Monday, August 11, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 91, "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby"

And so, we enter "the top of the stretch"... only 10 more eps to go.  Original broadcast dates are going to start getting a little wonky before long, since three of the "second-season" episodes were famously held back to provide additional "new material" for the first season of The Disney Afternoon.  Of the "second-season" eps that were actually broadcast during the "official" (read: syndicated) second season, we're now down to a precious two: "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby" and "The Masked Mallard."  Quite an unlikely brace, to be sure...

I think that Greg has "Attack" pegged pretty accurately: Godawful premise, unimaginative first and second acts, partial redemption in Act Three.  My major deviation from this template is the reason for the success of the climactic action -- specifically, the "King Kong in reverse" showdown at McDuck Tower.  I'd like to give writers Alan Burnett and Mark Seidenberg due credit for coming up with the ingenious idea of mating (in a figurative sense, of course) the giant-sized Webby and the (relatively) pint-sized monkey previously known as the "Long-Tailed Gorilla," but, in truth, similar ground had been plowed almost four decades ago, albeit in a relatively obscure venue.  In issue #3 (February 1975) of RICHIE RICH PROFITS, Richie's girlfriend Gloria and the miniature gorilla "Kong King" gamboled about a scale-model version of the Empire State Building while being pestered by remote-controlled biplanes.  Amusingly, the two generic crooks in this Warren Kremer-drawn story, like the genially sleazy circus owner Happy Jack of "Attack," are after the monkey, as opposed to the monstrous maiden.

What makes the McDuck tower sequence work so well is not so much the basic visual setup as the canvas on which it is painted.  The earlier part of the ep featured more than its share of slovenly animation, a few examples of which we'll see below, but, when it comes time for the "money sequence," the much-put-upon Wang Films comes up aces full, splashing the screen with dramatic P.O.V. shots and ingenious employment of spotlights and shadows.  Wang doesn't get the sequence completely right -- when the top of the tower breaks off and Webby and "Mr. Fuzzy" plummet to the ground, the tower-piece doesn't follow them onto the pavement, or anywhere else, for that matter -- but the effort that was made here is readily apparent.  Even a predictable and cliched final post-Tower scene can't spoil the overall effect.

Unfortunately, before we get to the payoff, we are obliged to slog through some rather dreary preliminaries, starting with the inexplicable decision to base the entire episode upon the premise of Webby being too physically small to be noticed.  You don't have to be a Webby partisan to call "no way" on this one; you simply have to be able to use your functioning eyeballs and note, like GeoX, that Webby is the same size as the Nephews.  "Back Out in the Outback" avoided this mistake, explaining away Webby's unseen departure from the sheep station as a result of HD&L's carelessness and Webby's fixation on meeting Australian animals, rather than Webby's physical size.  Even the setup of "The Good Muddahs" bested "Attack"'s approach insofar as believability goes (with the arguable exception of Webby overreacting to the busy Mrs. Beakley's blowoff).  Judging by Webby's alternatively explosive and sarcastic reactions to other characters overlooking her presence, we are led to believe that this issue has been bothering Webby for some time.  Pardon me if I don't buy it.  Even Burnett and Seidenberg seem uneasy with their own premise here; Webby's jumping up and down, presumably "to see over HD&L and Bubba," during the scene in Scrooge's office is a textbook example of "jackhammering" to get a point across.

Burnett and Seidenberg then compound their folly by presenting Webby's decision to defy Scrooge and sneak aboard the Ducks' Africa-bound plane as if this were some new, bold idea.  Of course it isn't; Webby was playing the "tagalong" as far back as "Dinosaur Ducks" and "Cold Duck."  How far back do B&S plan to walk Webby's character, anyway?

As it turns out, far worse is soon to come.  Webby's enumeration of her "essential" supplies -- "my Quackypatch doll, extra hair ribbons, and a canteen of cocoa" -- is a distillation of all of the things that Webby-bashers delight in bringing up when they criticize the character: childishness, impracticality, tokenishness, and, of course, stereotyped "little-girl" behavior.  Contra Greg, this scene doesn't completely bury Webby -- her brief tenure in the shrunken Gizmosuit in "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" will quite literally help to save that episode from complete and utter ruin -- but, BOY, does it give back almost all the ground that Webby has gained and fought to hold over the previous 90 episodes.  It says something, I think, that Bubba, whose amazing tracking skills are referred to and employed throughout the episode -- first to locate the "Long-Tailed Gorilla," later to track down giant Webby -- seems to be more fully developed a cast member here than the unfortunate Ms. Vanderquack. 

