Thursday, July 17, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 89, "The Bride Wore Stripes"

We haven't seen a split decision like this since... when?  "Ducky Horror Picture Show," perhaps?  As in that earlier case, GeoX -- B-I-I-G surprise -- condemned "The Bride Wore Stripes" to the depths of Tartarus, while Greg rather enjoyed it, despite its glaringly obvious logical shortcomings.  Even Joe and I found ourselves disagreeing on it, though not quite to the same degree.  Joe's life experiences had, in a sense, prepared him to better appreciate the episode's sardonic portrayal of the supposed "marriage" of Scrooge and Ma Beagle and, more to the point, of the core notion that Ma intends to exploit the vagaries of divorce law in order to take Scrooge for half of his fortune.  Not being all that worldly-wise or "battleax-scarred" at the time, I was more inclined to focus on the jaw-dropping silliness of the whole concept.     

While Ken Koonce and David Weimers (running dangerously close to "creative empty" by this point) get the writing credit for "Bride," the story is attributed to George Atkins.  Here was a unique intersection of talents from two different eras of (and, more to the point, approaches to) great TV animation.  Atkins was one of the original writers for Jay Ward's Rocky and His Friends, toiled on several other Ward series, and provided scripts for UPA's Mister Magoo and The Dick Tracy Show.  "Bride" marked the first and only time that a writer from one of the Ward series (as opposed to voice talents like June Foray and Bill Scott) contributed to a WDTVA production.  But do we see any traces here of that distinctive Ward sense of oddball humor?  It'd be hard for me to say "yes."  Whatever cleverness may have been wedged into Atkins' original concept is pretty much swamped by the exact same kinds of gags that have been eating away over time at whatever residual respect the audience has maintained for the by-now-standard trio of Big Time, Burger, and Baggy.  (Where's Bouncer, you ask?  As we learn at the very start of the ep, he is serving a jail sentence, presumably to be followed by yet another unsuccessful re-re-re-re-rehabilitation.)  Ma's rant at the beginning, in which she lambastes her "dim" sons and complains about having to live in a "rat shack," could almost be taken as a meta-comment on what has become of the Beagle brood in general.  If you want to interpret this long-simmering explosion as the G-rated equivalent of "a long string of disconnected profanity," Geo, then feel free to do so.

Another familiar genre of gag is also on display as HD&L drag a reluctant Scrooge all over town to gather various goodies for Mrs. Beakley's birthday.  Repetitive ribs at Scrooge's cheapness have been used off and on in the series, most famously in "Don't Give Up the Ship" and "Down and Out in Duckburg."  The triptych of tightwaddery to which we are subjected here doesn't make Scrooge look as bad as he does in those earlier episodes... quite.  Buying seeds instead of flowers is an ingenious enough gag that it could have appeared in a Carl Barks one-pager, but purchasing a cheap, frosting-denuded cake and a completely inappropriate "birthday card" simply make Scrooge look careless and hard-hearted.  The Nephews' increasing frustration with Scrooge's unwillingness to part with his cash provides a nice, if easily overlooked, counterpoint to Ma's eruption in the opening scene.  It's as if the boys somehow realize that this story is fated to be packed with predictable humor and are rebelling against that fact.

As Scrooge is being pushed through his parsimonious paces, Ma is setting her cockamamie scheme in motion to create the impression of a bogus marriage out of whole cloth.  (We will pass without comment over the question of where she was able to cadge a striped bridal gown in such short order.)  The plan is irritatingly slipshod from the get-go, culminating in that infamous "family faketrait" onto which Scrooge's face has been crudely taped.  Then again, how many times have we seen the Beagles fool Scrooge and others with "disguises" while not even bothering to hide their number plates?  Isn't Ma simply going with the flow here, trusting in the stupefying incompetence of the Duckburg judicial system to backstop anything she might try to pull off?  This particular cabal, however, is heavy-handed enough that one can easily imagine the Law of Diminishing Returns kicking in and Ma being found out...

... until Scrooge and Ma meet in court before a judge whose ineptitude puts all those Barksian owl judges in the comics to shame.  Those guys may have provided some comical moments, but they never took the law to the depths explored in the courtroom of Judge B. Fair, who seizes on a slip of Scrooge's tongue and declares the couple "duck and wife."  (Interesting verbal formulation, there.  Are there similar phrases used when male dogfaces and pigfaces get married?)  Not that Scrooge is entirely blameless here.  We meet his lawyer later in the episode, but she's nowhere in evidence during this hearing.  The experience of "Duckman of Aquatraz" should have taught Scrooge NEVER to enter a court case against a longstanding foe without some legal assistance, ESPECIALLY when he's dealing with what passes for Duckburgian "justice."  Despite Ma's presentation of a marriage license -- I would think that both parties would have to have signed said license in order for it to stand as an official record of the marriage -- calling this setup "contrived" would be an insult to unlikely coincidences everywhere.

