Monday, July 14, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 88, "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity"

The only second-season title card to be presented in first-season fashion, by which I mean it is written in both upper and lower case. 

It took me a while to learn the name of this episode.  Not that such a state of affairs was unprecedented, mind you.  During DuckTales' first season, I was in graduate school and was expected to attend the weekly Wednesday-afternoon seminar.  The seminar usually ended in time for me to hustle back to the house I was sharing with several other grad students at the time and catch the last few minutes of that day's then-brand-spanking-new DT ep.  I can still remember getting back in time to see Filler Brushbill and Louie laughing together at the end of "Much Ado About Scrooge" and wondering, "What the hell -- did Gladstone grow a mustache for some reason?"  With the combined help of Joe Torcivia and the "staggered" rerun schedule (in which a week's episodes were shifted in broadcast order... and, yes, that included the multi-part story lines!), I was able to catch up with the missed eps before too much time had passed.

Things got easier in the Fall of 1989 when I started my new job at Randolph-Macon College.  By this time, I had my own VCR and, even more remarkably, understood how to program it.  Recording the new episodes was a breeze... except on the fateful day when "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity" was broadcast.  Through some snafu or other, I only received part of the episode, starting in the middle of Act Three (I think I "came in" when Fenton was going back to the trailer to retrieve the Gizmosuit, only to have it pass him by and knock him over).  My first lengthy exposure to the ep turned out to be strictly auditory, when Joe played me some of the more significant parts over the phone.  (The regular phone, that is -- what is this "cellular" phone you speak of?)

Joe and I both loved "Identity" from the start.  Not only did it seem to provide a fitting bookend to "The Big Flub" in terms of its delving deeply into the drives that animated Fenton Crackshell, but, wonder of wonders, it co-starred Launchpad.  After playing minor supporting roles in "The Land of Trala La" and "Allowance Day," DT's single greatest original creation had dropped off the map, seemingly forsaken in the rush to exploit the series' newest co-stars.  Joe drew a couple of funny cartoons that were meant to symbolize LP's plight:

Now Launchpad was back, and in fine form to boot, "playing dumb" as only he could in a scheme to protect Gizmoduck's secret ID from a prying media, only to stumble his way into "becoming" Gizmoduck in the eyes of the public.  What was there not to like?

Well, in our zeal to praise what appeared to be one of the high points of a somewhat up-and-down second season, it turns out that we missed a fairly large gaffe.  The plot is set in motion by "detective" HD&L's drive to prove their theory that Launchpad is Gizmoduck.  GeoX jumped all over this, noting that the boys "have unambiguously seen Gizmoduck and Launchpad together on several occasions."  Indeed, they have -- in "Money to Burn" (see image below) and "Allowance Day," just to name two.  Not only do HD&L appear to be suffering from a triple brain-cramp here, but then they have to go and make the goof seem worse by acting so overbearingly confident that their theory is correct.

But, you know what?  Despite this horrendous continuity faux pas and a few other logical flaws, I still think that this episode is great.  The plot is fairly bare-bones, but Alan Burnett's script is clever and incisive, with as many memorable and readily quotable lines as any single episode of the series.  I still find myself occasionally using Launchpad's sheepish "Of course, I've been wrong before"...

... and reacting to various untoward events with Fenton/Gizmoduck's bemused "Do you belieeeeve this?".

The episode's satire of the media, and the annoyances that a "real" superhero might have to face in a media- and gossip-driven society, hasn't aged one bit.  Indeed, with the advent of 24-hour TV news, one can imagine the likes of Oprah Webfeet, Geralduck Rivera, and Webra Walters doubling and redoubling their efforts to uncover the truth about Gizmoduck, no matter how shaky that "truth" might be.  The later use of Lawrence Loudmouth in "The Masked Mallard" is more of a drubbing of one specific purveyor of quasi-information; Burnett spreads his net wider, seeking to capture a general attitude rather than rib a particular personality, and all of his shots find their targets.

"Identity" is a natural followup to "The Big Flub" precisely because Fenton's unfulfilled desire to be recognized for his accomplishments as Gizmoduck is just another tributary flowing out of the raging river of his general desire for "status" and "recognition."  Ironically, his bumbling regular existence is the best possible cover for his alter ego; as Scrooge himself admits, "I know you're Gizmoduck, and even I canna believe it."  Launchpad is just as fallible as Fenton (note that one of the Nephews' three reasons for suspecting LP is that "he tends to crash through walls a lot"), yet he is more likely to be mistaken for Gizmoduck, because he already has some credits as a well-known derring-doer.  Scrooge's suggestion that LP play along with the idea that he could be Gizmoduck is relying just as heavily on the public's stereotypical views of who "can" or "cannot" be a hero as it is on LP's famed capacity for "playing dumb."

