Monday, May 19, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 79, "Bubbeo and Juliet"

There's an amusing consistency in many of the parodies of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET.  What we often end up remembering about them is not the "star-crossed" love affair of the two titular teenagers, but rather, the "family feud" that sets the stage for the tragedy.  This is, of course, in direct contrast to the play itself, in which the origins of the Montague-Capulet misunderstanding are never explained and most of the attention goes to the growth of the relationship between the two lovers.  West Side Story, perhaps the best-known of all R&J homages, treated theater and movie audiences to all manner of memorable moments of song, speech, and dance, but I'd venture to say that most of us, when asked to bring an image of the show to mind, would probably light upon the quarrel between the Sharks and the Jets.  For sure, MAD magazine's famous "East Side Story" spoof, with its transformation of the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. into a turf war between rival gangs, seemed to regard the conflict as the natural jumping-off point for its parody.

Flintstones fans are no doubt aware that the series essayed not one, but two, knockoffs of R&J: "The Most Beautiful Baby in Bedrock" and "Dino and Juliet."  In a display of chutzpah that puts Ken Koonce and David Wiemers' recycling of the plot of "Allowance Day" to shame, these two episodes aired on back-to-back weeks in November of 1964.  Both also stuck to the parodic template of paying relatively little attention to the supposedly central romantic (or, in the case of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, child-friendly) relationship.  Instead, we're treated to Fred and Barney's escalating bouts of "one-up-yours-caveman-ship" on behalf of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm in the former and the feud between Fred and the frog-mouthed Mr. Loudrock in the latter.  Given the success ratio of past parodies of the famed "balcony scene" (read: pretty low), I honestly can't blame the writers for wanting to emphasize comedic conflict over eloquent affectations of affection, especially at a time when The Flintstones was morphing into a show meant primarily for children.

"Bubbeo and Juliet" does little to disturb the established order of ROMEO AND JULIET parodies.  Indeed, given the history of the Carl Barks Duck comics, it could hardly have been otherwise.  The nature of the background feud must have practically written itself, combining the nastiness and childishness of the long-running battle between Donald Duck and Neighbor Jones with the big-bucks-powered can-you-top-this? splashiness of the statue-building contest between Scrooge and the Maharajah of Howduyustan in "Statuesque Spendthrifts" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #138, March 1952).  The use of redneck lottery winners Tiny and Cookie Blurf as the antagonists (and they are clearly presented as the bad guys in this scenario, damn the sociological implications that seem to have bothered GeoX) was a legitimately risky departure for WDTVA, but, in a series the arc of which has been bending in a decidedly humorous direction ever since the beginning of the second season, a plot like this must have seemed quite natural.

But what about the romantic angle?  Does Bubba, in his first starring role since "Time is Money," hold up his end of the bargain and perform well enough to make his burgeoning relationship with little Julie Blurf seem at least reasonably believable under the circs?  Well... upon my initial viewing of the episode, I was inclined to say no.  For sure, slotting Bubba into the "prefab role" of Romeo did not suggest that writers Evelyn Gabai and Doug Hutchinson had all that much faith in Bubba's ability to carry a protagonist's load on his own merits.  In our DUCKTALES INDEX comments on the ep, Joe Torcivia and I scoffed at the idea that Bubba could pass as a "jilted lover" and argued that viewers would probably "spend more time laughing at [Bubba's] inept attempts to impress Julie than sorrowing at his thwarted love."  In hindsight, I'm willing to admit that that judgment may have been overly harsh.  The use of an existing role as a half-hour starring vehicle for Bubba does point up his inherent limits as a character, but, within those limits, he gives a reasonably effective performance here.  His attempts to woo Julie crash and burn for the most part, but, in his own "primitive" way, he is trying his best to make friends with her, and Julie ultimately comes to appreciate his efforts as the indicator of a good heart.  Ultimately, the battle between Scrooge and Blurf gulps up so much of the oxygen that the Bubba-Julie relationship doesn't get a chance to develop beyond a fairly superficial level, but what we do get does have its share of cute moments. 

