Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, Volume 20: 1989-1990 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphic, 2013)

This is the most satisfying volume of THE COMPLETE PEANUTS in quite some while, a welcome anticipation of Charles Schulz' strong "finishing kick" in the 1990s.  Schulz had abandoned the traditional four-panel strip layout in 1988, but here is where he begins to really exploit it to its advantage.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the bittersweet 1990 sequence in which Charlie Brown meets pretty little Peggy Jean at summer camp.  "Brownie Charles" (as Charlie tongue-tiedly refers to himself when the two kids exchange names) nearly blows what seems like a promising relationship right out of the gates when he chickens out and refuses to let Peggy hold a football while he comes running up to kick it.  (Old habits are hard to break, after all.)  An angry Peggy leaves the scene, but then comes back, in a marvelous single-panel strip in which we see a dock-sitting Charlie's reaction from the back.  No four-panel strip could have packed a punch equivalent to that generated by this single scene.

During this period, Schulz also hits upon the notion of using single-panel strips as the bases for strings of related gags. Actually, "gags" is misleading, since most of these "one-and-dones" are more like ruminations or "moments in time."  For example, we see a number of panels in which Charlie Brown and a very dog-like Snoopy are sitting together, with Charlie thinking out loud about the relationship between boy and dog and Snoopy, of course, frequently thinking about other matters entirely, like cookies.  The tension between what Charlie thinks the relationship is and what the relationship truly is is softened by the quasi-sentimental presentation.

We're introduced to yet another Snoopy relative (Fat Olaf, this time) near the start of this collection, but Schulz seems to have made a conscious effort to dial back a bit on the canine family members, talking schoolhouses, and annoying pop-culture references that cluttered up PEANUTS in the 80s, returning instead to a number of first principles.  Snoopy's aforementioned interest in cookies reflects an increased number of instances in which the heavily anthropomorphized dog gets to do dog-like things.  The theme of Snoopy seeking Linus' blanket reappears with a vengeance, and even Pigpen is graced with a starring role in a continuity for the first time in Lord knows how long, running unsuccessfully (and, of course, unsanitarily) for class president.  Granted, too many characters end strips by saying "whatever," but... you know, whatever.

Lemony Snicket delivers one of the best introductory pieces of the series.  It had me laughing at several points, which, given Mr. Snicket's reputation, seems somewhat ironic.  I can definitely see how a strip with PEANUTS' view of life might "appeal" to such a character. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

In the Days of My (Extreme) Youth

I hope you all had a chance to visit with your friends and family for Christmas.  The Barat family had a nice get-together in Wilmington.  While I was there, my mother, who just recently moved out of her condo and moved in with my youngest sister's family, gave me a bag full of things that she had "uncovered" (or, more accurately, recovered) as she was gathering together and selling off stuff that she had accumulated over the years.  Most of it belonged to my Dad, including one of his old slide rules -- not one of the wimpy little plastic ones that became common during the sunset years of the device, but a real hefty one -- and the spiked belt he used as a Jesuit novitiate.  Mom's major contribution to the stash, meanwhile, was an old "Baby Album."  If you're old enough, your parents may have kept one for you, detailing facts about your birth, early years, childhood milestones, and so forth.  I imagine that they have long since passed out of favor, replaced by higher-tech memory-makers.  In any event, I took some of the items in the album and digitized them.

They didn't fool around back in 1962 when it came to identifying babies' genders by color!

The first "official" picture ever taken of me, on the day of my baptism, November 1, 1962.  I seem to recall that I had that rabbit toy for quite a while as a kid.

Pictures from my first Christmas.  At the time, we were living just across the Hudson from Manhattan in North Bergen, NJ.  My parents had been married for 1 1/2 years and my Dad was working for Mobil Oil Company.

Christmas 1963, the last one for which I was an only child.  My sister Jenny was on the way and would arrive in three months.

I'll post some more mementos when I have time.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ponies (well, horses), Beer, and DUCKS for Christmas? Well, Why Not?

And finally... can anyone recall seeing this DuckTales holiday commercial from 1989?  I certainly can't.  With original animation AND Bubba Duck, yet!

  Merry Christmas from Chris and Nicky!

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Flight" and Fight

You couldn't get much more of a contrast in styles and themes than that displayed by the two most recent new episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Thanks to Summer convention spoilers, the eps' content was no secret, but the manner in which the subject matter would be executed was a focal point of considerable debate.  It turned out that the ep with the quieter, more character-based approach was more successful -- which says something, I think, about the series' need to continue playing to its strengths and minimize the use of flashy, less substantial "gimmick episodes."


"Flight to the Finish" was expected to answer the longstanding question of whether Scootaloo of the Cutie Mark Crusaders could, or would ever, fly.  Apparently, a largish segment of the fandom had a sizable emotional investment in the notion that Scootaloo could NOT fly and that she was, in fact, disabled.  "She had BETTER be disabled, is all I can say," wrote one Brony before the episode aired.  Well, the ep ended up leaving the question unanswered -- and, in fact, neutralized it by emphasizing that Scootaloo's ability to fly was completely irrelevant to the CMC's immediate purpose of winning the right to carry Ponyville's flag at the upcoming Equestria Games.  Some folks were upset at the fact that Scoots' condition was not pinned down, but I can understand the writing staff wanting to keep its options open for later developments, including the not-entirely-inconsiderable one that the fillies are still trying to get their "cutie marks."  At least the ep did reveal that Scootaloo isn't homeless, as ANOTHER segment of Bronies (which I'll call the "Scootabuse" crowd) were inclined to believe.

