Sunday, September 30, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 12, "Maid of the Myth"

Let's clear up one contention about this episode right off the bat.  Yes, the notion of honest-to-goodness Vikings invading Duckburg does possess a distinct element of the "utterly cockamamie" (cf. GeoX).  This is especially true when no explanation is given (much less asked for) as to why these exotic outlanders have abruptly decided to pillage a large city, and with a mere three ships full of invaders at that.  But let's be honest, now:  how much more fanciful is writer Anthony Adams' confection than Carl Barks' own "take" on Viking lore?

Eschewing anything like Barks' somewhat heavy-handed satire, Adams turns this Viking DuckTale into more or less of a conventional action-thriller, with meaty supporting roles for Launchpad and the hitherto underused Mrs. Beakley and one absolute champion of a one-shot player in the comely chariot-driver Swanwhite (Tress MacNeille, who begins to cement her legend here as DuckTales' "go-to gal" for incidental female character voices).  Following an exciting and well-animated chariot race between Mrs.B. and the Viking champion, Thor (and yes, Adams did do his homework when choosing that name -- see below), the episode just sort of trails off; there's some mutual mumbling about the Vikings of the hidden island of Valhalla "learning to live in peace with the Outsiders," but you never get the impression that such promises will ever come to anything.  (Perhaps the ties would have seemed stronger if Scrooge had taken in a wild young Viking child and decided to raise him along with HD&L and Webby... On second thought, let's not go there.)  We also must tiptoe past a fair number of logical lapses on the way to the finish.  Despite all this, "Maid" remains a highly enjoyable entry on the distinguished roll of "myth-and-legend-based" DuckTales episodes.

GeoX complained about the use of the "operas are long and boring!" trope, but the ep actually gets off to a worse start than that.  Why are Scrooge and HD&L acting like such insensitive assholes, considering that Mrs. Beakley is performing on stage for a charitable cause?  They practically make a scene of being ostentatiously indifferent to the proceedings.  I mean, surely they could have gotten better seats simply by asking for them.  Perhaps they found it difficult to take seriously what appears to be a glorified "community theater" event, in which Gyro, Quacky McSlant, and Vacation van Honk are being pressed into service as unlikely Vikings.  

But wait, it gets worse.  Mrs. B., gallantly trying to make several bars from The Ride of the Valkyries stand in for ALL of the collected works of opera, has a mishap with a prop tree, and Scrooge and the boys join the rest of the audience in laughing themselves silly.  Where's the empathy, fellas?!

So on come the Vikings, who cut legitimately menacing figures as they ransack the docks, grab some plunder, and... find the contents of fizzing cans of soda disquietingly entertaining.  The soda gag is rerun several additional times during the episode, almost as if it's destined to play some sort of role at the climax... but, nope, it's just a throwaway (or should I say, recyclable) gag.  Had Barks thought up something as weird as this to use as a running joke, I suspect that he would probably have found a somewhat cleverer alternative use for it.

There is some legitimately wonderful animation in this opening sequence -- the Vikings walking onto the deck of Auric's ship with their plunder, Auric sweeping through the air to shanghai Mrs. Beakley.  Logic, however, hits the banana peel as the Ducks take to a speedboat to pursue the Vikings to Greenland.  I can understand the use of a watercraft to trail the Vikes' ships, but wouldn't a submarine have provided better protection against the Ducks' being spotted?  And why is Scrooge so slapdash in getting this little expedition outfitted?  No winter coats or (as Greg pointed out) life jackets for the Nephews, no apparent room on the speedboat for the necessary provisions... and no Webby, at least not until the Ducks get to Valhalla and she suddenly reappears on the scene.  No wonder the departing Nephews don't seem to like the direction in which this adventure is heading.

Speaking of directions, GeoX goes through all sorts of contortions trying to get the Vikings' trek to Duckburg to make some geographical sense:

Calisota, as we know, is on the west coast. So the Vikings either sailed all the way through Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (okay, it was just the Northwest Territories at the time), around Alaska, and all the way down the west coast of Canada; or all the way south past Tierra del Fuego and up the other side. Though granted, they could have cut that second route down substantially had they been able to get permission to use the Panama Canal. Or they could have gone aaaall the way over Asia and crossed the Pacific, but gimme a break--that would just be silly! 

All of this speculation, of course, flows from the premise that Calisota is on the West Coast.  But here's the thing: several DuckTales eps provide explicit evidence that the DT version of Duckburg is on the EAST CoastIn "Double-O-Duck," we even get some cartographical evidence:

Um, guys, seeing as how Duckburg is clearly situated on a body of water, I think that you might want to move that Duckburg dot at lower left a wee bit more to the right.  That would plant the DT Duckburg in the vicinity of "real-world" Norfolk and Hampton Roads, VA.  Several eps after "Double-O-Duck," in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck," detective Shedlock Jones refers to the "six-hour time difference" between London and Duckburg.  So, you see, it would be possible for the Vikings to reach this version of Duckburg... though I'm surprised that they went to the trouble of going that far, as opposed to invading the more easily reachable New York.  (Or would that be St. Canard?)

UPDATE (10/1/12):  I just remembered another episode that provides evidence of the Eastern location of Duckburg.  In "Top Duck," while recounting the story of his sad exile from The Flying McQuacks, Launchpad notes that the aerial acrobats had been doing a show "out on the coast" when LP screwed up his part of the "cattle rustle hustle."  Now, the phrase "out on the coast" may be used on the West Coast to refer to those of us back East, but it's generally taken to mean "out West."  Ergo, Duckburg must be in the East. 