Based on the ep's opening "first day of school" setup, I guess that we're meant to regard the Nephews bringing Bubba to class during "Bubba Trubba" as some sort of glorified "Show and Tell" project gone bad.  Scrooge's gracelessly ironic farewell speech to Bubba about school being an opportunity to get to appreciate and respect "people different from yourself" sends the immediate message that subtlety is not going to be this script's strong suit... and, sure enough, the Blurfs come on strong from the opening tree-fall and wall-smash.  With Disney long since having acclimatized itself to many of the "Lower Slobbovian" aspects of American culture, I need to emphasize just how shocking a departure the portrayal of the Blurfs was in 1989.  Rarely before had the company presented such an unattractive picture of "plain folks."  (I guess that the human hunter character of The Fox and the Hound [1981] was pretty much of a redneck, but he was a loner.  Seeing a family of this type was a Denny's Grand Slam compared to that bunt single.)  In retrospect, the Blurfs clearly planted the seed for such future developments as Darkwing Duck's Muddlefoot family and the gleeful portrayal of Goofy in A Goofy Movie (1995) as a devotee of Middle-American lumpenproletariat culture.

I'm not as taken aback as GeoX was by Scrooge's reaction to the Blurfs.  There is ample precedent (read: Gladstone Gander) for Scrooge expressing resentment of someone who relies on pure luck, as opposed to a trust fund, a stock-market deal, or some other non-laborious means, to strike it rich.  Then, too, it is clear from the start that the Blurfs provide most of the fuel for the feud, and not simply because their taste is hopelessly tacky.  How else would one expect Scrooge to react when the "new neighbors" blithely destroy part of a wall and pollute the air, just for starters?  Scrooge's revulsion at the hideous "weather vane" (which, given the fact that it is mounted on the ground, as opposed to the Blurfs' roof, suggests to me that it is actually intended to be some sort of sculpture) does have more of an elitist edge.  By that time, though, Scrooge has already been pushed to the limits of his patience and can perhaps be forgiven a bit of overreaction.  The fact that Scrooge snaps after he has learned that the Blurfs' "home improvements" have reduced the value of Scrooge's property by $1 million also makes perfect sense in view of what we know about Scrooge.  Sure, blame Scrooge all you want for allowing Blurf to get to him and deciding to show the Blurfs "the underside of the welcome wagon," but don't say that he wasn't legitimately provoked.  In an ep filled with more than its share of verbal bluff and guff, Tiny Blurf's claim that "I didn't start this, McDuck..." may be the biggest whopper of them all.

At the "TARDIS schoolhouse" (yes, really -- the kids' one-room temple of learning seems to possess the capability of expanding just enough to display corridors, lunchrooms, and all the other attributes of a normal-sized school building), Bubba meets Julie and stumbles his way through what could generously be called a courtship.  The uses of the familiar "how cavemen get their girlfriends" trope here are legitimately funny, though one could question how Bubba even knows about such rituals, given that he was the only inhabitant of Duckbill Island back in the prehistoric day.  Webby, enjoying her first extended interactions with Bubba after barely appearing in "Time is Money," is believably eager to push Bubba's love life along, but she gets a faceful of flora for her trouble.  Ultimately, Bubba just "being himself" in the best sense -- bumbling, but open and sincere -- is enough to get Julie to forgive all the oopsies and gaucheries and give Bubba the chance to win her over.  It's still something of a stretch to buy the implicit contention that the relationship between Julie and Bubba went from wary acceptance to close friendship in the time that it took for Bubba to tear down Julie's locker and carry her books home.  Perhaps Julie prefers the strong, monosyllabic type.

Alas for Julie and Bubba, by the time they reach home, the McDuck-Blurf entente has well and truly broken down, forcing the two would-be lovers apart.  The most surprising thing about the fast-escalating feud is how eager all of the members of Scrooge's household (except Bubba, of course) seem to be to stoke the burners.  Duckworth and Mrs. Beakley probably "go with the flow" primarily because of their overarching loyalty to Mr. McDuck, but for HD&L to be willing participants... that takes some getting used to, especially for those viewers who are familiar with the Donald-Neighbor Jones stories, in which the boys consistently frowned upon Donald's dispute with Jones and did what they could to discourage Donald from engaging in the fight.  I would imagine that "truly" Barksian Nephews would probably have cast a similarly jaundiced eye upon their uncle engaging in such childish back-and-forth with the Blurfs.  But seeing is believing.  Evidently the sneaky, prank-playing "bug" that bit HD&L before the events of "Allowance Day" has yet to be eradicated from the boys' systems.