Happy Jack -- who represents, almost surely, the only melding of The Who, The Flintstones, and Ed Wynn in the long, strange annals of pop culture -- deserves special note as the series' first one-shot villain to employ the Beagle Boys as the functional equivalents of "hood-for-hire" mercenaries.  (Charles Upstuck III of "The Status Seekers" came close, but he hired the blueblood Beagle Boys, rather than their uncouth cousins, or half-brothers, or whatever.)  This may not sound like much of a departure, but in fact it is: even Carl Barks rarely used the idea.  Big Time's initial reluctance to participate in the "monkey business" is very much in character; recall how he blew off Magica de Spell's offer to team up in "Send in the Clones."  His teeth-grinding deference to Burger when the deal is closed might therefore reflect a subconscious admission that the palmy days of the first season, when the Beagles actually seemed like a legitimate threat, are well and truly over, and the more caricatured members of the Beagle bunch are now driving the "plot train"!

The scene in which Jack is first introduced was obviously inspired by the Flintstones episode "Circus Business" (1965), in which a poverty-stricken carnival owner bestows his flea-bitten show upon the credulous Fred.  We get the "group montage" in which the unpaid performers walk out on Jack and a featured appearance by a "half-man, half-woman" character for good measure.  The Beagle Boys' later role as "monkey trainers" for the captured "Long-Tailed Gorilla" might also be a reflection of the denouement of the Flintstones episode, in which the Flintstones and the Rubbles manage to put on a show to help Fred avoid jail time for "misrepresentation," but I'm not nearly as confident of a connection there.

The jungle sequence that climaxes with Webby falling into the "magic spring" and growing to 50 feet in height couldn't have been more obvious and square-cut if Burnett and Seidenberg had consciously set out to make it so.  All of the tropes -- cheesy Beagle Boy disguises, Webby's capture by the "Long-Tailed Gorilla" and subsequent discovery of the ape's secret, the reveal of the "magic spring" and Webby's dunking -- are all visible from several hundred miles away, even for someone of normal stature.  This fact tends to focus one's attention on side matters, and the ones that pop out at us here are not flattering, particularly in the area of animation.  The supposedly creepy reveal of the "Long-Tailed Gorilla" as a pair of watching eyes, unlike the similar reveal of Prince Greydrake in "Jungle Duck," is likely to elicit laughter rather than fear:

The REAL "Jungle Phantom"?

Likewise, Webby's "waterslide" is every bit as awkwardly staged as Greg suggests, with Webby seemingly sitting on the surface of the water as she floats along.  I guess this means that Webby can be classified as half-divine.
To be fair, Webby's bonding with "Mr. Fuzzy" is reasonably cute without being overly cloying, and Webby should receive some credit for doping out the truth about the sizable simian all by her lonesome.  It would probably have been better, though, had her reference work of choice been the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook, as opposed to a "mere" ABC picture book.

After the oversized Webby is brought home, we are treated to an unexpected second appearance by Dr. Von Swine, whose ego appears to have been inflated since the events of "Yuppy Ducks" for no apparent reason.  Von Swine is slightly more tolerable here than in that earlier train wreck of an episode, but it must be admitted that he could easily have been written out of the plot by the simple expedient of the Nephews' having checked the JW Guidebook and found the recipe BEFORE they came home, which one would normally expect them to have done.  All Von Swine actually does here is to provide some of the formula's more esoteric ingredients, such as "Bootle bug dust," and the list of necessities could easily have been made sufficiently mundane that HD&L could have tracked them down all by themselves.  I guess that the decision to use Von Swine was simply due to the fact that Howard Morris was already at hand.
Before you swoon over yourself too much, Doc, you ought to consider reapplying the Grecian Formula...

