unlikely that it would do so.  Ultimately, the only reason that the salvage sequence goes on as long as it does is because the aliens need time to fly onto the scene, spot the Bin, and take it away.  Whatever floats your Bin, Ken and Dave...

As GeoX points out, Gizmoduck plays a surprisingly small role here; very little is done with the whole notion of Gizmo being under the unwilling control of the Beagle Boys.  I would imagine that Fenton would spend a good deal of time of his involuntary servitude moaning and groaning about how it would ruin his reputation, hurt his relationships, make him a "blemish on society," and so forth, but the "tiny violins" don't get pulled out until after HD&L have switched the remote controls and freed Gizmo from the Beagles' clutches.  Likewise, Megabyte's foolish revelation of the means whereby the Beagles have gained control of the Gizmosuit probably should have been the fatal mistake that brought the B-Boys' scheme to grief, but HD&L come up with the idea of switching remotes completely on their own, with a little assist from Launchpad.  It's hard to see where any extra Fenton/Gizmo material could have been shoehorned into the narrative, though trimming the Beagle-party sequence might have freed up the space to do so.

Up until this point, "Super DuckTales" has compared reasonably favorably with "Treasure of the Golden Suns" insofar as overall quality goes, with the important caveat that "Golden Suns" deserves extra points for setting the stage for the remainder of the entire series, as opposed to the participation of several new characters.  With "BBBC," I think it's fair to claim that "SDT" drops behind "Golden Suns" for good.  The silliness and illogic have simply become too much to overlook.




Bumper #9: "Bigfoot"
(GeoX)  Ma Beagle has tattoos of hearts with arrows through them on both her arms. Love to know what the story is there.

You'd probably have to ask the "dear old Dad" who married her (and presumably died or disappeared at some point, perhaps because he was weary from siring all those Beagle offspring).

(GeoX) Even assuming that the tour guide is somehow empowered to sell Ma Beagle the Venus de Milo equivalent, it would sure as hell have to be be for a lot more than four hundred thousand dollars. Some Ducktales writer that we could name if we could be bothered to look up his or her name is wholly unfamiliar with the world of art collecting. 

It isn't just the "Venus Dog Milo"; all of the prices in this episode seem a bit wonky.  Scrooge's mansion selling for "only" $150 million?  I can imagine it commanding far more than that, even given that the sale is an emergency sale.  Then again, I might be projecting my vision of the Rich Mansion -- which has so many rooms that people have to literally mount expeditions to find some of them -- onto Scrooge's place, which would probably be a bit more modest, befitting its owner.  (Scrooge makes a passing reference in "Till Nephews Do Us Part" to the fact that his Mansion has 42 rooms, which is a pittance compared to the Riches' massive manse.)  Whatever the "fair" price of McDuck Mansion might be, one must wonder to whom the proceeds of the sale are going.  If all or part of them went to Scrooge, then wouldn't he have enough money to avoid having to go live with Launchpad?  Or did the bank take all the money to pay off the Mansion?  K&W never make this clear.

(GeoX) Scrooge disguised as a baby? There's some serious size-distortion going on for that to be even remotely plausible. 

Yeah, unless he's some sort of amateur contortionist, that scene below would appear to be physically impossible.  But then, he's RICHHe can do ANYTHING!!  MUAHAHAHAHA!!

(GeoX) Dude, you can't simultaneously have the Bin-money be Scrooge's only source of cash and have him have sentimental attachments to specific bits of money. One or the other! Otherwise it's just dumb. 

I wouldn't call Scrooge's recognition of the "Spamway" money "sentimental," though Alan Young's line-reading certainly suggests that it is.  Scrooge's wistful remembrance of a successful past business venture is very much in character, and he probably would have evinced the same reaction had the money been made in some other enterprise.

(Greg) We begin this one as the Money Bin on a tow truck appears with Ma and Me[ga]byte. Okay; I see an obvious logic break here: Why are the original Beagle Boys here? Shouldn't they be in jail?  

I presume that they were among the escapees when Megabyte's wire gizmo opened all the cell doors in "Full Metal Duck."  It would probably be too much to expect the Duckburg authorities to distribute the incarcerated Beagles to several prisons so that they couldn't, you know, cooperate to escape.

(Greg) Four furries... are listening to the pig furry sales lady from Cash As Catch Can part one ["A Drain on the Economy"] as she explains the duck statue which has its arms cut off. 

She also appeared as a realtor in "Magica's Shadow War."  I wonder why she wasn't used as the "Coldnose Banker Realty" representative here -- that would have made for some neat continuity.  Joan Gerber uses a different voice for the character here than she did in "Shadow War," just as she altered Lady De Lardo's voice from its form in "The Status Seekers."

(Greg) The nephews are cornered right next to the conveniently placed dumb waiter and they open it and go downstairs.

Pretty decent continuity here -- not only is the dumbwaiter reused, but its non-kitchen end is still in the same relative place (the upstairs hallway).  The kitchen egress isn't quite the same, and the dumbwaiter in "BBBC" has three compartments rather than one, but you can't have everything.

