Sunday, August 31, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 97, "Attack of the Metal Mites"

In my comments on "Liquid Assets," I identified three key moments that I consider to be the three biggest events in the history of DuckTales.  There should be little debate, however, as to the single most shocking moment in the annals of the series.  Sorry, Joe, but it's not the appearance of The Phantom Blot in "All Ducks on Deck," as thoroughly unexpected as that was.  For sheer, jaw-dropping improbability, the blue ribbon simply has to go to the Disney Afternoon closing credits for Monday, September 17, 1990.  In that era, you may recall, all four shows in the block ran their credits at the end of the two hours, together with "teasers" for the episodes to be run on the next edition of DAft.  Wonder of wonders, the "teaser" for DuckTales' 9/18/90 offering showed material that was clearly from an episode that had not previously been known to exist.  Even what little we knew about "The Duck Who Knew Too Much" and "Scrooge's Last Adventure," the two 1989-copyright episodes that had yet to be broadcast, did not match up with the stuff we were seeing on that tiny inset screen.  This was mind-blowing enough, but then, guess who favored us with his out-of-left-field presence -- ironically, falling OUT of the audience's view when he first appeared on screen:

Dijon: "Oh noooooooo!!"
Audience:  "No wayyyyy!!"

The appearance of "Attack of the Metal Mites" led to immediate, and highly understandable, speculation as to how many additional "completely new" eps the 1990-91 season was going to deliver.  Little did we know at the time that WDTVA had contracted to produce just enough material (namely, four half-hours) to bring the total number of DT eps to 100.  Perhaps, we should have gotten the hint when "The Golden Goose" gave us its "climactic" end-of-the-world scenario, but I recall waiting and hoping for a little while longer that more new eps might, just might, come our way.  Of course, this kind of thing was S.O.P. for the era before the existence of social media and the Internet.

WDTVA might have exhibited tidy-mindedness in its decision to wrap up its DT manifest on a nice, round number, but it also evidently did not want to put any more resources into the 1990 DT eps than it absolutely had to.  Nothing in the DT "Final Four" looked as horribly sloppy as, let's say, some of the 1990-copyright episodes of Gummi Bears, but some penny-pinching is nonetheless noticeable.  Some of it is disquietingly blatant, e.g., the sequence outside the First Interfeather Bank in "Mites" in which Dijon lets Glomgold's metal-eating bugs loose to devour an armored car.  In the first scene below, the screen freezes as we hear the bugs chomping away.  In the second, the car literally vanishes in a cloud of dust before our eyes, with no transition scene whatsoever.  And, yes, the whole thing REALLY looks that bad in "real time."

Dijon subsequently appears in a sewer as the bugs go marching by, with his muzzle conveniently placed so that the animators don't have to show his mouth moving as he speaks some dialogue.  Shades of UPA's Dick Tracy Show showing Dick holding the Two-Way Wrist Radio over his mouth as he talked to his "field agents."

These mingy moments tend to stand out in the mind's eye, precisely because they are so at variance with even some of the weaker examples of animation from the series' first two seasons.  A closer look, however, reveals an even more troubling trait: a tendency to mount "normal" scenes with as small a number of background characters and other extraneous details as possible.  Consider:

(1) Dijon is generally seen sneaking around in deserted or near-deserted streets.

"Is that my cue I am hearing?"

(2) Scrooge calls for the National Guard, and ONE tank shows up.  (I'd like to think that the Goose Guard from "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby" would have provided a more effective response.)

(3)  For a bunch of pests who are supposedly "multiplying" -- exactly how this parthenogenetic phenomenon is being accomplished, we are never told -- the mites remain relatively few in number throughout.  A single bubble from Gyro's bubble-gum-blowing robot is apparently sufficient to trap ALL of them at once, despite what the earlier consumption of the tank and the missile might have led us to believe.

(4)  The massive media coverage of the mites' attack on Scrooge's Money Bin is handled by Walter Kronduck and a pair of cameramen and draws a vast throng of... um... ten denizens, in addition to Scrooge, HD&L, Webby, and Fenton.  And Scrooge shouldn't even BE there, because, in the immediately previous scene, we saw him fondling some of his "precious friends" inside the vault.

