Monday, June 9, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 83, "Metal Attraction"

It's taken a bit longer than expected, but we've finally reached the first true "original classic" of DuckTales' second season.  (I use the qualifier "original," of course, because "The Land of Trala La" was an adaptation of a Barks story, albeit one with a whole lot of new elements.)  This opinion is actually a slight upgrade of my initial assessment of the ep.  I liked it just fine the first time around, but it didn't quite knock my socks off in the manner that such future second-season efforts as "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity," "The Big Flub," or "The Golden Goose" did.  With the wisdom of hindsight, I have a much greater appreciation for some of the risks that it took, especially in the area of... shall we say... interpersonal relationships.  It's fair to say that in no other DT ep was sexual tension ever planted so definitively front and center as a dominating influence.  At the same time, the script serves up a healthy portion of satire -- some of it surprisingly sharp, considering that one of Disney's greatest sources of pride and joy is one of the main targets -- and it also offers a textbook example of how to deliver a "character learns a lesson" moral without pulling the character in question completely, or even partially, out of character, or even making the character unlikable (even temporarily so) in order to get the point across.  All in all, a nice comeback episode for Ken Koonce and David Weimers following that recent... unpleasantness... though Alan Burnett (who co-wrote) and Cliff MacGillivray (who got a story credit) probably chipped in a large portion of the goodness, and Susan Blu's uber-caffeinated performance as Robotica is the X-factor that helps lift the production from good to great.

The actual debt that "Metal Attraction" owes to the popular thriller that inspired its title is relatively limited in terms of specifics, and particularly in terms of the emotions we feel regarding the characters.  Unlike the Michael Douglas character in Fatal Attraction, who came to regret (and that's putting it mildly) his brief extramarital fling, we sympathize with Fenton when the hyper-emotional robot maid Robotica sets her sensors on Gizmoduck.  Likewise, Robotica can't really be faulted for anything she does in any of her modes, whereas the Glenn Close character... well, can.  That's not to say that the characters don't bring at least some of their troubles upon themselves.  Fenton, after all, wouldn't have been put in the "Duckyland double-date dilemma" that dominates Act Two had he not been overly attentive to Gandra Dee, prompting his girlfriend to set up the outing to show him how other dating couples act.  As an audience, we are placed in the enviable position of enjoying and laughing at Fenton's subsequent discomfiture without feeling all that guilty about it.

There are a pleasing number of call-backs here, starting with the opening scene in which Gyro is inspired to tackle "domestic engineering."  Bang-bang-bang, Gyro refers to past exploits involving time and space travel and even references a goofy throwaway gag from "Super DuckTales" before confessing to Scrooge that he has "no new frontiers to conquer."  Given Gyro's robotic recidivism (which Scrooge not-so-gleefully comments on once he gets his first look at Robotica), perhaps the inventor has a point.

Mrs. Beakley's sudden desire for domestic help seems to come OUT OF NOWHERE and is the one major aspect of the episode that has a contrived feel to it.  We've seen Mrs. B. overworked before -- for example, when she's obliged to decline a chance to play with Webby in "The Good Muddahs" -- but whence cometh this tipping point?  Was it the arrival of Bubba and Tootsie?  Seems logical to me, especially if Mrs. B.'s current list of duties include "scooper detail."

The "overly mechanical" version of Robotica reminds me a bit of the interpretation of the robot maid Irona that was presented in the early-80s Hanna-Barbera Richie Rich show.  In her few seconds of screen time, "Robotirona" even performs a classic Irona routine, lifting up a heavy "something" (in this case, a refrigerator) in order to dust underneath it.  I shouldn't go too far with the analogy, though; Irona always had some personality, even in her most robotic forms, and never scared anyone to the extent that our cranium-spinning cyborg does here.

