Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Enjoying the Anguish?

That is, the anguish of waiting for my DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE on "Allowance Day"?  Well, I've been undergoing a fair amount of anguish of my own lately, some expected (the run-up to final exams, most of which I am giving early in exam week) and some not (the combination of a new blood pressure medication and some issues with my CPAP device resulting in a string of nights with broken and/or little sleep).  I did manage to start the "Allowance Day" writeup over the weekend, but I'm not sure when I'll finish it.  I'm also a little behind on the My Little Pony comics and episode updates...

... but I hope to belt one out soon, before I run smack into the conclusion of the season (the wrapping up of the Equestria Games and "Mysterious LOCKBOX OF DOOM" seasonal arcs). At least I finally got a decent amount of sleep last night...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 77, "My Mother the Psychic"

Though it was first broadcast at the end of the first full week of new second-season DuckTales episodes, "My Mother the Psychic" went into production immediately after the adventure-themed "The Land of Trala La."  In other words, it was the first ep of the Bubba-Fenton era that could truly be termed "normal," as opposed to a link in a multi-part epic chain or a tale that took the Ducks to an exotic locale.  Its sitcommy "vibe," complete with gimmick-driven plot and snappy, back-and-forth dialogue, foreshadows the approaches that will be taken in a large number of Fenton/Gizmoduck episodes to come, which isn't necessarily a bad thing -- though, over time, familiarity with the drill will breed, if not contempt, then certainly a casual, knowing nod from the audience.  DT's insistence on showcasing Fenton in such vehicles necessitated the further development of the ambitious accountant's familial and interpersonal relationships.  Hence, this episode's much-needed -- and, on the whole, remarkably successful -- attempt to habilitate Mrs. Crackshell.  Note that I said "habilitate," not "RE-habilitate."  Given the rebarbative characterization of Fenton's TV-addicted maternal ancestor throughout "Super DuckTales," she was starting pretty much from "ground zero" here insofar as audience affection was concerned.  It would take a real "shock to the system" to get Ma Crackshell off the dime and into a state of two-, if not yet three-, dimensionality... and that's exactly what this episode delivers.

I didn't know the Crackshells and the Horsecollars were related.

The last time we saw Fenton and his Ma together, of course, Fenton was reading her the riot act and getting her off her couch for the first time in... well, it's easy to believe that it's been quite a while.  Greg seems to be of the opinion that Fenton's "blow[ing] off of his mom for being a slacker" makes his subsequent lamentations over the duo's "debonding" here a bit hypocritical.  This seems rather harsh in light of the facts that (1) Fenton's moment of extreme asperity passes very quickly, (2) the harsh words were well and truly deserved, and (3) Mrs. Crackshell doesn't seem to hold any grudge as a consequence, happily accompanying Fenton and Gandra Dee to the drive-in as the serial fades out.  Furthermore, in every single "homecoming scene" in which the two had previously appeared, Fenton had shown his mother more basic respect than she frankly merited.  So, was Fenton starting "Psychic" burdened by an emotional debit?  Not hardly.

This was Alan Burnett's first writing job for DuckTales, and the future stalwart of innumerable DC Comics-related series (not to mention the scripter of DuckTales: The Movie) wastes little time in playing his strong suit, bouncing amusing three-cornered palaver between Fenton, the newly-psychic "M'Ma," and the first-intrigued, then-avaricious Scrooge to get the episode going.  Any concern we might be feeling for Mrs. Crackshell's well-being (that electrical shock, after all, was sold exceptionally well, both by the animators and by Kathleen Freeman's acting) whizzes right down the abbatoir thanks to the quick 180 Mrs. C. exhibits between comparing the Crackshells' relationship to that of "the world's most beloved automobile dealer and his faithful dog" (I guess that all Ducks really DO live in the Burbank area after all) and dissing her only son (unless there's a fanfic or something out there suggesting something to the contrary) as a "leech."
 
There follow several equally funny and, truth be told, somewhat depressing conversations as Fenton tries manfully -- and vainly -- to convince his mother to abandon the "oppressive opulence" of McDuck Mansion and return to live with him.  If it's true that some people have to hit bottom before they can commence a complete rehabilitation, then these scenes mark the point at which Mrs. C. strikes her absolute nadir.  Some of the dialogue here is delivered in extreme long shots, as if the cameraman doesn't have the heart to zoom in on the breaking of the mother-son bond any more than is necessary.

Fenton's behavior during these talks isn't "vain" or "full of himself" (as Greg seems to intimate) so much as it's overwroughtWe'll soon see that Fenton is equally capable of overreacting to bumps in the road of his romantic life.  It's merely an additional facet of his hyperactive, go-getting, goal-oriented nature, the negative side of the insane persistence that keeps him popping up after being "disposed of."  The use of such buzzwords as "debonding" gives Fenton's reactions a semi-humorous flavor that they don't really merit.  When the "split" finally comes, it is, if anything, underplayed.

Unbeknownst to the clueless "M'Ma," Flintheart Glomgold and the Beagle Boys have doped out the secret of Scrooge's recent financial success, and Flinty (in his last appearance until a string of roles in the series' truncated final season) abducts her for his own purposes -- which, happily, explicitly amount to amassing enough money to overtake Scrooge as the world's richest Duck.  Considering the number of previous Glomgold appearances in which this very relevant point was not stressed or even mentioned, color me impressed with Burnett's character-related spadework.

