Sunday, November 11, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 17, "Bermuda Triangle Tangle"

It's easy to miss -- perhaps because the half-hour episode format provides inadequate room for full development of the idea -- but "Bermuda Triangle Tangle" arguably represents DuckTales' most successful exploitation of a classic Carl Barks gambit, that of a "lost race" or "hidden civilization."  You could probably also make strong cases for the hidden Viking land of Valhalla in "Maid of the Myth," the quasi-Egyptian bunch that shanghais Donald in "Sphinx for the Memories," or even the disillusioned old Union soldiers of "Launchpad's Civil War."  All of these micro-cultures possess, to one extent or another, the distinct codes of conduct and levels of audience intrigue that distinguish Barks' best examples of self-contained societies.  What the band of castaways on the island of seaweed in the Bermuda Triangle have that those other folks don't is a strong-willed, memorable leader in the person of the multifaceted Captain Bounty.  Indeed, I'd argue that a Barks fan would be hard put to find a single individual figure in any of "The Duck Man"'s best lost-race tales that leaves a bigger impression than Bounty does here.  Not bad for an episode with a title that seems a bit more suited to a decline-phase Hanna-Barbera cartoon... Oh, wait...

Writer Frank Ridgeway is best known for his long-running comic strip MR. ABERNATHY, but he also found the time to write some original scripts for DUCKTALES comic-book stories in the late 80s, under the aegis of the Disney Studio program.  A few of these were used as lead stories in the early issues of Gladstone's DUCKTALES title.  Suffice it to say that Ridgeway wasn't burning up his best story ideas on those babies.  His "The Fountain of Laughs" (Gladstone DUCKTALES #5, April 1989) came to be known to both Joe and myself as "The Trickle of Weak Chuckles."  "The Crown Jewels Affair" (Gladstone DUCKTALES #4, February 1989) is probably the best of the lot, despite Webby's annoyingly referring to her Grammy as "Mrs. Beakley" throughout.  Still, these tales are so timid and tapioca-bland that one would hardly have expected Ridgeway to have uncorked such a high-quality animated script -- one with memorable supporting players, no less. 

I can't be sure, of course, but there is some reason to believe that "Tangle" may have started out as a comic-book script itself.  The start of the episode, with Scrooge in his Money Bin "counting the ways that he loves money," definitely has the feel of an opening splash-panel gag, and there's quite a lot of expository dialogue on tap when Scrooge and HD&L are on Scrooge's flagship, when the Ducks first explore the seaweed island, and when our heroes have their first encounter with Captain Bounty and his band.  The occasional action scene (e.g., Scrooge running from the Seaweed Monster, the island's scourge) tends to obscure the essential talkiness of the ep, but the latter pretty clearly predominates, at least once you're made aware of it.

Loony "TempCap" Captain Farley Foghorn is FAR more annoying here than at any point during his second appearance in "The Uncrashable Hindentanic."  As a mere cog in the machinery of that ep's character-studded cast, he's tolerable enough.  Here, however, we have to spend so doggone much TIME with him during the cruise to the Bermuda Triangle.  I rather wish that some of this material had been trimmed in favor of some additional development of the seaweed civilization.  Even so, during the cruise phase, Foghorn is already a more interesting character than any original creation that I'd seen in any Ridgeway comic-book script.  Too bad that Captain Bounty happened along immediately thereafter to blow Foghorn's performance completely out of the water.

The episode doesn't truly "hoist anchor" until Scrooge's flagship gets mired in the seaweed patch and Scrooge and the boys start exploring.  Even then, we get quite a lot of palaver (including an in-joke reference to The Love Boat, a show on which Alan Young was one of the many, many guest stars) before the Ducks bump into the local "zombies."  Actually, Louie's original moniker for the seaweed people may not have been so far off the mark.  The anachronistic dress and mannerisms of the castaways, and the growths of seaweed festooning their bodies (except, oddly enough, for the guys who are tasked with catching rainwater), lend them a distinctly "un-dead" feel.  If the "zombie" theory is true, then, considering that there are relatively few castaways about and that certain "newcomers" (namely, the crew of Scrooge's recently lost cargo ship The Queen of the South) are nowhere to be seen, perhaps Captain Bounty, for all his talk about a seaweed diet, has supplemented all those "seaweed pancakes" and "sea dogs" with alternate nourishment inspired by the crew of the Essex.  If you can't stomach that explanation (and who CAN?),  then, like El Capitan of "Treasure of the Golden Suns" and the soldiers of "Launchpad's Civil War," perhaps these folks have simply discovered a way to extend their life spans.  Can a constant diet of seaweed make THAT much of a difference?