I'd like to think that Fenton is so heavily tempted to reveal the real truth to HD&L, not just because they are so stubbornly convinced that they already know the truth, but because he wants to be as admirable in their eyes as Launchpad.  From that moment on the shores of Lake Dobegon when Fenton and HD&L first met, Fenton has been operating at a bit of a deficit with the boys insofar as respect is concerned.  (It's hard to forget someone's first reference to you as being a "loony.")  Fenton's squirming, sweating fight with himself over whether to tell is not just funny in and of itself, it's also in character, with Fenton's sense of duty warring with that primal urge to become "somebody." 

The Gizmoduck tribute at the Sports Arena once again points up the power of the media, with the citizens of Duckburg deciding -- apparently on their own, since Scrooge admits that such wasn't the original plan -- to tribute their hero by dressing up as him, and in fully functional Gizmosuits, no less (albeit ones with non-standard features).  Naturally, all the unexpected "competition" irritates the real Gizmoduck no end.

The accident that starts the chain reaction of events that will lead the public to conclude that Launchpad really is Gizmoduck was bowdlerized at some point by Toon Disney.  In the cut version, we never see the worker's cigar fall into the crate of fireworks; instead, they seem to ignite all on their own.  Er, wasn't the POINT of showing the stogie stoking the sparklers to illustrate that one should be careful with flames around explosives?  How would anyone GET the point when all we see is the fireworks "blowing," as if by magic?

Evidently, none of the grateful citizens who fete the "blasted" Launchpad as Gizmoduck saw the real Gizmo leave the premises with the crate of fireworks in tow.  Fair enough, I guess, since we saw the whole group retreating in the opposite direction as Gizmo moved forward to commandeer the crate.  In any event, LP is now the target of snooping journalists, "superhero groupies," and the Beagle Boys, who conclude, somewhat irrationally, that Scrooge's Money Bin will be fair game if they can kidnap Scrooge's supposed "security guard."  As if Scrooge would have gotten rid of all the traps we saw in "Yuppy Ducks" just because Gizmoduck was on duty...

There's really no compelling reason for the Beagle Boys to be in this episode; Burnett could just as easily have had Launchpad sink more deeply into the media morass as the result of his own mistakes and mishaps (as, in fact, he does while being quizzed by Geralduck Rivera).  Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but the Beagles act pretty childish here, even by their somewhat relaxed DuckTales standards.  Even Big Time seems to lose patience with his brethren, mocking Burger's inane replies not once but twice and, more to the point, repeatedly whacking him over the head the second time around.  This was evidently too traumatic for the tender souls at Toon Disney to bear, for they trimmed the scene, eliminating the on-screen carnage and Big Time's "Sit down, pigeon brain!" and only hinting at the violence that Big Time was doling out.

The Beagles' performance doesn't improve after they're trapped inside the carpet.  They later "confess" to the police that Launchpad turned into Gizmoduck, yet they apparently couldn't hear LP and Gizmo conversing right next to them.  Sigh.

With the madding crowd now making Launchpad's life a living hell, Scrooge decides to stage a "public confession" that will end the charade.  But thanks to the auditory intervention of Mrs. Crackshell's TV, the Gizmosuit comes looking for LP and literally turns him into Gizmoduck.  This can't end well, and, in fact, does not, as Duckburg finally succumbs to the "cartoon city is threatened when the nearby dam is broken" trope.  (The good thing about so many cartoon dams busting?  If there are any escaped zoo animals about, they'll be drowned.)

Harkening back to the lesson he learned in "Money to Burn," Fenton saves the doomed and sinking Gizmopad by making use of his own native abilities.  This performance may actually be more impressive, since counting is part of Fenton's job as an accountant, whereas his channeling of Goofy's "perfect cast" from A Goofy Movie (1995) is a physical skill... and one that he didn't have time to practice in advance.

Problematic in places it may be, but "Identity" manages to overcome its flaws because of the potency of the basic idea, the cleverness of the writing, and, last but certainly not least, the strength of the character of Fenton himself.