Glomgold's latest plan is salted with several more dashes of high-tech than we typically associate with  the character.  The Ultra-Zoom-Spycam is but the least of these.  You really have to be impressed by all the trouble and expense that Flinty has gone to to create a device with the sole purpose of trapping Gizmoduck and slingshotting him "to the Moon."  A device, moreover, that, if all goes "well" from Glomgold's perspective, will only need to be employed ONCE (unless Flinty is expecting Scrooge to hire Iron Man as the next iteration of his bin-guarding system).  Glomgold's use of a hidden exit similar to that used by the 1960s TV Batman to escape a police dragnet is perhaps understandable on general principles, but a laser gun installed in his limo?  Glomgold's research division -- the same one that will provide him with the "Metal Mites" later on -- rendered the boss well and truly "locked and loaded" for this caper.  It somehow seems fitting that, in the office scenes in which Glomgold is browbeating Mrs. C. into making more and more financial predictions for him, we see remnants in the background of some of the computing equipment that Flinty was using to keep track of Scrooge's fortune in "Wrongway in Ronguay."

Ma's "lightbulb moment" and tearful, yo-yo-ing turnaround and Ma and Gizmoduck's "coded mutual farewell" are, of course, the emotional high points here, but this wouldn't be a "gimmick-sitcom-influenced" episode unless Burnett added some humor to the mix.  Actually, Hamilton Camp appears to be as "guilty" as Burnett in that regard.  The yo-yo gag, after all, is strictly script-driven, while Camp hams up Gizmoduck's "My... mother" just enough to take a good deal of the edge off of the sentiment.  This isn't a complaint -- Gizmoduck, after all, is well known for verbally overegging the pudding on numerous occasions -- so much as it is an observation.  There's no better way of contrasting the storytelling styles of DuckTales season one and DuckTales season two than to weigh this Fenton/Ma exchange against Scrooge's aborted "goodbye" to Mrs. Beakley in "Too Much of a Gold Thing."

The conclusion of the episode, while emotionally satisfying, can be termed aesthetically displeasing.  Greg is right -- the TV-tower-toppling scene is clumsily staged, and matters aren't helped by the fact that Glomgold's limo appears to be driving across a field, rather than down the highway, when the tower falls on it.  In "sitches" like this, I would probably have opted for the road more traveled.  The likelihood of all hands inside the limo, Mrs. Crackshell included, surviving the crash are roughly 100 times greater than that of Flinty surviving the fall of the light pole in "Ducks on the Lam," but survive they nonetheless do.  Mrs. C. gets shocked back to normal in the most expedient and off-handed way possible.  Wang Films contributes an embarrassing goof when it uses an interior background for an exterior shot (see below).  Worst of all, at least to those of us who still cling to the notion of Scrooge having SOME ethical line that he will not (or at least has learned not to) cross, the bawling Scrooge laments that the loss of his psychic advisor means that he'll have to go back to "earning" his money.  Who was it who said, "Making money at the expense of others is no bargain"?  At least we close with a nice "bonding moment" that demonstrates that Mrs. C. has learned something about being a good (or at least a better) mother.

For an episode based on a one-off gimmick, "My Mother the Psychic" holds up quite well.  I wasn't overwhelmed by it upon initial release but have come to appreciate its development of the Fenton/"M'Ma" bond and the early indication that Alan Burnett will be a welcome addition to the show's (increasingly skeletal) writing crew.  Would it have made more of an emotional impact had things been played a bit straighter?  Sure.  But the rules of the DuckTales storytelling game have clearly changed.

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Bumper #12: "Dino-Bath"

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"DuckBlurbs"
  
(GeoX) The episode opens with Fenton's mother (you'd think she'd get a first name if she's going to feature heavily) is watching All My Ducklings: "So what's the verdict, doctor?" "I'm afraid the tests are conclusive, Erica: you have only three hours to live. With proper care, maybe four." I know it's not exactly hard to make fun of soap operas, but that's still pretty awesome.

"Please, call me Mrs. Crackshell..."

I suspect that this episode may have been recorded at around the same time as "Allowance Day" and perhaps even "The Duck Who Knew Too Much."  Alan Oppenheimer and Susan Blu are both featured in those episodes and also appear here, but their roles in "Psychic" are over and done with after the opening soap-opera scene.  Perhaps they were waiting to work on the other eps and were pressed into service for this minor work simply because they happened to be on hand.

That's definitely the Duchess of Swansylvania, slumming yet again.   The really shocking thing is that the doctor looks exactly like Benzino Gasolini, complete with cheesy little mustache and a dye job that has turned his hair and eyebrows from black to brown!  Evidently, all those bills from all those hotels that he's "a-stayed inside" finally caught up with him and forced him into a change of career.

(GeoX) Glomgold [lives] in a Sinister Castle, of course--have we ever actually seen his house before? This is certainly the first time I noted it...

We first saw the exterior of Maison Glomgold during Act One of "Master of the Djinni," but that scene took place during the daytime.  The nocturnal nature of the shot seen below probably alerted your critical faculties to the place's true essence.   


(GeoX) I must say, as far as Glomgold goes on this show, mostly I just sorta roll my eyes, whatever, he's a cartoon villain, yadda yadda--but with the sort of callous cruelty he displays her to Mrs. Crackshell, for the first time he struck me as a real asshole. Hey, if you're going to modify the original Barks character beyond all recognition, you might as well do a thorough job of it.

