Monday, May 12, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 78, "Allowance Day"

The story that was so nice, WDTVA used it twice!

Truth be told, "Allowance Day," an enjoyable enough episode on its own merits, would probably be of relatively nominal interest today were it not for Ken Koonce and David Weimers' notorious decision to reuse the exact same plot for an episode of TaleSpin.  Courtesy of Greg Weagle, there already exists one (metaphorically) side-by-side comparison of these two tales of time-tampering.  Greg mounts a full- (or at least half-) throated defense of "The Time Bandit" but appears to have a relatively lukewarm opinion of "Allowance Day."  Personally, I think that both versions of the story have their positives and negatives, but there comes a point in both tales at which the tone of the proceedings dramatically diverges, which makes the key difference in how I view the episodes.

The genesis of the plot rehash here may be a bit more intriguing than many of us think.  The credits for "Allowance Day" gave story acknowledgement, as well as a writing co-credit, to Alan Burnett, so it is quite possible that the basic idea was his.  The credits for "The Time Bandit," however, mention only Koonce and Weimers.  Even granted Disney's famed predilection for claiming writers' creations as its own "for infinity and beyond," wouldn't Burnett have merited mention for birthing the TaleSpin tale as well?  Was there some dispute that caused Burnett's name to be dropped from "Bandit"?  I can't help but notice that Burnett stopped working for WDTVA in 1990, after doing several TaleSpin scripts and writing DuckTales: The Movie.  Perhaps this was simply because he had too much to do helping to get Batman: The Animated Series up to speed, but the coincidence is intriguing... and, if you don't mind me saying so, not a little troubling.

Actually, Carl Barks may have to be granted pride of place over any of the writers involved here, since his story "Wishing Stone Island" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #211, April 1958) turns on the idea of HD&L using a fake news broadcast to trick their Uncle Donald (who, ever so conveniently, has recently become obsessed with the notion of "good luck charms," presumably to counteract his frequently rotten luck) into believing that legendary "wishing stones" have been found on a remote island.  Lending at least a bit of credence to the notion that the second-season DT Nephews may have suffered a slight downtick in intelligence, Barks' HD&L wisely use a go-between to deliver the fake message, whereas the DT Dewey simply uses his regular voice.  Even Baloo knew enough to get Broadcast Sally to deliver his message.

The "wishing stone" whopper wasn't created with any malice -- or scooter, or any other tangible object -- aforethought; the boys simply thought that it would make a good April Fool's Day gag.  Also unlike "Allowance Day," the consequences have no global implications.  The local implications, however, promise to be massive, since the crazed Donald literally sells the Ducks' house to get the funds to travel to the South Seas. HD&L react in an appropriately horrified -- and immediately repentant -- manner.

The balance of "Wishing Stone Island" isn't as good as the buildup, since the solution of the dilemma, of necessity, relies on a healthy slab of old-fashioned "dumb luck."  Both "Allowance Day" and "The Time Bandit," by contrast, get more interesting as they go along.  The major difference between the denouements of the two TV episodes, in my view, is one of attitude.  "Allowance Day" maintains what in my view is the proper one -- that of comical danger -- while "The Time Bandit" goes down what I consider to be a far darker, and ill-advised, path.

C'mon, guys... if you wanted to trick us into thinking that these were different plots,
then the least you could have done was to have used different dates.

Admittedly, while the notion of baffling any sizable segment of society into thinking that it's got the day of the week wrong is far-fetched on its (clock) face, the spreading of Baloo's fib in "Time Bandit" makes a little more psychological sense, in that one can (unfortunately) imagine the denizens of a totalitarian state like Thembria being coerced into making the day-switch under pain of death, or loss of the daily ration of turnip soup, or whatever.  But "Allowance Day" makes its fair share of sense as well.  Aren't we all familiar with the notion of people believing something because a trusted "opinion leader" (or, even worse, a celebrity) advocated it, or because they don't want to make it seem as though they are "out of the loop"?  Scrooge, despite his comparatively low public profile, would certainly qualify as an "opinion leader," and one with massive economic clout to boot.  The use of Walter Kronduck (in his first appearance) as the newscaster who reports on the confusion caused by the day-dilemma simply amplifies the point, since the real Walter Kronkite was famously known as "the most trusted man in America" (even though his news reporting was actually just as subject to bias as any other news outlet's during the era of "Big Media"). The rapidity of the spread of Scrooge's claim is unquestionably unrealistic, but the societal insecurities that animate it are not.