Joe and I have speculated in the past that the hot-spring-heated island setting of Valhalla may have been inspired by the live-action Disney movie Island at the Top of the World (1974).  Other points of similarity include the plot being motivated by a search for a missing person and an "Outsider" enjoying a romance with a Viking maiden.  Of course, it is also possible that Adams was simply inspired by his love of myth and legend, as displayed in his fanciful rock opera An Eye in Each Head and, just perhaps, by his boyhood experiences of reading Barks stories.  In any event, I would certainly like to know a bit more about the genesis of this episode.

Adams may have done a bit of a "rethink" regarding the romantic self-confidence that Launchpad displayed in "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan."  Launchpad seems somewhat more competent than usual here -- he ultimately learns how to drive the ram-chariot, after all -- but he's clearly flustered by Swanwhite's considerable charms.  Of course, his romantic cause isn't helped by his attempt to maintain his disguise as a Viking.  (Given that Valhalla is such a closed community, I'm actually surprised that Swanwhite didn't realize that Launchpad wasn't a real Viking right off the bat.  Perhaps she lives apart from the rest of the clan; she certainly has much better "manners" and "tenderness" than they do.)  This is among the first of what will become numerous "costumed" roles for Launchpad, and it's actually one of the better, albeit lower-key, ones. 

For whatever reason, during my early viewings of "Maid," I had all sorts of problems picking up on the names of the Vikings.  It took me a long while to recognize "Swanwhite" because her name was only mentioned once, and Launchpad was hoarse when he mentioned it.  It was so bad that I originally thought that the name of Thor's partner in sabotage Snagnar was supposed to be the parodic "Snacbar."  Thor, of course, was no problem to pick up, and Adams isn't simply going for a cliched name in this case: the legendary Norse god is famous for traveling a chariot pulled by a pair of goats (not rams), and the DT Thor even mentions one of their names: Toothgnasher ("Tanngnjostr" in the Norse language).  Thankfully, DT saw fit not to recreate the part of the Thor legend in which Thor eats his rams and then resurrects them.  That would have gotten uncomfortably messy, I think.

The two main strands of the Valhalla plot -- Auric's queen Griselda's jealousy of Mrs. "Brunhilde" Beakley and the chariot race between the Duckburgian and Valhallian champions -- dovetail neatly when Griselda's potion causes Launchpad to lose his voice, obliging Mrs. Beakley to fill in for LP and thereby forcing the redoubtable nanny to brave Thor's attempted sabotage.  Scrooge, who plays a surprisingly minor role in the ep apart from challenging Auric to the "man-to-man" contest to decide the Ducks' fate, finally gets in his ration of work as he and Swanwhite try to stop Thor's henchVikes from collapsing the bridge.  Since Scrooge's interference caused the premature destruction of the bridge, giving Mrs. Beakly a chance to make everything turn out well in the end, I'd say that Scrooge made the most of his brief opportunity.  I'd certainly like to know where Mrs. B. learned how to drive a chariot -- this must be one of those "hidden talents" that she allows to escape from hiding on special occasions, the best-known occasion of which is "Jungle Duck" -- but there's very little to dislike about this well-mounted sequence.  I find this action-oriented approach far more enjoyable than Barks' rather sour and cynical use of similar material in "Mythtic Mystery."

As noted above, the ending of the episode is rather flabby.  Apart from the mushy nature of the promise of future "peaceful" contacts, the ep doesn't even handle Mrs. Beakley's final flight of song properly.  Imagine if Mrs. B.'s climactic trill had caused, not a small shower of falling ice, but a semi-catastrophic landslide that accidentally sealed Valhalla off from the outside world?  After all, as we've just seen, her "C above high C" packs quite a destructive, ice-shattering punch.  How ironic would that ending have been?  And dark, as well, which is probably why DT wouldn't have dared to touch it.  Ah, well, what we did get was plenty good enough for my tastes. 





(GeoX)  Didn't even mention the good viking shepherdess or the bad viking queen--the latter especially makes essentially no impression; her purpose is questionable, aside from screwing up Launchpad's voice and requiring Beakley to race.

If Griselda made any impression at all -- and I think that she did, though not as large a one as did Swanwhite -- it was entirely due to Tress MacNeille's voicing.  Oddly enough, Tress seemed to have some trouble nailing the voice down.  In Griselda's first scene, the Viking queen's voice is somewhat huskier than in the scene in which she plots to ruin Mrs. Beakley's voiceThat latter effort sounds more like the "all-purpose villainous female" voice that MacNeille will later give to one-shot distaff players like Circe, Millionaira Vanderbucks, and Feathers Galore.  Had DT decided not to use June Foray's Natasha voice for Magica De Spell, it would have made a good voice for Magica, as well.

(Greg)  Louie notices that those [Viking] ships are real as we see the viking running down the street. I don't want to be the spoilsport around here; but doesn't someone notice that THE DOCKS ARE [ON] FIRE?!

Seeing as how the shot of the harbor area taken on the following morning doesn't show much, if any, damage, that couldn't have been TOO serious of a blaze.  TMS just animated it so well that it seemed more ferocious than it truly was.

(Greg)  We then see Thor and his Wingammo Toothgnashers rams whip from the west and stop near the short viking (Wait; shouldn't he be AT the feast? Logic break #2 for the episode.) as he is addressed as Ragoth...  Apparently; the viking near the tree is addressed as Snagnar (...he I think should be at the feast too at this time for logic break #3).