He's actually behaved much worse than this in DuckTales before now.  If imperiling an entire airship full of passengers just to win a bet with Scrooge doesn't strike you as "callously cruel," then you shouldn't even have noticed his verbal battering of Mrs. Crackshell.  Then, too, Glomgold wasn't exactly a sweetheart the last time Carl Barks used him in a story. 

(GeoX) "By the time they realize no one's home, we'll be on a boat to Bombay!" So Glomgold's great plan to not have to let Mrs. Crackshell go is to become a permanent fugitive? Hokay.

Think of it as a temporary relocation.  I don't doubt that Glomgold, with his predilection for skirting legal niceties, has spider holes hidden all over the world. 

(Greg)  Then we have a knock on the door as Fenton blows off Ma; and it opens to reveal Scrooge giving Fenton a load a bills to [take care] of. Fenton complains which is kind of pointless since Ma clearly has no interest [in] going out. Isn't it funny that Fenton doesn't care about his job now after he cared about it so much in Land Of Tra-la-la?

The circumstances in "The Land of Trala La" were a bit more extreme, in that Fenton was stuck in an isolated location where there really was no need for his services.  On his own turf -- and determined to "bond" with "M'Ma" -- Fenton has a better grasp of the big picture. 

(Greg) Anyhow; Ma continues to bang the television and Fenton takes it as proof she wants to spend time with him.

Appliance-banging appears to run in the Crackshell family; Fenton will do much the same thing to Scrooge's computer (or, technically, his computer monitor) during "Scrooge's Last Adventure."  In that respect, the Crackshells aren't all that different from your average technophobic citizen.

(Greg) So Scrooge offers [Mrs. Crackshell] a widescreen television (which was invented at around the same time as this show actually)...

You are correct, sir.  The Philips electronics company introduced widescreens in Europe at the tail end of the 1980s.

(Greg) So we head to Flint's house AFTER HAPPY HOUR (after dark) and into the war room as Flintheart is talking to the Beagle Boys. Wait; how? The last time we saw the Beagle Boys; they were in jail.

Just a minor inconvenience insofar as the B-Boys are concerned!

(Greg) The television suddenly fizzes and we see Big Time dressed up as a greasy salesman. I know that the numbers sign on them gives it away that it's a Beagle Boy and that it's a motif of this show; but they can be somewhat creative by covering it with construction paper or fabric or something along those lines. And they don't bother with the masks either. Anyhow; the guise is that Big Time asks if Ma is having problems with children as Burger pulls Bouncer [sic; it's Baggy] by the ear while dressed as a stereotypical mother and sailor dogsperson, all in that order. HAHA! That visual of Burger pulling [Baggy] by the ear is hilarious. I don't understand why GeoX hates Burger so much; probably has no sense of humor. And then Burger goes after [Baggy] as he runs away shooting a gun several times. A scene Toon Disney completely kept. Seriously; they did.

Yeah, how much sense does it make for scenes involving the shooting of guns into the air (e.g., in "Liquid Assets" and in the poetry recital scene in "The Bride Wore Stripes") to be removed, but a scene in which the disguised Burger shoots DIRECTLY AT the fleeing Baggy was permitted to stand?  It makes no sense to argue that no target was visible in the shot; the same thing was true in the earlier instances.

(Greg) So we return to Flint's office as Flint continues where he left off and gives the papers to Ma; but then problems arise as there are police sirens and here comes about five police cars stopping at the castle. Out comes Scrooge and the Police Chief (I believe from various episodes) as they run to the house and the police chief is not amused to be doing this. Scrooge blows him off because he bets his Money Bin on it.

The Chief last appeared in this guise in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club."  After the late unpleasantness involving the perversion of Duckburgian justice -- or what passes for same -- I'm frankly surprised that Scrooge stood for his remaining in office.

(Greg) [Mrs. Crackshell] calls [the destruction of the Duckburg TV tower] the worst thing since the television writers strike. HAHA! I know that this joke will go over the heads of every kid born after 1987; but there was a writers strike sometime before this episode was produced. It's little stuff like this that make old DTVA worth watching; even if the new kids don't get the joke.

Here's a 2001 article reminiscing about that 1988 work stoppage.

Next: Episode 78, "Allowance Day." 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 76, "The Land of Trala [sic] La"

 
HOO, boy.  Despite my immense admiration for DuckTales' risk-taking adaptation of Carl Barks' justly-famed tale of the moneyless valley of Tralla La, I have long recognized that this was going to be one challenging RETROSPECTIVE to piece together.  "Back to the Klondike" was a dicey choice for the first DuckTales episode put under production, but I'd argue that the series took just as many chances for this "formal" opening of its second season, boldly essaying a story that featured a critical examination of human nature, Scrooge suffering what for all intents and purposes was a fit of insanity, and, in a gambit that even Disney itself seemed to come to regret (judging by the severe censorship that the episode suffered during its broadcasts on Toon Disney), Scrooge depending upon a drug to keep body and mind together.

