Friday, July 4, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 85, "Dough Ray Me"

Funny thing: like Greg, I immediately realized that "Dough Ray Me" had certain antecedents in Disney Duck history.  They just weren't the ones you might think.  When Joe Torcivia and I commented on the episode for our DUCKTALES INDEX, the fiduciary connection between "Dough Ray" and the Disney "edu-tainment" short Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967)...




... seemed far less relevant than the ep's thematic similarity to a pair of humorous "escalation stories" penned by John Lustig and William Van Horn for the "Gladstone I" DUCKTALES title: "The Bedeviled Dime" (DT #9, August 1989) and "The Billion-Bean Stampede" (DT #13, May 1990).  In both of these fanciful tales, a small problem metastatizes into a huge one, causing massive trouble for Duckburg.  Needless to say, Carl Barks whelped several similar puppies during his long tenure, but Lustig and Van Horn's efforts came more quickly to mind, thanks to their use of the DuckTales characters (well, Launchpad, anyway) and their use of off-the-wall throwaway characters and gags.  In retrospect, "Dough Ray" doesn't seem quite as zany as it once did, but Burger Beagle's obsession with prison "puddin'" (inspired by that one Barks Beagle's affection for prunes, perhaps?), the "Scrooge McDuck's Money Mania" video game (which I half suspect that McDuck Industries itself had a hand in, given that the pixellated Beagles lose even when they win), and the presence of a couple of endearingly wacky supporting players speak to a generally lighter approach than one might expect under the circumstances.


That's not to say, of course, that "Dough Ray" doesn't follow, however tentatively, in the web-steps of Scrooge McDuck and Money in terms of teaching a useful lesson about the dangers of inflation.  The difference is that the proliferation of coins vibrating to the influence of Gyro Gearloose's Multiphonic Duplicator is the mere backdrop against which the comedic events of the TV production take place.  In Scrooge and Money, the whole purpose of the enterprise is to inform viewers about the history of money and banking and the importance of keeping a budget.  The level of seriousness of the "educational aspect" of "Dough Ray" can be gauged by the fact that Fenton -- you know, that accountant guy -- doesn't seem to grasp the concept of money losing its value any better than do Scrooge's alternately conniving and super-naive Nephews.  Granted, Fenton got his business education via mail-order, but you would think that he would have learned a little something about inflation's effects before now.  Despite a couple of cutting comments from Scrooge and HD&L about Fenton's intellect, he actually doesn't do all that much wrong here -- his plan to have the Beagle Boys gather up all the duplicated money makes sense, given that he and everyone else are working under the impression that the money will eventually explode -- but such a gaffe makes one wonder why Scrooge doesn't simply limit his contributions to money-bin guard duty in the guise of Gizmoduck.

HD&L don't come off as poorly here as they did in "Yuppy Ducks" -- that would be a well-nigh impossible task, to be frank -- but they don't cover themselves in glory, either.  After blowing their entire allowance on video games, they respond to Scrooge's suggestion to take up summertime work by becoming "Dirtbusters" for hire (I wonder how they managed to acquire those protective suits?  Wouldn't those cost money, too?), only to wreak chaos and ultimately cause Mrs. Beakley (who probably looks back with horror on this ep as her one unfortunate experience of "torture porn") to be showered with dust and grime.  They then proceed to trash Gyro's lab in similar fashion.  They haven't even done anything dishonest yet, and already they're several points in arrears.

After learning about Gyro's Multiphonic Duplicator, the lads... stop me (and time, while you're at it) if you've heard this before... spirit the device away under the guise of giving it a test run "to help Gyro out."  For several reasons, I'd argue that HD&L's swiping of the Duplicator is a more serious offense than their earlier borrowing of the Time Teaser.  Firstly, Gyro tells them that the gizmo doesn't yet have all the bugs worked out of it.  This notion of premature employment of a Gearloose invention, which will also play a role in the upcoming "The Big Flub," seems to be primarily a second-season conceit.  In the past, Gyro's creations generally either worked fine, worked "too well" (e.g., Armstrong), or were "hijacked" to perform nefarious deeds that were not in the original product description (e.g., the giant construction robots being turned into "Robot Robbers" by the Beagle Boys).  HD&L's ignoring of Gyro's warning, however, pales in comparison to the boys' inability to recognize that what they're doing is the functional equivalent of counterfeiting, which is, as a Barks character might say, "awful unlawful."  The script partially obscures this by having the Nephews start with duplicating the non-monetary contents of their room, but, like Fenton, the boys really should have picked up on such an obvious point much earlier in the game.  (Not that HD&L are alone in this oversight; Scrooge doesn't mention anything about illegality either, though he can perhaps be excused for the mental hiccup, since he is more concerned with the fact that the duplicated money has rendered his Binned lucre all but worthless.)

