Thursday, August 28, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 96, "A DuckTales Valentine"... and a moment with "DuckTales: The Movie"

Among the standalone half-hour episodes of DuckTales, "A DuckTales Valentine"... well, stands alone, only more so.  Originally broadcast on February 11, 1990 as the first part of an hour-long Magical World of Disney Valentine's Day special...

... it subsequently turned up in syndication, albeit with a badly butchered title card that treats "DuckTales" as, I guess, a character, complete with a first and a last name.  Shades of the infamous "DuckTales in..." byline that we saw in Marvel-Disney's DISNEY AFTERNOON title, among other places.

The original version of the title card, which only appeared during the original NBC broadcast, makes "DT Valentine" the only DuckTales episode with THREE distinct titles.  This is also the only time that any DT ep got the picture-card title treatment that later became S.O.P. during Quack Pack.  (Do all of the auguries so far sound a bit... ominous?  I'd say so.)

(Hey, it would've probably been better than the show we DID get.)

Depending upon whether you regard "Back to the Klondike" as a Valentine's Day episode -- I'm inclined to say not, given that (1) the Valentine's theme is merely a sidebar to the actual plot; (2) WDTVA itself seemed to have no problem slating "Klondike"'s original broadcast for late October 1987 -- "Valentine" broke WDTVA's duck (sorry) as the first full-fledged "holiday" episode that the studio had ever produced.  The fact that DuckTales had eschewed "holiday" productions up until this point could actually be considered a positive of sorts.  The individuals who toiled on the series apparently had sufficient confidence in the show's entertainment level that they did not feel the need for such "expected" seasonal offerings.  The increased use of "holiday" eps in later WDTVA series admittedly resulted in at least one universally acknowledged masterpiece, but it also figuratively shortened the distance between WDTVA productions and productions from other, frequently less inspired studios.

Doing a Valentine's special obliges the creator to answer a very tricky question: What is the appropriate tone to take?  From my perspective, "DT Valentine" was fighting something of an uphill battle from the start.  The prime Valentine's special of my youth, "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" (1975), mixed a good deal of wistfulness in with the expected sentiment -- in fact, most of the attention went to the subversion of romantic assumptions.  Charlie Brown's well-established frustration at never getting a Valentine was an obvious choice for a subplot, but Charles Schulz' script added to the expected angst:  Linus bought an elaborate box of candy that he intended to give to his beloved teacher Miss Othmar, only to erupt in fury after he watched the oblivious Miss O. drive away with her boyfriend.

Then, too, "Back to the Klondike" had already partially compromised any additional attempt that DuckTales might take towards the Valentine's holiday, slathering several thick layers of "pink-tinted cuteness" onto an existing narrative that was famed for its astringence.  (Don Rosa's slightly different take on the events of "Klondike" didn't exist at the time, but suffice it to say that the contrast would have seemed even sharper if it had existed.) I had come to terms with the series' approach to "Klondike" by the time "DT Valentine" aired, but I hadn't forgotten the (still somewhat disturbing) precedent.

Given the relatively modest hopes that I had for "DT Valentine" going in, I actually found the end product to be unexpectedly enjoyable.  Granted, there are more than enough flaws to pick at here, not the least of which is the ultra-syrupy "pulsating heart" fadeout scene.  GeoX is right; this really does make the heart-shaped smoke plumes of "Klondike" seem subtle and underplayed.  The fact that the sentiment being expressed (Scrooge's devotion to his family) is one that has long since been established as a basic characteristic of the DuckTales version of Scrooge makes the lovey-dovey overkill feel akin to being beaten over the head with a greeting card (as an unsentimental someone once described a viewing of The Sound of Music [1965]).

  Even a majority of the Ducks seem a bit uncomfortable with this approach.

Other issues of tone will affect one's opinion of the narrative, especially Webby's "saccharine burbling" (GeoX) and/or "melodramatic crap" (Greg).  Honestly, most of this didn't bother me.  Webby was far more hapless and unendurable in "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby," in which even Bubba Duck outshone her.  Her gift of a Valentine's cupcake to the love-struck Scrooge (who subsequently palms the pastry off on an indifferent Aphroducky) is played in a somewhat cutesy manner, including the silly use of heart-shaped black pupils, which tends to obscure the salient fact that Webby, unlike HD&L, is willing to continue trying to get through to Scrooge, a clear indication of just how much she really cares for him.  We also shouldn't forget that Webby (1) is the first kid to use one of Cupid's arrows as a weapon, when she jabs Aphroducky the first time; (2) is accepted as an equal by HD&L when the kids stow away on Scrooge and Launchpad's plane; (3) plays her part in bamboozling Aphroducky into thinking that she's allergic to Scrooge's money.  Some "burbling" there might be, but Webby is most definitely "a full part of the team" here -- a nice callback to some of her stronger past roles.

