Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 30, "Home Sweet Homer"

This is a VERY easy episode to love; it's been in my list of the best DT episodes from the first time I saw it.  A "deep dive" into Greek mythology, a killer villainess (Tress MacNeille as Circe, in what I would argue was a key breakout role for her entire voice-acting career), splendid visuals, a meaty (and not entirely conventionally exploited) subtheme involving the desire of youth to emulate age and the lineaments of heroism... and a guest spot by Unca Donald!  What's not to like?  Actually, Greg raises some very good points about some potential weak spots, and he's not simply talking about the all-too-convenient deus ex machina "reverse time twister" that appears at the end and sucks Scrooge and HD&L back into the present day.  I think I may be able to set his mind at ease about them, however.

It's entirely plausible that Anthony Adams may have drawn inspiration for this free-handed adaptation of The Odyssey from Carl Barks' "Oddball Odyssey" (UNCLE $CROOGE #40, January 1963).  There is a bit of evidence of cross-pollination in the fact that Scrooge's mind is foozled in both stories -- by the Sirens in Adams' tale and by Magica De Spell's "hypnotic perfume"-soaked letter in Barks' story.  I think it is telling, though, that Adams literally allows Scrooge to be bewitched by the REAL mythological Sirens (oxymoron alert?).  Adams takes the whole "adaptation" business far more seriously than did Barks, whose flippant and slightly snarky story is basically just a Ducks vs. Magica battle placed in an unusual setting.  Adams does compromise on some of the character and place names, but, just as he did when he allowed real Vikings to invade Duckburg in "Maid of the Myth," he takes full advantage of the opportunity to place the Ducks into an historical and mythology-tinged context, thereby capturing what Duck comics fans love most about some of the best Duck stories.  He also treats the source material with respect, and, yes, I'm saying this despite the change of Ithaca to "Ithaquack" that got GeoX so exercised.  Keeping Homer and Ulysses' names was definitely the right call, and changing King Aeolus and Scylla to "King Blowhard" and "Yuccalinda" was acceptable in view of the fact that the modernized names capture the nature of the characters that they represent quite well.  In all honesty, "Ithaquack" and "the Colossus of Duckapopolis" are exceptions for Adams, rather than the rule; he used real and quasi-real Viking names in "Maid of the Myth" and would later name one-shot villainous characters "Dr. Horatio Bluebottle" and "Captain Blackheart," so it's not as if he was prone to always going overboard with the Duck puns.  I wonder whether "Ithaquack" was forced upon him.

The episode gets off to a rather hasty start -- following the Ducks' receipt of Donald's letter and Scrooge's recognition of the feet of the broken Colossus of Duckapopolis, we're whisked off to the Sea of Tuna almost before we can catch our breath -- and, taking this in combination with the "reverse time twister" ending, it's entirely fitting to wonder with GeoX as to whether "Homer" might not have worked better as a two-parter.  (Certainly, a guy who once wrote a rock opera entitled An Eye in Each Head ought to have been more inclined towards including some scenes with the Cyclops.)  But the speedy coming and going do have their advantages, as well.  In one of the most sublime scenes of the entire series, Scrooge's yacht is carried into the past by Circe's misdirected "time twister" and then lands in darkness -- which then coalesces into a dramatic night scene before the gates of Ithaquack.  I don't think that this sequence would have worked as well had the episode taken more minutes to work up to it.  The suddenness with which the Ducks are transported to 1100 BC gives the audience a certain feeling of disorientation, which is precisely the right mood to invoke in this case.