Doug Hutchinson's version of Barks' story is at once a remarkably faithful transposition of a good number of Barks' scenarios and dialogue and a bold reinterpretation of several of the original's core ideas, with Fenton playing a much more significant supporting role than Donald ever did and Barks' ever-so-slightly anticlimactic ending being ditched in favor of a far more conventionally adventurous wrap-up that, it must be admitted, seemed to be a much better match for the spirit of the TV series.  Back in September 1989, I would have been hyped-up for the start of a new season of DuckTales eps under any circumstances, but I still remember conversing excitedly on the phone with Joe Torcivia that evening, still zizzed up over what I'd just seen.  It wasn't an "event" on the scale of the series' various multi-part epics or the theatrical feature, but it came just about as close as any single half-hour of DuckTales ever did to triggering that unmistakable, "Oh-Wow" sense of wonder.

Joe and I were sufficiently impressed with "The Land of Trala La" that we willingly grasped a critical nettle and stated "on the record" (both in the complete version of our DUCKTALES INDEX and in our introduction to the second volume of Gemstone's CARL BARKS' GREATEST DUCKTALES STORIES collection [2006]) that we greatly preferred DuckTales' version of the story to Barks', largely because of Fenton's contribution and the more exciting ending.  We have never gotten much backlash for this contention -- one simple reason may be that very few people ever actually bought the full version of the INDEX and thus were aware of this opinion's existence -- and so GeoX's and Greg's dissenting voices (Geo's mildly so, Greg's... well, not) were probably overdue.  I'll respond to the appearance of these alternative "takes" by judiciously backing away from a direct comparison of the comic-book story and the TV adventure.  It's far better to say, as Geo did, that the two versions of "Tralla La" work equally well in their own media milieus.  Barks' more laid-back approach is ideally suited to the four-color format, while Hutchinson's noisier and more colorful narrative punches many of the same points across but does so in a more directly visual, visceral manner.  That being said, I certainly won't shy away from illustrated, point-by-point comparisons of the ways in which the two versions of the story intersect and deviate from one another.

"Land" opens with "the spongers and the chiselers" besieging a stressed Scrooge in his Money Bin.  True to the spirit (and the somewhat wonky logic) of "Super DuckTales" -- in which Fenton graduated, literally overnight, from a brand-new hire to an employee who has sufficient clout to convince Scrooge's other employees to allow Scrooge's money to be dumped into Lake Dobegon -- the bustling "generic Clerkly types" who assist and/or inform Scrooge in Barks' story are basically reduced to Fenton himself.  Shouldn't Mrs. Featherby be serving as the gatekeeper here?  Or did she see the hordes of handout-seekers coming and decide to take that long-delayed vacation at just this moment?

Whereas the DT Scrooge stays penned inside the Bin until he is cornered by the handout-seekers and cracks up, Barks' pre-nutsoid Scrooge gets pummeled in multiple venues -- for example, when he leaves the Bin "to see the tax collector" and is accosted by various folks in the street.  I think that both versions are equally effective in getting across the notion that Scrooge is being pushed to the breaking point.  You get more of a sense of a "state of siege" watching Scrooge scrambling around the Money Bin like a rat in a trap, but Barks' rain of panel-to-panel demands on the fleeing miser makes up in sheer intensity for what it lacks in terms of continuous flow.  Hutchinson clearly paid attention to a number of the specific harassments that Barks' Scrooge was subjected to, throwing in the series' first (but certainly not its last) reference to the nation of Sowbuggia and including both Sevenchins Snootsbury and the operative from "The League to Ban [Abolish, for the layperson] Billionaires," though the former is actually seen on screen, whereas the latter is not.  What, was WDTVA afraid of depicting an anarchist?  Why didn't they just do what Barks did and dress the guy in a sweater and tie, leaving only the beard as a telltale marker of the character's radicalism?

After Scrooge turns into a squirrelly nutcase... (and, just to force the point, the DT version shows him actually chewing on a nut, as opposed to "merely" climbing and hiding inside a tree...)

... we get our medically-sanctioned reveal of the existence of the legendary Tralla La.  Greg objected to the idea that the doctor (who, judging by her peculiar accent, may be intended to be a parody of the briefly-famous Dr. Ruth Westheimer) would have known anything about the "never-before-seen" valley.  If he's prepared to do that, then he'd better be prepared to ding Barks as well; Scrooge's (male) doctor in the Barks story dispenses pretty much the same information.  The only real difference is that Barks' doc doesn't set Scrooge off all over again by presenting the bill.  Since both DT and Barks posit that no one from the outside world has ever seen or set foot in Tralla La, my best guess as to the source of the outside world's legends about the place is that some long-ago, atypically adventurous Tralla Lallian decided to explore the world beyond the valley, spreading tales in his wake.  Perhaps this was the mysterious "traveler" referenced by the local who is quizzed by Scrooge in the Barks story.

One aspect of the Barks story that definitely compares favorably to the TV adaptation is the use of the Nephews.  In both versions, the boys get "one shining moment" to strut something resembling their "stuff" and are basically along for the ride the rest of the way.  There's no question, however, that Barks' HD&L's deduction of the existence and general location of Tralla La based on relatively meager evidence...

... has it all over the DT Nephews' stiff-upper-beaked (which isn't all that difficult for Ducks, actually) determination to "go out like brave Junior Woodchucks!" when it appears as though the vengeful Tralla Lallians are about to drown them in the lake.  Don't get me wrong, I love the latter scene, which takes a legitimately scary moment (complete with the High Muckyduck warning HD&L of their impending deaths) and lightens things up just enough to allow the show to get away with it.  But the caged HD&L are reacting to their plight, rather than acting to produce a positive result for the Ducks.  There's really no comparison in terms of impact.