Gabai and Hutchinson demonstrate that they paid attention to the details of the original ROMEO AND JULIET by having Bubba and Julie reunite "under cover" at the masquerade ball.  (In Shakespeare, the two teens met and fell in love at a Capulet shindig.)  Bubba definitely seems to be getting into the spirit of his role in the cast by using the proverbial "cheesy disguise" to fool Tiny into thinking that he's a "long-lost relative."  I suppose that we actually have Webby to thank for putting the masquerade idea in Bubba's noggin, but give him credit: he still had to pull the role off.

Angered beyond reason by the Blurfs' loud party (and once again, can you REALLY blame Scrooge for being pissed off here?), Scrooge engages Tiny in a "noise duel" that, if it does not quite rival Barks' take on the notion in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #178 (July 1955), comes reasonably close.  It's not often that the combined effects of bagpipes and accordions include broken windows and what appear to be actual Earth tremors.  The end result of the acoustic altercation is nothing if not historically significant: for the first time (in America, at least), we see Scrooge thrown in jail for a legitimate reason.  Now I understand why Scrooge was railroaded in "Duckman of Aquatraz," "Ducks on the Lam," and "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club" -- those incidents were meant to soften us up for this shocking occurrence.  It's SO shocking, in fact, that we never actually get to see Scrooge in jail; we only see him coming home.

Julie has the last word in Act Two, which concludes with Scrooge and Blurf being hauled away by the cops.  It's a good thing, too, for Act Three will be almost completely dominated by the "Scrooge vs. Maharajah" stage of the feud, in which Scrooge and Blurf (well, Blurf, anyway, unless that killer whale that Scrooge puts in Blurf's pool wasn't simply rented from the aquarium or something) spend freely to spite one another.  The sequence, which is funny enough but probably goes on a bit too long, concludes with yet another trip to jail -- and a strange visual gag in which a trio of undersized cops join forces to deposit Blurf in the paddy wagon.  That's the sort of unexpected throwaway gag you'd expect in a Barks story, but DuckTales has rarely essayed such bits until now.  Another sign that the show, like Blurf's belly-strained belt buckle, has loosened up considerably.

And here, as Greg correctly observes, is where the episode comes a bit unstuck.  I'm not as bent out of shape by the fact that Bubba drops his club (during the scene in which he and Julie are making plans to run away) as much as I am by the fact that the duo, as Webby herself announces when she tells the others, run straight into the carnival and therefore would not appear to have had the chance to leave farewell notes at both houses.  I suppose that Julie and Bubba could have dropped a note off at the Blurfs' place, circled back to drop a letter off at McDuck Mansion, and then run off to hide, but the episode, as written, doesn't really provide that "out."  It also seems a little peculiar that the kids would hide in the nearby carnival to begin with.  Even Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm knew enough to leave the immediate neighborhood when they got tired of their families' feud.

Evidently, Scrooge, in addition to being fluent in cormorant language, Sowbuggian, and any number of additional tongues, is also able to read Prehistoric Rebus.

The climactic action is also pretty contrived.  I agree with Greg that Scrooge should certainly have seen that the kids had ditched the roller-coaster wagon before he jumped into it, but that's not the real problem.  The problem is that the action is taking place on a roller coaster at all.  I don't honestly see what this unnecessary action sequence achieved that made the basic moral and the ultimate reconciliation between Scrooge and Blurf any more resonant. I think that Julie's cutting response to her daddy's complaint that running away from home was "very childish" provided more than enough zing to get the point across; we didn't need to have the lead-in of Scrooge and Blurf narrowly averting a head-on collision.

Ending with the status quo ante (the Blurfs being forced to move away because they've spent too much money) is, of course, the only possible way to conclude matters, and I don't really mind the pressing of the reset button.  Barks, after all, was famous for the concluding comment, "And things are again as they were."  Actually, the Blurfs' final fate is positively benign compared to the ending of "Statuesque Spendthrifts," in which the Maharajah of Howduyustan is reduced to barrel-wearing poverty, while Scrooge has barely made a dent in his petty cash safe.  There's no indication that the Blurfs have been completely cleaned out; they simply can't afford to maintain their luxurious lifestyle.  (The guys carrying the Blurfs' possessions to the truck are movers, not auctioneers.)  Since HD&L and Webby pretty clearly go to public school, it's also possible that Julie may, in fact, continue to see Bubba on a regular basis.  We just won't be favored with those future meetups.