The simplicity of Jeffrey Scott's central plot, and the slightly shopworn nature of the subplot (Fenton reacting to the mites' destruction of the Gizmosuit by losing confidence in himself, only to come through in the end, as in "Money to Burn" and "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity"), further add to the impression of straitedness.  It must be admitted, however, that the effects of the "stripdown" aren't quite as deleterious here as they are in "The Golden Goose," which marries an adventure tale that SHOULD have been a true epic to a razor-thin cast and sparsely populated settings.  It speaks to the overall excellence of "Goose" that the two-part finale managed to get away with it and be a big success despite the self-imposed limitations, largely due to a stimulating injection of some real "Heart."  The effects of cheapness on a modest effort like "Mites," by contrast, only serve to make the episode seem... well, a bit more modest.  GeoX observed that "Mites" "very much feels like your average early first-season episode" -- decent plot and characterizations, reasonably good action -- and that's pretty much correct, I think, even given that the visual accompaniment is a bit more poverty-stricken than we have grown accustomed to. 

Glomgold's determination to destroy Scrooge's money, rather than to simply try to outearn him or thwart one of his financial deals, goes well beyond anything Carl Barks tried to do with the character in terms of its potential direct impact on the McDuck quadzillions.  Yes, even including Flinty's attempt to shrink Scrooge's money pile with the "Jivaro Juice" in "The Money Champ."  Reduction in size is not obliteration, and the Glomgold of "Money Champ" worried about what his "dear mother" would think of him for stooping so low, even as he dealt with the witch doctor out of sheer desperation.  By contrast, Greg's invocation of Duke Igthorn's use of the wood-devouring bug Big Tooth in "King Igthorn," the Gummi Bears two-part finale, may give Glomgold too much credit, since the physical destruction triggered by Big Tooth's arrival ultimately had an impact on the entire kingdom of Dunwyn.  (Of course, you could always argue that the ingestion of Scrooge's fortune would have had just as great of a long-term economic impact on Duckburg, but that depends upon how seriously you take some of the claims that have gone before in DT.)

The use of bugs as a menace has some precedent in such Barks stories as "Donald Duck and the Titanic Ants" (DONALD DUCK #60, July 1958) and "Billions in the Hole" (UNCLE $CROOGE #33, March 1961).  For a more exact analogy, however, you have to turn to "The March of the Giant Termants" (DONALD DUCK #133, September 1970, drawn by Tony Strobl and Steve Steere).  In this story, the Beagle Boys, with the unwilling help of a kidnapped bugologist, breed bugs that can chew through metal.  Using commands from a fife, they march the bugs to the Bin and swipe some loot, only for Dewey to steal a march on them and use his Junior Woodchuck Fife and Drum Corps training to foil the plot.  The JW-inspired efforts to thwart the metal mites, we should remember, are actually every bit as successful as they were in "Termants"; it certainly wasn't the JWs fault that Dijon just happened to stumble onto the scene at the wrong time.

At the time "Mites" first aired, I was quite pleased and surprised to see Dijon reappear as a "special guest lackey" a mere month after he had been introduced to the public in DuckTales: The Movie.  Glomgold reaps the full harvest of his complaint in "Master of the Djinni" that "you just can't get good lackeys these days," with Dijon's overcooked obsequiousness and perpetual surname-strangling driving Flinty increasingly mad.  Upon further review, however, I am no longer quite so certain that Dijon should have been reintroduced in THIS particular episode.  In a sense, he actually isn't reintroduced at all, as no character except Glomgold seems to take the slightest notice of his presence, let alone recognize who he is (as, surely, Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby should).  Scrooge obliviously running over the "Dijon bridge" after the mites is only the most obvious example of this peculiar case of localized astigmatism. 