I suspect that "Economical Character Design Syndrome" was at play here.  There were certainly several "short Vikings" around, but it would have been tempting for TMS to cut a few corners and make them all look alike.

(Greg)  Mrs. Beakly as an opera star is funny and the Viking[s] I found really good although I didn't find Launchpad's lady man routine as funny as it was in Lost Crown Of Genghis Khan; although I did like Swanwhite and her sonic goats. And I would have liked them better if they dropped the ja like speech that they annoyed me with. 

So, you have a problem with "ja," eh?  Well, here bane my answer to that -- even though it involves the wrong kind of Scandinavian:

Next: Episode 13, "Hero for Hire."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We Are... Our Grandparents!

I shouldn't let September slip away without noting a remarkable (for the Barat family, that is) fact.  Our family has now possessed our home in north Wilmington, DE for 45 years.  As a four-year-old in September 1967, I literally saw the old manse built before my as-yet-uncorrected-for-myopia eyes.  My brother Andy and his family live there now.  What's remarkable about our family's longevity at this address is that now, we have lived there longer than my grandparents lived in their home in Worcester, MA.

     The Lee home, circa 2002

You know the old saying that time moves more slowly when you are a kid.  Well, when I was growing up and making regular visits to Worcester, I got the distinct vibe that my relatives had lived there FOREVER.  The house itself certainly seemed old enough to be a domicile that could house a certain group of people for an indeterminate length of time.  I can still smell the mildewed wood of the small "mud room" that one had to pass through in order to enter the house proper.  But, no, the Lee family was "only" there from 1945 until the end of the 1980s, when my grandfather, great-aunt, and aunt moved in with my uncle and aunt's family in New Hampshire.  The Barat estate in Wilmington has now been in the family longer. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

RIP Michael Rye

Greg Weagle reports that veteran radio actor and voice artist Michael Rye died last week at the age of 94.  We WDTVA die-hards know him best as the voice of Duke Igthorn and King Gregor on Gummi BearsHe also played supporting roles in the DuckTales episode "Once Upon a Dime" (alas!) and the TaleSpin episode "The Road to Macadamia" (not so much!).

Rye also voiced The Lone Ranger -- perhaps his best-known role in animation outside the "kingdom limits" of Dunwyn -- and enjoyed a radio career that spanned several decades.  As Rye Billsbury, he was the "genial Mr. First Nighter" on the popular Broadway anthology show The First Nighter Program from 1945 to 1953.  Give a listen to him here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wing Doesn't Need a Prayer

So, have you had the opportunity to read Eric Wing's fine article commemorating DuckTales' 25th birthday?  If not, go ahead.  I can wait.

Let me take on a few of Eric's points:

(1)  To be completely fair, Eric, some DuckTales merchandise DID manage to get into the stores.  It even merited several TV commercials.  Artful, however, the spots generally weren't, even when measured by the modest standards of the medium.

Quack-quack.  Right. To make matters worse, the narrator seems to assume that the term "DuckTales" referred to the group of characters featured on the show.  (More painful even than this was the fact that the misbegotten Marvel-Disney DISNEY AFTERNOON comic-book title once used the phrase "DuckTales in..." to introduce a DT story.)

Several items produced during the original run of the series -- the Panini sticker album, a number of the figurines, and particularly the well-received video games -- have achieved semi-legendary status.  Unfortunately, there weren't enough of these to sustain the long-term interest of the "civilian" population as the 1990s wore on.  It would have helped, I think, if the DT-based comic books had been regularly plugged during broadcasts of the show.  But then, you can say exactly the same thing about all of the other series produced during the "Golden Age" of WDTVA.  Next to the video division's ham-fisted, unimaginative handling of the DVD releases, the refusal to partake of what would seem to be a straightforward opportunity to exploit "synergy" is the most infuriatingly puzzling aspect of Disney's superintendence of this marvelous product. 

(2)  As for the troubling question of why DT has not sustained more of a legacy, over and above the "mere" lack of enough store-buyable baubles, I addressed this question at some length a couple of years ago in "Free DuckTales!", a piece I wrote as part of my RICHVILLE RUMINATIONS column in Mark Arnold's THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!.  I identified the following potential reasons:
  • Duck fans were divided on the question of the series' viability from the very beginning, and so the show lacked the solid phalanx of fans that helped perpetuate interest in, say, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.
  • The comic books were of uneven, aesthetically confused quality, which made it easier for some to write off the DT concept as inferior.
  • A number of the new characters had as many detractors as they had boosters -- and some had more of the former than the latter (see Duck, Bubba).
  • The series lived a more or less "natural" lifespan of 100 episodes, and it was easy for Duck fans to go back to reading the "standard" comics after it was all over.  Rescue Rangers and TaleSpin, by contrast, gained a second wind because they were taken out of production "before their time."
  • The era of TV animation that DT ignited has ended, and we're living in a different aesthetic world today.
To this list, I'd now add:
  • Disney DVD's treatment of the DVD releases as throwaway product has helped to obscure the true historical and aesthetic significance of the series.
(3)  If I were as comprehensive an authority on DT as Eric seems to think me to be, then I'd certainly know a lot more behind-the-scenes information about the series' production history.  I do know that the show was officially put into development in 1985, as indicated in the copyright notice below:

Also, episode voice tracks were being recorded as early as the Spring of 1986.  I have a news article noting the recording of the track for "Micro Ducks from Outer Space" as taking place during April of that year.  The production order of the eps as a whole, I've gleaned from a couple of sources.  But "inside infor"?  I wish.