The episode has been pretty draggy up until this point, and it continues to be so until the end of Act One.  Ma and her boys set up housekeeping in McDuck Mansion, leading to the expected string of "mass Beagle destruction" gags and a concurrent rise in Scrooge's blood pressure.  The Beagles' increasingly amped-up childishness really grates here, so much so that the half-adult gag involving Scrooge going to bed and finding a mud-masked Ma Beagle "lying in state" seems more mature and risque than it truly is.  The only thing that might have livened this whole sequence up a bit is for Webby and Bubba to have run afoul of the Mansion-ransacking Beagles.  Where are those two, anyway?  One can understand K&W wanting to sort of put Bubba "out of sight and out of mind" by this time, but, given that the disruption of the extended McDuck family is the focal point here, shouldn't Webby have been included?  Did K&W somehow forget the precedent set by "Send in the Clones," for which they provided the script?

Act Two opens with one more silly-time gag (the clueless Beagles monopolizing the bathroom -- actually, shouldn't a mansion as large as Scrooge's have multiple bathrooms, thus sparing the aggravated miser the small Calvary of waiting until the Beagles are finished? -- and inexplicably causing a flood that washes Scrooge down the staircase), and then the script abruptly begins to grow something resembling a brain, as Scrooge consults with his lawyer on what to do.  The lawyer character, who speaks in what appears to be Russi Taylor's natural voice, is something of an eye-opener in a series in which the depiction of females has, shall we say, not always been all that progressive.  She even wears a suit and tie, nudging us intriguingly close to cross-dressing.  Too bad that her advice is distressingly generic (and that she had earlier responded to Scrooge's news about his "marriage" by offering to buy him a wedding gift). 

The flowering and subsequent deflowering of Scrooge's plan to rid his home of Ma's ministrations is the funniest thing in the episode.  The Nephews finally get to play a bratty role for a good cause, and the list of demands gets longer and longer until Ma topples over in a dead faint.  Remarkably, she then picks herself up and rises to the challenge... and, as she does so, the latest OCD that she'd earlier displayed in "Beaglemania" snaps back to the fore.  It isn't enough that she display simple competence at her various household tasks; she turns into a super homemaker, even going so far as to (gasp!) refuse to give Burger between-meal snacks.  By the time she tells a dumbfounded Scrooge that "housework has fulfilled me in a way no bank heist ever could!", we're almost tempted to believe that she's prepared to scandalize the "Crime Mothers" club and go legit.  I'd like to think that Atkins was primarily responsible for thinking up this amusing sequence, which is just satirical enough to faintly resemble something a former Ward writer, even one in the twilight of his career, might have cooked up. 

Having made its point about Ma's metamorphosis, the episode proceeds to jump on it repeatedly and hammer it into the ground.  References to The Brady Bunch and Father Knows Best provide a clear indication that Ma's newfound enthusiasm for domestic life is starting to curdle into something obnoxious.  Things come to a head with the drawing-room scene in which Ma coerces Burger (who, like his brothers, has now been coaxed into wearing grotesquely ill-fitting HD&L outfits) into reciting poetry.  Toon Disney was having none of the idea that Ma would need to brandish and fire a pistol to get Burger to spout his doggerel (Beagle Boy?  Doggerel?  Get it?) and cut out the brief scenes in which Burger blows Ma off and Ma literally "fires back."  TD shouldn't have bothered; the scene was already off-putting enough, so how would subtracting firearms enhance it?

HD&L's, Duckworth's, and Mrs. Beakley's precipitate retreat begs a small but nagging question.  In order to set up the scheme that will ultimately entrap Ma, Scrooge needed the cooperation of HD&L, at least, since Louie winds up tape-recording Ma's inadvertent confession.  But when the boys run off in protest, how does Scrooge know where they're going?  It can't be to the servants' "homes," since said "homes" are presumably in the Mansion.  Perhaps Scrooge played the odds and, thinking back to "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club," reasoned that his servants and Nephews must have retreated to the comparative security of Launchpad Unlimited.

Both Greg and GeoX ripped on the "brilliant" plan wherein Scrooge fakes his own death and gets the cops to suspect Ma of murder.  I agree that the fact that a videotape of the fake drowning incident would work against that charge in a (competent) court of law... BUT... I think that Scrooge was banking on the fact that Ma would panic and blurt out the truth if she were put on the spot.  In that case, the existence of the tape becomes irrelevant.  Of course, the revelation that HD&L and the servants were in on the plot all along would have gone down much more smoothly had Koonce and Weimers made it clearer that the good guys had been in some sort of contact after HD&L, Duckworth, and Mrs. Beakley had vamoosed.  As presented, the compliance of the Nephews and the servants in the plot just seems to drop out of the clear blue.

I think that K&W missed an opportunity in not making more of the comically sinister moment in which Scrooge momentarily gets the "perfectly demented idea" of bumping off Ma.  No, I DON'T mean to suggest that Scrooge should have tried to go through with it!  But, if you're going to set up a comedic Hitchcockian situation, then you might as well roll with it and see where it leads.  Just imagine, for example, if Ma's panicky confession had been motivated by her mistakenly thinking that Scrooge was trying to kill her.  Thankfully, the upcoming "The Duck Who Knew Too Much" will not make the same mistake, presenting Fenton as a befuddled, put-upon Hitchcockian fall guy. 