Gyro fixes the "stiffness issue" by impregnating Robotica with a floppy disk (remember those?) that is presumably encoded with the entire gamut of emotions that will soon be on extravagant display.  Which leads me to wonder: If the insertion of the disk caused Robotica to develop a personality, then couldn't the emotions be neutralized simply by removing said disk?  If Fenton had known about that little detail, then perhaps he could have suckered Robotica into a hug, or something, and returned her to her "factory settings."  Too bad that he wasn't privy to this little programming detail.

The emotionally amped Robotica takes zero time to make an impression... and, if Launchpad had made a similar "impression" when he smashed into the wall of Toupay in "The Duck Who Would Be King," then he would probably have gone right through the wall.  Blu's hysterically hamboned delivery doesn't need any amplification, but, for some reason, it gets some when one of Robotica's verbal riffs is accompanied by a ba-dump-tush sound, as if it were some sort of comedy-club punchline.  We'll hear a similar frisson a little later when the Robotica-entrapped Gizmoduck pleads, "Kids are watching!"  Quite frankly, I don't understand why the embellishments were needed.  What, you writers don't think this stuff was funny in and of itself?  What's next, a laugh track?

Fenton's concurrent investment of poor Gandra Dee with all manner of gifts, both inanimate and otherwise -- well, actually, do those singing chocolates guys count as animate or inanimate? -- marks the first time since "Super DuckTales" that we have seen these two characters interact.  It's immediately clear that, while Fenton may have gained in self-confidence thanks to his Gizmoduck alter ego and a newfound appreciation for his own latent abilities, he still has some ways to go to be completely comfortable "in his own feathers."  Burying Gandra with so many material goods indicates a certain level of insecurity in Fenton regarding his ability to hold Gandra's affections on his own merits -- this, despite Gandra's open admission at the end of "Super DuckTales" that she had always wanted to go out with him anyway.  Gandra's deep reservoir of affection for Fenton is probably the only reason WHY she doesn't take GeoX's advice and hit him with a restraining order.  Despite his annoying behavior in these scenes, Fenton doesn't do anything to make himself seriously unlikable; we recognize his behavior here as a logical extension of his personality as a whole.  As is reflected in his "Have I fallen short?" response to Gandra's recitation of his various efforts, he is simply one of those perpetually-on-the-make types who can't be satisfied with things as they are.  The upcoming "The Big Flub" will spin off the same conceit, with Fenton asking Scrooge to give him more business responsibilities so that he can show what he can do (to himself, as well as to Scrooge).

I don't want to let Gandra completely off the hook here.  Yes, all things considered, she does react to Fenton's smothering with disturbing passivity.  She does, however, have several opportunities to confront Fenton directly about what he is doing -- and she never takes them, instead using such indirect criticisms as "Can't you see?" and "You wouldn't understand," or having Fenton go on the double date in order to enlighten him through experience.  I guess that this makes some sense if you buy into the whole "men and women are from different planets and express things differently" theory, but come on -- if you're that discomfited by my actions, then I would certainly appreciate your telling me so.  Of course, if Gandra hadn't waited until the very end to verbalize her feelings (to Gyro, of all people!), then we wouldn't have had much of an ep.  Still, it bothers me to see Fenton get all of the blame here.

Fenton gets to see "how the better half lives" when Gizmoduck reports to Scrooge for repair duty (huh?  Isn't Gizmo kind of overqualified for such mundane tasks, just as he'll be overqualified for various other jobs in "The Unbreakable Bin"?) and sets Robotica's pistons a-popping.  The innuendo here gets fairly serious, especially in the scene at the Money Bin when Robotica wraps the hapless Gizmo up in her extendable arms and forces him to the ground.  Luckily, Blu's acting is so over-the-top that any arousal that might be occasioned here is dissolved in guffaws.

"Over the top," did you say?