Lebanon Valley 31, Stevenson 28

This may have been the most impressive game that Nicky and I have seen Stevenson play in person.  Last year's inaugural home win against Christopher Newport was more exciting -- plus, of course, that game ended in a WIN -- but that happy result could at least partially be put down to the other team's lack of familiarity with SU's personnel.  Lebanon Valley, by contrast, is a power in the Mustangs' conference and massively outweighed SU along the offensive and defensive lines.  LVC ground, ground, and ground away all afternoon to the tune of nearly 300 rushing yards, but the Mustangs refused to go quietly.  A quarterback change at halftime proved to be a tonic for the SU offense.  However, the new QB's inexperience showed when he gave away an interception deep in Mustang territory that resulted in a fourth-quarter touchdown.  SU scored inside the final minute on a gadget play and almost recovered the ensuing onside kick, but no such luck.

The Mustangs' next home game will be Homecoming on October 20 against Wilkes, which just lost to Widener, 90-0.  We'll be sure to post some pictures and vids from that game.  The bad news is that SU has to travel to Widener in a couple of weeks.  I was hoping to travel to Chester, PA for that game, but I wanted to take some family members along, and not enough of them could make it.  I'll still be seeing Mom and the sibs very shortly for a very special ("oh, is that what you call it?") birthday celebration.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episodes 11a and 11b, "Magica's Magic Mirror" and "Take Me Out of the Ballgame"

Must I?  Isn't picking through these two perfunctory, generally disappointing "episode-lets" for additional meaningful nits simply a case of breaking a butterfly on the rack?  Well, thanks to the "production-order approach" that I'm taking with these retrospectives, I can at least attack the problem from a different angle.

"Magica's Magic Mirror" (originally titled "The Mirror Quack'd" -- they should have kept the name) features the first "official" series appearance of Magica De Spell, and the first quasi-meaningful role for Doofus is tacked on for good measure.  "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," meanwhile, features... features... well, um, features what at the time seemed to be (and probably still remains) the single DUMBEST moment of the series, the one moment when young and old viewers alike rolled their eyes in unison and would have "R'dOTFLTAO" if that expression had been in common use back then.

I wish I knew the true story behind the making (or would that be "the stitching together"?) of this rivet-necked monstrosity of an episode.  Gummi Bears had a fair amount of success using this format, but for DT to employ it frankly smacks of desperation.  Joe's and my "working theory" back in the day was that these eps were originally slated to be 22 minutes in length but were edited down after the writers and story editors encountered intractable development problems.  In the case of "Magica's Magic Mirror," such problems honestly shouldn't have existed.  Surely a bit more could have been mined out of the idea of Magica using trickery to convince Scrooge that he's "viewing the future" through the titular speculum and thereby get him to give up his Old #1 Dime?  By contrast, I can't even comprehend the possibility that the simplistic plot of "Ballgame" was originally believed worthy of a full-length episode.  Unfortunately, there's probably more evidence herein that "Ballgame" was shortened than there is evidence that "Mirror" was stripped down.

I've never had a problem with the idea of June Foray using her Natasha voice to give life to Magica.  Sure, an Italian accent would have been more appropriate, but "generic European" is good enough for me, especially considering the source.  Where an actress like Tress MacNeille might have done a better job was on those rare occasions when Magica had to disguise her voice to fool Scrooge.  In this episode, as well as "Raiders of the Lost Harp" and "Duck to the Future," Scrooge's inability to recognize Magica's voice leaves the audience with the impression that he's a few shekels short of a quid -- so to speak.

Greg makes the interesting point that the saucy sorceress' dime-glomming gambit here involves "science" as much as it does magic.  Of course, that's stretching the term "science" to cover an awful lot of ground.  In truth, I would expect the Magica De Spell who displayed the ability to command comets and master meteors in one of Carl Barks' stories to do a little better than rely on fairly crude manipulatives and "simulations" that the Big Three Networks wouldn't have found acceptable during their coverage of the Apollo space missions in the 60s and 70s.  GeoX's description of the ruses as "pretty dumb" is a bit harsh, but not entirely inaccurate...


... and the complete bamboozlement of Scrooge, Launchpad, HD&L, and Doofus in the face of this somewhat tacky onslaught is dubious, to say the least.  We would surely have gotten a better impression of this scheme had the phony futures been presented in a more artful manner.  However, that would have required a more leisurely development of the plot.  The multiple "black slugs" and other annoyances in "Mirror" suggest that such artfulness was not a high priority on the agenda.

I feel your apparent pain, Scrooge.

The best evidence that "Mirror" was a rush job has nothing at all to do with the "mirror trick."  In one of his "stray observations" on this episode, GeoX asked, in his inimitably low-key way, "What the hell is the deal with the kid at the picnic dressed as Glomgold?"  Greg thought that it was Flinty's son.  Horrifying as the thought may be, I think that that was actually meant to BE Glomgold!  I mean, just look at how poorly Gyro is drawn in the very same scene.  I suppose that we should count ourselves fortunate that Mrs. Beakly wasn't drawn as thin and svelte here.

A ghastly scene like this bespeaks a breakdown in quality control, and here's a possible reason as to why such a breakdown occurred.  Towards the end of "Take Me Out of the Ballgame," there is a clear cut in the scene in which "temporary coach" Duckworth is telling the Junior Woodchucks' baseball team to use golfing methods to hit the wibbly-wobbly "Beagle Ball."  Right after Duckworth says "I'll tell you what I mean when it's our turn to bat again" and tells the kids to "give [the Beagle Brats] what for," the Woodchucks ARE up to bat again, and they've already mastered the golfing approach without Duckworth having "told them" anything.  Could it be that "Ballgame" was trimmed in several places, not just this one, and "Magic Mirror" was quickly rushed into production at some point to fill the remaining air time?  Say it ain't so, Jymn et al.