In another anticipation of "The Big Flub," Fenton starts the episode in go-getting mode, convinced that he deserves a raise and then seeking to justify his request for a salary boost by coming up with a new money-making idea.  It's nice to see Fenton's desire to "rise above the common Duck" reignited, since it generally makes for good comedy.  Here, though, not so much; Fenton's "Great Crackshello" act is pretty lame and probably owes its existence to the simple fact that Brooks Wachtel, who provided the story here, was a performing magician in between writing gigs.  If Scrooge weren't already in a bad mood when this scene started, then Fenton's performance would certainly have put him in one.

Thanks to HD&L's heedless getting and spending of the duplicated money and the replicated riches' vulnerability to redoubling at the sound of a bell, Fenton's cheerful comment, "What could go wrong?" (yet another harkening forward to "The Big Flub," in which he says almost exactly the same thing about Flubble Gum!), is soon overtaken by events.  Of the specific gags used here, only the scene of a car spinning its wheels in a pile of piasters, as if the latter were a snowdrift, strikes me as truly clever and inspired, in a physical sense at least.  That's OK, though, because the character-focused gags involving the put-upon mittel-European movie director, price-gouging dentist, Don Hills-voiced bank president, and several others partially make up for it.  These gags probably needed to be a little wackier in order to truly achieve Lustig and Van Horn-level quality, but they're definitely progressing along those lines.  Gizmoduck's brief contribution to the fun, in which he flies onto the scene only to crash into the movie-set bell, is arguably his lowest point of the series, simply because that is literally all he does.  It probably would have been better had he not gotten involved at all.

The tale's logic begins to turn wobbly once Fenton hatches his scheme to turn the Beagle Boys into unwitting collectors of the unstable duplicated money.  I'm not merely referring to the fact that, during their jail break, the location of the Beagles' prison cell appears to change two or three times, much as Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley's cell shifted around for plot convenience's sake in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club."  The real problem, which GeoX is quick to note, is that it would literally be impossible for the Beagles to gather up ALL of the duplicated money.  The money left in the streets, maybe, but it's more than likely than more than a few Duckburgians who have taken their money indoors or deposited it in banks (which, as we see in the bank scene, now appear to be jammed full with cash) would be unwilling or unable to turn it over to the Beagles.  This leads me to wonder: Did the Beagles really need to be used in this episode?  One might argue that a Beagle-less story could have unfolded along the same lines as Barks' "A Financial Fable" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #126), with the Duckburgians running hither and thither to spend their money, only to wind up paying it back to Scrooge, who has stuck to his last as the one remaining productive citizen in town.  The analogy breaks down, however, due to the fact that this particular money-storm is localized -- in "A Financial Fable," the tornado literally spreads Scrooge's wealth all over the country, making the breakdown of the economy much more dramatic and universal -- and, of course, the perceived undesirability of turning the "hero" of the series into a profiteer.  In order to restore the status quo, the episode as written needed a fall guy, and I suppose that the Beagles were as good a choice as anyone.

Even if you're willing to buy the improbable notion that the Beagles do manage to corral all of the duplicated cash (AND construct a Money Bin on short notice in which to store it!), you still have to deal with the "explosion/implosion" business.  Frankly, the ep doesn't handle this aspect of the story very well.  The problem is that Gyro's explanation of the misunderstanding -- that thinking that the coins will explode "was a slight miscalculation on my part" -- is worded in a hopelessly sloppy manner.  It implicitly assumes that Gyro had told the Ducks that the coins would explode in an earlier conversation... only he never actually did.  (For confirmation, refer back to the phone palaver at the end of Act Two.)  It would have been far more sensible for Gyro to have corrected Scrooge's mistake, mentioned that the coins weren't going to explode, and then tried to explain that they were fated to implode, only to be cut off by Scrooge's attack on Fenton.  The verbal assault is, of course, completely unjustified, since there was no way for Fenton to know that he had been operating under a false assumption.  Here is one instance in which making Fenton the goat (a decision that is fully confirmed at the end when Scrooge nixes his raise) bespeaks lazy writing more than it does humor that flows naturally out of the story.

The implosion sequence includes some nifty visuals, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the ep turns to the cheese-paring approach of reusing a sound clip from "Frozen Assets" (Fenton's yelping when he is first encased by the Gizmoduck suit) to accompany Scrooge's rescue of Fenton from the maelstrom.  It strikes me as funny that Fenton needed to be rescued from the disaster, whereas the Beagle Boys, who were inside the Bin as it imploded, wind up none the worse for wear, suffering only the dejection of losing their fortune.  It would stand to reason that the Beagles would have been far more likely to have perished in such a situation.

"Dough Ray Me" remains entertaining today despite the manifest weaknesses of its last act.  I'd be more likely to turn to Scrooge McDuck and Money as a Duck-themed primer on economic matters, but this offering still ranks as one of the more enjoyable second-season efforts.