The Junior Woodchucks even have a chapter HERE?!
(Note the guy at the far left)

The late Allan Melvin had a very long and very successful career in voice acting, but I would venture to say that Captain Bounty may be his single greatest role ever.  Interestingly, the nature of Bounty as a character rather gives the lie to imdB's claim that Melvin "found work playing... voices for gentle, simple-minded cartoon characters" in cartoons after having specialized in playing overbearing tough guys and rough-hewn "regular fellers" in live action.  This is correct insofar as Melvin's best-known animated role goes, but he did other sorts of animated characters as well, such as the calm-and-collected, Dean Martin-influenced Bristol Hound in Cattanooga Cats' "It's the Wolf!" segment:

With Captain Bounty, Melvin returned to "first principles" of a sort and gave us a blowhard, bully, and control freak, but one who is a nurturing, caring soul for all that.  Bounty's disagreements with Scrooge are rather more meaningful than a simple mash-up of wills and egos sprinkled with Bounty's corny jokes.  If you want to put a sociopolitical spin on the episode, then you might regard Scrooge, with his "new approach" and "plans for escape," as a representative of the principle of entrepreneurship and Bounty, whose first principle is to provide security for "his people" even if it means taking no risks, as a representative of the socialistic worldview.  (Notice how Bounty's provision of "bounty" to his underlings includes "dividing [Scrooge's flagship's] supplies equally."  No wonder his skin is tinted blue.)  I have to disagree with GeoX regarding the back-and-forth's between Scrooge and Bounty on the issue of the proper way to run this little civilization; I found them quite fascinating and only wish that the ep had had more time to explore them.  Nor do we end with a clear-cut victory for either side: Scrooge gets the castaways to safety, but also signs off on Bounty's decision to return to the Triangle to help future unfortunates (albeit with the barbed comment "I can't say I agree with you... but then again, I never DID!").  I would assume, although Ridgeway sadly doesn't make the point clear, that Scrooge and Bounty have concluded an agreement whereby Scrooge will come at regular intervals and pick up people that Bounty has rescued.  Now that's a "mixed economy" I can live with.

Captain Bounty's use of the harpsichord to "soothe" the enraged Seaweed Monster certainly suggests that Ridgeway may have had Jules Verne's Captain Nemo in mind when he cooked up this episode.  The initial encounter (bridging the second commercial break) between Scrooge and the tentacled beast -- who, in all honesty, would not have been out of place in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon -- is imaginatively staged, with a great POV shot of Scrooge watching the bubbling pool into which the bedazzled Monster has sunk.  Take #2 is a bit too repetitive, however, and the Monster's hitching a ride back to Duckburg, as Greg notes, merely provides some "action filler" with which to close out the episode, though the quality is somewhat better than Greg suggests.  Scrooge's painful attempts to find some other source of musical mitigation for the comically demanding Monster are a particular highlight:

I also like the scene in which Scrooge is besieged by the Duckburg media while the slightly embarrassed Bounty ducks out of sight, foreshadowing his decision to leave the bright lights of fame behind in favor of sticking to his weedy last.

Buoyed by a bravissimo performance by Bounty -- and perfectly fine ones by Scrooge and HD&L -- "Tangle" has a distinctly "Barksian" feel and still looks quite good after a quarter of a century.





(GeoX)  When I saw the expanses of seaweed, I flashed back to the old Gregory/Strobl story "Secret of the Sargasso Sea." It has nothing whatsoever to do with this episode's plot. But I did anyway! Aren't you grateful for such penetrating insights?

Now there's a Duck tale that's even more talky (and technical, to boot) than this one!  It also has a far more conventional plot than "Tangle" (a new McDuck entrepreneurial scheme that is threatened by the Beagle Boys). 

(GeoX)  "The Bermuda Triangle? Gosh, that's the scariest triangle in the world!"

I was half expecting an anti-geometry joke to be thrown in here to highlight the boys' dislike of mathematics and thereby burnish their "regular kid" credentials.  (You're not fooling me, boys, especially when it comes to practical applications of geometric forms.)  BTW, how convenient is it that Scrooge just happens to have a labeled map of the Bermuda Triangle in his desk when his clerk comes to tell him about The Queen of the South?  The better to explain plot points with, my dear Ducklings.

