Tuesday, September 2, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 98, "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block"

The last unequivocally BAD episode of DuckTales... and we're going out in a particularly noxious blaze of gory in this case.  "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" isn't the single worst episode of the series, as I previously argued here, but I think that it can fairly be described as having one of the very worst PLOTS of the series, if not THE worst.  The setup here is so transparently laughable and ill-conceived that the ep starts out in a hole that it wouldn't have a chance in a hundred of escaping under the best of conditions... and the inclusion of a thoroughly out-of-date subplot (HD&L dissing Webby's ability to be a hero for gender-based reasons) and a distressing number of silly animation goofs don't exactly qualify as the "best of conditions."  In his final appearance of the series, poor Fenton -- or, at the very least, his Gizmoduck alter ego -- is well and truly "buried" (as Greg pungently put it), to the extent that one is actually relieved that both he and Gizmoduck were resurrected for somewhat more gainful employment in Darkwing Duck.  Even the BEST things about the episode -- Webby's trumping of the bungling HD&L with the display of her heroic capabilities in the guise of the "Gizmo-Kid," and one of Mrs. Crackshell's liveliest and most interesting roles of the series -- come with barbs in their tails.  Granted, we don't get a completely ludicrous denouement a la "Yuppy Ducks" or a thoroughly butchered moral a la "Bubba's Big Brainstorm," but precious little else of substance can be salvaged from this wreckage.  "Gallopin' Garbage!"?  My "scentiments" exactly.

Putting the treatment of Fenton aside for the moment, is there any way that DT could have crafted a scenario in which the kids bicker over the right to use the Gizmosuit (or a version thereof) that would hold the expected cliches to a minimum?  Sure, there is.  In fact, it appeared barely a month after "Gizmo-Kids" first aired, albeit in a comics (for lack of a better term) magazine.  "The Littlest Gizmoduck" (DISNEY ADVENTURES #2, 12/10/90, script by Karen Willson and Chris Weber, art by Roberto Santillo) beats Jeffrey Scott's version six ways to Sunday and eight ways to every other day of the week.  The very first panel of the eight-page digest tale represents an improvement on "Gizmo-Kids," as HD&L and Webby are cooperating to construct a Gizmo-like suit to present at the school crime fair.  The obvious implication is that HD&L and Webby are equally competent, at least in this particular endeavor.  The dispute comes when the kids debate who will get to ride the contraption.  And, yes, the kerfuffle is gender-based, but Webby gives as good as she gets from the very outset, responding to HD&L's claim that "girls aren't crimefighters!" by commandeering the suit when the boys aren't paying attention and then charging into battle against the Beagle Boys at the Duckburg art museum (!).  In "Gizmo-Kids," before Webby finally gets her shot at the shrunken (more about that later) Gizmosuit, we have to endure repeated whining and pleading from her as the lads pass the suit back and forth amongst themselves, which tends to dilute her final triumph a bit.  The Webby of "Littlest Gizmoduck" is a far stronger and far less compromised character.

Even Gizmoduck (whose first of very, VERY few comics appearances this was) is treated with respect in "Littlest Gizmoduck," coming to save the kidnapped Nephews from the Beagles, with Webby continuing to lend a hand along the way.  Given their helpless state throughout the latter portion of the story, the HD&L of "Littlest Gizmoduck" might be considered fall-guys of sorts, but, unlike in "Gizmo-Kids," they do not end up the butt of the gender-joke.

"Littlest Gizmoduck" is too slight of a story to have made for a 22-minute episode, but its superior character dynamics and greater sense of believability are easily apparent.  Even the inexplicable re-dialoguing of the story for its reprinting in UNCLE $CROOGE #392 doesn't mar the essential strength of the work.  The approach taken in "Gizmo-Kids," by contrast, doesn't begin to make up for the fatal plot-related errors committed in the episode's first act -- surely, among the most painful 10 minutes of the entire series.