"Flight" made up in "Heart" and character development what it lacked in excitement; last weekend's "Power Ponies" was the exact opposite, a slam-bang, quick-paced, funny superhero parody without a brain in its head.  The Mane 6 and Spike literally get sucked into a comic-book world that they can only escape by defeating the Mane-iac, your standard over-the-top, cackling villain with a crazy take-over-the-city plot, this one involving (if you can believe it) a giant hair dryer.  The "Power Pony" characters in Spike's comic book just happen to have skill sets that mirror many of those of the Mane 6, which certainly helped the Mane 6's cause.  I'm no doubt prejudiced, but I think Rarity, who took the Green Lantern role of a character who is able to materialize various (fashionable!) inanimate objects by manipulating her jewelry, pretty much stole the show.  Not only was "Radiance" quick to master her powers, but she got virtually all of the best gags.  Fluttershy also stole at least a part of the show with her transformation into "Flutterhulk."

Upcoming episodes seem to be split between the approaches taken in "Flight" and "Power," with, I'm happy to say, a leaning towards the former.  Granted, we will be getting an ep guest-starring Weird Al Yankovic as (apparently) a partying rival of Pinkie Pie's, but we'll also be seeing eps centering around conflicts between members of the Mane 6, Pinkie's search for her roots, and a rival designer ripping off Rarity's fashion line, all of which would seem to be solidly character-centered.  Also, it seems almost inevitable that February will bring an Equestria Games storyline of some kind to tie in with the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  It's been a very entertaining Season 4 thus far, and I expect the show to keep up its high batting average.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #10: LUNA (IDW Publishing, December 2013)


Katie Cook and Andy Price are starting to remind me of the team of John Lustig and William Van Horn back in the days of "Gladstone I."  In John and Bill's DUCKTALES comic-book stories, while the main characters (Scrooge, HD&L, and Launchpad) were certainly in character, the tales themselves had a certain zany, off-the-wall feel that was only occasionally reflected in the animated series itself.  In the case of MY LITTLE PONY, Katie and Andy take this tendency to, if not an extreme, then certainly much farther than John and Bill ever did.  The major reasons why are that Katie and Andy are big fans of the series (which leads them to pack their panels with in-jokes and references that only Bronies could be expected to get) and that they are more than willing to play with the personae of the main cast if it suits their purposes.  Occasionally, this gets them into trouble with the more literal-minded of fans, for example, when they got flak for couching the courtship of Princess Cadance and Shining Armor (MLP:FIM #11-#12) in the trappings of a 1980s "coming-of-age" movie.  I argued in my review of that issue that C&P were essentially free to do whatever they darn well pleased in telling that story, since the principal characters were so underdeveloped to begin with.  In their treatment of Princess Luna in the final issue of the MLP Micro-Series, Katie and Andy are on somewhat stabler ground, since their depiction of the Princess of the Night as a hyper-enthusiastic, endearingly naive "goddess with a slight case of Aspergers syndrome" doesn't deviate all that far from some other versions of this most volatile of major players.  Suffice it to say, though, that they take their interpretation of Luna pretty far down the road, so much so that at least a couple of "neigh-sayers" will probably take up the challenge to walk it back.  I am not one of them.

Various creators have characterized Luna as everything from a fearful child to an anachronistically imperious goddess to a regretful, guilt-ridden former villain (the latter referring to her age-old guise of Nightmare Moon).  In "The Day Shift," after Luna argues that her sister Celestia's stewardship of the Day can't possibly be as exciting as Luna's stewardship of the Night, the gals (a rather inappropriate term to use in this case, but, given the sitcom-esque trappings of the story, it seems quite fitting) agree to swap jobs.  More accurately, Celestia gets to spend a relaxing day at the spa while Luna assumes all of Celestia's "boring" bureaucratic duties, which prove to be nothing of the kind, making up in bulk what they lack in general interest level.  The Luna who must deal with business meetings, guard inspections, tea parties, and the like is essentially the same zizzed-up, socially awkward, archaism-spouting mare who was first seen (in somewhat decaffeinated form) in the TV ep "Luna Eclipsed" and who later strong-shanked Big Macintosh into being her partner in the Summer Wrap-Up competitions in Cook and Price's MLP:FIM #9-10.  Cook and Price's take on Luna is even funnier and more sharply etched here, as Celestia's long-suffering appointments secretary Kibitz does his best to keep the effervescent, perpetually unpredictable "Moonbutt" "on task."  Luna's confusion over how to verbally and psychologically handle her subjects -- actually, there's a fair amount of debate here over what she should call them besides "subjects" -- leads her to veer between (to take just two examples) rendering Solomon-like judgments on questions of "fair division" and using party guests as living chess pieces.  Needless to say, by the time the day is over, Luna has a newfound respect for Celestia's duties... but now, she is obliged to continue straight on to her standard "Night shift" while Celestia goes to bed.  Better start brewing that coffee, stat!

