Sunday, August 19, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 6, "Dinosaur Ducks"

Watching DT dubbed into another language can be a real eye- and ear-opener -- and, in some cases, can cause you to have a new-found appreciation for the original version.  The Italian dub is a good case in point.  In it, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are voiced by three different child actors.  Now, I have no objection to kids being used to do the boys' voices, but, the more actors you have to hire, the greater the likelihood that you're going to make a bad casting decision... and, wouldn't you know it, the voice of the Italian Huey is high-pitched, whiny, and altogether unpleasant to listen to for any length of time.  (I wonder whether the Italian production crew knew that Russi Taylor is fluent in Italian; I would have loved to have heard her try to wrap HD&L's "semi-quacky" voices around those torrents of rapid-fire vowels.)  The irritating nature of the Italian Huey's voice is actually relevant to "The Ep at Hand," because one of the subtler subthemes of "Dinosaur Ducks" involves Huey hectoring Louie as the latter's attempts to trap a baby hadrosaur in the "Lost World" backfire again and again.  You can imagine how that comes across in the Italian version.

With "Dinosaur Ducks," we see DuckTales, in the manner of that long-ago creature taking its first tentative steps out of the primordial ooze, slowly easing its way into the telling of "original" stories.  Now, when I say "original," I certainly don't mean that we've never seen a plot like this before; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pioneered the "hidden land of dinosaurs" trope in his 1912 novel THE LOST WORLD, Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse famously visited "The Land of Long Ago" in 1940-41, and Carl Barks took Donald and HD&L to "Forbidden Valley" in 1957.  "Dinosaur Ducks" stands out because it is the first episode for which one could reasonably argue that the production crew made no use of Barks material.  Indeed, in their placing of the "Lost World" on a plateau atop a vertiginous jumble of cliffs, writers Ken Koonce and David Weimers appear to have gone all the way back to the original Conan Doyle tale to find their inspiration.  The duo's diligent borrowings paid off, as the episode has held up quite well indeed, despite the familiar trappings. 

DT didn't go in for "action openings" all that often, and this ep's is one of the very best.  Launchpad's "transcontinental crawl" is, of course, the comedic highlight.  For some reason, the Italian dub completely cut out Terry McGovern's heroic panting, which, to me, was half the fun of the entire sequence.  At Scrooge's zoo (which contains yet another of Scrooge's satellite offices -- at least this one doesn't appear to have a giant safe), we get our first glimpse of Scrooge's secretary Miss Quackfaster, er, Mrs. Featherby.  I've no idea why they decided to change her name, but I agree with GeoX that they probably weren't paying close attention; in her handful of future appearances, she will have a different voice and a somewhat less acerbic personality than she displays here.  Given that DT made an effort to endow Duckworth and Mrs. Beakly with distinctive personalities, it's a shame that the series didn't do the same with Miss Q./Mrs. F.  It would have livened up any number of scenes at the Money Bin.

This is one of the very few times when both HD&L and Webby are obliged to play "tagalong" to participate in an adventure.  Barks didn't use this idea very much either, and, in retrospect, I'm glad that DT maintained the tradition.

Was the box in which HD&L were hiding aboard the transport plane some sort of TARDIS device?!  Where could the boys have been hiding that Launchpad missed seeing them when he rummaged through the box to find an aspirin?  LP's dense, but not that dense.  And that's not the only wonky thing about the transport.  Why would a bench on the plane come equipped with a parachute, the better to allow the "ejected" Nephews to "drift into the Lost World"?  And what aeronautical designer in their right mind would put a control that releases the rotor within easy reaching distance on the pilot's dashboard?

Once we get to the "Lost World," things begin to play out in a fairly conventional fashion -- Scrooge and LP encounter and are captured by the out-of-place caveducks, while the boys butcher their dino-catching operations.  To be fair to Louie, I should note that the "Junior Woodchucks Tiger Trap" did indeed work as it was supposed to; it captured a prehistoric tiger (which, like the caveducks, shouldn't really exist in tandem with dinosaurs, but there you go).  As GeoX suggested, perhaps the boys should have consulted the index to find the instructions for constructing an actual dinosaur trap. The fruit trap also "worked" in that it caught a dinosaur, albeit the wrong kind.  The trap that was inexplicably triggered OUT OF NOWHERE seems more like a mishap that might have happened to Unca Donald.  Give Louie credit for persistence, however; his plan to ride the baby hadrosaur to the rescue of Scrooge and LP comes off without a hitch.  Huey and Dewey should also get credit for giving Louie those multiple chances in the first place.