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Bumper #23: "Baseball"

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"DuckBlurbs" 

(Greg) The nephews claim that [Gizmoduck]'s close to the family as they go to a conveniently placed closet and dress up into detective gear complete with magnifying glass; thus assuring that I'll never be able to tell them apart for a while. Apparently; he's been at the mansion so much he leaves skid marks on the welcome mat. Oooookkkkkaaayyyyy. 

I wonder whether Burnett got the idea to dress HD&L up as Sherlock Holmes-style detectives as a result of remembering the title of the Holmes story "A Case of Identity," another story which dealt with mistaken identity.

(Greg) Okay; here's a big problem with this: Launchpad's beak shape is different than Gizmo Duck's. Height isn't an issue because of the suit and their builds are somewhat similar so it isn't like Double Darkwings; but the beaks...OH the beaks are going to cause problems. What's funny is that the nephews run down all the similaries and Fenton's ego almost blows his cover every time; including showing a picture of their faces and beaks; forcing Scrooge to hook cane him to shut him up. HAHA! Nice to see Alan Burnett notice that one tiny flaw in logic.

Agreed.

(Greg) So we head back to the mansion as Scrooge is using a computer while Fenton is pacing around blowing off the nephews for thinking that he's not Gizmo Duck. I know people are shocked that Scrooge is using a computer; but I'm not. Anyone who is a toughie needs to learn technology at some point. Scrooge prints off something, using green paper. Yes folks; that was what printer paper looked like in ancient Egypt. 

I can't be sure at this remove, but I think that this was the first time I ever saw Scrooge working on a computer.  In a computer would have to wait for a while.  Since Scrooge did not appear to be familiar with computer banking at the start of "Scrooge's Last Adventure," I have to conclude that this first dip into the world of bits, bytes, and microchips was simply to have another means of communicating with his many business associates.

(Greg) Everyone gives Launchpad the football celebration spot and cheer as we pan left to Webra Walters completing her reporting while one of the Gizmo Duck imposters mugs for the camera for my amusement.

Just as Gizmoduck himself did the "hi, Mom" spot when he arrived at the stadium.  Just another example of Burnett joshing the power of the media. 

(Greg) Launchpad introduces his Gizmoettes, and look; Hildagarde from Maid Of The Myth has made a cameo appearance! How about that?!

It would be even more amazing if there actually had been a character named Hildagarde in that episode.  Unfortunately...

(Greg) So we head back to Launchpad's house as Fenton storms in all full of himself of course. Launchpad grabs Fenton and wants him to stop blowing him off because he finally got the ladies. Now wait a second; I thought LP was already a chick magnet?

Well, sometimes he was.  After such a lengthy period of somnolence, I don't blame LP for losing a little bit of his mojo.

(Greg) Launchpad claims that it's about Gizmo Duck and he's going to bare his soul on television. The nephews wonder if you can do that on television.

Another classic line.

(Greg) ...we head back to Scrooge's office as he and Scrooge are reading the newspaper. Fenton is full of himself because he's a hero now and no one believes Launchpad is Gizmo Duck. Scrooge agrees since Gizmo Duck caused so much damage. Wait; considering who Launchpad is; doesn't this prove Launchpad is Gizmo Duck even more?

I assume that everyone concluded that LP couldn't be Gizmoduck because of the scope of the damage he caused.  Crashing a dam is normally above LP's pay grade.

Next: Episode 89, "The Bride Wore Stripes."

3 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Oh… My… Gosh!

You still have those “musing sketches” of LP I did waaaay back then?!

I’m both delighted -- and embarrassed that actual artists in my acquaintance, like Dan Cunningham and Jonathan Gray, might see them and stop talking to me!

For the sake of all reading this, you’ll be happy to know that I don’t draw anything… anymore! And haven’t for years! (Joe is bowled-over by a huge collective sigh-of-relief)

Oh, and the “Do you belieeeeve this?” line remains one of my most favorite in ALL of DuckTales!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

A wise man once advised me to "never throw anything away."

Chris

Pan MiluĊ› said...

As much I hate to say this and as good that the episode is... that's one episode of season two I can image Doofus being part of.

Think about it - His sad people like Gizmoduck more then Lunchpad and now his happy thinking Lunchpad and Gizmo are the same person... and then hearh broken agian but still find's Lunchpad to be his one true hero and it's end's on heath warming moment betwen the two.

Boy, what emotional jurney could the whole "Gizmo craze" ment to him.



P.S.
Good luck with the next one. I find it the most painfull of the show...