Outside the peerless Rarity issue, this is the best of the ten Micro-Series offerings, which, taken as a whole, were a real hodgepodge in terms of quality.  I expect consistently better results out of the upcoming FRIENDS FOREVER title, since the whole rationale behind that one is to pair up characters who do not always get a chance to interact, or who have never interacted before, period.  One of the problems with the weaker Micro-Series issues was that the writers tended to spin their stories out of fairly predictable situations (Twilight Sparkle working at a library, Rainbow Dash participating in a competition, Fluttershy overcoming her inhibitions).  The harder that the writers have to work to come up with believable reasons for characters to get together, the more interesting the stories are likely to be.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"DUCKTALES Remastered": No More Games

David Gerstein was in the area doing some research and stayed overnight at our place.  Some of his and my time together included a bit of ogling of the "movie" (between-game-play) portion of the DuckTales Remastered video game.  Never having been a gamer, THIS is the part of greatest interest to me.  It is the closest we're ever going to get to a 101st episode of the series (or, if you prefer, a second theatrical feature film).

I'll post some thoughts on the action when I have time. For the moment, I'm concentrating on doing screen-grabbing from the second-season eps in preparation for resuming my regular RETROSPECTIVES in January.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: A GAME OF BRAWL by Bill Felber (University of Nebraska Press, 2007)

Thanks to expansion, divisional play, and wild cards, we will most likely never again see a "good, old-fashioned" pennant race in baseball.  This book tells the story of the first pennant race to truly capture the entire country's attention.  While the setting and the baseball were old-fashioned, to describe the emotions involved as "good" would be somewhat misleading.  In 1897, the much-hated, cutthroat Baltimore Orioles did vicious battle with the comparatively mannerly, yet no less determined, Boston Beaneaters -- the ancestors of today's Atlanta Braves -- for the top spot in the unwieldy, 12-team National League.  The battle reached a fevered climax when the two teams played a late-season three-game series in Baltimore that author Felber, with only slight exaggeration, calls the greatest event in the country's sporting history up until that time.

Major-league competition in the 1890s was warped by the huge gap between the league's haves and have-nots and, more to the immediate point, by the popular idea that dirty play and intimidation of the umpire were simply part of the game.  The Orioles weren't the only team that used chicanery and bullying to triumph; they were simply the best at it and had better personnel to execute the gamy game plan, including such future Hall of Famers as John McGraw, Willie Keeler, Wilbert Robinson, and manager Ned Hanlon.  The "original O's" won three straight NL titles between 1894 and 1896 and seemed primed for a "four-peat" in '97, but the Beaneaters, whom the Orioles had supplanted as the league's top club, overcame a sluggish start to challenge the champions.  In the process, the Boston club, cheered on by the country's first organized fan contingent, the Royal Rooters, swept up a large number of neutral fans who dearly wanted baseball's original "evil empire" to be humbled.

Due to the frequent descriptions of game action, Felber's book is a bit of a dry read at times, but he mixes in occasional diversions highlighting other aspects of the game in the 1890s, such as the battle over the propriety of Sunday baseball, the hellacious treatment given to umpires (which was frequently reciprocated by the feistier ones), and the use of marionette re-creations in theaters to enable fans to follow their teams on the road.  The world may have been a much lower-tech place back then, but the "prehistoric" version of modern fan culture made up in sheer enthusiasm what it may have lacked in sophistication.

Friday, December 13, 2013

RIP Captain Harvey's Restaurant and Coffee with T.

Two local eateries of Nicky's and my acquaintance closed their doors recently.  Actually, Coffee with T. would be better described as a "nibblery," since its main selling point was -- you guessed it -- caffeinated drinks of various sorts.  After the demise of Owings Mills' Java Journeys a few years ago, Coffee with T. was one of the very few coffee-centric joints within a reasonable distance of where we live.  It was located in Stevenson Village, a collection of eclectic shops and a tiny post office in "the heart of Stevenson" (a somewhat unverifiable claim given that the town of Stevenson doesn't consist of very much to begin with).  I went to Coffee with T. to get lunch on those occasions when I needed to mail something and didn't have the time or inclination to wait in line at the much larger Owings Mills P.O.  I might still be able to do that, since the site has been turned into a satellite of Stone Mill Bakery, a larger (and much more outrageously overpriced) concern of similar type, but I would feel better about patronizing the business if it were still a go-it-alone concern.

Owings Mills itself suffered a much bigger dining loss in early November when Captain Harvey's Seafood Restaurant closed its doors.  The restaurant had existed since the 1930s and had been in its location on Reisterstown Road for 60 years. Though it is one of a relatively small number of higher-end, "non-chain" dining establishments in the area, it took Nicky and I a while before we decided to give it a try.  Perhaps it was the yardarm roadside sign, perhaps the crabhouse attached to the side of the main dining area like an oversized barnacle, but we rarely drove by it without making some joke about the proprietors greeting patrons with "Welcome Aboard!" or there being old fishing nets and crab pots tacked on the dining-room walls.  In downtown Baltimore, there's a seafood place that is literally shaped like a boat, and we figured that Captain Harvey's, for all of its conventional exterior looks, was probably such a place.

When we finally decided to gird our loins (not in public, mind you) and visit the Captain's quarters, the place turned out to be... not that bad.  Since we are not big fish, crab, or lobster eaters, the two big selling points for us were the weekly non-seafood dinner specials (beef tenderloin, fried chicken, etc.) and the everything-included Thanksgiving dinner.  On the few occasions we visited, the food was at least reasonably decent.  The wood-paneled, darkish main dining area and dark patterned rug, however, simply screamed "70s."  Since the place was partially rebuilt in 1972 after it was damaged by a fire, I suppose that we shouldn't have been all that surprised by the decor.  The refusal to change said decor, however, probably made it harder to attract a younger clientele in recent years.  Nicky suggested that the restaurant had to close because many of its key patrons had died off, and that seems a reasonable conclusion. 