A far more troublesome example of this almost willful ignorance, at least to my mind, comes when Dijon is trying to lure the mites away from the ruins of the Duckburg Bean Factory and back towards the Bin with some metal scrap. In a sequence that lasts about 35 seconds but seems to take two or three times that long, Dijon runs out of scrap, plops the empty bag on his head, cowers for a moment in the finest "Cringing Ay-rab" style, pauses, exits stage left, returns with a new bag of metal, and leads the mites back across the screen, all in plain sight of Scrooge and Gizmoduck. It makes sense that Gizmoduck wouldn't recognize Dijon, but Scrooge???  What is the purpose of using Dijon in this role if the past relationship between Dijon and other cast members isn't going to be addressed?

In retrospect, it probably would have been a better idea for DT to have held off on reintroducing Dijon until "The Golden Goose."  In that story, his past reputation IS a key plot point, and Scrooge's initial reaction to his presence in Barkladesh DOES take Dijon's reputation for thievery (which was, let us remember, amplified by his getaway with a pantload of Scrooge's money in DT:TM's very last scene) into account.  Dijon's soul-searching and partial rehabilitation in "Goose" would then have seemed even more meaningful than they ultimately were.  Using Dijon just to USE him... well, it was certainly nice and all, but it's hard to see what it accomplished.

Fenton's emotional travails here, as I mentioned above, should be more than familiar to the attentive longtime viewer.  What's particularly noteworthy is how quickly Fenton despairs after his Gizmosuit is gulped.  It's the Crackshell equivalent of Scrooge's passive acceptance of his fate in "The Money Vanishes" and much of the first act of "Scrooge's Last Adventure."  Fenton's meltdown is so complete that he describes his role as Scrooge's accountant as "worthless" and intends to quit McDuck Enterprises entirely.  More dubiously, he's STILL ready to resign even after he has cleverly used his Gizmo-call to attract the mites to himself and trap them with the convenient giant magnet.  Not until he captures the one missing mite "with no super-stuff" does he (rather abruptly) return to his normal self.  The character changes here are not exactly subtle, or anything close to it.

A good deal of the Fenton-Gizmo action here, of course, takes place in full view and/or earshot of the public (or what little of it could be troubled enough to be on set).  After the following concatenation of events, how could ANYONE in Duckburg, including the supposedly still-ignorant members of the main cast, possibly NOT be aware that Fenton and Gizmoduck are one and the same:

(1)  Fenton and Scrooge have their amusing little conversation about Fenton turning to Gizmoduck to save the Bean Factory right in front of Walter Cronduck and a cameraman.  Their attempts at "whispering" here can only be described as pathetic.

(2) Fenton screams his code phrase in the Bean Factory, and the Gizmosuit comes flying in from several miles away to encase him (nice trick if you can do it!).

(3) Fenton becomes "unsuited" right in front of a TV news crew, which is then seen running towards him.

(4) Fenton yells for the mites from outside the Bin in such a manner that Scrooge, HD&L, Webby, and Gyro can clearly hear him and can subsequently clearly see the visual consequences (the mites encasing Fenton in a Gizmosuit-like manner).

(5) HD&L compliment Fenton for his quick thinking without making any mention of the fact that Fenton has just revealed that he is Gizmoduck.

My best guess, if you want to know the truth, is that Jeffrey Scott, who wrote the scripts for all four of the DT eps of the Disney Afternoon era -- another sign of corporate cheapskatery, if you ask me -- was simply NEVER TOLD about the whole secret-identity issue.  The fact that we will see similar evidence in "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" of Fenton's secret ID being accepted as a given lends some additional support to my theory, I think.  I'm not sure whether we should blame Scott so much as we should the uncredited story editor(s), who should have done a better job of making sure that Scott was up to date on the particulars of the series.  Of course, that's assuming that Scott even had a story editor.  No such credit is given, nor will it be for any of the remaining new episodes.  The phrase "we don't want it good so much as we want it Thursday" comes to mind.