(Greg)  Scrooge tells Sparks to stand by as he sighs since he has never seen anything like this. Louie calls this a reminder of the worst dream he ever had. Dewey calls it Louie in Spinachland as the nephews now all have their caps like Kit Cloudkicker. I know you guys do not suck by a long shot; but you are no Kit Cloudkicker. Funny how Louie in Disney Captions is the one saying it and yet it was Huey who answers the question. Must be Disney Captions screwing up again. 

Either that, or the animators messing up the Nephews' colorsI like the expressions on Dewey and Huey's faces here.  We saw that "weary, worldly-wise" look on the faces of the Quack Pack Nephews quite a bit, but here, it seems so... innocent!

(Greg)  [The Ducks] run towards the Queen of The South and the ship has been seaweed[ed] to death and the cargo is spread out. Scrooge declares it a total loss. Dewey deduces that it wasn't the wreck that caused it; it was someone cutting open the hull to get the cargo. Even though I cannot see the hole in the far shot of the ship.

Oh, there's a hole there, all right:  you can faintly see the ship's internal ribbing near the stern.

(Greg)  So we head to the docks as the crowd cheers on the docks as the Flagship docks at the docks. The banana yellow balloons animate away as everyone on board waves to the popping crowd. We then cut down to dock level as Mrs. Beakly and Webby have even shown up for the finish. We see the band playing in the stands [and] we cut back to the ship as the seaweed monster is roaring because he hates that music. Or something. And then Duckworth magically appears OUT OF NOWHERE on the second crowd shot. 

Here's the first crowd shot; you can see that Duckworth is there as well.  I have to say that the crowd scenes in the latter part of the episode were pretty sloppily handled.  As Scrooge's flagship leaves the Triangle, the castaways are packed in blob-like masses on the deck, and the far shots of the waiting crowd on the docks use the same shortcut approach.  I'm certainly not expecting Cecil B. deMille levels of crowd manipulation in such scenes, but still...

 Next:  Episode 18, "Horse Scents."


Joe Torcivia said...

So Scrooge = Mitt Romney and Bounty = Obama?

To the point that Bounty even offers "Bounty-Care"?

Oh, Chris... Really?

Chris Barat said...


I didn't specify personalities, did I? Though I must confess that the analogy popped into my head in the wake of the election.


Dan Neyer said...

Frankly, I think equating Bounty with "blue-staters" is doing the latter too much of a favor; the Captain at least has the best interests of the whole "citizenry" at heart and is quite capable and efficient, whereas our present rulers........Besides, Bounty looks more green-tinted than blue to me (probably from his extensive seaweed diet).

About the episode itself, it was one I missed back during Ducktales' original run, and it was a pleasant surprise when I rediscovered it on DVD. The complex characterization of Bounty is really what makes the episode stand out, as Chris has observed in his review; it would have been so easy to make him either an out-and-out villain, a comically incompetent ignoramus, or even a jovial Santa Claus figure. Kudos to Ridgeway for avoiding all these cliched characterizations. The Nemo comparison is a good one, since Bounty is also an autocratic but statesmanlike figure, albeit lacking Nemo's murderous tendencies--unless the cannibalism theory is correct (I sure hope not!).

I'm left wondering why Ridgeway's comics work was so relentlessly dull(this is the first time I learned the name of the man behind so many of those Disney Studios tales from Gladstone 1's run). Perhaps Ridgeway's scripts were weakened by being filtered through the Jaime Diaz studio mill? (the artwork certainly didn't help those stories; I can picture Fountain of Laughs being somewhat funnier with livelier Van Horn-style drawings).

Ryan Wynns said...

"Notice how Bounty's provision of 'bounty' to his underlings includes 'dividing [Scrooge's flagship's] supplies equally.'"

In an updated version, Bounty would only have to provide free cell phones. ;)

Dan Neyer said...

A check of Inducks reveals that Ridgeway also wrote the Genie story from the back of Gladstone's Ducktales 11. That's not a particularly memorable story, but the Genie in it does have a Captain-Bounty-like fondness for corny jokes. An authorial trademark of Ridgeway's?

Mark Lungo said...

Well, Chris, you brought politics into this review, so I feel compelled to respond.

"[Bounty's] first principle is to provide security for 'his people' even if it means taking no risks, as a representative of the socialistic worldview."

Considering that the banks and corporations plunged the world economy into crisis through what amounts to gambling with their customers' money, is avoiding risk really such a bad thing?