While it is a shame that the animated Nephews don't get the chance to duplicate their nifty bit of detective work, cutting out this material did provide one benefit.  In Barks, it takes half of the story' 22 pages for the Ducks to reach Tralla La.  In contrast, "Land" gets the gang "on site" before we reach the initial commercial break.  This seems fitting in light of the animated story's addition of plot elements to beef up the "adventurous" aspects of the narrative.

It's no surprise that Launchpad shows up to take Scrooge and HD&L in search of Tralla La.  The generic pilot of the Barks story may have been brave (not to mention competent), but this situation simply squawked for a McQuack appearance.  Far less logical, at least at first blush, is the discovery that Fenton (dragging along the Gizmosuit, no less) is also coming along for the ride.  Shouldn't he be staying in Duckburg and helping to keep the McDuck empire running while the boss is undergoing some R&D (rest and desciuridization)?  The substitution of Fenton for Donald turns out to be a net plus in my opinion, but it's strange that the episode script passes over the reason for Fenton's presence in such a casual manner. 

Fenton immediately starts paying comedic (and narrative) dividends when he accidentally pitches Scrooge into another fit with his request for hazard pay.  In so doing, he triggers another fit, this one by the nervous Nellies at Toon Disney.  Evidently thinking that it simply wouldn't do to show Scrooge actually consuming his nerve medicine on camera, the TD version of the ep snipped the scene out, cutting directly (and confusingly) to the shot of the Ducks flying over the Himalala Mountains.  No matter that Barks himself depicted not one but several versions of a jittery Scrooge demanding and downing his calming droughts.  Those mid-1990s kids, with their far greater degree of innocence (ahem) concerning the dangers of drugs, couldn't be given any reason to think that "open-container" consumption of medicine was kosher...

... at least, not until it couldn't possibly be helped.  The scene in which Scrooge drops the fateful bottle cap into Tralla La, thereby setting the stage for the conflict that dominates the remainder of the story, is kept in the Toon Disney edit.  We do hear a noticeable hiss as the bottle is opened.  Barks' medicine was also carbonated -- that's how the Tralla Lallians were able to locate the cowering Ducks in the caves after the caps hit the fan -- but perhaps the TD do-gooders were hoping that the viewers might mistake the medicine for a bottle of soda if this one scene passed by quickly enough.  As we'll see, the real objection to the medicine theme appears to have been, not the physical presence of the stuff, but the open, on-screen intimation that Scrooge NEEDED TO USE the medicine.  Note that TD had no objection to the earlier scene in which Scrooge can be heard drinking the meds off-screen after Launchpad mentions that he'll soon be owed overtime. 

The draftsmanship in "The Land of Trala La" isn't particularly adept -- Greg mentioned oversized hands and the like, and there are numerous other examples of uninspired drawing scattered throughout -- but the animation is generally fine.  Never is this better seen than in the scene in which the Ducks' plane spirals down into Tralla La.  The animated version can't match the best-known splash panel from Barks' story for sheer grandeur, nor does it include the dramatic sequence in which the parachuting Ducks are almost sucked into the whirlpool, but one can't help but be impressed by the sight of the twirling plane abruptly descending below the cloud cover and looping its way through the skies above the valley floor.  The close-ups on the descent of the bottle cap are also handled well, though I can't imagine a small bottle cap making quite as big a splash as this one does in the rice paddy; I think that the audience could be expected to have understood that the cap had landed somewhere without actually having to see it land.  (This could be considered a "visual dumbing-down" to match the animated script's substitutions of "ban" for "abolish" and "trick" for "ruse.")  The near-crash into the cliffside and the sight of Fenton and HD&L tumbling around the box-filled cargo hold (those jokes about "bringing your seatbacks to a full, upright position" aren't always amusing, Launchpad!  Why didn't you tell Fenton and the boys to sit in the extra seats in the back of the cockpit?!) could be considered overkill, but it's not as if DT hasn't exploited various "funny-fatalistic" air-danger scenarios to the hilt before this.

To the strains of "Toupay music" (um, stereotype much??), the Ducks are welcomed to Tralla La and learn of the genuine nature of the inhabitants' money-less lifestyle.  All are convinced, except, of course, for Fenton -- and here is the place where those who prefer the Barks version of the story seem to center the majority of their criticism.  I will admit that the idea of Fenton being obsessed with the fear that living in Tralla La will render his accountant's job meaningless -- a fear that motivates him to try to find out "the awful truth" about this putative paradise -- doesn't really hold up all that well under scrutiny.  Fenton didn't really have to have a reason for digging through whatever dirty laundry the Tralla Lallians might possess.  As a go-getting would-be "business Duck" who has longed to improve his station for time out of mind, it would be entirely natural for Fenton to have a tough time accepting the existence of a society in which competition and the drives for success and status are not as highly valued.  Given this mindset, it would have made sense for Fenton to have accidentally put the bug of "rarity" in the ears of the Tralla Lallians, simply by doing what comes naturally to him (and, equally as naturally, managing to mess things up in the process).  The end results would have been the same, and Fenton would have come across as a "mere" screw-up, rather than a character who had a motivation to tinker with the Tralla Lallians' version of the "Prime Directive."

