Thursday, August 14, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 92, "Ducky Mountain High"

From December 1989 through the Fall of 1990, DuckTales fans inhabited a strange sort of limbo... or perhaps "purgatory" would be a better word.  After a lengthy run of new second-season episodes for the "sweeps month" of November '89, culminating with "The Masked Mallard" on November 17, the series kicked back into rerun mode.  No real surprise there... except that we had been led to believe that 27 "second-season" episodes had been produced, and we had gotten only 24.  What had happened to the three "strays"?

That the missing episodes had not been "lost" so much as "temporarily misplaced" became clear when the ongoing DuckTales episode guide running in Gladstone Comics' DUCKTALES title wrapped up in issue #12 (March 1990):

So now we knew what to expect, sort of, but WHEN WOULD WE GET THE PAYOFF?  During the early "sweeps months" of 1990, perhaps?  No such luck.  NBC favored us (in a manner of speaking) with the previously-unannounced holiday special "A DuckTales Valentine" in February, but "The Tardy Trio" stubbornly refused to show themselves.  A contemporary drawing by Joe Torcivia summed up our increasing irritation:

Even the Summer 1990 release of DuckTales: The Movie -- Treasure of the Lost Lamp failed to quell our querulousness.  Not after we saw a TV special promoting the film in which footage from "Scrooge's Last Adventure" appeared and our suspiciously overenthusiastic hosts, Tracey Gold and Kadeem Hardison, described the ep as though it had already been released.  So what made THEM so special, hm?  Joe and I would have been jealous if we weren't so thoroughly frustrated.


All finally became clear on Monday, September 10, 1990, with the debut of the Disney Afternoon two-hour block.  The block's three older series -- Gummi Bears, DuckTales, and Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers -- marked the occasion by broadcasting either a completely new episode (Gummis' "A Gummi's Work is Never Done") or a "held-back" episode with a 1989 copyright date (Rescue Rangers' "Zipper Come Home," DT's "Ducky Mountain High").  We were now free to unclench and relax... though two months would elapse before the third of the missing eps ("Last Adventure") would appear, and we still had a few surprises in store in the form of four unanticipated, brand-new eps, including the two-part series finale, "The Golden Goose."  Ah, for the "Heroic Age of Fandom," when we somehow managed to survive despite not always knowing what was headed our way around the next corner!

The series' production order lends credence to the theory that WDTVA simply decided to hold back the last few episodes produced for the 1989-90 season.  "Ducky Mountain High," "The Duck Who Knew Too Much," and "Scrooge's Last Adventure" were three of the last four second-season eps to be produced, along with "The Masked Mallard."  I've little doubt that "Mallard" rated a Fall 1989 broadcast because WDTVA was trying to hitch a ride on Batman's cape.  (As things turned out, the timing was good for "Mallard"'s "Lawrence Loudmouth" parody of Morton Downey, Jr., as well; Downey's controversial talk show had sunk like a stone in the ratings during the 1988-89 season and was cancelled a mere two months before "Mallard" aired.  By the Fall of 1990, "Mouthy Mort" was already well on his way down the pop culture "memory hole.")

Although it is highly unlikely that WDTVA chose to hold back the three episodes that it did strictly because they were of unusually high quality, the fact is that all three of them are quite good, certainly above average for second-season eps in general.  "The Duck Who Knew Too Much" is probably the most uniformly satisfying of the three.  "Ducky Mountain" and "Last Adventure," while highly enjoyable and built around rock-solid thematic cores, both suffer a bit from some distressingly sloppy work at the margins.  The offenses are arguably more bothersome in the case of "Ducky Mountain," because it doesn't take all that much brainwork to see how the various logical problems could have been avoided, or, at the very least, minimized.

Glittering Goldie's reappearance here, for the first time since "Till Nephews Do Us Part," was a pleasant surprise indeed -- the more so because her relationship with Scrooge at the end of that first-season finale was, shall we say, at a crossroads.  As in, "Goldie is cross and is chasing the 'two-timing' Scrooge down the road with a shotgun."  The mere fact that Goldie is willing to deal with Scrooge at all in "Ducky Mountain" suggests that the two of them must have arranged some kind of entente cordiale before things got too terribly bloody.  Given that Scrooge never explicitly declared his "eternal devotion" to Goldie and Goldie neglected to extract such a pledge at the end of "Back to the Klondike," I imagine that the agreement included some sort of apology from Goldie for overreacting so dramatically to the notion of Scrooge getting married to another woman.  I can also envisage Goldie still stewing a bit over the incident even after the concordance was agreed upon.  Marry that subterranean motivation to Goldie's well-known love for all things golden, and the impetus for her scheming here becomes quite clear.  Since Flintheart Glomgold gets caught up in the conniving more or less by chance, it's obvious that Goldie was perfectly prepared to hornswoggle Scrooge all by her lonesome if she had to.