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Bumper #20: "Mummy"

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"DuckBlurbs"

This isn't the first time that Gyro Gearloose and an "implosion scenario" have (quite forcefully) come together.  See the recent post on Joe Torcivia's THE ISSUE AT HAND blog in which Joe reproduces some panels from the obscure Gyro story "Operation Implosion" (UNCLE $CROOGE #82, August 1969) and links them thematically to the latest chapter in Dan Cunningham's discussion of the history of the Disney Comics line.

A few years after the DUCKTALES INDEX appeared, Van Horn, working solo this time, returned to the "duplication" theme in his famous adventure story "The Black Moon" (Gladstone DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #24, February 1994).  Our own GeoX wrote an excellent review of this tale some time ago.  Suffice it to say that Van Horn's use of the "duplication" notion here is far less wacky, and far more ill-boding, than it was in those earlier joint efforts with Lustig.

 

(Greg) Gyro explains all through the fact that he has two of everything including his pal Light Bulb which makes his first cameo in Ducktales in a long while (The Money Vanishes comes to mind).

This was, in fact, Helper's first appearance since that episode.  Happily, it would not be the last.

(Greg) Gyro wants to discuss lunch as he brings out the tv dinners which are broccoli stew. He duplicates them and then pops them into the microwave as the nephews bail out the door.

In "Scrooge's Last Adventure," Gyro will acknowledge the receipt of a broccoli sandwich from Mrs. Beakley.  I sense a rather insipid trend here.

(Greg) [Gyro] gets more confused as he adjusts his glasses on an FPS shot as everything he duplicated already has increased from two to four. Gyro deduces that he needs to redo his calculations. Oh and apparently; he needs the adjust in the glasses because he never sees the fact that in the next scene changer, we see the nephews have stolen his duplicator. Logic break #1 for the episode six and a half minutes in. Now I'm confused. Did the nephews duplicate the stuff behind his back; or is there more to this?

This is actually a nice foreshadowing of the later discovery that the sound of a bell (in this case, the microwave timer) causes things to duplicate. 

(Greg)  So the nephews go to the drawers (NOT THOSE ONES!) and on top is a small box containing all their marbles... and [they] bring out the purple “Great Masher” marble from Pearl of Wisdom.

Which, by all rights, should no longer exist, since it was used to detonate a torpedo in that episode.  I guess that we need to take the Nephew's comment that "you can never have too many of these" to mean that the boys had stashed a few additional "Mashers" in reserve.

(Greg) Fenton proclaims that the device is from Gyro which surprises me since I don't recall the nephews ever informing him that it was from Gyro.

They actually did, which explains his subsequent remark: "I can't believe that crackpot actually hit the jackpot!"

(Greg)  So we head to Gyro's residence as Gyro is using the magnifying lens on three Light Bulbs (wait; three? We clearly saw four of them made. Logic break #1 for the episode for real at ten minutes in); and then Scrooge and Fenton barge in as Gyro deduces that the audio duplication machine (logic break #2: Now there are eight Light Bulbs on the table for no reason whatsoever)...

This isn't really a logical problem if you assume that an off-camera bell sound had previously caused the four Helpers to double to eight.  More problematic is the fact that, when HD&L ring the doorbell, everything duplicates BUT the Helpers.

(Greg) The nephews use the human chain ladder spot and go to the payphone and insert a silver dollar into it. Probably the only thing that hasn't risen in prices.

Which is somewhat peculiar, since the Nephews mentioned earlier that they were forced to pay $30 to use a gumball machine.  Public utility vs. private enterprise must be in play here.


(Greg) The heels load up the trucks with sacks of money. It should be noted that it's the same bank we [saw] in Super Ducktales among other episodes...

Yup, the good old "First Interfeather Bank," which dates all the way back to "Hero for Hire."

Next: Episode 86, "Beaglemania." 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting how the other duplicated items "implode" after a much more limited number of duplications.

I suppose it has to do with the silver dollar being made almost entirely out of one element, silver (if Ducktales hadn't followed the real world into replacing the silver with nickel (as did Canada for many years) or some other metal alloy.

TVs and wooden stools must be more susceptible to "molecular instability" than silver, nickel, or copper with a magnesium base!

Pan MiluĊ› said...

The upcoming episode is propably the second worse Duck Tales episode in my book... the idea Ma Beagle would write a song so so quick and the guys would learn to play and sing in two seconds it it's just way to stupid even by standards of cartoon logic [one episode that would be perfect to use Bibob btw] I hate animation in this episode - just looks terrible and I don't much care for the story which is poorly handle. It's just... BAD :/



As for "Dough Ray Me" (It took me years to get the pun in the title) is ok. The dentist jokes cracks me up every single time...

Joe Torcivia said...

Anyone wanna take bets on whether or not Melvin X. Nickelby spent loads of time playing the Scrooge McDuck video game. After all, as the story goes, he “had Scrooge’s Action Figure”!

And, for a review of William Van Horn’s “The Black Moon”, that predates Geox’s fine work (all the way back to the printed APA and fanzine days), you can go HERE.