I don't want to be too harsh on Scott.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt on the matter of adequate advance preparation and the unnecessary inclusion of Dijon -- which, for all we know, may have been mandated to WDTVA by Disney higher-ups in order to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the movie -- he turns in an honest, workmanlike effort here, though one that does raise a number of questions about basic biology, physics, and such (as if those issues have never come to the fore before during DT!).  All the cast members who appear get meaningful things to do, and Scott gives us one of the finest Warner Bros.-style sight gags of the entire series when the mites cross the street and discomfit the decidedly atypical Walk/Don't Walk sign:

Then, too, Act Three makes up for the rather sedately paced Acts One and Two by building up some legitimate suspense as the mites get nearer and nearer to Scrooge's vault.  I haven't a clue how the mites managed to get into the vault through the security camera, but there can be no complaints about the effectiveness of the "last-minute cavalry call," with Fenton pulling the mites away just as they are about to nosh on the top layer of coins.

For a supposed "hands-off," minimalist production, "Metal Mites" isn't half-bad.  Unfortunately, Scott would not be fortunate enough to get away with it the next time.





(GeoX)   I knew from the Wikipedia episode list that [Dijon] was going to reappear in the final two-parter, but seeing him here was an unwelcome surprise. My mind just reels that someone somewhere at some point announced "a cringing, sycophantic, avaricious A-rab stereotype? Boys, we've got ourselves a winner!" Jeez. Though I suppose if it's between him and the Ducktales Beagles, there isn't much to choose.

Assuming that WDTVA was bound and determined (or were bound and directed by someone) to use a character from the movie, Dijon was the only logical choice.  Merlock was presumably destroyed due to his talisman-less fall from the heavens, while Gene, the "boy-version" of the transformed Genie, doesn't seem to add much to the table that HD&L don't already possess.  Even Bubba is a more distinctive character than Gene.  Whether Dijon should have been introduced here, as opposed to "The Golden Goose," is another question.

(GeoX) I like the idea that Fenton can count all of Scrooge's money at a rapid rate while frantically tunneling through the piles of cash.

Fenton gets more chances to display his amazing counting abilities here than at any time outside of the "Super DuckTales" serial.  Strange; that shtick could probably have made for a number of funny side gags along the way.

(GeoX) Gizmoduck, on deploying his head-copter to save a worker from a mite-eaten catwalk: "And you thought my head was only full of brains!" "No! I'd never think that!"

I like this exchange, because it's fun to hear a Duckburgian evince a highly negative, even cynical, attitude towards Gizmoduck's doings.  In the past, Gizmoduck has been feted, celebrated, been subjected to intense media examination, and so forth.  Evidently, the novelty of having a (somewhat fallible) superhero in town is beginning to wear off, and more quickly with some of the denizens than with others.

(GeoX) Webby as a Junior Woodchuck, recalling "Merit-Time Adventure." I'm down with that.

Ditto, and I think it says something about the Junior Woodchucks' willingness to make its distaff members feel welcomed that Webby is allowed to wear blue here after sporting pink in "Merit-Time." Too bad that Scott fumbled the ball a bit by mistakenly calling the JW Guidebook the JW Manual (which was, I believe, Barks' original name for the tome).  Additional evidence that Scott was flying at least partially blind here?

(Greg) So we head to Flint's mansion and into Flint's office as Flint is talking to Dijon. That's right; they introduced this guy without any build up at all. Although to be fair; this is not his first appearance as that was the Ducktales Movie a few months earlier. However; the problem is that most fans of the series probably never got to watch the movie and thus didn't see Dijon's first appearance or origin story.

I think that it was reasonable for WDTVA to assume that most (at the very least) of the regular DT watchers had gone to see the movie.  I agree, though, that it would have made more sense to have provided a bit more background justifying Dijon's presence.  (Not that anyone ultimately noticed his presence, anyway...)