Scrooge's attitude here, though less noticeable than Webby's, is also something that a viewer must fight through.  Until the love spell is broken and Scrooge rescues the kids from Vulcan's pit, this must rank as Scrooge's most unlikable performance since... I don't know, "Ducks on the Lam," maybe?  Or "Aqua Ducks" and "Working for Scales"?  Whichever precedent you choose, man, is he having the proverbial "terrible day" here.  We get a sense of what's coming right at the start when the kids point out that Scrooge has been incommunicado for weeks while he's been researching the location of the Lost Temple of Aphroducky.  Scrooge subsequently blows off V-Day as "sentimental drivel," forbids HD&L and Webby from coming with him to find the Temple (as if that's ever stopped them before...), hurls a few "Scrooge's Pet"-vintage insults at Launchpad, erupts in disgust when he discovers the nature of "the greatest treasure of all" (compare his restrained reaction to the truth about the treasure of the ancient Thinkas in "Bubba's Big Brainstorm"), and so on, and so unpleasant... whereupon he gets poked with an arrow and turns into a lovesick fool.  Needless to say, Scrooge's "original sin" -- namely, his indifference towards the kids -- is atoned for in full when he realizes that HD&L and Webby are in physical peril and his protective instincts towards "[his] own kin" come to the fore.  But a whole lot of green-tinted bile and candy-flavored goo has to flow under the bridge before we can get to that point.

So what "saves" this ep for me?  Well, first off, it does have a proper plot with an appropriate payoff, in the manner of a more or less typical half-hour episode from the first season.  There's nothing here remotely comparable to, say, Act Three of "Yuppy Ducks," or the final chapter of "Time is Money," in terms of insulting the intelligence.  Vulcan's attack on McDuck Mansion, and the addled Scrooge's self-correction, are both logical consequences of what has gone before.  The only real loose thread that I can discern is a lack of an explanation for exactly how Aphroducky and Vulcan's "magic monitor" works.  OK, the thing "dings" (oddly enough, in the manner of a microwave or a toaster oven) when someone, or something, is in Aphroducky's sunken Temple.  So wouldn't it be "dinging" all the time, given that Aphroducky inadvertently reveals that passing sea creatures (such as the shark) are able to activate it?  I can see that aural irritant contributing to Aphro and Vulcan's... er, domestic issues.  Also, when Vulcan turns on the device, why does it suddenly act like a television set rather than a security camera, and why does it immediately bring up a picture of Aphroducky?  This wouldn't be so important, except that the "magic TV" is the means whereby Vulcan learns that his betrothed is "two-timing" him and subsequently searches for Scrooge with intent to clobber.  The fact that both Aphro and Vulcan know exactly where to find Scrooge (Vulcan needs some help, but he knows enough to go to Duckburg, at the very least) can be more easily be brushed off because, well, these characters ARE gods, after all.  You wouldn't expect Princess Celestia to need a GPS, either.  But the use of the "magic monitor" as a convenient "whatsit" that gives characters exactly the information they need to keep the plot moving has always struck me as too convenient by half.

"AH!  The spanakopita's done?!"
Now, what ABOUT Aphroducky and Vulcan?  Neither GeoX nor Greg seems to have thought much of their portrayals here.  I'm not talking about relatively petty stuff, like the mixture of Greek and Roman names; I'm referring to the fact that Aphro and Vulky are channeling The Bickersons throughout.  Well, that's not strictly true.  The trick to understanding their characterizations here is to realize that Kenneth Mars and Linda Gary are pretty obviously basing their performances on Ralph and Alice Kramden from The Honeymooners.  This is at once a clever reference that adds to one's enjoyment of the episode (much as the knowledge that Lawrence Loudmouth was based on Morton Downey Jr. augments one's appreciation of "The Masked Mallard") and an intriguing interpretation of the well-known fact that the deities of classical mythology were essentially "fallible men and women" who just happened to possess godlike powers.  How better to illustrate the somewhat tempestuous interpersonal relations of the Greek and Roman "super-power elite" than to interpret them in terms of one of the most famous "contentious couples" from our own popular culture?  