Whereas Coffee with T. was at least replaced by another, somewhat similar establishment, Captain Harvey's suffered the indignity of being bought out by the Royal Farms convenience-store chain.  For the moment, the crabhouse is still open, but the place's supplies are slowly being sold off.  It's a sad way to end 80 years in business, but the dining world, like the rest of the cosmos, does move.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

More Hoops, More Hooves

This week, for the first time ever, Stevenson's men's basketball team received a vote in the Top 25 poll.  The Mustangs are 6-1 following a couple of tough conference road wins at Hood and at Arcadia, the latter in double OT.  The girls have also rebounded from an 0-3 start, posting four straight wins and taking first place in their conference.  This bids fair to be SU's most interesting season of hoops in quite a while.





The first two half-hour episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Season 4 were pretty decent, all things considered, but they were a "fur piece" from completely nit-free.  "Castle Mane-ia" went all Scooby-Doo on us as the "Mane 6" (well, most of them, anyway) took turns having the bejabbers scared out of them in the abandoned castle that once belonged to Princesses Luna and Celestia.  Before you ask:  Yes, the ponies were split up, but no, they didn't split up DURING the adventure; they actually arrived at the castle in groups.  Sounds overly convenient, I know, but there it is.  The ep introduced what looks to be the "official replacement" for the moral-bearing "letters to Princess Celestia" and teased us at the very end with the unresolved appearance of a mysterious figure; no clue as of yet as to who said figure might be, though.

"Daring Don't" delivered a real sucker punch as it was revealed that Rainbow Dash's "fictional" heroine, Daring Do, actually does exist and that her book-length adventures are merely retellings of her real exploits.  After playing the compleat fangirl for a while, Rainbow Dash gets to help the notoriously solitary Daring on her latest mission.  The episode incorporates ideas from Indiana Jones movies, The Lord of the Rings, and (yes, indeed) DuckTales, and the mixture makes for a lot of fun... but hoo, boy, does it open up a giant can of worms regarding what is "real" and what is "fictional" in the MLP universe.  I find it extremely hard to believe that Daring Do, her archvillainous opponent Ahuizotl, Ahuizotl's minions, and a giant, vaguely Mayan-esque temple have existed in Equestria for this long without anypony getting wise to the fact or intervening in the struggle.  And I don't even have an elaborate series of fanfics about "the real Daring Do" hanging in the balance.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Music, The Final Frontier

I generally find "flash mobs" to be annoying, but not this one, which took place at the National Air and Space Museum the other day.  This was a really nice tribute to the season by the U.S. Air Force Band.  Now, just watch some secular Grinch or other lodge a complaint about the playing of a Christmas-affiliated hymn on government property...

For those keeping score, this was my 800th blog post!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: IKE'S BLUFF by Evan Thomas (Little Brown, 2012)

Dwight Eisenhower has long since been "rehabilitated" as an excellent Chief Executive, and Thomas' book contributes its own mite to the reassessment, demonstrating how Eisenhower managed to keep the peace during the supposedly placid, but actually quite perilous, 1950s. Ironically, Ike did this by keeping friends and foes alike guessing as to whether or not he would carry through on his administration's stated policy of "massive" nuclear retaliation against any Communist threat.  At the same time, drawing upon the immense fund of good will and trust that he had banked during his service as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and later head of NATO, Eisenhower held the line as much as he could against "unnecessary" defense spending.  Hard as it may be to believe today, he had as much trouble defending his defense policies from ambitious Democrats (John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, to name just two) as he did calming the fears of right-wingers in the Republican party.  The famous farewell speech in which Ike warned against the "military-industrial complex" was his parting shot in this sometimes-visible, sometimes-subterranean internecine war.

This is not a full-fledged biography of Eisenhower so much as a review of his foreign and defense policies, though a fair bit of personal and cultural detail is included (Thomas appears to have cribbed energetically from William Manchester's THE GLORY AND THE DREAM on the latter score).  Even those who have a fair degree of familiarity with the 50s will find some interesting tidbits here.  For example, while I knew that Ike had some serious medical problems (including a heart attack) while in office, I was unaware of the extent and severity of many of these problems.  Eisenhower's ability to hold it together despite these physical issues and a terrible temper that only rarely surfaced in public reminded me of a bit of how George Washington suppressed his own inner demons to present that famed surface imperturbability.  With the fate of the world (if not humanity) at stake throughout his Presidency, Ike's balancing act may have been even more impressive.  Like many of the successful modern Republican Presidents, he had the self-confidence and self-discipline to allow himself to be "misunderestimated" while accomplishing many of his goals out of public view.  In that respect, he is a good role model for any ambitious GOP Presidential candidate of today.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 65, "Till Nephews Do Us Part"... and a look ahead

"Part"ing the first season is such sweet sorrow...