Webby's attachment to the baby hadrosaur represents the first stirring of what will become one of her defining personality traits, namely, her "way with animals."  But it's her fractured fairy tale at the caveducks' camp that makes the bigger impression here.  DT appears to have had some difficulty in giving Webby good comedic bits during the first season; not until the somewhat looser and wilder second and third seasons would the writers feel comfortable in sticking Webby into slapstick situations.  The funny fable she relates here is an imaginative compromise.

Scrooge's ultimate decision to leave the baby hadrosaur with its mother in favor of "bring[ing] Duckburg to the dinosaurs" seems like a perfectly satisfactory ending, not to mention a classic manifestation of his somewhat "kinder and gentler" DT persona.  But... but... unless some security precautions are taken, I can see this generous scheme backfiring on him at some point down the line.  What's to prevent some unscrupulous big-game hunter from participating in the "Dinosaurfari," scoping out the "Lost World"'s location, and then coming to collect beasties for his own nefarious purposes?  The example of O'Roarke in TaleSpin's "Paradise Lost" comes quickly to mind.  If debating "Prime Directives" is more your speed, then you should probably also be concerned about how rapidly the caveducks might develop now that Launchpad has shown them the secret of the wheel.  In failing to address these points, "Dinosaur Ducks" comes across as rather naive, but entertainingly so.  Unlike Mickey and Goofy in "Land of Long Ago," there is never any serious doubt that the Ducks will escape unscathed, or that Scrooge will find some way to turn the situation to his pecuniary advantage.





(GeoX)  Anyway, naturally, Scrooge wants him some dinos for his zoo, so it's off to this Lost World, with HDL and Webby as stowaways. They tangle with the bad carnosaur and help out the good hadrosaur mother and child (I've always found this business of assigning moral agency to animals based on their perfectly natural characteristics to be pretty goofy, but at the same time, it's entirely understandable).

Also goofy: the temptation to portray non-sentient baby dinosaurs, such as the little hadrosaur here and Bubba Duck's pal Tootsie, as the functional equivalent of dogs.  Who started that trend, I wonder?

(GeoX)  So HDL are trying to protect the baby hadrosaur that's trapped in a canyon from the evil carnosaur--and then it turns out that, oh, there's actually a cave right there. Hard to see why help was even needed.

I'm willing to give this one a pass on the grounds that the baby hadrosaur hadn't had time to look around when it was chased into the canyon and had started to panic before Dewey pointed out the location of the caveThere's a subtle, but clever, shout-out to this scene later in the ep, when the Ducks and the caveducks hide in a cave from the rampaging T-Rex, but the baby hadrosaur can't join them because he can't fit inside the entrance.

(Greg)  Funny how the baby dinosaur was so smart to avoid all the traps the nephews had; but couldn't find the way out of the T-Rex's trap.

I think that it's less a case of the baby hadrosaur "avoiding" the traps on purpose and more a case of it being so intrigued by the presence of the Nephews that it literally wasn't paying much attention to the existence of the traps.

(Greg)  Launchpad takes the wheel and rolls it down and we get the bowling pin spot on the cave ducks. I can see why that cave man from the GEICO ads is so pissed off at the world now. How stiff can you get with the animation TMS?! Pause at 17:48 of the DVD and see what I mean.

Stiff animation was a problem at several points during this ep.  In the opening scene, when LP is trying to escape in his plane with the booby bird, the plane literally bounces around the sky in short, choppy steps.  The contrast with any number of TaleSpin episodes is heartbreaking!

Next:  Episode 7, "The Money Vanishes."


Joe Torcivia said...

“Where could the boys have been hiding that Launchpad missed seeing them when he rummaged through the box to find an aspirin? LP's dense, but not that dense.”

FIVE WORDS: “Junior Woodchucks Camouflage Merit Badges”!

“Also goofy: the temptation to portray non-sentient baby dinosaurs, such as the little hadrosaur here and Bubba Duck's pal Tootsie, as the functional equivalent of dogs. Who started that trend, I wonder?”

Chuck Jones, with “Daffy Duck and the Dionsaur”? Windsor Mc Kay?

Chris Barat said...


You may be right about McKay's Gertie the Dinosaur being the template for the "dog-like dinos" of the future!


Pan MiluĊ› said...


I would love if you would review "Dimes are Enought for Luck" - the Gladstone Gander episode

Chris Barat said...


I'll be doing that one when I get to it in episode production order. It's a fair way down the line at this point.