The fact that Scrooge disseminates the information about the "incorrect date" without leaving his mansion is also a point in "Allowance Day"'s favor.  Rebecca Cunningham's bamboozlement is made easier by the simple fact that her daughter Molly is conveniently absent for the duration.  During her subsequent commute to Higher for Hire, Becky also apparently neglected to ask anyone she met in her apartment building or on the street about the correct date.  How convenient that the first person she asked just happened to be the person who set up the scam in the first place. 

Both HD&L and Baloo "spill the beans" fairly early in the game, in the sense that they leave themselves wide open to discovery, but I have to disagree with Greg's contention that the Nephews' "blowing of their cover" is a worse gaffe than Baloo's.  Hauling cargo is Baloo's job, and neglecting to take his Friday deliveries into consideration when planning his scheme (especially when you consider how strict a stickler for detail Becky is) strikes me as being a far more grievous error than the Nephews' tongues slipping for just a moment.  "Time Bandit"'s problems are then compounded when Becky refuses to accept Baloo's panicky confession and continues to believe that it is actually Saturday.  This is certainly in character for the stubborn business lady, but it puts the onus for the continuation of the plot on both Becky and Baloo.  In "Allowance Day," Scrooge plays the role of a victim and nothing more, which causes us to have some legitimate sympathy for him when he finally does uncover the truth.

The two plotlines diverge for good and all once we "go on remote location" to The Banana Republic and Thembria.  The Republic's stereotypical General Chiquita may indeed be "racially problematic," as GeoX claims, but the use of such an obvious trope is oddly comforting, in the sense that it makes it easier to make light of what, after all, degenerates into a potential case of capital punishment for a trivial offense.  So, too, does the presence of Fenton, who appears here in what could be considered his first true "supporting" role of the series.  Even in "The Land of Trala La," which was more of an ensemble-cast adventure than "Allowance Day," Fenton managed to steal the show with his concerns about losing his job and his attempts to determine the truth behind Tralla La.  Here, he's just a McDuck employee trying to do his duty, only to get caught in the middle of an unfortunate situation not of his own making.  The fact that Fenton can play a meaningful supporting part while not sucking up all of the oxygen further legitimizes his stature as a worthy addition to the show's cast.

"The Time Bandit" suffers from the lack of such "softening agents" in Thembria.  Instead, we get absurdist court and jail scenes that are supposed to make us laugh but fail to do so, simply because we have had experience with such scenarios in the real world.  Indeed, they continue to exist to this day, and will do so until all remnants of totalitarian (as opposed to "merely" authoritarian) regimes are wiped out of existence.  When Becky is railroaded into accepting "responsibility" for Baloo's "crime," that is bad enough, but then Koonce and Wiemers gleefully pile on, trying to mine chortles out of Becky's subsequent agony.  The whole farce reaches its grotesque climax when Becky is put through the "This Was Your Life" routine before the execution.  It legitimately troubles me that K&W thought that this routine was funny.  It's not.  It's painful.  In fact, I think it's the absolute low point of the entire TaleSpin series. 

[Insert laugh track here]

"Allowance Day"'s "cannon squad" sequence may not be all that side-splitting, but at least it's not mean-spirited.  How could it be when Fenton is present to lighten the mood with his attempts to kill time while the Gizmosuit is on its way.  If you're going to do comedy related to an execution, then this is the way to execute it (pun intended).  The gag concerning Scrooge's unwillingness to part with a dime to make a "last phone call" -- a gag that, thanks to technological advances, has lost much of its real-world relevance in the ensuing years, yet still manages to work -- is also an inspired touch, especially when we get the (literal) payoff with Gizmoduck.  Unfortunately, I do have to raise the eternally salient point that Gizmo's last-second arrival should have tipped HD&L off to the fact that Fenton and Gizmoduck are one and the same.  The boys have even less of an excuse to miss the obvious here than they did in "Trala La," since Fenton was right there on the scene when the transition to Gizmoduck took place.