The media-inflected portrayal of Aphroducky and Vulcan reflects the manner in which "DT Valentine" is basically a first-season episode in terms of plot setup -- search for a mythical lost treasure, discovery that the treasure comes with a few barbs (literally) attached, interactions with figures from myth and legend, plenty of action -- but a second-season episode in terms of humor style.  A similar mixture of seasons can be seen in the depiction of Launchpad.  Before he is "poked" and falls in love with the shark, LP swings between "standard" bouts of ineptitude and moments of legitimate derring-do, touched with a bit of genuine heroism (e.g., when he prepares to face the shark and tells Scrooge to save himself and the kids).  This portrayal comes to a halt when the tetched LP gives the shark that yard-long smackeroo.  Then, a touch of seriousness returns when LP is forced to choose between flying and living with the shark.  Finally, LP makes with the wisecracks, ill-advised or otherwise, during Vulcan's attack.  Which version of Launchpad do you prefer?  Take your pick, they're all here.

The influence of the first season on this episode can most easily be seen during the action scenes, which are surprisingly intense for a supposedly "saccharine" effort.  Launchpad riding the shark, Aphroducky attacking Scrooge in the Money Bin, and Vulcan going after Scrooge all deliver the goods.  Even HD&L and Webby get to join in the physical fun when they "make their points" with various characters' posteriors.  There are plenty of far less sentimental DT episodes with far feebler action content.

The somewhat troublesome distinction that is made here between "stimulated infatuation" and "true love" can be finessed by interpreting the latter phrase as "true passion."  Launchpad's passion is obviously flying (as he himself says in the foreshadowing monologue during the flight to the treasure site), and, as for Scrooge... well, even Barks saw fit to admit in his stories that, despite Scrooge's emotional and psychological attachment to his money, there are certain lines that the miser will not cross: his decision to let Glittering Goldie have the rest of the gold on the White Agony Creek claim in "Back to the Klondike" is but the most famous of these.  Add to this DT's previously-established axiom that Scrooge has (literally) learned to care deeply about his family -- progressing from the solitude of "Don't Give Up the Ship" to the determination that the kids need to be taken care of, no matter what, in "Scrooge's Last Adventure," and it's easy to accept Scrooge's "true passion" being the welfare of those in his charge.  We could definitely have done without the "heart-filled" jackhammering, but I can see what Len Uhley was aiming for here.

Thanks to a pretty robust plot, some solidly comic grace notes, and a few moments of legitimately heartwarming sentiment, "A DuckTales Valentine" is nowhere near the utter disaster it could have been -- provided that you can stomach the sweetness, of course.





(GeoX) [Scrooge] refuses to allow HDL and Webby to go along, and there's an unintentionally hilarious bit where they're like, oh man, what'll we do? And then the camera focuses on an empty crate and they're all, maybe we CAN go, after all! Dudes, you stow away in boxes three or four times a week. Don't act like the idea is such a revelation.

Scrooge has even less of an excuse to let the kids get away with this than he normally would have, given that the plane's cargo hold is virtually deserted, apart from the box in which HD&L and Webby are hiding. 

(GeoX) And [the Ducks] find statues of Aphroducky, as well as Vulcan and Cupid, and two things: A) if you're going to give one of them a lame duck-oriented name, you have to do it for all of them. None of this lame inconsistency; and B) Aphrodite is Greek; Vulcan and Cupid are Roman. I don't think it's asking too much to expect the show to get this fairly basic bit right--at least, if you don't want people to resort to the dam[n]ing-with-faint-praise "who cares? It's just a dumb kids' show." Of course, you probably want to keep "Cupid," since "Eros" doesn't quite have the same cultural resonance, and besides, hypersensitive parent groups might get enraged. So the best choice would've been to just go with "Venus;" we'd lose the awesome duck-name, of course, but I can honestly say that that is a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

Again, I would have gotten more bent out of shape about fidelity to classic myth and all that were it not for the fact that the god-characters are basically placeholders for a media parody.  I'm willing to cut the episode some slack on that account, as opposed to dismissing the inconsistency as "something you expect in a kids' show."  "Home Sweet Homer" mixed real and "Ducked-up" character and place names, too, and I didn't find that bothersome in the leastI will, however, note that the statue of Aphroducky literally changes in appearance from one scene to the next.  Keep an eye on her hair.