The ep actually begins fairly promisingly.  The dueling "Mother of the Year" campaigns by Mrs. Crackshell and Ma Beagle hold out promise for some decent funny business, and Mrs. Crackshell certainly delivers some yuks; her mantra about wanting to win the "50inchcablereadywidescreenTV" rivals some of the repetitive phrases in "Nothing to Fear" for sheer catchiness.  Ma Beagle's participation is a bit more problematic.  Her efforts to show "what a good mother she is" (breaking her boys out of the slammer and leading them on thieving expeditions to art museums and clothing stores) seem like, well, things she would encourage her boys to do under normal circumstances.  For what should be obvious reasons, Mrs. Crackshell's efforts, whatever their "true motivation" might be, represent a bigger stretch out of her thimble-sized "comfort zone."  Even so, pairing Ma up with "M'Ma" does make good psychological sense, in that both maternal ancestors are trying to make up for a legacy of neglect of their children (or, in the case of Ma Beagle, outright betrayal, e.g., in "Robot Robbers" and "Hero for Hire").  We see a similar twist on what has come to be expected when the guard at the prison finally sees a sufficient amount of light to inspect Ma's Hickleberry Hiccup Surprise Cake for hidden escape tools.  Too bad that, on this one occasion, the "escape tool" turns out to be Burger himself.  It makes sense, in a perverse way, that this is the final "Beagle escape scene" of the series.  I mean, how could the Beagles be expected to top THIS? (Whether that should be taken as a positive or a negative, I leave as an exercise to the blog-reader.)

And THAT, dear friends, is quite literally as good as it gets.  Perhaps as a symbol of what's to come, in the scene that introduces the young Ducks' recycling campaign, the dollar sign on Scrooge's Money Bin
appears in reverse.  Hang on, Wang Films has more such baubles in store for us.

Do I even have to explain why the whole notion of "shrinking the Gizmosuit in the wash" makes no sense whatsoever, even in a "Toony" context?  Even if one posits that the "polyester-aluminum blend" suit was created by Gyro as a replacement suit following the events of "Attack of the Metal Mites" -- and, in all honesty, it is easy to imagine Scrooge demanding that a "Gizmosuit 2.0" be made less susceptible to consumption by whatever other metal-eating critters might be lurking out there -- polyester doesn't shrink in the wash anyway.  The idea that the new suit is foldable, and therefore can now be carried in a cardboard box, is killed before it even makes its formal debut, since the suit is clearly made of solid material when Mrs. C. lifts it up to look at the label.  (Fenton's washing of the suit near the end of the ep abruptly revives the "foldable" theme.)  Let's not even talk about the change in the computerized code word.  This is a classic example of what the popular Youtube and Deviantart animation reviewer The Mysterious Mr. Enter calls, "I'm going to have this thing happen, because I WANT this thing to happen."  In the rush to get the Gizmosuit down to kid size, Jeffrey Scott tramples logic and reason into the turf.  Why couldn't his story editor have warned him... oh, that's right, we're in the same "flying solo" mode here that we were during "Metal Mites."  There's a lot more turbulence in evidence this time around, though.

Mrs. C. does deserve some props for her impromptu handicraft in putting together the Garbageduck suit.  I fail to see what was accomplished, however, by the tedious "teasing" of the "final reveal" of the woebegone wardrobe until the scene at the art museum.  Thanks to the swan-dive into the box full of cans, Fenton is already well on his way to humiliation before the full splendor of the Garbagesuit is vouchsafed us.  (Wang can't even get the hidden transition right here; Mrs. C. gives the Garbagesuit to Fenton in a box, and the entire suit appears to encase Fenton when he first utters the new code phrase, but Fenton then needs to push the garbage can to the museum by hand in order to perform his transformation there.)

As poor Fenton sinks slowly in the webs, HD&L cover themselves with similar glory, discovering the shrunken Gizmosuit and taking turns botching their tenancies thereof.  Interesting dichotomy here: all three of the Nephews appear to know exactly where certain features of the suit can be accessed, yet they prove to be inept at using them.  (I guess that their founding of the "Gizmoduck Fan Club" in "Full Metal Duck" wasn't for naught, at least in terms of gaining a knowledge of Gizmo-anatomy.)  To be fair, the boys do have one or two little moments of glory...

... but we tend to remember the less successful moments, now, don't we?