Goldie's sending Scrooge the gold stationery to coax him up to the Great Ducky Mountains is believable enough.  The problem is that writers Ken Koonce, David Weimers, and Rich Fogel never do  establish a clear path between Scrooge's receipt and "scenting-out" of the "New Paper's Secret" and his pinpointing of a specific location as the source of the stationery.  How would Scrooge know that the gold paper came from that particular paper mill?  He might have more than one mill up there, no?  This oversight could easily have been papered over (heh) by changing Scrooge's original reference from "the paper mill" to "my Canadian paper mill."  As filmed, Scrooge's immediate dash for the door (without luggage or supplies, yet!) seems overly precipitous.

Scrooge and Glomgold's ability to sniff out gold also poses something of a problem.  One might reasonably argue that the events of "Too Much of a Gold Thing" left the post-"Gold Fevered" Scrooge with a residual ability to sense gold with his nose, but how do you explain Flinty possessing the same ability, and with no explanation whatsoever?  For Glomgold to have this sort of natural talent flies in the face of his previous uses of technology to keep tabs on Scrooge, as seen in "Wrongway in Ronguay" and "My Mother the Psychic," to take two examples.  Glomgold's constant need to rely on cheating, subterfuge, and other indirect means of keeping up with Scrooge also strongly suggests that he does not possess -- or possesses far less of -- Scrooge's inherent ability to find wealth.  Heck, Flinty even admits as much in "Wrongway" when he tells "El Capitan," "You don't know Scrooge -- he's a money magnet, he'll find the gold for sure."  No indication there that Glomgold may have a similarly "magnetic personality."  The sudden amplification of Glomgold's pelf-perception powers is basically a hastily-concocted way of getting Flinty involved in the action; simply having Flinty see gold flecks in the paper would have been sufficient.  Nor is there any explanation as to how Flinty tracked the stationery to the exact same paper mill (though, if Scrooge had been clearer about having just ONE paper mill in Canada, the deduction would have been a little easier to make).

GeoX calls Bubba's role here the caveduck's best of the series.  I'd be inclined to agree, but not in spite of the sudden sports obsession... rather, because of it.  Bubba's preternatural tracking skills may be a more consistent element of his character, but they derive directly from the survival skills he was obliged to develop in 1,000,000 BC.  His sudden enthusiasm for sports, by contrast, is an acquired trait that fits much better with his "charge-in-and-grunt-questions-later" persona than any contrived obsession with rock music ever could.  It also happens to tie in with one of the very few Bubba-focused comics stories, "Slugga Bubba" from DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST, in which HD&L teach Bubba how to play baseball and he turns out to be a "natural" at the game.  We do get the expected "flubbas" and subsequent blowups by Scrooge, but Bubba gets a more than ample number of opportunities to make up for the mistakes.  In terms of what he actually contributes to the Ducks' ultimate (albeit consequently blighted) triumph, he certainly outshines HD&L here, just as he outpaced Webby in "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby."  For a final series appearance by a generally disappointing and arguably ill-conceived character, this is considerably better than half-bad, or even three-quarters-bad.

The existence of the stand of gold trees is, of course, wildly problematic, and not simply because of the hand-waved "the roots soaked up gold from the gold deposit" explanation.  When Scrooge and HD&L first go exploring and run across the trees, the stand is located near the edge of a cliff (which will never be seen again).  Since the Ducks have been walking on Scrooge's land in the direction of the trees, the logical conclusion is that Scrooge's land ends, and Goldie's begins, immediately past the cliff.  So, if the roots are growing in the direction that we later learn they are, then they would have to be growing... um, into the cliff side?  Wouldn't the roots have grown through and out of the cliff in that case?  It's a heavy price to pay for the nifty visual in which Scrooge and HD&L climb up the cliff and we get the dramatic reveal of the trees.  Note the substantial size of the stand, BTW; it's going to get considerably smaller before we're through...