(GeoX) "This so-called holiday is just a ploy by the card and candy companies to make a buck!" We're clearly meant to disagree with this statement, but…well, don't get me wrong, I find lazy anti-Valentine's-Day cynicism super-boring, but the fact remains, it's sorta kinda completely true.

This does seem considerably harsher than Scrooge's comment about Valentine's Day in "Back to the Klondike": "A waste of time and postage stamps."  That rings a bit truer to Scrooge's personality, in the sense that saving money on postage is the first tangible thing that comes to his mind.  Scrooge's cynicism about the holiday may simply be Len Uhley expressing his own jaundiced views to the audience, just as he displayed cynicism about the media and the Duckburg power structure in "The Masked Mallard."

(Greg) Scrooge also shows a map with a big red X on the lower left which Louie uses the magnifying glass on it and sounds generally not interested. 

We've come a long way from "Treasure of the Golden Suns," haven't we?  An elaborate search for multiple pieces of a map there, a couldn't-misinterpret-it-if-you-tried "big red X" here.  Guess Uhley was simply anxious to get to the good stuff.  At least this opening wasn't quite as tossed off as the one in "Ducky Mountain High."

(Greg) So we scene change to underwater as Launchpad is manning an orange hover sub which has no dome and thus the babyfaces have to wear their underwater suits. And the kids are with them of course...

Funny (as always) how Scrooge flipped from saying "I told you not to come!" to allowing HD&L and Webby to join in the potentially dangerous search, as opposed to simply leaving them on board the plane, which he would have had every right to do.

Another potential thesis for the enterprising Donaldist: "Effects of Exterior Duck Bows on the Flow of a Surrounding Viscous Fluid Medium." (Subtitle: "Including an Analysis of the Webby Effect vs. the Daisy Effect.")

(Greg) Louie has the flashlight on full blast and notices a stone box half buried in sand with Greek writing on it. Launchpad floats down and he has no idea how to translate Greek; to no one's surprise. Scrooge comes down and he somehow is able to translate the writing and it's the greatest treasure as he, Louie and LP pry open the box and there is nothing inside of it; other than a Greek word written on the bottom which loosely translates into love.

And which Launchpad, for some inexplicable reason, is able to translate immediately after having admitted that he doesn't know how to read Greek.  But Uhley simply had to have that "It's Greek to me" line in there somewhere.  (Heck, Launchpad openly admits as much.)

(Greg) Dewey however; saves this mission by being under the Cupid statue and pointing to the PLOT DEVICE OF THE DAY - the golden arrows of love. Wait; so Webby noticed the statue and didn't realize that the treasure Scrooge wanted was already in the quiver about thirty seconds ago? Damn; this episode is frustrating me.

The nature of the arrows is much clearer in the shot with Dewey than in the shots with Webby -- in the former, the gold is much brighter, and the quiver is clearly visible.  Part of this can perhaps be explained by the fact that the two shots below are taken from different sides of the Cupid statue.  Webby is blocking us from view of the quiver, and the light must be shining from in front of Dewey for the gold to gleam so brightly.

(Greg) Aphro (voiced by the late Linda Gary) doesn't want to bother with the grovelling and wants the arrows right now. Scrooge no sells in typical fashion as we are redoing Raiders Of The Lost Harp.

Very much so... only this version is slightly more comedic, in the second-season tradition.  Yes, even though "Raiders" featured the pro-wrestler version of Magica.

(Greg) Yes; I think we know where this is going [to the climactic attack by Vulcan] and while it is really the right booking decision; the buildup to it is so awful that it's difficult to have any empathy towards the kids. This is why Kit and Molly were so special because they could pull this one off a lot better since they know heartache a lot more than these kids do.

Greg definitely seems to be of the opinion that HD&L and Webby needed to be punished in some manner for their actions here.  I don't get that at all.  The only true mistakes that the kids made were (1) to accidentally stab Scrooge with the arrow when they were trying to trap Aphroducky (file under the heading of an "honest mistake"); (2) incorrectly thinking that Scrooge's "true love" is his money, rather than his family (somewhat questionable, given that they have gone through the same series-long chain of events that Scrooge has, but also understandable, given that the DuckTales Scrooge often gives the impression that money is that important to him).




So... um... DuckTales: The Movie

Hey, what did you expect?  Try finding it anywhere.  Why Disney chose to release the DVD version through the Disney Movie Club, I'll NEVER know.