"Forget the bottle cap -- I'll trade ya my vest for a new neck."
But, the pro-Barks critic might argue, even if Fenton had set off the cap craze by sheer accident, wouldn't the onus for the Tralla Lallians' "fall" still be placed on him, thereby undercutting the whole point of the Barks story, which was that "good old human nature" will ultimately "win" out and scramble the circuits of even an apparent Utopia?  No, at least not if you're paying attention.  The Tralla Lallians' decline starts, not when Fenton "corrupts" the farmer who found the "rare and precious" cap into trying to trade it for something, but when the farmer laughs off the notion that his friends will care about his possession of a rare object ("You do not know Tralla La!"), only to be brought up short by their eagerness to trade for it.  Fenton doesn't actually begin egging the farmer on to "hold out for 15 [sheep]!" until after the farmer's friends have already started bidding on the cap.  It would appear that, during the course of the development of the Tralla Lallians' "ideal" civilization, a certain amount of smugness has set in.  In other words, the Tralla Lallians appear to be ripe for a fall, and Fenton merely provides the nudge that sets the inevitable reckoning in motion.  

If you try to find the equivalent of the scene-before-last in the Toon Disney edit of the episode, you'll wind up "unlucky, unlucky, unlucky!".  The brief bit above in which the bird-farmer speaks the Barksian reaction line was trimmed.  This excision REALLY puzzles me.  Perhaps someone remembered the flap over the misinterpretation of Moorloon's accented "Work! Work! Work!" in "Sir Gyro de Gearloose" and feared that some keen-eared audience member would do the same with "You lucky, lucky, lucky!".  Or perhaps there was a politically correct objection to the "ungrammatical nature" of the line, with the farmer being perceived as having spoken pidgin English.  Myself, I always read the Barks line as "You lucky, lucky, lucky [stiff/dog/feller]!," as opposed to a line in which a verb was dropped.  Besides, there are several legitimate instances of dodgy diction in the episode -- verbal bits that Barks didn't use -- that were permitted to stand.  How could one justify keeping the disguised Fenton's "chingy-chongy" line "I was leading our inspiling histoly!" in the Hall of Records scene...

... or allowing the female record-keeper to say things like "Excuse-a-me!" and "I wants [sic] two caps, too!" but thinking that "You lucky, lucky, lucky!" was out of bounds.  No, I think that the "Sir Gyro" explanation is probably the correct one, as illogical as that may seem.

The Barks scene in which the newly-demanding Tralla Lallians assault Scrooge at the dock, convincing him to abandon his plan to get rid of the rest of his medicine, is pretty much preserved whole cloth (even down to specific lines of dialogue) at the end of the episode's Act One.  At least, it used to be before the censors started hacking at it.  The objection here seemed to be to the reference that Scrooge "no longer NEEDED his medicine" and, after the Tralla Lallians start fighting over the bottle cap that Scrooge has tossed into their midst, to HD&L's (Scrooge's, in Barks) comment that Scrooge may NEED to keep his medicine after all.  In the rush to excise these overt references to Scrooge's dependence on the medicine, the scene is rendered into hash.  First, we cut slapdashedly from Scrooge's line that he "feels so good" to Huey's "Great idea!" (which originally was a response to Scrooge's announced plan to deep-six the meds).  Then, thanks to the removal of HD&L's line, the edited Act One ends on the somewhat awkward note of a cut from the start of the fight to a long shot of same.  In the first case, something is obviously missing; in the second, it feels as if something is missing.  Not the most artful way to build suspense.

Act Two takes us through the final six pages of Barks' "Tralla La," concluding with the Ducks' trial.  In this case, of course, the trial is not the end of the story; it merely sets the dramatic stage for a completely new conclusion.  Happily, as if to apologize to the "old sourdoughs" for steering the "plot train" onto an unfamiliar track, this middle sequence sticks extremely close to the Barks original.  The one major change is the devious Sok Hop's ruining of the Ducks' plan to satisfy the demanding Tralla Lallians by giving them each one bottlecap.  Even this could be considered something of a Barksian touch, since all of the problems would have been solved had "good old human nature" not kicked in and goaded a Tralla Lallian into deciding on his own to cheat.

One also can't complain too much about the technically-non-canonical, but certainly spiritually canonical, callback to one of Barks' most famous lines when the High Muckyduck takes the "pseudo-money" swim in his heaped-up cap-fortune...

... especially not after one has just seen a splendid rendition of the scene in which the first planeload of one million bottlecaps is dropped into Tralla La.  The animation, the exultant background music, and the ecstatic voice performances do an even better job than even the "Duck Master" himself of getting the Tralla Lallians' unbridled joy across to us.

Unfortunately, thanks to Fenton's well-meaning suggestion that the Tralla Lallians be given a billion bottlecaps, the locals are soon "up to their pigtails" (another *cough* *ahem* somewhat ethnically questionable line there) in unwanted "litter."  Scrooge does not really zap Fenton for this mistake, apart from simply pointing out that Fenton was the one who suggested the specific number.  This seems fair, since, in the Barks story, Scrooge made a similar, enthusiasm-fueled error.