Scrooge's decision to don a buckskin outfit before going to call on (and attempt to fleece) Goldie is an easily missed, but nonetheless noticeable, indication of "Ducky Mountain"'s lack of subtlety compared to an ep like "Back to the Klondike."  Scrooge has donned "stereotypical, location-appropriate garb" before (for example, in "The Curse of Castle McDuck"), but this reminded me a little more of Launchpad dressing in garish green Irish gear in "Luck O' the Ducks" or (shudder!) Scrooge putting on that over-the-top cowboy outfit in "Ducks of the West."  There seems to be no real reason for it, not even the borderline excuse given in "Castle McDuck" that Scrooge needed to put on the Clan McDuck tartans because his regular raiment had gotten wet.  Scrooge describes the outfit as an "investment," but, later on in the ep, he'll purchase a whole bunch of lumberjacking gear and then plan to return it once the gold trees are harvested.  Surely, the backwoods garb cost far more than any of those items, and yet Scrooge is going to... keep it?  No... sense... making... Must... find... sense...

Thankfully, just prior to Scrooge's strange splurge, we get an indication that we'll soon be heading due north (into Canada, what a coincidence!) in terms of the ep's quality, as Glomgold makes contact with the Canadian Beagle Boys.  Actually, Backwoods, Binky (who was not mentioned in the Gladstone DuckTales index), and Bacon are never explicitly referred to by that title, so that first official animated appearance by Vic Lockman's "Beagles International" will have to await some bright, shiny day in the future.  (If there is a future, as William F. Buckley, Jr. once said in a different context.)

 "Beagle Bug-Off" (Gladstone UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #34, September 1995)
"SPEACH! SPEACH!!"

As Greg says, it's hard to dislike the Canadian Beagles despite the obvious stereotyping, the "Eh"s and all the rest... simply because it's absolutely impossible to take them seriously.  The buzzards that can be seen circling below the CBBs' dilapidated cliffside shack telegraphs the truth about them right away: as a legitimate threat to the Ducks, they are D.O.A.  The Beagles of "Don't Give Up the Ship" were positive menaces compared to these guys.

Goldie's "playing" of Scrooge and Flinty at her cabin is executed in a first-rate manner, though Goldie's use of what GeoX accurately terms a "f***ing grotesque" blond wig makes her look like a superannuated Webby (and, like Scrooge's buckskin outfit, seems too contrived by half).  Goldie did just fine, thank you, wearing her old honkytonk outfit but keeping her becoming gray hair in "Back to the Klondike."  At the start of the sequence, we get a nice reprise of the "reunion" scene of "Klondike" when Scrooge cautiously approaches the door, only to be met by gunfire from the porch, and Goldie gets away with a surprisingly gamy metaphor when she explains her move from the Klondike to the Great Duckies by reporting that the duo's old claim at White Agony Creek had been "picked cleaner than a vulture on a rabbit."

When Glomgold shows up, Scrooge rises -- or lowers -- to the bait, and the misers subsequently act like a couple of bickering children for a spell.  They even channel the spirit of classic Warner Bros. cartoons past with the "Out you go!/No, out YOU go!" routine, culminating in both of them somehow getting tossed out at the same time, in the manner of Bugs Bunny and Sylvester the Dog in Hare Force (1944). Of course, the gussying-up Goldie is oblivious to all of this... we think.  At least she didn't end up being thrown out herself, as Granny was in the Warners short.

The foolishness continues after the trio reach the Moosehead Lodge; Scrooge literally "stuffs" Glomgold when he escorts Goldie out of the truck and into the restaurant, and Flinty later goes Scrooge one better by squashing him while the two are bidding on Goldie's land.  You have to give Goldie credit for taking full advantage of the unexpected presence of Glomgold and recognizing that having a bidding rival will make Scrooge even more of a sucker for her scheme.  It's no surprise that Goldie ultimately chooses Scrooge's offer, even though Glomgold offered the higher dollar amount.  The whole purpose of this enterprise was to get one over on Scrooge, after all.

"Flat"tery will get you nowhere, Flinty!