If the phrase "It is what it is" hadn't been fated to be inflicted upon the world 20 years in the future, then it would surely have been created for the purposes of describing DT:TM.  It's a pretty straightforward big-screen adaptation of the series, drawing heavily upon the precedents set in the TV series' first season, with some immensely memorable scenes (the gang's discovery of the Treasure of Collie Baba, the kids getting caught in the Money Bin stairwell as Merlock transforms the Bin into "Casa de Kookoo") and a lot of interstitial material that is more or less cutesy.  I happen to like it quite a bit, even while I admit that it doesn't truly break any new ground in the manner of, let us say, A Goofy Movie.  (I will leave open the question of what might have happened had WDTVA been permitted to make a large number of additional half-hour episodes in place of the movie.)  From the perspective of DuckTales the series, of course, the effects of DT:TM can be narrowed down to...

But we'll make that Bedouin and lie in it next time, as we begin to tackle the handful of remaining new episodes from the Disney Afternoon era.

Next: Episode 97, "Attack of the Metal Mites."


kenisu said...

It's recently been announced that DuckTales: The Movie is going to be released retail in January. It can be pre-ordered here:

Anyway, I'm really fond of A DuckTales Valentine. I seem to vaguely remember having accidentally missed the first ten minutes or so of the special when it first aired. And I don't think I caught it when it was serialized, either. So basically, this was the only DT episode I had never seen in full when I came back to the series as an adult.

Also, there's another interesting thing to note here: I'm 99.9% sure this special marks the very last DT music recording session for Ron Jones.

Anonymous said...

I suppose if Vulcan had at one point said "One of these days, POW, to the moon" or "Aphroducky, you're the greatest!" I may have caught on to the Honeymooners Parody. It would have helped, though been no less gooey, if Aphroducky had been shown to be truly in love with Vulcan rather than just jabbed into it with her love arrow.

An I Love Lucy parody might have been funnier:

Aphroducky [Lucy]: So when's Zeus going to put on the heat? It's freezing today.

Heracluck [Ethel]: Well you know Zeus [Fred], he doesn't put on the heat unless its -40.

Aphroducky: The heat will be on if Vulcan finds out I've been using cupid's arrows again.

Heracluck: You haven't!

Vulcan [Ricky] comes in:

Vulcan: Aphroducky, you've got some 'splaining to do.

Aphroducky: Ewwwww! (making a face)

Vulcan: Aphroducky, how many times have I told you dunt go poking mortals with your love arrows.

Aphroducky: You dunt?

Vulcan: You know what I mean.

Aphroducky: But Vulcan, I love making the mortals fall in love. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy proposes to girl. Boy buys girl diamond engagement ring . . . .

Vulcan: The buy and girl can meet and fall in luv on their own without your phony love arrows.

Aphroducky: Phony! Well!

Vulcan: Never mind. I've hidden them where you can't find them! And dun't you go looking for them!

Vulcan leaves.

Aphroducky: Quick Heracluck, let's find my arrows!

Heracluck: Wait, isn't that your magic lamp? Doesn't that mean someone's in your temple?

[etc, etc]

Personally, I can't accept that Scrooge isn't truly in love with money the same way Launchpad is in with flying (nowhere in the episode does it say it has to be the one true love). Weeping over discoloured bills (Magica's Shadow War), putting money in jars (Metal Attraction), singing "I love to count money, I do, I do" (Bermuda Triangle Tangle), etc., suggests a great deal of passion is involved.

Chris Barat said...


Thanks for the news about DT:TM coming into general DVD release. I'll be sure to post an update on the front page.


Pan Miluś said...

The part when you write about difrence betwen "stimulated infatuation", "true love" and "true passion" reminds me of this anime "Sugar, Sugar Run".

It's focus on two 10 year old witches who are sent to earth to steal the hearts of boy. Whenever they make a boy feel emiton toward them they can take away his hearth - represented by a hearth-shape diamond (after they take it the boy get's back to normal and forgets his emotion) In the show they where difrent types of hearts (each in difrent color) representing difrent types of "love" (well not much love as "facinations"). There was love as result jelousy, friendship, amusment, passioned love and other difrent urges.

It was very clever cartoon that focuse on teaching young girls that not all 'sexual emotion" are equal to real love, difrences betwen them and that this is wrong to manipulate feelings of boys to get what they want. Plus very cute. Strong recomendation! ;)

P.S. I love the joke when Aphroducky comes to Scrooge, he kicks here out and she comes back angry and sparkling with power.