The comparatively perfunctory "effects of a giant Webby" sequence could have benefited from some additional action scenes -- for example, showing, rather than describing, some of HD&L and Bubba's disastrous attempts to play with their newly-enlarged pseudo-sibling -- but we do get a touching moment in which Webby weeps about her fate, along with *sigh* the obligatory wish that she be "little again" (as if she ever actually were).  Immediately following this scene, the ep at long last begins to ascend to something legitimately watchable, with the put-upon Webby finally deciding to get proactive after she learns via TV that Happy Jack has put the "Long-Tailed Gorilla" on exhibit.  It's about time that Webby stopped whining about her fate and tried to use her enhanced stature to do something meaningful.  I do have to wonder how Scrooge was able to construct that oversized bed so quickly.  Does this mean that the giant bed that a younger Scrooge dreamed of owning in Vic Lockman and Barks' "The Invisible Intruder" is both (1) canonical and (2) still in storage somewhere in McDuck Mansion?

There follows a nearly impeccable Act Three, with Webby giving far more than she gets atop McDuck Tower and Bubba, for once, playing the lead "Nephew," as HD&L and Scrooge are content to follow him while he is tracking down "Webba."  One might grouse about the fact that Happy Jack and the Beagles get off relatively lightly, suffering only a plunge into Duckburg Bay, but, given that they never actually commit a crime -- they use strongarm tactics to try and keep the Ducks away from the "Long-Tailed Gorilla," but they wind up capturing the ape, if not entirely fairly, then at the very least squarely -- the standard "frog-march to jail" would have seemed a bit on the "overkillish" side here.  In addition to the obvious King Kong references, Burnett and Seidenberg throw in allusions to Godzilla and the classic horror film The Fly (1958).

"Yeeesss, I SEE!"

The ep shifts back into "we've-seen-it" mode in the final minute, with Webby and the restored "Mr. Fuzzy" having a tearful departure and the Nephews and Bubba promising to "keep Webby in sight" from now on.  (What about the fate of "McDuck's Drive-Thru Safariland"?  Did Scrooge reconsider the investment after the "Long-Tailed Gorilla" ceased to exist?)  So I think it's fair to say that Act Three, all by itself, saves this episode from a failing grade.  No need to despair, though: in the few episodes we've got left, high quality will generally be the norm, rather than the exception.





(GeoX) Giant Webby is way huger than Giant Monkey. I suppose the idea is that she's the same size in relation to it as she would be if they were both regular-sized, but in that case, that's one minuscule monkey. 

One could make the argument that Webby, being larger than the monkey, experienced a faster rate of growth than the monkey when she was enlarged, but that doesn't hold water; normal-sized Webby turns out to be only slightly larger than the normal-sized monkey.  Wang Films probably should get most of the blame for this.

(Greg) And then we start flushing the episode down the crapper as Webby gets mad because she was hiding all morning hoping they were looking for her. Now the problem with this is: There was no indication that the nephews wanted to play with her. Yes; it's the contrived and sexist: Boys refuse to play with girls plot line because she's too little to them. This works a lot better with Molly Cunningham because she's legit small and she's smaller than Kit is.

It wasn't so much the fact that the boys "refused to play" with Webby as the fact that they weren't even aware of her presence.  The episode commit a later faux pas along these lines when giant Webby says that the boys "refuse to play with [her]" and the Nephews proceed to explain that their attempts to do so led to disaster.

(Greg) Happy Jack is not happy at all of this happening and needs a brand new attraction to get back in the good graces of the customers. He reads the conveniently placed newspaper and notices that Scrooge is going ape for an ape as he walks out of the trailer and he claims that the long tailed "gorilla" is his meal ticket in.

Strange... Scrooge told the kids that he wanted to beat other "Gorilla" searchers to the punch, yet Happy Jack learns of the expedition from a newspaper article.  So how did the word get out?  Incidentally, the name of Jack's circus, "Circus Barkas," is a parody of a real-world circus... one that I actually saw as a child, no less.

(Greg) Huey thinks he hears something and out come the Beagle Gorillas acting so badly that if these kids and Scrooge fall for it; then Airhead Syndrome is at an all time high. As in "number of drugs needed to enjoy this angle". And yes they fall for it...

Point *sigh* taken.  It's especially annoying here because all the Beagles would have had to do to make better disguises was to take off the number plates and masks.  Is that REALLY so hard to do?

(Greg) Anyhow; the monkey pulls to the left some big ass blades of glass and we barely see a lake of hot molten blue liquid in sight as Webby deduces that this made the monkey big and the monkey nods in approval. 