(Greg) Sadly; since Wang Films cannot animate a collapsing factory properly we quickly scene change to the sidewalk in front of Scrooge's mansion at the gate. We see Webby and the nephews (Louie) with a lemonade like stand as we discover that they are giving away free soda crackers and some of the denizens start taking them. Then we pan over to a real lemonade stand as Huey and Dewey are selling lemonade for a dollar (still better than the $2.25 lemonade in a bottle that the businesses sell; so I cannot complain) as everyone mobs the two nephews and Dewey has to tell them to relax. Huey then sees Scrooge in the window and asks how they are doing and Scrooge calls it better than expected. Then Fenton arrives with Scrooge at the window as Scrooge has the Gruffi pose and wants to do a cracker/lemonade franchise. You would think that after what happened in Duck To The Future and Yuppy Ducks that Scrooge would take the hint and NOT be trying to leech ideas off of his nephews. They are hardly shrew[d] Scroogie.

The obvious question here is: How can we square the actions and attitudes of the kids and Scrooge with the events of "Duck to the Future," in particular?  Actually, it's not that hard, though the manner in which the actions and attitudes are portrayed isn't particularly helpful.  In "Future," as the Nephews ran the second (post-Scrooge's-advice) version of their lemonade stand, they actively trying to cheat people by selling lemonade as water and were cheating their employee, Doofus, besides.  Even Gosalyn Mallard's selling of hose water as "bottled water" in a parched St. Canard in the Darkwing Duck episode "Dry Hard" didn't sink as low as this.  HD&L and Webby's saltine-cracker-and-lemonade emporium, by contrast, is... well, let's call it an example of "sharp practice," as opposed to outright dishonesty.  Scrooge's reaction to the initiative suggests that he thinks of the gambit as an example of being "smarter than the smarties."  The problem is that the characters' reactions seem to be hinting that we should put a more negative spin on things.  Scrooge rubs his hands in a conniving way when he praises the "shrewdness" of his "wee Nephews," while the kids take rather too much... well, pleasure a bit later in talking about their chili-peppers-and-water idea.  More matter-of-fact reactions by Scrooge and the kids would have cleared up the contradiction a bit.

(Greg) Then in one of those moments that annoys me; we see Louie and Webby with the water hose. Wait; we clearly didn't see Webby run in so how did she teleport over to here now?!

I simply assumed that she got a late start for some reason (perhaps she was gathering up some supplies) and ran over to join HD&L a bit later.

(Greg) Webby proclaims that the bugs will be here any minute and Huey points out that the door is made of metal and it will turn to Swiss cheese. Scrooge runs into the storage office and returns with...cement? Yeah; we are suppose[d] to buy that Scrooge had wet cement prepared beforehand just for such a moment.

It came from the same mysterious location where Dijon got the extra bag of metal scrap, Walter Cronduck's cameramen got their spare cameras, and... you get the picture.

(Greg)  So we head to Flint's mansion as Flint is checking his gold coins and then out of nowhere; Dijon appears from the open window. Even Flint demands to know about this outrage as Dijon has some news to share with him. The bad news is that Scrooge is making billions with the wrecking business which makes Flint groan in pain.

Vic Lockman would be proud of this ending... just as the late Hal Smith should be proud of that fadeout shriek.  That would have been a fitting note on which to end Glomgold's animated career, though I'm certainly not going to carp about his appearance in "The Golden Goose."

Next: Episode 98, "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Up and Out

I reached a couple of post-transplant milestones today.  The JP fluid drain was finally removed from the incision site, and the stent that had helped the surgeons connect my new kidney to the bladder was pulled out of... well, let's just say out of ME and be done with it.  Both procedures were relatively painless (emphasis on "relatively") and, thanks to Nicky's constant care over the past month, there were no signs of any infection or similar difficulties.

My next clinic visit is September 4, at which time I hope to get the all-clear to resume driving.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A "Lamp" Into Our Hands... At Last!

How's THIS for exquisite timing?  In his comment on my "DuckTales Valentine" post, longtime N&V watcher "kenisu" mentioned that DuckTales: The Movie is, at long last, slated for general DVD release in January 2015 through Walt Disney Home Entertainment.  Here's the announcement on Amazon.

What a long, strange trip it's been as we've waited for this long, long-overdue release.  Hopefully, we'll be rewarded for our patience with some extras.  Then again, as the Genie (and you know which Genie I'm talking about in this context) said, there are wishes, and then, there are miracles...

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."