"Till Nephews Do Us Part" was intended to be a blockbuster and delivers the goods, though it would be a stretch worthy of Mr. Armstrong himself to call it a masterpiece.  Most of the ep's weaknesses lie in the area of characterization -- and, no, I'm not referring to Scrooge's "mushin' out" as he falls under the spell of that wily woman on the make, Millionaira Vanderbucks.  HD&L are noticeably more naive and bratty than was their normal first-season wont (though, as Greg has pointed out, this may have been a harbinger of the way the boys would occasionally be written during subsequent seasons).  Mrs. Beakley and Duckworth, meanwhile, don't have the excuse of naivete to fall back on in their cluelessness regarding Milly's sinister plans for the household.  Ken Koonce and David Weimers' script, while nowhere near as inept as some of their lesser efforts, doesn't contain a fraction of the imagination and laugh-out-loud humor seen in the likes of "Double-O-Duck," opting instead for "money-related terms of endearment" (GeoX) and characters misunderstanding words and expressions (and if you don't recognize which ones I'm referring to ASAP, then you truly must BE a sap).  Still, the plot is reasonably good, we get a nice mixture of "domestic" and "adventurous" material (though the latter has a distinct touch of the farcical), and, of course, there's the now-legendary wedding scene with all of those character cameos.  I've no idea whether "Till Nephews" was in production at the time that the decision was made to extend the series' life with additional new episodes, but the mere existence of this scene, with its air of "wrapping things up," suggests that it was not.

The idea of a conniving woman zeroing in on Scrooge's fortune is anything but a new one.  Glittering Goldie herself was the original (and literal) "gold-digger" in "Back to the Klondike," "drugg[ing] and roll[ing]" miner McDuck and swiping his Goose Egg Nugget.  However, Barks' Goldie doesn't fit the mold of a "gold-digger" in the modern sense, in that she would have been perfectly content to have cut and run with that one treasure had fate (and a peeved Scrooge) not intervened.  She acted more like a pure opportunist than someone who was in it for the long haul.  The DT version of "Klondike" represents the other side of the coin, as it were, suggesting that Scrooge and Goldie might have enjoyed a happy life together in Duckburg had Dangerous Dan not queered the relationship between them.  After reconciling with Scrooge, both versions of Goldie receive unexpected opportunities to reunite with him -- with the offer being rather more obvious in the DT version of "Klondike" than in Barks' less sentimental original -- but the hard-hearted "greediest gal in the Klondike" has long since become content with her backwoods life and consciously sets aside any further designs on Scrooge or his money.  (In the DT version, at least, she does compensate for this by apparently tying some fairly substantial apron strings around her man.  More on that later.)

If Goldie is a character whose "gold-digging" tendencies have atrophied over time, then Romano Scarpa's Brigitta MacBridge is one who never had specific designs on Scrooge's money to begin with, but who nonetheless manages to come across as a "gold-digger."  That's "dig" as in "keep burrowing and burrowing like El Capitan at the end of 'Too Much of a Gold Thing', determined to win Scrooge over."  It is this maniacal persistence that drives Brigitta-bashers crazy.  Disney's original "annoying business lady" (apologies to Rebecca Cunningham) is something of an acquired taste for us American Disney comics fans.  For my own part, I find her an enjoyable addition to the Duck cast and wouldn't have minded seeing her in a DT episode or two.  (I even have a voice actress picked out for her -- Tress MacNeille, doing a "friendlier-sounding" version of her sneering Lady Bane-esque voice for Milly.)  Brigitta's apparently sincere affection for Scrooge makes her easy to like.

Millionaira Vanderbucks seems at first glance like a typical, overbearing, MacNeille-voiced female villain.  In fact, she's considerably more subtle than that.  Consider that when Scrooge goes to the Web Corporation building to inquire about purchasing the Malaysian land that harbors the "lost relics," Milly does not give clue one that she knows who he is!  For the "wealthiest woman in the world" not to recognize Scrooge on sight seems most improbable.  Scrooge has more of an excuse for not initially recognizing Milly, given that he seems to hold a low opinion of the very idea of a distaff tycoon.  (Who knows, maybe Brigitta DOES exist in the DT "universe.")  It's never made clear when, exactly, Milly hatched her devious plot to ensnare Scrooge in the coils of "matrimoney."  Assuming that she had no prior idea that Scrooge would be coming to buy her land, the whole notion must have popped into her head during this initial conversation, before she suggests that the two of them talk about the deal over dinner.  I don't know about you, but any villain who shows the ability to think on her webs as quickly as that has got MY respect from the off.

The ensuing dinner at McDuck Mansion (BTW, did they even have time to EAT dinner?  We cut directly from a conversation over empty plates to Scrooge escorting Milly to the door) sets all the character dynamics for the rest of the episode in motion.  Scrooge is smitten with Milly; the Nephews and Webby are suspicious, with fairy-tale-conscious Webby even evoking Snow White's Wicked Queen as a comparison; Milly is appalled by the mere existence of the "ghastly" children (I imagine that Scrooge keeps media references to their presence in his household to an absolute minimum for safety's sake); and Mrs. Beakley and Duckworth seem oblivious to the poisonous atmosphere.  Note that when Scrooge returned home after his initial confab with Milly, he was "tetched," but not so much so that he didn't think "business first" when giving instructions to HD&L.  It's only after the second parting, after Milly presumably has had time to plan her "charm offensive" more thoroughly, that Scrooge acts in a hopelessly punch-drunk manner.