The scene at the "Econo-Lube and Perm Boutique" kicks the weirdness factor of the episode up several additional notches.  The obvious parody of the "Madge" Palmolive ads isn't the half, or even the quarter, of it.  For the dual-entity beautification gag to make any sense in the first place, we have to conclude that "Midge" has had patrons like Robotica before, else why would Robotica have bothered to patronize the place?  Does this mean that there are other robots (of necessity, not all of which could have been created by Gyro) walking around Duckburg as a matter of course?  When did we suddenly enter the hyper-advanced Duckburg of Carl Barks' "Island in the Sky"?

In passing, we learn here that Gandra is a "receptionist" at the bean factory.  This is something of a surprise, actually, given that Gandra's first act in "Super DuckTales" was to come out onto the factory floor, files in hand, and pass along the boss' compliment to Fenton.  That's a task that one would normally expect an employee with more authority to perform.  Of course, we'll eventually learn that Gandra's talents extend well beyond looking pretty and taking phone calls, so perhaps the duties of a "receptionist" at the bean factory are more comprehensive than one would think.  Actually, they would almost have to be.


Duckyland, the site of the double date (or is it a threesome?  It's kind of hard to tell), features parodies of Disneyland sites both mundane (the distant shots of a generic Matterhorn-style mountain and castle) and ingenious (the "Teacup Ride," in which patrons literally get to experience a "Tea Party" from the inside).  The Tunnel of Love -- shaped like a giant box of chocolates with a ribbon tied around it, in case you didn't notice -- was probably thrown in just as much to provide a cordon sanitaire between Duckyland and its real-world namesake (which, famously, does not have that cliched carnival conveyance) as to provide a fitting setting for the breakup/breakdown of the Gizmoduck/Robotica relationship.  Even so, it's hard to miss the sting contained in Fenton's description of the park as "this middle-class marketplace of mirth."  It's one thing to riff on park rides and such, quite another to zap Disneyland's stereotypical clientele.

The obligatory "two places at once" shenanigans are carried off rather well.  Fenton does slip a couple of times -- using his own voice when Gizmoduck orders the drinks, forgetting to remove a Gizmo-arm when he comes to join the ladies on the bench -- but, considering that he never thinks to use his established "popping up out of nowhere" routine to make his life easier, he manages to pull off the charade almost as well as Clark Kent did during Superman IV.  Being Fenton, however, he can't keep the plot from eventually coming unstuck, with the offended Gandra charging off in a huff.  Nor can he be completely faulted for trying to "turn off" Robotica's affections by telling her the "other woman" story in the Tunnel of Love.  It's the truth, after all -- at least, when the "aluminum siding" is removed -- and how was he to know that his action would result in Robotica going berserk, complete with that unforgettable Susan Blu screech?

The ep stumbles a bit at the start of Act Three, when the crazed Robotica returns to the Mansion to... er, do some dusting?  Granted, it's agitated and overly emotional dusting, but I would think that she would be fixated on finding Gizmoduck at this point.  Instead, we must wait for a glimpse of the family portrait and Scrooge's overheard phone conversation to see her to go on the warpath once more, this time to find the "other woman."

As some of my readers have noted, the existence of the portrait below does, in fact, suggest that Bubba and Gizmoduck have met at some point, even though they never will do so on screen.  There is something contrived about the idea, however, at least as it is presented here.  Bubba's presence in the portrait, I can understand, but since when has Gizmoduck been considered a member of the McDuck household?  Gizmo may have visited enough times that, in the words of a Nephew in "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity," "the welcome mat has skid marks," but, hey, just because my best friend in childhood came over to play lots of times didn't mean that I considered him to be one of my siblings.