It's pretty hard to find anything complimentary to say about "Ballgame," but I'm going to try to do so anyway, at least until Doofus hits that absurd, ocean-spanning, game-winning home run.  The dialogue and plot may not be outstanding, but there are definitely some funny expressions on display in this episode.  The "tilted-hat" shots of the Nephews are cute; they remind me a bit of similar moments in Barks stories when Barks was trying to get across the idea that the boys were acting in a bratty manner (for example, when complaining about school or playing hooky).

Webby goes the canted-capped boys one better with her memorable "Let's make the little creeps cry for their mommies!" rant.  You're right, GeoX, Webby should have been given a few more somewhat-out-of-character moments like that.  When would be the next truly memorable one?  "The Good Muddahs," perhaps?  (As for Ma Beagle being the "only mommy" of all those Beagles, Greg, I only hope for her sake that she wasn't.)

I knew that steroids were a problem in baseball, but I never
expected Webby's Quacky Patch Doll to get involved with them! 

We also get some amusing moments as Duckworth's interference with the Woodchucks' game play "in the interests of promoting proper behavior" leads to mounting frustration on the part of the kids.  It's especially fun to watch one of the Nephews finally snap and let Duckworth (verbally) have it.  It's too bad that Dan Haley wasn't around to flag this moment as a case of a Nephew showing strong "leadership skills."

It's a legitimate surprise (shock, even) to see the Beagle Brats here, though I must say that I am impressed that writer Tedd Anasti knew about them.  No amount of paging through Barks' collected works would have helped on that score.  (We're fortunate that Anasti's knowledge of Beagle family history didn't descend to the depth of knowing about the original Beagle Babes, or else the Marcie clone who represented the Beagle team's gesture towards gender diversity would have had some rather unwelcome company.)  A far more significant debut here is that of Ma Beagle, who makes a very good first impression.  In his discussion of the DT cast, GeoX argued that Ma became more annoying the more she was used.  I can certainly understand what he meant, especially when it comes to several of the flimsier 1989 episodes.  Here, though, Ma functions exactly as a matriarch of the implausibly extended Beagle clan ought to function -- as a plugger of and enthusiast for "Beagle tradition," ignoble though it may seem to the outside world.  She serves much the same purpose in the upcoming "Hero for Hire" and in several other eps.  Granted, the Beagle Brats don't actually start to follow "Beagle tradition" and cheat until the game is well underway, but, hey, it's the thoughtlessness that counts.

I'll throw in one more positive (at least to me) aspect of this episode: Duckworth's line "We mustn't allow them to tally any more points!".  I still use that line to this day when watching various sporting events with Nicky, even ones like football and basketball where the joke about the misuse of the word "points" is negated.  Unfortunately, all of these pluses are completely swamped by the misbegotten portrayal of Duckworth (well, at least he'll have better "starring" moments down the pike) and the idiotic denouement.  GeoX hits it on the nose (pun intended):  it makes no sense that Duckworth's dictum to Doofus to treat the ball as a cream puff "would cause him to want to get rid of [it] as expeditiously as possible."  And in a geographically, physically impossible manner, to boot...

The bombs, sticks of TNT, and pictures of baseballs in the dugouts of the two teams pretty much sum up how cut-and-dried and conventionally "cartoony" the execution of "Ballgame" truly is.  It's clear in retrospect that "Magica's Magic Mirror" should have been given the full 22-minute treatment, with the sense of realism, danger, and high stakes being amplified.  At least "Mirror" simulates a true DuckTales adventure.





(GeoX) "Great Grandma Tragica"

... goes in the pantheon with such ephemeral figures as Magica's niece Minima, who first appeared in a DT story in DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST and subsequently guested in a couple of lengthy Italian stories, with the last one being published in 2002.  Then there are Magica's "older brother" Magico and Magica's mother, imaginatively named Mrs. De Spell, who appeared in "The Witch, the Dime, and an Old Friend," a lengthy DT fanfic that, alas, has recently been pulled from  Since "Witch" (1) intimated that Magica was Polish and (2) featured Scrooge and a disguised Magica meeting at a bar, having a one-night stand, and GETTING MARRIED, perhaps it is all for the best that Tragica never made an on-screen appearance.

(Greg)  [Magica] flings her cape and thanks to the Wii blue flash she turns into a vulture and flies away much to the shock of the Cosplay Spy Vs. Spy of Doom. He proclaims that the Gangster Guy Pizza Place doesn't pay him enough to put up with this. HAHA! Maybe it's time to take a job at a normal pizza place. I wondered where the Themed Pizza Place gimmick from The Weekenders came from? 

I don't know, but "Gangster Guy Pizza" was more likely a takeoff on the Godfather's Pizza chain. Herman Cain would be proud. 

(Greg)  Huey asks if this what the future holds and in comes Doofus with the chili dog asking if they are ready for the picnic and the nephews scatter out like scalded ducks with the mirror. Huh? What was so scary about Doofus Drake? I don't get it at all.

This isn't hard to explain.  HD&L were shocked that the mirror's prediction turned out to be correct!

(Greg)  [N]ow Doofus wants to see into the future as Huey gives him the mirror and tells him how to do it as we cut back to Magica blowing off Doofus' face and remembering to call him a doofus in the process. HAHA! 