Milly: "I'm thinking of expanding..."
Me: "I think a certain amount of contraction is in order."
Needless to say, I think that Koonce and Wiemers went a teentsy bit overboard with the financially-themed pet names; even a money-hungry "gold-digger" would probably have been sickened by at least a few of them.  Scrooge and Milly's "cash-ship" is actually at its best when K&W pull back on the pecuniary throttle and try to underplay things.  The scenes in the "lovers' park" are cute and charming...
Note the "$" signs encircling the lovers' heads.
... (though what guard allows an armored car to be driven with its doors open?  Must be one of Scrooge's), while the "proposal/merger" scene itself has so many good lines ("It's rare that a woman compounds my interest daily," "I can't wait to take you home to meet my accountant") that the pet names are only a minor annoyance.  Ignore the surrounding context, and some of these scenes and lines might even have worked for a Scrooge/Brigitta romance.  Of course, tip things slightly the other way and you've got a Duck-version of Beverly Hills Teens.

Of course, Milly's intentions throughout all this are decidedly dishonorable, even though some of them don't seem to make sense.  Plans to send Webby to a "finishing school" would be rather pointless if Mrs. Beakley were to be given the pink slip at the same time -- and speaking of jettisoning the servants, wouldn't Scrooge and Milly need reliable servants anyway?  Does Milly expect that Scrooge would simply accept her kicking out Mrs. B. and Duckworth and (presumably) importing that butler-ish guy ("Bottoms"?  "Bubbums"?) who's following her around at the end of Act 2 and later helping her suit up before the wedding?  Milly's loud proclamation of her plans outside HD&L's door (whether she recognizes it as being such or not) suggests that, even as her scheme seem to be proceeding according to plan, she may not have the mental discipline required to keep it together and may end up, well, cutting her OWN throat.

Act Two starts with the low point of the episode, Mrs. Beakley's casual dismissal of HD&L and Webby's warnings -- until the nanny realizes that she, herself, is to be a casualty of the "New Wench Order."  GeoX calls this "a mean and not-too-believable interpretation of her character," and I have to agree.  The Mrs. B. I know would have ignited the second she heard about Milly's plans to send Webby to "finishing school."  Thankfully, Mrs. B. makes a quick recovery, and soon, the plot to scare Milly off by putting her through the wringer on the relics-seeking trip to Malaysia is well and truly under-web.  The sequence of "rotten pranks" begins with a swipe from the Disney movie The Parent Trap (1961).  Just as Hayley Mills and... um, Hayley Mills tried to spook their divorced father's gold-digger sweetheart by pouring honey on her feet to attract bears, so HD&L use the honey spray (where would you buy that, I wonder?) to send "a whole bunch of bees" in the direction of Milly's corpus.  Amazingly, the scene doesn't end as you might expect, with Milly swelling up like a balloon due to dozens of bee stings; instead, she merely endures a water-ducking.

The bee ploy could have been employed on anyone; the next scheme relies completely upon Milly's total ignorance of life in the outdoors.  That's the only possible reason why a smart cookie like Milly would believe that one can keep away "Malaysian Thistlesmashers" (or, as Tress pronounces it at one point, "Thishlesmashers") by burdening oneself with an expedition's worth of luggage.

Greg confessed a sneaking admiration for Milly's ability to stand up to all the abuse she takes during these scenes.  I suppose so, though her persistence, like El Capitan's, may have more to do with sheer greed (which by now must be shading to obsession) than anything else.  I will, however, give her full marks for surviving that terrible fall down the cliff after she's been scared by the Bush Duck.  Scrooge provides a cute contrast to what is actually a fairly tense scene by coming out of the cave with the "lost relish," tearing away any lingering sense of seriousness about the nature of the Ducks' "adventure" and revealing it as a mere excuse for gaggery.

Even before their "rotten pranks" had come to fruition, of course, HD&L had been acting in a more childish manner than we have become accustomed to.  The opening scene in which they scare Mrs. Beakley by riding the dumbwaiter could have come from any randomly selected 30s or 40s cartoon short...

... and Duckworth's helpful definition of "trespassing" reveals that they've recently raided a neighbor's apple orchard.  (Applejack would not be amused.)  The classic "we hate girls" reaction to Scrooge's infatuation with Milly is not out of line with their previous characterization, but one can't say the same about Dewey's comment, "I haven't seen Unca Scrooge so loony since he told us about his old girlfriend Goldie!"  Given that the boys have actually met Goldie and witnessed (if not entirely appreciated) the two characters' feelings for each other, Dewey's sentiment strikes me as being decidedly uncharitable.  Presumably, the idea of inviting Goldie to Scrooge and Milly's wedding was primarily motivated by Webby, who responds to Dewey's remark by suggesting that the kids remind Scrooge of how much he loves his old flame.

Of course, Webby isn't on hand to tamp down the Nephews' natural inclinations when they finally confess that they don't want Scrooge to marry Milly.  This follows the waterfall-plunge scene, which might have been made more interesting by improved staging and animation (we only see Scrooge and Milly's tumble in longshot) but does deliver Launchpad's one priceless contribution to the ep: "That darn eject button is always gettin' in the way!"  Given that LP is present in the main story strictly for utilitarian reasons -- to get the party to Malaysia -- and that Koonce and Weimers didn't even see fit to let him crash the 'copter, this was a welcome reminder of LP at his laugh-out-loud best.  Also, the "ASAP" gag worked better with Launchpad than it did with Duckworth, which isn't much of a surprise.