I don't think that it was really necessary for the Tralla Lallians to haul Scrooge, Fenton, and HD&L up on charges of "littering" in order to justify the trial scene.  In Barks' tale, after all, the Ducks were never formally charged with anything, apart from what I would assume would be considered a form of "criminal mischief."  Referencing "littering" here seems to be a covert way of sneaking in a politically correct message (the more so because this "high crime" carries with it the death penaltyCaptain Planet should have been so extreme).  But what the animated Tralla Lallians lack in terms of the chintziness of their charge, they certainly make up for in ruthlessness, holding HD&L hostage while Scrooge and Fenton leave the valley to stop the cap-rain.  I understand where GeoX is coming from when he complains about the Tralla Lallians becoming "murderous" here.  In truth, however, if Barks had REALLY wanted to hammer home the point about fallen human nature, then he would probably have toughened up HIS ending, as opposed to "merely" having the Tralla Lallians agree to let the Ducks go in exchange for the latter's promise to stop the planes.  At the very least, in order to show that his Tralla Lallians were not "dopes," Barks could have shown a valley-dweller accompanying the Ducks on their trip (not so far-fetched, given that some of the locals assisted Donald when he left Tralla La to order the planeloads of caps to be dropped) with the announced purpose of holding the Ducks to their promise.  It's not often that Barks can be accused of being less cynical than he ought to have been, but one can argue that such is the case here.

Well, at least he doesn't say, "Yippee! Me make hamburger!".


Act Three contains only a single piece of Barksian business, preserving the ending, which is shifted from the Ducks' post-trial pedestrian trek out of Tralla La to their flight home.  The Toon Disney edit removes the brief bit in which Scrooge renounces the need for the medicine and tosses the last bottle out of the plane.  That doggoned "needfulness" thing again!  Even with the excision, I think that the DuckTales version actually makes a bit more sense.  It's amusing how Barks just seems to assume that the Ducks will be able to find their way home through the mountains with no trouble at all.  Somehow, I don't think the "back again" portion of the adventure would be quite as cut-and-dried as all that.  (To be fair, I had much the same reaction to the ending of Barks' "The Seven Cities of Cibola" -- more so, in fact, since the Ducks are lost, supply-less, and amnesiac in that case.)

The rest of the windup is pure DuckTales, in both spirit and execution, and it is why Joe and I had such a thumpingly thumbs-up reaction when we first saw the ep as a whole.  It's far more than a mere excuse to shoehorn Gizmoduck into the plot.  Indeed, it brings a whole additional element into the picture through its reference to the original "Tralla La" story, the book and film versions of Lost Horizon.  James Hilton's tale climaxed with the discontented George Conway attempting to escape what he considered to be a phony Utopia (sound familiar, Fenton fans?), accompanied by his diplomat brother Robert.  Scrooge and Fenton's trek towards the nearby town doesn't have the grim consequences of the Conways' ordeal, but it does have its moments, both exciting and comedic.  Their climb up the cliff could be considered both, as Fenton's fear-filled request for real hazard pay causes Scrooge to go nuts once again.

Scrooge's creation of the "instant toboggan" -- a very "smarter than the smarties" thing to do -- is cleverly tied back to McDuck adventures past, as Scrooge claims that he originally got the idea during his Klondike mining days.  I'm not sure whether this throwaway line was added as a sop to any Barks fans who were quivering with rage over this act's departures from "book," but, in truth, it can be appreciated by any sort of enthusiast, from the "old sourdough" to the youthful TV viewer.  We also get an intriguing foretaste of what will become a major theme of the series' last adventure, "The Golden Goose," when Scrooge declares that he can't possibly give up because the Nephews' lives are at stake.

The dramatic sequence ends with a literal "bang-up" climax as Fenton finally comes through for his boss, getting the bright idea of alerting the passing Launchpad by using the "explosive" medicine to create an impromptu flare.  If "needfulness" was enough to get scenes snipped, then this scene didn't stand a snowball's chance in a meds-blaze once Toon Disney got its paws on it.  Everything from Fenton's request for some of the medicine to the immediate aftermath of the flare is scotched, leaving Scrooge and Fenton (not to mention the surrounding ground) thoroughly scorched and any audience members who had not seen the original version of the episode completely confused.  To say the least, these omissions fatally compromise the edited edition.  "Blowing up in one's face," indeed!

The "last-minute rescue" aspect of the conclusion, which all of this other new material has been leading up to, actually turns out to be rather underwhelming.  Some questionable logic doesn't help matters.  After the Gizmosuit is ripped out of the plane, leaving Launchpad inside as the craft goes into an out-of-control power dive, why don't Scrooge and Gizmo seem concerned about LP's ultimate fate?  Perhaps they're simply assuming that LP will find a way to crash safely, but isn't the craft that LP is trying to land a bit more... unstable than usual?  Wouldn't the High Muckyduck's wrath and death-threat have been touched off by the sound of THIS plane going down, as opposed to the (presumably) less noticeable sound of Gizmoduck's copter helmet?  And, in what will become a depressingly familiar theme as the season grinds on, why don't HD&L realize that, since Scrooge and Fenton left, Scrooge and Gizmoduck returned, and Fenton accompanies the Ducks on the ride home, Fenton therefore must be Gizmoduck?  Greg, whatever "dumbing down" of HD&L occurred during season two can probably be traced back to here.

It's a shame that no English-language version of "The Land of Trala La" appears to be available on the Internet.  All of the ones that I have been able to find are the cut Toon Disney versions.  Even if "a miracle occurs" and Disney decides to complete its DVD release of DuckTales, there's no guarantee that an episode that was found in retrospect to be so full of iffy material will be restored to full length.  If ever there was a reason to ignore "the clippers and the snippers," however, it's to preserve this ep's original form.  The adaptation certainly has its share of issues, but I still find it to be every bit as entertaining as the classic story that inspired it.