This scene strikes me as somewhat weird.  How would Magica even know about Doofus, especially at this early stage of the series -- and given that she spends most of her time on Mt. Vesuvius, anyway?  But not only does Magica recognize Doofus on sight, she knows what pushes his buttons, so to speak: the sight of Launchpad in trouble.

(Greg)  So we cut to the mirror shot as it sparkles and we see Magica trespassing on his property as it's the woman and then we see an inflatable Scrooge waddle in and give her a fake dime. She thanks him for the good decision. Geez [writer] Richard [Merwin]; that's foretelling Scrooge's sex life a wee bit too obvious now don't you think? 

Not if you read "The Witch, the Dime, and an Old Friend."  Seriously, it's VERY difficult to accept that Scrooge would surrender Old #1 for such a relatively petty reason as the loss of a few diamond mines.  "Nothing to Fear" and "Send in the Clones" at least provided Scrooge with somewhat more imperative reasons to give up the dime.

(Greg)  What kind of city allows convicted criminals to play baseball outside of a prison cell? And why are the Beagle Brats dressed up as mini versions of the Beagle Boys? Isn't that setting them up for a life of crime or something? 

In the comics, the Brats have number plates with single-digit numbers on them (1, 2, 3, etc.).  Here, their number plates are blank.  So I guess that they haven't committed any actual crimes... yet.  I agree that dressing the Beagle progeny (even the babies!) up in adult Beagle getup doesn't exactly qualify as responsible mentoring.

(Greg)  Doofus get the football victory spot inside the baseball field from the babyfaces as they win 18-17 and thus make the [Duckburg] Mallards into bigger losers than they already are. They of course drop [Doofus and Duckworth] like bad habits as the nephew proclaim[s] that this is the first error made all day.  

And we get a surprise foreshadowing of "Duck to the Future" as Webby congratulates Doofus by kissing him!  I wonder whether Webby's expressed admiration for Honker Muddlefoot during the "Dangerous Currency" crossover has affected this "predicted future scenario" in any way.

Next:  Episode 12, "Maid of the Myth."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Happy ANNIVERSARIES, "DuckTales"!

Well, this is most unfortunate.  Here I am, retrospecting on DuckTales on a weekly basis, and I completely neglected to note that Tuesday, September 18, marked the ACTUAL 25th anniversary of the first syndicated broadcast of the "two-hour movie" version of "Treasure of the Golden Suns"!  Thanks to Eric Wing of PlayControl Software for reminding me of this through the medium of the Disney Comics Forum.  (Eric, by the way, has just published his own silver anniversary retrospective on the show, and it's well worth reading.  I'll be discussing it in a future post.)

My tail feathers might still be salvageable.  The two-hour "Golden Suns" was broadcast at OTHER times during that epochal weekend.  I was living in Providence, RI at the time, and two TV stations -- TV 38, Boston, and (I think) WPIX TV 11, New York -- had the rights to the series in our area.  One of them broadcast "Golden Suns" that Friday night, while the other did so on either Saturday or Sunday.  So, it's entirely possible that TODAY represents an anniversary of sorts.  Call it "a celebration of exposure to DuckTales within the penumbra of the initial broadcast window," or something like that.

Tomorrow is unquestionably a well-defined milestone: the 25th anniversary of the broadcast of the first syndicated half-hour episode, "Send in the Clones."

Well, At Least "Schulz" Wasn't Spelled with a "T"...

Just recently, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL gave a shout-out to the second volume in the Fantagraphics Barks library.  All credit to reviewer Tim Marchman and the WSJ editors who green-lighted this review, but the piece could have done with one or two additional fact-checks.  We certainly wouldn't want the readers of this august journal to think that Carl Barks' Ducks lived in "Duckville," or that the seminal Barks $CROOGE story was titled "Only a Poor Man."  I'm not too thrilled about that reference to George "Harriman," either.

The weirdest thing about the review that isn't an error is the puzzling comment that the way Japanese manga and anime artists depict "saucer-shaped" eyes was influenced by Barks.  Readers of this blog will remember that Osamu Tezuka did correspond with Barks on at least one memorable occasion.  Considering Tezuka's vast influence on the subsequent direction of Japanese comics and animation, Tezuka's enthusiasm for Barks' work may have rubbed off on some of the "Manga God"'s peers.  Still, this is a fairly broad generalization to make, no? 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gone, But Anything But Forgotten

Nicky was cleaning up the Caviar drive the other day and found a couple of nice items related to our dogs.  The picture below with Shasta and Harry was intended for a photo Christmas card that we never got around to printing.

Here's a short video with three principals -- Shasta, Harry, and (mostly) Nicky's dog Paula.  This one is several years old, since Bengie is not on hand (or paw), we haven't yet installed the new flooring and wainscoting in the dining room, and we still have the dog door installed in the old kitchen door.  Paula was pretty old by this time but still full of pep.

Delaware Valley 34, Stevenson 10

Stevenson's football team is 0-3 at this point of the season... but not all losses are created equal.  The Mustangs lost their first home game 26-16 to Shenandoah, a team that they lost to by almost 40 points in their inaugural game last year.  I don't have any footage or pics from that game because it was delayed for quite some time due to a lightning storm and Nicky and I decided to leave before the game finally got under way.  Last week, SU lost 29-22 in OT at Albright after the opposing kicker booted a long field goal to tie the game at the gun.  That game, too, had issues with lightning delays.