Act Three continues the pattern of the episode as a whole: solid ideas and decent action, partially undercut by questionable details that were not completely worked out.  It makes sense that Scrooge and the CBBs would try to "undercut" Scrooge's deal by taking away the gold trees for themselves, but why didn't the ever-vigilant Scrooge think to post a guard to make sure that such a fairly obvious dodge wouldn't take place?  (All you'd need would be Bubba and a conveniently placed large boulder.  Judging by this episode, the latter appear to be scattered all over the place.)  And why are the total pickings from the forest sufficiently tiny to allow Glomgold to wrap them all up in a single, smallish raft?  Thankfully, the Ducks' dispatching of the hapless CBBs, and Scrooge and Glomgold's subsequent raft-wrassle, follow in short order and help us to quickly forget the oversights... until we go back and do a detailed rewatch, that is.
Axes?  Guns?  What's the difference, Toon Disney?
We then get... yet another conveyor-belt sequence, on the heels of "Money to Burn"?  Really??  Complete with the same trope that the victim stays on the belt just long enough to be rescued, regardless of how far away he is from the blade at the start and how fast the belt is moving?  We are well and truly on the downhill slide now when it comes to exciting new plot ideas (actually, a better analogy than a slide would be the waterfall that Scrooge and Glomgold take their plummet over just before Scrooge wakes up in the sawmill).  From a character-based perspective, the most annoying thing about this version of the familiar routine is Scrooge's seeming lack of interest in trying to find a way to save himself.  Even Monterey Jack, the would-be victim in Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers' "Love is a Many Splintered Thing," managed to foil the scheme of Desiree D'Allure and Erol by twisting the log so that the blade would miss him and cut off his bindings.  Would Scrooge, so famously "tougher than the toughies," really restrict his efforts to plaintive cries of "Help!", rather than fighting his apparent fate every millimeter of the way?  I can SORT of buy Scrooge's despair in "Money to Burn" causing him to become temporarily inert -- he had every reason to think at the time that his fortune was in the process of being melted down -- but giving up in the face of a terminal triumph by Glomgold?  No way can I accept that.  At least the sequence gives Launchpad, hitherto a relatively secondary player in this particular cast (save for one or two good quips), something interesting and in character to do.  His overelaborate attempt to swing to Scrooge's rescue, complete with egotistical disclaimer, brings back pleasant memories of "The Webbed Wonder" rescuing money from banks "his way" in "Hero for Hire."  Seeing such an overt callback to the greatest Launchpad episode of them all at this late stage can't help but raise this ep's rating a few notches.  I put the absence of a scene showing the unsuccessful LP making contact with the log pile down to a combination of a straitened budget and, just perhaps, the animators' lack of confidence in the ability to show, or their unwillingness to add, what they might have considered to be a superfluous scene.  More's the pity.

Before coming to Scrooge's aid, the other Ducks had, of course, foiled Glomgold's plan to "[get] away with the gold wood" by knocking down the railroad bridge... a rather drastic thing to do, given that other trains passing along the route are going to be in for a nasty surprise, but an appropriately bravura climax to the subtheme of Bubba's sports obsession saving the day.  With the gold planks (I thought the raft was made up of logs?  Did Flinty take the time to cut up the logs into planks before he turned his attention to disposing of Scrooge?) safely stowed away at the bottom of the gorge, it'll be a simple matter to go back and... waitasec... Greg is completely right!  What's to prevent Glomgold and the CBBs from picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and going to look for another means of carrying at least some of their booty away?  Scrooge doesn't even seem to consider that possibility, leading Launchpad, HD&L, and Bubba from the sawmill right back to the field of tree stumps to look for the gold deposit.  The Scrooge I know, realizing that his claim to the land was secure but that his ownership of the gold lumber wasn't, would almost certainly have made sure that the "wood in the hand" was safe and sound before attacking a potential fortune.

The final sequence is carried off to near-perfection, despite the annoying reduction of the forest of gold trees to a tiny bit of acreage that is just large enough to give the Ducks sufficient elbow room to dig for the gold deposit.  Scrooge, as we all knew he would, suffers an attack of conscience and 'fesses up to the deception, and Goldie's unexpectedly generous response leads to some rough-and-ready animation of a newly-excited Scrooge "digging for dollars."  It's as if the animation here is meant to reflect Scrooge's jangled state of mind.

Contact lens FAIL!
Then the other spat drops, and, well, there's only one thing to question here... When, exactly, did Scrooge demonstrate to Goldie how to be a "dirty deal maker"?  Goldie went of her own accord to White Agony Creek to pay off her debt to Scrooge in "Klondike," and the pair were probably too busy mining and (AHEM!) doing other things to have time for outside chicanery during their period of cohabitation.  It might have been better had Goldie simply repeated what Scrooge had said earlier and referred to Scrooge in more neutral terms as a "master" of driving a hard bargain, specific terms and circumstances not stated.  Scrooge might console himself with the thought that, once he cuts down the remaining tree stumps and recovers the gold lumber, he'll come away from the "fleecing" with something.  The psychological trauma of being outdone is liable to linger a little bit longer, despite that makeup kiss at the end.