That's supposed to be Huey in the suit, BTW.  Thanks, Wang!
Pwned by Baggy, no less! 
And, of course, the sudden amplification of the Nephews' egos makes these goofs seem all the worse, even before they drop that "Super stuff is for boys!" load on Webby's wee head.  Thankfully, when Webby finally takes control in the clothing store, some sense of order is restored.  Even her brief effusion of self-congratulation ("Gizmoooo WEBBY!... to you") is relatively restrained, given what had gone before.  It's unfortunate that this otherwise satisfying ending became so nakedly obvious the moment that HD&L started acting like jerks.  It's also unfortunate that Webby's previous puling about the boys being unfair and not letting her use the suit undercuts the (already thumpingly obvious) moral that Scott was attempting to deliver about girls being the equal of boys.

As for poor Fenton... poor, poor Fenton... he goes from one humiliation to another as he literally attempts to salvage what shreds of respectability still accrue to his secret ID.  His involuntary "dumpster dive" makes Launchpad's two visits to the junkpile in "Hero for Hire" seem dignified by comparison.  Fenton and Mrs. C.'s "ride through the countryside" looks even worse in light of Webby's subsequent competence in battling the Beagles.  "Garbageduck"'s final "wheel-on" may be said to complete the character's abasement, as it makes Fenton's secret identity even clearer than Scott had done in "Metal Mites."  Fenton speaking in his own voice, wearing a Gizmoduck-like suit, accompanied by Mrs. Crackshell... it's like putting ONE and ONE together, fer cryin' out loud.

Even the last couple of scenes don't leave us unscathed.  Having gained back some respect thanks to the wits of that one cake-examining guard, the Duckburg penal system fails even harder than normal when the Beagles and Ma Beagle are put in the same cell.  To say the least, this is far more dubious than Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley sharing occupancy of a cell in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club."  Mrs. Crackshell then partially gives back some of the newfound approbation we have for her by evincing more glee over winning the "Mechanic of the Year Award" than over exchanging a loving gesture with her son.  This leaves it a very open question as to whether Mrs. C. will retain any portion of the lesson she ought to have learned here.  Off her po-faced performance in "Dangerous Currency," in which she forgets that her son is Gizmoduck, I'm inclined to say... um, not.

This little journey may have been rough as the proverbial cob, but cheer up -- this wonderful series ain't going down without a fight.  Just the opposite, in fact.





(GeoX) BOY does that title ever instantly date the hell out of this episode.

At least Harvey Comics didn't try to turn this title into another NKOTB comic-book title.  We got more than enough of those back in the day, thank you.

(GeoX) Fenton gets the suit back to normal size by means that weren't totally clear to me...

He makes a comment that he may have to "lose some weight" to fit into the suit, so it's not even clear that the suit has been restored to normal size.

(GeoX) Scrooge has a bronze statue of himself? As is often the case, I Have My Doubts.

Well, he did have a small statue of himself in Barks' "The Lemming with the Locket."  I will admit that Scrooge having a LARGE statue of himself seems a bit far-fetched.

(GeoX) "A good mother would help her son; therefore, I, being a good mother, will help you."

There's something amusingly... mechanical about this sentiment, or at least the way in which it is expressed.  Mrs. Crackshell IS trying to show that she's a good mother, but she's obviously new at this particular game.

(GeoX) I never got the impression that the [G]izmosuit would just switch around to different users like that. Is there anywhere else where its behavior in that regard is established? Seems like a potentially fatal flaw.

Well, simply using the phrase "Blabberin' blatherskite!" was enough to get Mrs. Crackshell into the suit in "Full Metal Duck"...

... and Launchpad into the suit in "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity"...
... so it's definitely a design flaw, at least in the suit's current incarnation.  (BTW, at some point, the Wang animators evidently got tired of showing all the details of the suit switching from Nephew to Nephew.  When HD&L do the round-robin thing in the clothing store, the suit simply jumps on top of them, and Bingo!  They're encased.)

(Greg) We begin this one at the trailer park as Mrs. Crackshell is watching another soap on television again. And the Duchess of Swansylvania is back with a blond haired duck wearing a green shirt and brown pants. 

The latter appears to be Count Roy of Monte Dumas ("Duck in the Iron Mask") with his mustache shaved off.  In a later scene, the toy salesman from "Allowance Day" makes a comeback as the manager of Crooks Brothers.  With DT drawing to a close, I suppose that it was as good a time as any to start freshening up those resumes.