Weather wasn't a problem yesterday afternoon as the Mustangs squared off against Delaware Valley.  Competitiveness, however, was.  SU lost 34-10 and was frankly fortunate to keep the score that close.  Losing to DVC, which started the season in the Division III Top 25, was probably to be expected, but the Mustangs actually seemed beaten before the game had even begun.  I haven't seen such unimaginative play-calling since Gerry Faust was doing his "Pinkett, Pinkett, Pass, and Punt" routine at Notre Dame in the mid-80s.  SU didn't even try to move the ball right before halftime when they still had three timeouts.  I have to admit, I booed.  It was that "Philadelphia-fandom upbringing" coming out, I suppose.

The SU Marching Band is now officially the "Marching One Hundred" and has been outfitted with actual uniforms for the new season.  The "manner of presentation" has been slicked up, as well, as you can see below.

As impressive as "The Band, Mark 2" sounds, Nicky and I both agreed that the sense of fun we experienced during the inaugural season somehow seemed to be missing.  There's something to be said for a semi-spontaneous "scramble-band" approach, especially at the Division III level.

Back next week -- weather permitting -- as the Mustangs host Lebanon Valley.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 10, "Master of the Djinni"

On the face of it, isn't "Master of the Djinni" the sort of DuckTales episode that Barks fans should have been thrilled and delighted to get?  Scrooge...  Flintheart Glomgold...  magic lamp...  desert adventure...  "lost" civilization...  I'm there!  Yet, neither GeoX nor Greg appear to have been particularly bowled over by it.  The ep certainly has its share of flaws -- though, as GeoX noted, some of these arise from the efforts of writers Sam Joseph and Manette Beth Rosen to pack too much into their fast-paced script -- but it's been a favorite of mine from the very start, and I honestly don't think that it's lost all that much over time. 

Joe once mentioned to me that he knew that DuckTales was going to be something special when Flintheart Glomgold made his OUT OF NOWHERE appearance at the start of (what would become) part two of "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  You kind of figured that the Beagle Boys would be "naturals" as regular menaces, but Flinty hadn't appeared in an original American comic-book story since 1965.  I've previously argued that the DT crew's choices of Barks stories to adapt may have been influenced by the contents of UNCLE $CROOGE McDUCK: HIS LIFE AND TIMES.  Since "The Second-Richest Duck" (UNCLE $CROOGE #15, September 1956), the tale that introduced Flinty, was part of that collection, I wouldn't be surprised if the crew first came to know of Scrooge's doppelganger through that story.  The original (1985) design of the animated Glomgold certainly seems to have been inspired by Barks' earliest version of the character, right down to the central button on the broadcloth coat:

As to what happened next... well, my guess is that someone at WDTVA complained that Flinty "looked too much like Scrooge."  Since the Beagle Boys were given different names and personalities in order to help the viewer keep them straight, I can easily imagine the same fate befalling Glomgold.  The "reconstructive surgery," of course, turned out to be quite comprehensive:

Just to make darn sure no one gets the nutty idea that Glomgold is, you know, SOUTH AFRICAN.  In truth, I can certainly understand why WDTVA didn't want to slice open that particular boerewors, and I had no trouble rationalizing away Flinty's changed appearance and his presence in Duckburg by speculating that (1) he was a native Scot who made his fortune in the Transvaal, rather than the Klondike, and (2) he moved to Duckburg to keep a closer eye on his eternal rival, Scrooge (much as Scrooge's spies were hired to watch over Magica De Spell's activities on Mt. Vesuvius -- but I suppose Flinty felt that no one but himself could be trusted with the job of spying on Scrooge).  I've even conjured up a justification for Glomgold's retention of his kilt: in America, the great melting pot, Scrooge found it easier to discard the sartorial trappings of his ancestral home, while Flinty's garb reflects the stronger and longer-lasting British influence in South Africa.

In DuckTales, of course, Flinty is typically far more of an out-and-out villain than he was in two of Barks' three Glomgold stories, the exception being "So Far and No Safari" (UNCLE $CROOGE #61, January 1966).  The attitudes that Scrooge and Glomgold display towards one another during "Djinni," however, appear to be just as heavily influenced by the events of "The Second-Richest Duck" and "The Money Champ" (UNCLE $CROOGE #27, September 1959).  What Greg called the "playground-level insults" that Scrooge and Flinty hurl at each other in Aladdin's vault and on the desert sands are, in fact, rather mild compared to the knock-down drag-outs in which they engaged in those two 1950s stories. 

Oh, come on, fellas... you have a reputation to live down to.

Towards the end of "Djinni," the more nuanced elements of Barks' early Scrooge-Flinty duels appear to come into play, with the two old money-grubbers actively cooperating in their efforts to escape the palace of the Sultan of Sim-Sala-Bim.  In fact, they go to somewhat... extreme lengths to do so.

I get the harem clothes being readily available, but how'd their eyelashes grow so fast?!

Scrooge and Glomgold would form a similar mariage de convenience in the later episode "Robot Robbers."  As was perhaps inevitable, however, Flinty's evilness vis-a-vis Scrooge won the day, and Glomgold spent the rest of the series in his terminally dyspeptic "So Far and No Safari" mode.  That's not to say, of course, that he wasn't already showing a few signs of it during "Djinni," most notably in his employment of two strong-arm goons. 