Simply letting Goldie be Goldie, and in a slightly different setting to boot, lifts "Ducky Mountain" into the category of near-great DT eps, despite all of the ep's niggling flaws.  It might be argued that, of all of DT's Barksian supporting players, Goldie turned out to be the one who was most successfully realized, though I think that you could also make a case for Gyro Gearloose.  Even Goldie's "non-canonical" appearances featured an entirely believable version of the character.  Are they as successful as Don Rosa's portrayals?  I would argue not, because the uses of Goldie on DuckTales were a little less ambitious overall.  But there can be no question that DT did right by "the greediest gal in the Klondike."

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"DuckBlurbs" 

(GeoX) Okay, I also kind of liked the ostentatiously Canadian Beagles that appear here, if only for their aggressive bizarreness. One of them's a pig. "He had a bad case of swine flu." I like how that non-explanation is just sort of left dangling there.

The gag in which Backwoods admits that the boys ate their calendar was "aggressively bizarre," too.

(GeoX) [I]n spite of the ending's welcome tartness, they just can't resist tossing in a little sugar: Goldie kisses him and he blushes and winks at the camera as we go out with a heart. Hmph.

I'd like to think that they might have considered irising out on Scrooge realizing the truth, but I guess they felt that Scrooge and Goldie's continuance of their relationship had to be made clear.

(Greg) Flint admits that he needs backup and walks stage left as we logically head to a cliff where the shack was earlier on the overhead shot (See; build and everything) as we head inside and see the Backwoods Beagles for the first time. Two of the Beagle Boys in this are wearing gold miners and wood cutter outfits and have oversized beards. The Big Time'ish Beagle (with the raccoon hat) kicks the spit of moose antlers and blows off all this normalcy. Oh; and he speaks with a stereotypical Canadian accent. How do I know? He sezs "eh" in every other sentence...  The reason why I don't take offense to it is because Canadians typically know how to laugh at themselves when they see such an obvious stereotype. Heck; watch the closing of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games for a refresher course.

The only gag that I might legitimately have questioned was the sight of an outhouse next to the Moosehead Lodge.  C'mon, even in the depths of rural Canada, indoor plumbing DOES exist.  I did get a chuckle out of the use of the plinky-plinky piano music from "Klondike" and the Klondike sequence of "Once Upon a Dime," as if "nothing has really changed" in that neck of the woods between the late 1800s and 1989!

(Greg) ["Lumberjerk" Launchpad] plays golf with the axe; and that breaks the glass and shoots the conveniently placed blunderbuss and almost kills Huey with it in the process. And Toon Disney kept it all for us to see.

That, plus the scene in which HD&L are wielding axes, presumably with intent to maim.  Censorship: HOW does it work?!

Next: Episode 93, "The Masked Mallard."

9 comments:

Jason said...

I didn’t even know this episode existed until I saw it on the Disney Channel, probably around 1993 or 1994. Perhaps my ignorance was bliss as I never had to agonize over its delay in airing! It turned out to be a nice surprise since it was a new Goldie episode.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I think we can all be thankful that I turned my attentions from DRAWING to WRITING!

Hard to believe I actually sat down and drew things like that… AND sent them out through the mail! Might that be considered as some sort of Federal Offense? “Heroic Age of Fandom”, indeed!

But, you’re right. We DID get occasional “big surprises”, the likes of which we never get today!

Gotta love that “Bacon” was really a pig!

And, that Beagle-splash has got to be the greatest thing that Vic Lockman ever drew! …Not that it had much competition!

Joe.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Arnold Ziffel (Green Acres) was a major influence on the writers when they introduced a pig as a Beagle Boy.

This should have been the Valentine's Day special instead of the (in my opinion) saccharine and stupid A Ducktales Valentine.

Mike Russo said...

Who animated this episode? By the end of the show the animation looks nothing like Wang/Cuckoo's Nest. Unfortunately all copies of this on Youtube are either incomplete or missing the end credits.

Pan MiluĊ› said...

My favorite episode of the second/third season! :D Scrooge vs. Glomgold fighting over Goldie made me thing about Donald and Gladstone.

I still think this was writen as frist season episode, they just thrown in Bubba into the mix...

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Again, your perception of artistic ability is relative... I could never have drawn as well as that!!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

"This should have been the Valentine's Day special instead of the (in my opinion) saccharine and stupid A Ducktales Valentine."

Leaving aside "Back to the Klondike," "Ducky Mountain" is probably the best choice that could have been made.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Mike,

Yeah, it's frustrating because ALL of the videos cut off right before the studio would normally be given!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

It could very well have been a first-season episode, at least in terms of theme, but the slightly "looser" sense of humor clearly marks it as a late-series offering.

Chris