So, definitely not anything close to a classic episode, but certainly a watchable one, particularly since this is arguably Bubba's finest hour outside the "Time is Money" serial.  In future Bubba appearances, the caveduck will either be reduced to the role of a "fifth Nephew" (Webby being the fourth) or will have his personality completely altered in order to justify a starring role (do I even need to mention which ep I'm thinking of?).  Admittedly, Bubba doesn't fit the role of a Romeo, either, but "Bubbeo and Juliet" is an instance in which that hoary animated trope -- "Just be yourself!" -- turned out to be pretty sage advice.




Bumper #14: "Boombox"





(GeoX) So some white-trash lottery winners move in next to Scrooge, provoking an amazingly élitist reaction on Scrooge's part--natural, perhaps--and, it seems to me, also on the writers' part: although it's true that their feud is laid bare as childish and pointless at the end, the fact remains that we are pretty clearly meant to see the new neighbors' behavior as, at best, tasteless, and the restoration of the status quo (inevitable in a show like this, of course, but doesn't that in itself represent an embedded tendency towards a particular politics?) as the natural order re-asserting itself. 

You say that like it's a bad thing.  Up until the Blurfs' party, there was still a chance, albeit a thin one, that Scrooge could have learned to live with the Blurfs, provided that the contractor could have built that wall ten feet taller and performed all the other necessary tweaks (odor-proofing the Mansion, and so on).  Scrooge may have been fantasizing about getting revenge on the Blurfs, but he didn't actually turn his fantasies into actions until the party started to roll.  In that respect, the Blurfs really WERE to blame for things getting out of hand the way they did. 

(GeoX) "Wow! What a fastball! Nobody's ever gotten a strike against Bruiser before!" As in "Time Teasers," the show evinces a certain ignorance of how percentages work in baseball. 

True enough.  Speaking of ignorance, how the heck OLD is Bruiser?  He looks and sounds as though he's of driving and/or drinking age.  Evidently, while Duckburg's legal system is a shambles, its education system is pretty serious about leaving recalcitrant students back if they're not up to snuff.  (Also notice here that Bruiser sneeringly refers to Bubba as a "prehistoric hotshot."  With Bubba having become a part of the McDuck household, it's easy to forget that, to a good portion of the rest of Duckburg, Bubba's still an exotic outsider.  The series simply won't make that big of a deal of it from this point forward.)
(GeoX) "It cost me two hundred fifty dollars to get out of jail this time!" …and also, an ignorance of how bail works.

I'm guessing that the penalty for disturbing the peace is simply paying a fine, and that, given that Scrooge's first arrest was his first real arrest, the initial fine was relatively low.

(Greg) Scrooge and Mrs. Beakly get together thinking that they will have peace and quiet all day...and then a tree gets floored and destroys part of the gate. Scrooge is not happy to see that as he walks over and we discover that another mansion has been built OUT OF NOWHERE. Strange since we didn't see it on the first shot where Scrooge was talking to Webby and Bubba, since he walked in the same direction as he looked.

The "next-door mansion" is one of those details created for the explicit purposes of a particular episode.  I normally don't like such sudden inventions; they're the physical equivalent of a character suddenly developing an obsession or fetish to carry a single plot along. It is, however, stated in the episode that the encroaching estate existed before now, since Scrooge makes a comment about how handsome the property looked before the Blurfs got their hands on it.  A bit of a stretch, given Scrooge's proclivities for occasional paranoia, but I can live with it for one ep.

(Greg) The hubby is also a pig who uses a snork[e]ling mask as safety goggles wearing a purple flower shirt, cheese pants and brown leather shoes. Think Herb Muddlefoot with an even more annoying voice... He sounds like Wendell; so I'm guessing Frank Welker here.

It's actually Chuck McCann doing his best to provide a redneck accent. Chuck and Russi Taylor (as Julie) get gold stars for effort, but probably only deserve silver ones for execution.

(Greg) We return to the mansion as Mrs. Beakley places Scrooge on the front lawn and waves a dollar bill like smelling salts. Okay; that is different at least.

And funny! It's almost like a gag cover to UNCLE $CROOGE come to life. I also appreciated the subtle Wizard of Oz reference ("There's no home like theirs"). And to think, Koonce and Weimers weren't even involved here.

(Greg) Scrooge calls [having the Blurfs as neighbors] worse than having the Beagle Boys over.