As GeoX indicated, the plot of "Djinni" moves like greased lightning, to the point that several logical potholes are left in its scorched wake.  The lack of an explanation for how Scrooge returned to Duckburg so quickly (how many weeks was Glomgold forced to WAIT for Scrooge in the ice cream parlor, anyway?) has always bugged me, but I have just as big of a problem with the sudden appearance of Glomgold's plane as Scrooge and the Nephews are nearing Aladdin's vault.  Wouldn't Scrooge have gotten a tiny bit suspicious that someone had picked up on the media reports of his expedition (which themselves don't seem like S.O.P. for Scrooge, who generally keeps details of his treasure hunts under his top hat) and was now trying to beat him to the lamp?  At the very least, wouldn't Scrooge have noticed that the plane was clearly coming in for a landing behind the mountain?  But, no, Scrooge and the boys climb up the mountain without anything further being made of the incident, and Scrooge seems legitimately surprised to find Glomgold on the trail of the lamp.  The whole business was awkwardly staged, to say the least.  Still, I'd much rather watch an episode like this than several of the sludgier eps that the series has produced to date.

The Djinni should perhaps count himself fortunate that this episode was produced half a decade before Disney's big-budget version of Aladdin, else he surely would have been tinted blue.  (Genie Goofy should have been so lucky when Disney Comics reprinted the 1960s story "A Lad 'N His Lamp" in 1993.)  Despite his "heel turn" and sorry ultimate fate, I've always found the Djinni to be a very likable character, certainly more so than the vaguely Satanic fellow in the much inferior Rescue Rangers episode "A Lad in a Lamp."  Most of the credit goes to Howard Morris and his always enjoyable riff on the wailing voice of comedian Ed Wynn.

Even if "Djinni" were a mediocre episode -- which it is not -- it would still merit extra attention for an easily overlooked reason: it is a time-travel story.  There have been some reasonably meritorious efforts along those lines in Duck comics, of course, but Barks himself only touched upon the idea in "Back to Long Ago" (UNCLE $CROOGE #16, December 1956) and "King Scrooge the First" (UNCLE $CROOGE #71, October 1967).  Even those versions of the trope came with large asterisks attached; the Ducks didn't actually go back in time, but merely thought that they did.  Thanks to the luxury-loving Djinni, however, Scrooge and Flinty take the temporal trip in both spirit and body.  Though the rivals spend a relatively short period of time in ancient Sim-Sala-Bim -- there's that "overstuffed plot" problem cropping up again -- their adventures there are memorable, and the transitions from modern to ancient times and back again are exceptionally well staged and animated.  The success of this episode no doubt encouraged the DT crew to revisit the time-travel idea multiple times, albeit with somewhat mixed success (at least where certain caveducks are concerned). 

This episode also features the first example of what will become one of DT's most enduring and endearing traits: its ability to imaginatively reinterpret the elements of classical myth and legend in a "Duck-universe" context.  "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan" hinted at this approach, but, of course, it was based on a Barks story to begin with, so it had a "webfoot up" in a manner of speaking.  "Djinni"'s clever spin on 1001 ARABIAN KNIGHTS is entirely new, and immensely winning.  Whereas the "real" Scheherazade was obliged to tell cliff-hanging tales in order to keep her ruler from executing her, Schewebazade, the lovely Somnambulan captive of the Sultan of Sim-Sala-Bim, uses her ability to bore her listeners to her advantage (not to mention Scrooge and Glomgold's).  I can easily imagine a character like Schewebezade appearing in one of the lighter-hearted, more satirical Barks $CROOGE stories of the early- to mid-60s.

We've seen "reverse-English" endings like this episode's before, but I think that "Djinni" handled the conceit about as well as it could be handled.  Scrooge's banishment was depicted in an appropriately dramatic fashion, and Flinty's inadvertent "slip of the tongue" in his expressed desire to "see the expression on [the marooned] Scrooge's face" didn't seem particularly forced to me.  You've still got to deal with the "replay of past history," of course, but time-travel stories deal with that sort of thing all the time.  The collapse of Aladdin's vault -- and the plaintive cries of the Djinni for "[somebody] out there" to come and release him -- make for an exceptionally effective and memorable ending.  It's still quite early yet, but the "classic" era of DuckTales is starting to take shape.   





(GeoX) Scrooge and Glomgold's well-thought-out plan to race back to Duckburg involves sprinting through the trackless wastes. Good luck with that.

But you can just imagine the Scrooge and Glomgold of "The Second-Richest Duck" and "The Money Champ" doing that, can't you?  If they were willing to roll balls of string up through the heart of Africa, then...

(GeoX) A bit odd to see a sultan lustfully "inspecting" his harem in a kids' cartoon. 

At least Roger C. Carmel seemed to be enjoying himself in the role.  This was Carmel's last performance of any kind; the fruitily entertaining character actor (who also voiced one of Glomgold's goons and the sleepy-eyed Emir of Somnambula) died in November 1986, which suggests that "Djinni" was in production during the Summer of that year.  It makes one wonder: which "Glomgold comeback story" was put in production first, "Djinni" or Don Rosa's "Son of the Sun"?  Rosa's first full-length $CROOGE adventure was published in April 1987, beating "Djinni" into the market by some five months, but I don't know when Rosa actually began work on his story.  The two productions were clearly unrelated, but the fact that they were undertaken at roughly the same time indicates just how fructiferous a period 1986-87 was for American Duck fans.  It was a great time to hop aboard the fandom train, as I did in the mid-80s, but it certainly meant far more to the "old sourdoughs."  Five Disney comics publishers later, will we ever get that vibe back?    

Next:  Episode 11, "Magica's Magic Mirror" and "Take Me Out of the Ball Game."  (Hey, look, a real "two-for-one sale"!)