The cloudplowing/eclipse-or-comet-viewing sequences are virtually identical in both episodes, though I think that TaleSpin handles its particular sequence a bit better.  Kit Cloudkicker, after all, got his name from... well, kicking clouds. I can buy him using his airfoil to push clouds aside more easily than I can the late-arriving Gizmoduck using his hands to shove that one remaining cloud out of the way.  The use of a comet as the date-establishing McGuffin in the TaleSpin setting also gets around the problem (mentioned by Greg) of the characters in "Allowance Day" just happening to have equipment for viewing an eclipse on their persons when the event takes place.  Junior Woodchucks may always be prepared, but everyone else?  I'm not so sure.  If "The Time Bandit" gets a credit here, it also accumulates an unnecessary debit when Koonce and Weimers symbolically slap the viewers in the face with a wet string of spaghetti by having Baloo respond to Kit's "put on a happy face" quote with the line, "Now why does that sound familiar?".  For what should be obvious reasons, I think that any further references to "familiarity" in this case are rather... unwise.  

Of course, Baloo ultimately pays for his peccadillo by being forced to go on a date with Broadcast Sally, while HD&L... do not.  At least, not on screen.  I'd like to think that Scrooge eventually chased the boys down and "convinced" them to give back those extra dollars.

Overall, as if it wasn't already pretty obvious, I prefer "Allowance Day"'s version of this plotline.  Having relatives who lived behind the Iron Curtain unquestionably plays a role in my feelings, but, even if you don't have that background, I can't imagine how one could watch both eps and not feel that "Allowance Day" struck the proper balance between seriousness and silliness.  Even so, I can certainly appreciate the sentiments of those who prefer "The Time Bandit."  I just don't happen to share those sentiments.




Bumper #13: "Bolivar" (well, who else could it be?)





(GeoX) ...the Walter-Cronkite-equivalent newscaster sez "Saddest of all are those people who missed their Friday birthdays--now they're not sure how old they are." It's a funny line, but it indicates an awareness that a day did indeed disappear, which seems contrary to the general consensus; ie, that Friday DID happen and everyone just somehow forgot about it. 

Considering that there IS some societal uncertainty about the truth -- in the "DUCK-TV poll" related by Kronduck, 19% of those polled still held out for it being Friday -- I can accept the denizens of Duckburg believing both theories.

("Christopher" commenting on GeoX's review) Although I like Fenton, he had an annoying tendency to hijack episodes half way through and turn them into Gizmoduck stories. This episode is a prime example - it starts of as a classic screwball comedy plot with heavy shades of "The Emperor's New Clothes", and you're all set to watch the boys set everything right, and then suddenly it's all about Fenton fighting the baddies again. Sigh.

In truth, Fenton doesn't actually fight the baddies; the Gizmosuit simply arrives in time to stop the cannonballs.  Whatever post-execution dust-up might have ensued is short-circuited when Chiquita says that the Ducks can leave (huh?  What about that assault charge?).

(Greg) So we end with the shot of a neon board changing to Saturday and everyone shrugs. Hey there's the sea captain from Down And Out In Duckburg in the foreground I do believe (second appearance in this episode.). 

Yes, he can also be seen at the start (check the title card).  However, Captain Jack from "Down and Out" was a pigface.  This guy was the ship's captain in "Pearl of Wisdom," if I'm not mistaken.

(Greg) Anyhow; in comes Mrs. Quackenbush (and I shutter to think who is voicing her now)...

It's Susan Blu this time.  I speculated during my review of "My Mother the Psychic" that this episode and "Psychic" may have been recorded at the same time, since Blu and Alan Oppenheimer were in the supporting cast in both cases.