And so we reach the wedding... and the famed boatload of cameos therein.  Some kind soul created a panoramic image of the scene outside the bank, for which I am eternally grateful.  Click on it, and it should enlarge.  Oddly enough, this wouldn't be the only time that Walt Disney TV Animation tried something like this.  101 Dalmatians: The Series wrapped up its 65-episode manifest with the three-part adventure "Dalmatian Vacation" (1998), which climaxed with Roger and Anita Dearly reprising their wedding vows.  (Actually, they're technically getting married for the first time, since their original wedding was overseen by a con artist.)  Whereas the McDuck-Vanderbucks wedding was presumably planned very carefully, with formal invitations being sent out to all of the invitees (except the villains, of course), the one-shot characters who returned for the wedding in "Dalmatian Vacation" were quite literally rounded up on the spur of the moment, with no explanation given as to how they got to the site so quickly -- or at all.  Then again, 101D tended to be sloppy that way.

Of course, DuckTales' use of recurring background characters (the members of the Explorers' Club, the "pignitaries," Vacation van Honk, etc.), which seemed so ground-breaking at the time, has long since been one-upped by the immense casts of shows as diverse as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  But, as I have said before on several occasions, DT deserves credit for "getting there first."

Greg seemed to think that a segment of the viewership -- namely, Christians -- might have been put off by the "money-grubbing version of a wedding" that we got here.  Well, I didn't find it offensive in the least, just as I had no problem with "god-ruler" Princess Celestia marrying Prince Shining Armor and Princess Cadance in MLP:FIM's "A Canterlot Wedding."  As Greg himself pointed out, context is everything in this situation.  There is such a thing as a "civil ceremony," after all, and being married at a vault door by a banker reading from a ledger is merely an "extreme" version of same.  Say what you will about the overall quality of K&W's writing here, they took the idea of a "money-themed wedding" and exploited it for all that it was worth (which was probably a few obsquatumatillions).

Donald displaying "ring wrath"?

At the "vaultar," Milly finally cracks under the strain and reveals her true motivation for marrying Scrooge.  I will give her credit for holding out a bit longer than the evil Queen Chrysalis in "A Canterlot Wedding."  Disguised as Princess Cadance, Chryssie literally sings about the impending culmination of her scheme as she is marching down the aisle.  They say that marriage ceremonies are stressful, but they don't know the half of it...

... And speaking of halves, Scrooge's would-be better one literally blasts her way onto the scene (shouldn't she have suffocated while waiting inside that cake?) to begin a sequence that, quite frankly, should be much more iconic than it is.  It's amazing enough that DuckTales got away with depicting Goldie attempting to blow Scrooge away with a shotgun, but to explicitly state that Goldie did it because she believed Scrooge to be cheating on her takes the whole thing "one step beyond."  Granted, it wouldn't have made much sense for the Barks Goldie to have done this, seeing as how Scrooge and Goldie parted peaceably, and with no apparent plans to resume the relationship, at the end of the comics version of "Back to the Klondike."  But for the DT Goldie, who presumably cohabited with Scrooge at White Agony Creek before Dangerous Dan broke them up, the idea of Scrooge "two-timing" her would probably have caused a much stronger -- and much more intensely physical -- reaction.  Had we been privy to Scrooge and Goldie's entire "bear-back" conversation at the end of the DT "Klondike," we would probably have heard Scrooge, who had just admitted that Goldie had "stolen [his] heart," make some kind of pledge to be eternally true to his backwoods gal.  If that were the case, then Goldie's violent reaction here wouldn't have "tarnishe[d] the Goldie mystique" (as GeoX would have it), but, in a DuckTales context, would actually have burnished it.  Again, context matters.

We shouldn't forget poor Milly, literally left at (or, more accurately, leaving herself at) the "vaultar," where she's "comforted" by Glomgold.  Flinty does not actually propose to Milly here -- he merely makes a cutting reference about Scrooge -- but that's enough for Milly to start a new campaign.  Presumably, Flinty's aghast reaction to Milly's attentions was due to his overhearing her "confession" at the "vaultar"; had Milly set her sights on him from the beginning, he presumably would have fallen for her the way Scrooge did.  Or perhaps, being a meaner, more cynical sort, he would have seen through a fellow villain's ruse more quickly? 

And that's a season.  I still think that DuckTales' first 65 hold up extremely well, though I've been pickier about errors both large and small in these reviews.  The show's range and ability to tell different kinds of stories -- in an era, let's recall, when many of its competitors were "telling stories" as an excuse to advertise toy lines -- continues to impress.  The animation, while it doesn't look quite as dazzling as it did back in the day, still features plenty of high points.  Most important of all, despite some moments of annoyingly inconsistent characterization -- many of which I put down to the sheer number of people who wrote for the series -- DT accomplished the signature feat of making the audience truly care about the characters, which was a tougher task than you might think, especially when it came to the main character.  Harry McCracken put it best in an article in ANIMATO! years ago: Scrooge McDuck is a character that no focus group or marketing executive could ever have come up with.  Even the "decaffeinated" Scrooge of DT was one of the more improbable heroes in TV animation history.  

So... the greatest animated series ever made?  No, I can't in all honesty claim that now.  But a great series that transformed an industry and had as profound an impact on me as any cultural construct has ever had?  You bet.