You might want to reconsider, Scroogie. Remember how the Beagles behaved when they came into (your) money in Barks' "The Case of the Sticky Money":

(Greg) So we head back to the nephews at the cafeteria outside looking at the windows. We zoom in and Webby notices [Julie] despite the fact that she is nowhere in that shot of the tables. That's logic break #2 for the episode and the first one I don't accept eight and a half minutes in.

Oh, she's there, all right:
(Greg) Bubba looks around [at the party] as everyone is in costume including Usagi Yojimbo, a TMNT (sans mask), and a brown Spiderman.

And just different enough from the originals to be non-actionable... imagine that. The partially obscured critter at the far left of the screenshot below is also a reference, to the Martian invaders in Paramount's adaptation of War of the Worlds (1953).

(Greg) Scrooge and Tiny blow each other [sic] and threaten to get them removed from the neighborhood. 

I would remove them, too, if they tried that in MY neighborhood!

(Greg) So we head inside Tiny's living room as he is on the phone as he yells that he will spend to make sure Scrooge gets spitled. Sorry; I don't speak redneck sir.

He actually said that he would spend whatever it took to "spite ol' McDuck."

Next: Episode 80, "The Good Muddahs."


Anonymous said...

This episode may be as close as Ducktales gets to explaining Doofus' disappearance. In Nothing to Fear, Doofus states he's a neighbour. Conclusion - Doofus' family sold their home to the Blurfs and moved away.

Juliet actually flat out tells Bubba that she will continue seeing him at school.

As for the school itself, going to a small country elementary school, I always thought it was a high school knockoff. The nephews, Webby and Bubba go from class to class rather than staying in the same classroom most or all of the day.

The Flintstones takes a third stab at Romeo and Juliet in its last season - albeit in a different way. In Curtain Call at Bedrock, Fred takes the lead in Romeo Rock and Juliet Stone.

Pan Miluś said...

I never liked this episode much.

I guess making Scrooge neighbor Nouveau riche was a good contrast and looking back there are some funny ideas but didn't work for me as a whole.

If they just stick to the plot of "Romeo in Juliet" this episode at least could ended with killing-off Bubba... :P

(BTW -> I always found oryginal "Romeo and Juliet" sick. They only know each other for five days beafore they went suicidall... "Twilight" is more romantic by contrast )

I hope in the review of "Good Muddahs" You will analyise would that episode work if it used actuall Beagle Boys in place of Babes... ;) Babes where funny one-shot character's BTW but still it makes me wonder if it work with BigTime, Burger and Bouncer/Baggy/BankJob/BabyFace/Bibob.

Comicbookrehab said...

"Romeo & Juliet" is arguably the one Shakespeare play that's more famous than Shakespeare himself. Kids become aware of R&J before any introduction to the bard.

"The Man Called Flintstone" had Fred and Wilma do the "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" bit during the "Signora, Senore" number.

SCraig's feud with "Neighbor Blurf" kept this episode from being saccharine, plus it was cool seeing the old duck climb the side of the rollar coaster bare-handed (something that even Barks would've only had Donald perform, perhaps while trying to avoid attending an event at Daisy's women's club).

As for the nephews...they tend to flip-flop from responsible to mischievous often in the comics, as it suits the needs of the stories the Duck Man wanted to tell..perhaps the fact that they consulted with Scrooge first rather than go at it anyway is enough to give them a pass.

Chris Barat said...


"This episode may be as close as Ducktales gets to explaining Doofus' disappearance. In Nothing to Fear, Doofus states he's a neighbour. Conclusion - Doofus' family sold their home to the Blurfs and moved away."

That would mean that Doofus' family was well to do. That MIGHT explain a lot.

"The Flintstones takes a third stab at Romeo and Juliet in its last season - albeit in a different way. In Curtain Call at Bedrock, Fred takes the lead in Romeo Rock and Juliet Stone."

Yes. The reason that I didn't mention that one was that it is not structured as a R&J parody; it just uses the play as a plot detail. BTW, I would have said "third SLAB" rather than "third stab". :-)


Chris Barat said...


We actually studied R&J as high school freshmen, though, of course, we had all heard of the play before that. It was a bowdlerized version with a lot of the raunchier material removed (as I later found out when I read the complete text of the play). We also took a field trip to see the Franco Zeffirelli film version of R&J.