The not entirely dissimilar Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Leviathan" (1967) uses an "underwater fissure," rather than a pool, as the source of the enlargement.  Like the fissure, the effects of the pool extend well beyond the immediate vicinity of the source.

(Greg)[,] the "big girls don't cry" line from the nephews annoyed me too. Big girls do cry; usually when someone BULLIES them for being big and fat.

I don't think that Burnett and Seidenberg were making a real-world point here so much as simply parodying one of The Four Seasons' biggest hits.

(Greg) Happy Jack wakes up Burger by what was supposed to be a kick to the chest; but Wang Films screwed up it so bad that it looks like Burger got kicked in the balls.

Picture, thousand words:

(Greg) We cut to a police car as the police dog [Chief O'Hara clone] from Ducky Horror Picture Show... is on the transmitter and wants the army, air force and the Goose Gun. The WHAT?! What the hell is he talking about?

He actually said, "Call in the Army, the Air Force, the Goose Guard!"

Next: Episode 92, "Ducky Mountain High."


Pan Miluś said...

Pretty bland episode in my opinion. The only thing I found memorable was joke about Beagles wanting to take Baggy to a "big cultural event" on his birthday.

The next one however will be my favorite of the entrie second season! (Honestly, I still think it was writen for season 1, they just forced Bubba in)

Jason said...

This episode has its share of oddities. First, did you notice the plane in this episode is the one from “Cold Duck” and “Too Much of a Gold Thing?” Also, where’s Launchpad? It is very weird that he doesn’t show up at all.

The debut of The Disney Afternoon actually hurt my viewing of the show. Untile then, Ducktales aired around 4pm, but when TDA showed up, it got pushed to 2pm on a different channel, but I didn’t get home from school until around 3:30. So I had to catch the entire fourth season on the Disney Channel a few years later.

Joe Torcivia said...


To MY personal sensibilities, could this be your greatest DUCKTALES review ever?!

References and visuals to THE FLINTSTONES, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA… and the “animated Raymond Burr” from PINKY AND THE BRAIN? Not to mention Carl Barks? Gotta love ALL of that!

You can actually see an honest-to-goodness “Half-Man-Half Woman” in the 1932 circus/horror film “Freaks” (made by the director of the original “Dracula”, Tod Browning), which was introduced to me this past year by the individual who made THIS FILM. The “Half-Man-Half Woman”, as well as the other “attractions” in the film, was the genuine article – so everybody swears. And he/she looks not all that unlike the way such characters were depicted in animation.

To VOYAGE: The actor fighting the submarine Seaview, was actually submerged in a huge tank of water for that sequence, in order to achieve the best realism in the action! He held his breath for the many takes, and had to be hauled up in order to breathe, and then dunked back down again - repeatedly. I could just imagine Irwin Allen acting exactly like one of those “over-enthusiastic movie directors” in Hanna-Barbera cartoons, during the filming of the scene.

And, I can’t imagine Scrooge doesn’t have a huge memento / trophy / junk-too-valuable-to-throw-away / storage room somewhere on his property. That’s where he kept “The Big Bed”, other items of folly like his “golden coat”…and that tremendous firecracker from “Synthezoid from the Deepest Void”! (UNCLE SCROOGE # 370).

Chris Barat said...


Why no Launchpad? I figure that they didn't want to pay Terry McGovern for what would have been a very small role. They at least addressed the matter by having Scrooge confess that he is not used to flying his own copter.


Pan Miluś said...

Forgive me for the oftopic but I just like to write :

YOU INSPIRED ME to start doing reviews (with detailed analysis) of obscure Polish cartoons on my blog
( )

It's in Polish so far but maybe one day I will write them in english.


Chris Barat said...


Ha, I had a feeling you'd get a kick out of that collection of clips!

"And, I can’t imagine Scrooge doesn’t have a huge memento / trophy / junk-too-valuable-to-throw-away / storage room somewhere on his property. That’s where he kept “The Big Bed”, other items of folly like his “golden coat”…and that tremendous firecracker from “Synthezoid from the Deepest Void”! (UNCLE SCROOGE # 370)."

It's probably an Udvar-Hazy-like auxiliary to the "Main" memento room (the one we see at the start of "Son of the Sun" for example).


Chris Barat said...


I inspired you? I'm greatly flattered, to be sure! ;-)


Pan Miluś said...

Yes! All the work you did with the articles about Duck Tales episodes... Fantastic job :)