I've given a fair amount of thought to how I will cover the Bubba Duck and Gizmoduck era of DT.  Through experience, I've learned that it takes much more time for me to make appropriate screengrabs than to actually write the notes that form the bases for these commentaries... and, as of right now, I don't have that many screengrabs of the second and third seasons.  For that reason, I've decided to take a short hiatus while I focus my attention on getting images from the 35 remaining eps of the series.  I plan to spend December doing that, at the same time as I'm getting ready for Spring classes.  By the beginning of the New Year, I should be ready to move forward again, and "retro prep" should take less time.  So, you can expect "Time is Money" to roll your way (Roll?  Wheels?  Cave duck?  Get it??) early in January.  Will I be able to finish this feature by the end of 2014?  I think so, if luck and my health hold out and I don't bump into any more ceilings in the meantime.





(Greg) We begin this one with the STOCK FOOTAGE OF DOOM we zoom in and cut to the nephews room as Louie stops the alarm clock on the dresser drawer with his hand (NOT THOSE ONES!) and the nephews all wake up in color coordinated striped pj's. They then change their clothes as their shirts are underneath their PJ's. How about that?!
Yes, how about it, indeed.  I can see where that might come in handy in a pinch... though I certainly hope that HD&L take showers before going out in public.

(Greg) Duckworth goes to the front door and opens it to reveal Mrs. Vanderbucks in a classy red dress with some gold metal trim and black gloves with black heels. Very classy for a sneaky heel there.

And the effect is enhanced by that... highly interesting "from the bottom up" shot.  Though I have to say that the wad of red lipstick at the end of Milly's beak rather weakens the effect for me.  Once again: Lipstick on female Ducks, no matter how sexy, is weird-looking.

(Greg) Vanderbucks decides to sell the land after all and then they walk out as the nephews give the thumbs up and feel that Vanderbucks isn't so bad after all. 

And thus begins an intriguing intra-episode meme: The joint "thumbs up" shot.  It stands out precisely because we rarely saw the characters indulging in such choreographed activity before.  Not even HD&L have gone in for it that often, and they, of course, did the famous shtick of completing sentences as a group in the shorts and in many of Barks' early stories.  With all the thumbs on display here, you'd think that the characters were rating movies or something.  (Would that mean that the kids' "throat-slashing" joint at the end of Act One was meant to signify "Cut!"?)

(Greg) ... We cut back to inside the hallway as the nephews and Webby are pacing around sulking because Scrooge hasn't played with them or read to them in weeks. There is a picture of Goldie with her blunderbuss on the right side of the wall. 

It's the same picture that we saw in Scrooge's bedroom in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck."  Wonder why Scrooge relocated it to a public area.  BTW, I was glad to see Koonce and Weimers avoid the "whirlwind courtship" cliche and admit that it took a while for Milly to really get her hooks into Scrooge.

(Greg)  After the commercial break; we go to the hallway as the nephews and Webby look around and see that the coast is clear. They then practice the fine art of not being seen as their clothes are on a stick and they make it down the stairs and they have a meeting of minds with Mrs. Beakly. And it wasn't at the dumb waiter. Mrs. Beakly wants answers to this sneaking and Webby basically states that they are running away. Now if I was going to make a case here; I would not call Millie mean. Besides; I would have said: “We overheard Millie talking about you and she wants to fire you.”. That would have more credi[bility]. 

Webby is the one who refers to Milly as "mean," which I can easily see her doing.  The bigger issue is that HD&L couldn't have warned Mrs. B. that Milly wants to fire her, because they apparently don't know what a "pink slip" means.

(Greg) So we see a lot of people going into the [bank]... Everyone is there including Gladstone Gander, John D. Rockefeather, Magica DeSpell (!!!!) (we see her sign the marriage book in the scene to the left pan) along with Flintheart Glomgold, Feathers Galore (!!!), Carl Sa[g]ander, Ma Beagle, Burger Beagle, Bouncer Beagle and Big Time Beagle among them that I can clearly see outside. 

Actually, the Beagle lineup changed in midstream.  In the panorama shot, Ma, Big Time, Burger, and Bankjob can be seen heading for the bank.  However, when the disguised Beagles rob the bank, Ma, Big Time, Burger, and... hmm, is that Bouncer?  I suppose it is... are the ones doing the deed.  I guess that Bankjob and Bouncer switched off when the Beagles ran home to plan their caper.  Speaking of changes, June Foray's Ma Beagle voice is noticeably different here than it is at any other point of the series.

(Greg) I remember hating this episode back in the day as I [was] with the nephews on the whole thing and I had no sympathy for Scrooge. Today; my views are different and I think this is one of the best episodes I have seen. I call it a case of a really good heel in Millie being a trooper through the whole thing until the nephews pushed their pranks one too far (which I thought was pointless since there was enough idiots in the scene to do Millie in by themselves without the nephews resorting to low tricks). I ended up having a little sympathy for Millie and Scrooge and not so much for the nephews, Mrs. Beakly or Webby. 

I think you were subconsciously picking up on the Nephews' increased "brattiness quotient."  While Milly certainly deserved some rough treatment, the boys did pour it on and evoke at least a small amount of sympathy for her.  Koonce and Wiemers may have reflected that by allowing Milly to close the ep on an up note (for her), chasing Glomgold with renewed vigor.

Next:  I'll be back in early January with Episode 66, "Time is Money, Part One: Marking Time."