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Bumper 11: "Viking"
(Funny, I don't recall Scrooge being in "Luck of the North.")

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"DuckBlurbs" 

(GeoX) Given that they've been living this way for thousands of years, the Tralla-La-ites sure do cotton pretty instantaneously to the concept of money, don't they? That latter issue is actually accentuated here: when Scrooge asks them about money after first arriving, they're completely uncomprehending, but when he asks if he's really getting this house for free, the leader answers that "the house is on the house," indicating that they do in fact have some notion of how a barter economy works.

I think that you could say the same thing about Barks' Tralla Lallians, actually.  Donald may note that, in Tralla La, "nobody wants anything that belongs to anybody else," but that wouldn't preclude the locals from agreeing to trade goods, provided that the exchange was somehow beneficial to both parties.  The use of the slang phrase "on the house" was probably inadvisable, however.

(GeoX) Hint for Westerners: Avoid using phrases like "the natives are getting restless" in your stories about non-Western cultures. Kthnx.

As indicated above, the script tinkered with "native stereotypes" rather more directly than even this.

(Greg) We begin this one with a shot of a tree of blue birds as we head to the money bin and there is shouting as we head inside as various protestors are inside the bin office yelling and screaming at the door while the workers do nothing to stop them. 

Note that Percival, from The Explorers' Club, is among them.  Is the Club that hard up for funds?  Since Scrooge is a member, wouldn't Lord Battmounten simply contact Scrooge himself and request assistance in a more dignified manner?

(Greg) So [Scrooge] opens the conveniently placed door and is going to hide in the filing room. Okay; here's the obvious logic break: There are two doors in the filing room. So the people in the filing room could enter into Scrooge's office since that door is unlocked. Plus; if there was only one door; Scoorge [sic] couldn't have opened the door because Fenton had it locked and we saw it was locked. Ninety seconds in and we are already in trouble; just for a gag that will never catch.

Good catch... though it is possible that the room that Scrooge entered was a satellite file room and the locked room was right beyond it.

(Greg) Fenton closes the door and opens the vault and Scrooge runs out on all fours and gets on the desk acting like a nut. 

I love Fenton's "Interesting." reaction to this.  This line, and the later line "You're a very sick doctor!", mine a vein of dry humor that contrasts effectively with the more typical, slapstick-salted humor that is normally associated with the character. 

(Greg) ...the doctor states that [the medicine is] only a band-aid solution and the only cure is a long vacation away from money; which Scrooge flips out. Wait; if he HATES money; then he should feel relieved shouldn't he?  

I think that it was the notion of being separated from his money that caused him to flip out (and, since he hasn't taken the medicine yet, he has no way to control it).  The script could have been a little more consistent on the issue of exactly what language causes Scrooge to go crazy.  I think that the intention was for Scrooge to be set off by any mention of being forced to give money to someone.  However, Fenton's line that "just a little mention of money" causes the reaction clouds the truth of the matter.

Fun fact: the doctor's eye chart includes a message that reads "Another DuckTales [illegible] For U."

(Greg) So Fenton notices Canadian Bird and some other dogsperson who has changed his eyes and his clothes from green to gray and decides to play some mind games as he goes over to the men and stands at attention while wobbling. This is actually the first funny spot from Fenton 7 and a half minutes in! He shows them cash; but the men shrug their shoulders and the HMD states that they don't need pieces of paper. And Scrooge doesn't flip out. I guess he didn't really see it; although it would have worked better if the nephews told Scrooge to turn around so he couldn't have a chance to see it. Scrooge was looking straight at Fenton on the shot. Logic break #5 for the episode.

Here is one instance in which that line of Fenton's that I just mentioned causes confusion when it really shouldn't have.  It makes sense that Scrooge doesn't flip out here, because Fenton is trying to give the porters his own money.

(Greg) We head into the massive book room as we see Fenton reading books while hanging from a green bamboo ladder.

I suspect that this might have been a shout-out to the musical remake of Lost Horizon (1973), in which one of the numbers took place in a library and featured characters dancing on desks and swinging from ladders.  At least Fenton doesn't sing (though Hamilton Camp would surely have done a better job than Liv Ullmann and company).  Another moment that may have owed something to the '73 film is the scene in which the angry Tralla Lallians invade the Ducks' guest house with scythes and pitchforks.  When the planeload of Westerners left the revolution-torn country at the start of the '73 Lost Horizon, they were chased onto the plane by a bunch of angry locals wielding... you guessed it.

(Greg) So we head to a roadside cafe as Fenton and Scrooge are enjoying a drink and a meal as Fenton is so happy that they will forget about bottle caps. One of the waiters gives Scrooge the menu and he is SHOCKED at the outrageous prices as a hamburger is 45,000 bottle caps. Okay; now they are foreshadowing Dough Ray Me. Which is good because it makes Scrooge's turnaround make sense now. I am betting Scrooge flips out now. He doesn't. DAMMIT!

You're definitely on solider ground here than you were with the "gratuity under the table" business.

(Greg) I do not recall a giant boulder anchoring the cage on the bottom previously.

It wasn't visible the first time we saw the suspended cage, but it is in the subsequent shots.

Next: Episode 77, "My Mother the Psychic."