(Greg) And just to be more insulting to Scrooge; Ma even stole his blunderbuss as she blows off the snobs for not having any fun. HAHA! She fires the blunderbuss (Toon Disney Cut commencing) and the snob ladies play much faster than usual.

The firing was indeed cut.  No real surprise there, I suppose, given what was done in "Liquid Assets."  At least the excision played much less havoc with the plot in this case.

(Greg) So we head to Launchpad Unlimited inside his house as Launchpad is playing with a toy Gizmo Duck by remote control (nice to see Launchpad likes Gizmoduck still) as the nephews go through their plans with a blueprint of the prison. How in the world did they find THAT information?! Huey wonders if they could use Gizmoduck as a pawn to smash through the prison walls and no one could stop him. Launchpad demonstrates from his remote control and the toy Gizmo Duck smashes into the wall and does absolutely no damage whatsoever. HEE HEE! LP apologizes for forcing the point as Louie now has a wonderful MIMI JOKE ZONE PLAN as he steals the remote control and bails as LP asks about the plan.

The sight of the toy Gizmoduck reminds me a bit of the toy Armstrong... but the toy Gizmo is used for more than just a sight gag.  It sure didn't take long for someone (I'm guessing McDuck Enterprises) to start producing those Gizmoduck toys, did it?

(Greg) The nephews do the human chain ladder spot as it's Operation Launchpad as Gizmo Duck races in and the police shoot him with...water pistols?! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! 

Actually, they behave more like water cannons.  Given that Gizmoduck is armor-plated and probably able to withstand "mere" bullets, the use of a water weapon makes a twisted sort of sense.  Incidentally, I don't see any contradiction between this scene and the later scene in which Gizmoduck admits a weakness against water.  There's a legitimate difference between being knocked down by a blast of water (which I presume the guards were trying to do to Gizmo) and submerging oneself in the ocean. 

(Greg) The motorcycle and Gizmo Duck run beside the tow-dozer as the motorcycle [driver] blows off Mrs. Beakly's weight with the best thinly veiled fat joke in the history of DTVA. 

Specifically, he says, "Even Superman couldn't see through THIS!".  Which, to me, represents a missed opportunity to introduce a clever Barksian reference.  Using "Super Snooper" in place of the "real-world" Superman would have gratified the Barks fans, and it would have been close enough to the "truth" that the "civilian audience" would probably have gotten the gist of the joke anyway.

Next: Episode 75, "Super DuckTales, Part Five: Money to Burn."


Anonymous said...

It's going to be interesting to read your take on the robot aliens. As a kid I always found the ending epic, and didn't mind it coming out of left field.

I realize you pointed it out - but did you notice the emphasis place on the limo-destruction scene? I wonder the limo was meant to be permanently destroyed in this episode? I'm actually glad they changed their mind (reappears at least 3 times in "Bubbeo and Juliet, The Big Flub, Scrooge's Last Adventures).

I guess I'm the only person who noticed, but I find the reappearance of Quackerbill from "Merit Time Adventure" at the very end, irritating. Especially, since he's there to tell Scrooge the money bin is now legal salvage. I don't know if this is carelessness on the part of the animators, or just an in-joke?

Jason said...

You pretty much nailed my questions regarding Scrooge and his mansion – how can he not have paid it off already, and what about his assets outside his bin?

I do like that Scrooge and company park over at Launchpad’s. It shows that Launchpad wouldn’t shun Scrooge now that he’s poor and can’t pay him for piloting jobs.

It’s also striking how much of this episode is not in the Super Ducktales cut. The Beagles’ party at the mansion is entirely cut out, it just cuts from Scrooge telling Ma Beagle that he knows she’s up to something to Launchpad’s place. Ma Beagle firing the blunderbuss is also cut, but only because the snobs subplot is completely deemphasized. HD&L’s confusion over their identities is also snipped out. Bits of the nephews in the mansion and some of the money bin chase also were cut.

I do find the Beagles’ moment of triumph fairly entertaining. Sometimes it’s fun to watch cartoon villains finally get what they want. I also liked the musical score during the money bin chase.

I don’t think Scrooge would have much of a fight to get the bin back on Killmotor Hill, as the Beagles are no longer have Scrooge’s fortune to bribe/extort Duckburg’s government and social elite, and Scrooge might have some lawsuits ready in response to his corrupt imprisonment…they may want to make nice with Scrooge pretty quickly.

About Fenton’s time in captivity, I just hope he never had to use the bathroom the whole time he was in that suit.

Dan B said...

If Scrooge would just lock the vault door, the Beagles wouldn't have been able to get in anyway. Even if they gained control of the Bin the money should still be locked up inside.

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I'm supprise no body didn't point this out :

When Beagle Boys appear as Scrooge's jury we get : Big-Time, Burger, Baggy, Bouncer, Bibob and... Who is the last Beagle? I guees he ment to be BankJob but he dosen't look anything like him and has an bizzare prison number. Who the heck is he!?

[Note that you can spot Bankjob on the Ma Beagle ship among the main four Bealges in the next episode]