After Fenton's massive marzipan make-good has finally pushed Gandra over the edge -- demurely, of course -- we get some Fatal Attraction-style nastiness as Robotica confronts Gandra with her "treachery."  At least no knives or boiled rabbits were involved (though the rabbit anthros who were on the "Teacup Ride" might beg to differ regarding the latter).  Robotica's attempt to destroy both Gandra and the Money Bin at one blow finally gives Scrooge a tangential reason to care about the outcome, and Fenton, thanks to overhearing Gandra's lament, finally gets the hint that he's been coming on too strong to his lady.  I agree with Greg that this sequence -- in particular, the showdown at the Bin -- whisked by a little bit too quickly to have the impact that it could have had.  A little more threatening of Gandra by Robotica, a more artfully-staged explosion (that missile sure took its sweet time to reach the Bin, didn't it?), and we would really have had something.   


I can certainly see where GeoX is coming from with his comment about the Stepford Wives-esque reprogrammed version of Robotica.  The problem here, I think, stemmed from the fact that Susan Blu, having gone to both extremes in her previous interpretations of the character, apparently couldn't decide  what a "normal" Robotica ought to sound like.  She tried to dial down the emotion while returning some of the "robotic" flavor to the voice, and the end product reflects the uneasy compromise.  Robotica's dialogue itself isn't all that unnatural or off-putting, but the voice makes it seem so.  It's a smudge, but a minor one, on an otherwise top-drawer voicing performance.

If the point weren't already obvious, "Metal Attraction" reinforces, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Fenton's worthiness as a member of the Duck cast.  This is basically his episode -- Scrooge, HD&L, and the rest of the clan play only a minor role -- and he carries off the responsibility without a hitch.  Like Fenton, Koonce and Weimers prove that they, too, can learn a valuable lesson; "Metal Attraction" wears its moral far more lightly than some of the duo's earlier, more heavy-handed efforts to get a "bigger point" across (*cough "Down and Out in Duckburg" *cough*).  The "sitcom era" of DuckTales may have a different feel to it than the first season, but "Attraction" is the first significant indication that the show's somewhat looser approach doesn't mean that storytelling quality will be pitched out the window.  More examples of this will follow... but first, we will be obligated to digest another undeniable stinker.

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Bumper #18: "Cashflow"
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"DuckBlurbs"

Fun fact before we begin:  The official release date of Fatal Attraction was Friday, September 18, 1987 -- the first day that syndicated stations across the country broadcast "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  I wonder how many people saw both Fatal Attraction and "Golden Suns" on that same weekend.  There must have been at least a few, given that DuckTales attracted adult viewers from the start.

(GeoX's correspondent "Christopher") I notice that in one of Robotica's hyper-emotional states she's clearly crying visible tears. What do you think they are– axle grease droplets?
(GeoX) Let's hope so--the idea that Gyro would have included actual bodily fluids in her construction inevitably leads to conclusions that are way too gross and disturbing to dwell on.

How about the fact that Robotica offers Gizmoduck lunch and cafe au lait?  Why would a robot be offering another presumed robot actual food?

(Greg) We begin this one with Scrooge's mansion as we zoom in and head inside the basement as Gyro is standing in piles of dollar bills while Scrooge is doing something with a giant ass pot. He fishes out a jar with tongs as Gyro talks about having nothing left to conquer in the invention field. Scrooge puts the money in the jars as Gyro ponders making a machine to help him with his money canning. Yes; he's canning money. And you thought canned heat was absurd.

"Can" it be possible that this was a reference to the Barks cover of UNCLE $CROOGE #15 (September-November 1956)?  Yes, it certainly "can," even though Scrooge is canning coins, rather than bills, in the Barks version.  Unlike the "cash castle" in "Blue Collar Scrooge," the canning conceit carries through to the very end of the episode, as we see several additional scenes in Scrooge's basement cannery. 

(Greg) Then the door bell rings and Robotica goes to answer it; but not before going into an awesome rant that goes on and on before Scrooge blows her off. 

Scrooge's exasperated reactions are just as funny as Robotica's words here.  I'm not trying to be a spoilsport, but this scene was probably the sole reason why Duckworth was not part of the episode, since he usually handles door duties.