(Greg) The nephews decide to buy the scooter early and head to the store as the salesman informs him that the sale is over because it is Saturday and he heard it from the news; and he is not going to believe the word of Louie the prankster. Nice bit of detail there guys. The salesman walks out as the nephews proclaim that they outsmarted themselves...  Problem with this though is: If the sale ended on Friday; then even if they got their allowances on Friday, the sale would have ended on Friday and thus the price would go up anyway. Logic break #1 for the episode right there. 

Presumably, the store would have remained open on Friday long enough for the boys to get there and buy the scooter.  I interpreted "the sale ends on Friday" to mean that the sale ended once Friday ended.

(Greg)  Fenton crawls to the payphone and speaks 555-Gizmo. That's 555-44966. Yeah; it doesn't make any sense; which is understandable since kids would mimic this thinking that they are calling Gizmo Duck. 

I heard it as "555-GZMO."

(Greg) Chikitia points out that there is still one cloud left and thus there is no way to see the eclipse. But the darkness would come during a solar eclipse and thus that would proof enough to be Friday. Idiots!

I do think that the comet in "The Time Bandit" was a better choice than the eclipse for precisely this reason.




Well, now I'm back in harness.  Thanks for your patience during the longer-than-expected hiatus.  I'm in the middle of my May Term class but hope to keep to a one- or two-episode-per-week pace for most of the rest of the Summer, at least until my surgery.

Next: Episode 79, "Bubbeo and Juliet." 


Comicbookrehab said...

It's possible the writers thought this was a script they wished they could "do over" and seized opportunity by turning into a Talespin script. "We should've used a comet instead of an eclipse! A tank squadron instead of dinky cannons! Put Scrooge and Fenton on trial!"...

As for Rebecca, I think we were supposed to lose sympathy for her the moment she INSISTED Baloo push onward to Thembria after being told (repeatedly) by Spigot to turn back. Also, that episode wasn't really her first "up close" encounter with Thembrian politics. Combine this with the fact that her business is/should be aware of how things work over there...maybe this episode only works as taking place right after "Plunder and Lighting"...

Pan MiluĊ› said...

WOW! It must been veeeery long since I've seen that "Tale Spin" episode since I don't recall going "WOW! They sure rip-off DuckTales, huh!"

As for "Allowance day" - a great and episode that show just how freaking powerfull a person with influance like Scrooge can be.

This is a bit off-topic but - DAMN! Was that "My Little Pony" series final good! The fight sceen was badass and Discord's character arc was incredeble moving (even if I think he went Judas on the ponies to easly at the start) To bad some characters from the Main six linek Pinkie and Rarity had little to do.

Joe Torcivia said...


You write: “…notice that Burnett stopped working for WDTVA in 1990, after doing several TaleSpin scripts and writing DuckTales: The Movie. Perhaps this was simply because he had too much to do helping to get Batman: The Animated Series up to speed…

Considering that Alan Burnett is STILL (…after all these years) involved with the various animated incarnations of Batman, DCU Direct-to-DVD productions, etc., I’d tend to think it was just a “good career move”, and not much more.

Oh, and credits DO get messed-up from time to time (just ask “Carol Barks”, if you can locate “her”), or left off. See UNCLE SCROOGE # 403 – or better yet, don’t see it, because you won’t see my scripting credit.

Anonymous said...

FYI, sixties sitcom Car 54 Where Are You? had an episode titled "What Happened to Thursday?" where "stars" Toody and Muldoon trick another officer into believing Thursday is Friday.

Inadvertently, they trick the police captain as well, causing a chain effect that fools the entire police station (including letting a prisoner out early)

Mark Lungo said...

Thanks for this great review, Chris! I'd also like to point out the gratuitous sexism of "The Time Bandit". Baloo's "punishment' is being forced to spend time with Broadcast Sally, a perfectly nice woman whose only crime (besides helping the foolish flyboy with his scheme) is being as fat as Baloo himself. Koonce & Weimers were at their worst when they wrote this exercise in self-plagiarism.