The safest thing to do regarding "The Bride Wore Stripes" is probably to file it in the "writing for a paycheck" cabinet.  The ep could have been a lot more subversive and envelope-pushing had Koonce and Weimers decide to delve more deeply into some of the plot's darker implications.  Either they consciously chose not to or, far more likely, they decided that putting that much thought into the episode simply wasn't worth the trouble.  "Bride" has enough laugh-getting moments to lift it out of the category of a flat failure, but it would be a stretch to call it either memorable or satisfying.

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Bumper #24: "Dino-Lick"
  
And with that, my bumper collection is officially exhausted.  I'll post additional bumpers if they exist, but I'll need your help to find them.

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) Actually, there is one good thing about [this episode]: when some Beagle comments that Ma "sure [has] been on edge lately," she respond with what sounds for all the world--I replayed it a half dozen times--like "Well, what do you expect--after living in this rat s**t all these years!" Another good thing that's at least related to the episode: in comments on youtube you can hear some dude elaborating on his desire to f*** Ma Beagle. So that's very edifying.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Geo, but I distinctly heard her saying "rat shack."  And I believe that the Youtube you mentioned was taken down some time ago... unfortunately (?).  

(GeoX) "If I were married, my wife would own half my fortune! And if she ever divorced me, she'd take half of it with her!" No such thing as a prenuptial agreement in Calisota, then?

No, folks just fill out a standardized, one-sacrament-fits-all form.  Saves time. 

(GeoX) I was sort of okay with Ma Beagle at first. After this extended exposure to her…not so much anymore.

Well, she has one more appearance to go, "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block," and... let's just say that she's far from the worst feature of that episode.  So there's that. 

(Greg) Scrooge wants something lower and [the bakery salesperson] offers a generic cake which looks like it has mold frosting on it for $2 and Scrooge asks how much without the frosting and the nephews blow it off because it's in awful shape. Scrooge counters by saying that Mrs. Beakly is in awful shape too. Yeah; let's be cheap AND sexist all at the same time Scroogie.

I think you mean "weightist."  And this isn't an isolated incident, far from it; there are a distressingly large number of second-season episodes in which Mrs. Beakley's plus size is the butt of unfunny jokes.  The really sad thing is that Scrooge himself is the source of a good number of them. 

(Greg) All the babyfaces then run off to the door stage left as Duckworth and Mrs. Beakly quit because they are about to throw up. Scrooge blocks the door in front of the nephews and the nephews blow him off because this family is dead to them and they run past Scrooge in spite of his pleas.

HD&L actually say something much more intriguing here: "Where Mrs. Beakley goes, we go!".  How far they have come from the days of "Three Ducks of the Condor," eh?  The declaration has the additional effect of (1) making all those cracks about Mrs. B.'s weight seem even more insensitive and (2) making it all the more noticeable that Webby is mystifyingly absent. 

(Greg) Scrooge sinks like a stone into the money and does a three count and then sinks and is out of sight allowing the heels to panic on cue. Now anyone who knows Scrooge's gimmick knows this is bullcrap; but the heels fall for it anyway and run out of the dining room to get shop. Burger wants a symbol paramedic which is pretty funny.

It's actually "single medic," which is even funnier. 

(Greg) Then Scrooge pops up and proclaims that this is what they wanted to hear. Scrooge walks up the ladder as he asks Louie about the evidence and Louie shows the evidence on tape.

Those intrigued by Duck anatomy, take note: the "impossible hip pocket" first seen at the end of "Yuppy Ducks" is back!  And Louie is the "pocketeer" in both cases!  Do Huey and Dewey have such accoutrements as well?  If not, then why is Louie the only Nephew with them?  There's a paper in this for an ambitious "Donaldist" with time on his or her hands.

Next: Episode 90, "The Unbreakable Bin." (My hope is to get this one out before my surgery on Monday, leaving me with a nice, round ten episodes to go.  I'll do my best.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed this episode, dumb as it is.

My theory about Webby's absences (within the show) is that she's simply spending time with other relatives (Great Aunt, cousins, maybe). When Mrs. Beakley discovered the Beagles were coming to live at the mansion, she sent Webby to visit other relations for safe keeping.

Pan MiluĊ› said...

Ok. I going to say ONE nice thing about the episode. Are you ready? Ok.

I find the part when Burger tells the poem kindoff funny in a odd, slithly disturbing - "I know he's a manchild... but what the heck?" - way.

Other then that I never liked the episode and I always found it to be most stupid premise for an DuckTales episode.

I wish DuckTales rather did their version of VoodoHoodo or something...

Anne said...

Russi Taylor's natural voice is actually a lot like Minnie's, just a little lower. Here's a clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhooVh-MdMA