(Greg) Then we head to the teacup ride which Wang Films animates all right (proving me wrong again); although when the bunny furries get dunked; it looks awful. I think that's the only time they used bunny rabbit anthros for this show.

I think it was, too.  Could this have been a reference to the notorious "bunny-boiling" scene in Fatal Attraction?

(Greg) Mrs. Beakly is at the closet and Robotica shows her the [family portrait] as evidence looking mighty pissed off. Beakly claims that she barely likes [Gizmoduck] and has nothing to do with him.

Which would seem to preclude Gizmo being included as part of a family portrait, no?  I'm surprised that Robotica didn't press Mrs. B. harder on this.  Of course, by this point, her powers of reasoning have pretty much malfunctioned...

(Greg) Gizmo unties Gandra and Gandra hopes she's less emotional this time around because she smothers Gizmo Duck like Fenton smothers Gandra. Gizmo Duck realizes why she doesn't like Fenton anymore and thinks Fenton has got it since they are best buddies. I cannot argue with that overwhelming logic there Gizmo Duck. Gizmo asks Gandra for one more chance...

I really like the way Hamilton Camp reads these lines.  He makes it sound as though a humbled Fenton "gets it" without slipping out of character as Gizmoduck. 

No new RETROSPECTIVE this coming week, as I'll be in Kansas City for the AP Statistics Reading.  So you'll have to wait a bit before I "favor" you with that deathless classic: Episode 84, "Bubba's Big Brainstorm."

7 comments:

Pan Miluś said...

DAMN! Not only I never liked "Metal Attraction" that much (It's ok but faaar from my faborite season 2 episodes) but I find "Bubba's Big Brainstorm" best Bubba-centric episode...



P.S.
I just realise that after "Super ducktales" introduce her, Gandra Dee appear only in three episodes.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris writes:
“I liked it just fine the first time around, but it didn't quite knock my socks off in the manner that such future second-season efforts as "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity," "The Big Flub," or "The Golden Goose" did.”

WHAT? No “Beaglemania” or “The Masked Mallard”?

I’d trade “Big Flub” for either of these in a heartbeat!

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

I WILL be interested in hearing WHY "Brainstorm" is your favorite Bubba effort...

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Yes, I could just as easily have listed those... but I'd throw in Big Flub at this point too.

Chris

Pan Miluś said...

Well... I like "smart" Bubba's voice and personality and I actually dig the sacrifice He makes at the end. It was cute, as well Scrooge speach why he likes the old Bubba more. It's propably only episode where I see them do something interesting with Bubba's character (heck, he get's some actuall character development in this one)


Also in defense of episodes moral :
I know plenty of people who even though are highly educated are also so pretentious that they often lack some basic social skills or comon sence in every day situations [e.g. they maybe geniuses in quantum physics but they make total idiots of themselfs during a conversation at a party] Education is VERY important but "cold rationalism" can result in lack of empathy so I can see what the episode is trying to tell (I also belive that intelligence can sometimes be relative and but that's a longer story)


So yhe I agree with the episodes message. It's not perfect but I un-like some people I don't see it as "Cellebrating stupidity" but more as "well educated isn't better" (the grass isn't always greener, just be yourself etc.)


There is a VERY similar episode on "The Simpsons" titled "HOMR" where Homer becomes smartes man in town but still makes bad choises, just on diffrent way.


I hate the desing of the duck-like monster BTW.



P.S. Also Geox comment in his review about HD&L coin toss is propably the funnyest thing he wrote in his "Duck Tales reviews" ;)

Pan Miluś said...

FORGIVE ME THE OFFTOPIC but I figure out You mitght be interested...

http://www.filmdivider.com/2670/the-first-image-of-the-3d-cg-popeye-movie-by-genndy-tartakovsky

To my shock looks very, very good! 0_o I wish they would make more Segarish movie in spirit but I love Fleisher cartoons as well so it may be interesting to watch.

Pan Miluś said...

Also check THIS Out :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y9qGngsyA4