(Greg) So the guards cannot believe this as the heels drop down and then dig their way through... Then we clearly jump cut to the BB getting up and running out of the prison in front of the sidewalk. Judging by the hearing of a gunshot sound; there was a scene cut for shooting, around 15 seconds or so. Finally! A gun edit in an episode other than TaleSpin that Toon Disney cut out. It also is clear [since] there are bullets spraying around the area as they hop into Ma's jeep. The cut is made even stupider by the fact that on the next shot where Ma declares that she broke them out of prison because she's a good mother; you can clearly see the police guards pointing their rifles for all to see. Too obvious of a cut; and another reason why Toon Disney was so laughable in those days. 

Yep.  We see the bullets whizzing from off-screen as the Beagles exit the escape hole, and again when Ma's jalopy makes the getaway.  We also see the guards shooting at unseen, off-screen targets.  But implying that the bullets from off-screen are coming FROM the guards and are being aimed AT the Beagles?  Nope, can't have that, even though it is cringingly obvious what is happening here.

(Greg) Yeah; they are officially burying Fenton here; although this was the last Gizmo Duck episode in production so it was kind of expected (and then regretted when Stones starting having him do cameos in DARKWING....DUCK!) even though it probably aired before Scrooge's Last Adventure.

It did: "Gizmo-Kids" first aired on November 5, 1990, and "Last Adventure" aired 12 days later.  So I suppose you could say that Fenton, qua Fenton, was rehabilitated to a certain extent by that long-delayed episode.  That's ONLY if you give "Last Adventure" credit as a 1990 episode, however.

(Greg) So [Mrs. Crackshell] hears the phone ring in the garbage and answers it. It is for Fenton; and it's Scrooge as he is in front of the vault and he informs Fenton that the heels are heading for the museum and he wants him there as Gizmo Duck. Fenton is hot under the collar hearing that one.

He should be, considering that Scrooge didn't identify WHAT museum was meant.  Duckburg has an art museum (confirmed by "Rightful Owners," for what that is worth) and a natural history museum ("Bubba Trubba"), among others that have been in various venues seen over the years.

(Greg) Ma and three of the boys (BT, BR and BG) walk in[to the museum] leaving Bouncer to watch the jeep.

Whereupon Bouncer suddenly teleports into the museum to join the other Beagles as they approach the Mona Duck.  Another "Wang moment" for your delectation!

(Greg) Question: How did Gizmo Dewey get in[to the museum] without anyone noticing? The writers didn't seem to bother adding that one little detail. Meaning that Jeffrey Scott doesn't care today which is a BAD sign...

Dewey must have emulated Fenton and rolled there on his Gizmo-wheel, given that Huey, Louie, and Webby show up at just about the same time.  I can certainly understand why, given the mess Dewey made of the Mansion while flying. 

(Greg) The police take the heels away with the coat rack as Gizmo Webby wheels over to Scrooge and Scrooge thinks it's one of the nephews in the suit despite the fact that we NEVER see Scrooge see the Gizmo Kids at all. Stupid, stupid, STUPID! Did I mention dumb?

Scott evidently sensed that Scrooge's initial reaction was a problem, since Scrooge subsequently expresses surprise at the existence of a small Gizmosuit.  That doesn't make up for his original assumption that one of the "lads" was in there, though.

Next: Episode 99, "The Golden Goose, Part 1."


Anonymous said...

This episode is mediocre, but I enjoyed it as a little kid - and I still find Garbage Duck funny.

I think Ma Beagle's characterization is off. Keeper of Beagle tradition she may be, but I think she's self-aware enough to know that a crime spree isn't going to impress the wider community into naming her Mother of the Year (unless its sponsored by Mothers of Criminals). As a minor point, I also liked how Ma Beagle would always escape in her first season appearances.

Jason said...

Obviously, this episode did not have the "right stuff."


I know that was a groaner, but I couldn't resist.

Pan Miluś said...

I never mind this episode that much, in fact I recall loving the Beagles escape scene as a kid...

I also remember of having and enjoying the "Littelest Gizmoduck" comic. Some very lovley and funny art.

One mist opertunity is that they didn't had any of the Beagles (or villians) put on the Gizmosuit.

Another mist opertunity is not having Magica-Glomgold team-up (like they did in the new game) or have a multi-part episode that would had Magica as a villian. There was so much potential in her...