After Circe's medallion is smashed and her power broken, the reappearance of the "time twister" leads to another superb sequence, in which the highlights of the Ducks' own mini-odyssey are glimpsed in reverse and Scrooge and the boys then literally try to "get things back together" before plunging into the Sea of Tuna at dawn.  I can see Greg's point about the "reverse Grand Tour" lasting "too long," but, in view of the episodic nature of the source material, I can also understand why Adams chose this approach.  King Blowhard's blowing-out of the candle provided a neat bookend to the earlier "splashdown in darkness" scene, and, after the Ducks are left drifting on the sea and wondering whether they really have returned to their own time, the appearance of Donald provides the definitive breaking of the mythological spell (unless you count Donald's continuing tendency to exaggerate his Naval exploits as their own peculiar brand of mythology).  I only really have one issue with the ending: Since all of Circe's pig spells are reversed when the medallion is broken and she herself is turned into a pig, wouldn't it stand to reason that the "time twister" would simply cease to exist?  (Think of the fate of Merlock without his talisman at the end of DuckTales: The Movie.)  Perhaps the "breaking" of this particular spell consists of the "twister" returning the out-of-time Ducks to the status quo ante and then winking out of existence.

Given all the talk about "learning to be a hero" and "wanting to be just like Unca Scrooge" that percolates throughout -- not to mention the pointed absence of Webby -- this ep definitely qualifies as a "guy show."  How ironic, then, that Tress MacNeille's Circe is the most powerful character on display.  MacNeille's performance simply makes this episode and leaves very little doubt that, had the creators been so inclined, Tress would have provided an excellent (albeit unaccented) voice for Magica.  Even such anachronistic words and phrases as "wimp," "twerp," and "You've come a long way, baby!" fail to spoil Circe's appeal.  After all, she really does seem to "love [her] work," which helps to put any villain over, especially one with such a delightfully overbearing personality.  (Despite her defeat, I could have sworn that I saw her reappear on The View at some point.  But that's just me.)

MacNeille is at her best when she gets the chance to switch between voices, as in the scene at the end of act two where she turns herself into Homer's captive Queen Ariel and, later, when she faces off against Scrooge and changes voice styling from Ariel to Circe in the course of a single line ("Just what I wanted to know!") just before turning Scrooge and Homer into pigs.  OK, so it's not as creepy as Frank Welker's Sirens (not many things COULD be), but it's still plenty impressive.

Next to Circe, Scrooge, HD&L, and the Odyssey-related supporting players, King Homer comes up looking pretty wan and weak.  Bland voice, bland personality, bland everything.  I therefore need to take a moment to address Greg's concern about the way in which Circe's defeat was handled -- namely, the fact that Homer plays no role at all in bringing the arrogant sorceress low.  Everything in the episode seemed to be leading up to a climactic scene in which Homer lives up to his great Uncle Ulysses and proves his worth once and for all.  For sure, that's how a conventional animated series would have played it.  But, here's the thing -- the heroic Scrooge, the man whom the Nephews take turn claiming that they plan to emulate some day, the self-assured dispenser of words of wisdom, doesn't play a role in defeating Circe either!  Instead, HD&L do the job all by themselves, while the menfolk are trapped in pigs' bodies.  This feat didn't come out of nowhere; after all, it was HD&L who saved Scrooge from the Siren Monster, doped out a way to use the Ummagumma fruit to appease Yuccalinda and escape the whirlpool, and, for good measure, told King Blowhard how to cure his allergy.  I can't help but feel that Adams was trying to make an ironic point here: sometimes, heroism amounts to simply doing your job with a minimum of fuss and taking advantage of opportunities as they come your way.

So, what was the point of those talks Scrooge had with Homer about living up to the deeds of Ulysses?  Scrooge's bragging during the course of these chinfests appears to be setting him up for a big fall somewhere along the line, but, since he wouldn't have had the ability to counteract Circe's magic spell in any event, one can't really say that he pays a penalty for them.  The key, I think, lies in Scrooge's commenting that he's read about Ulysses' exploits.  Homer doesn't indicate that he knows what Scrooge is talking about, so we have to assume that, at the time of "Home Sweet Homer," the "exploits" haven't been recorded yet.  It may be that Homer really is something of a "wimp" and that his real gift lies in -- as GeoX suggested -- telling the story of Ulysses' adventures in such a dramatic manner that Homer's "biography of his Unc" came down to us as The Odyssey.  It's a variation on the old saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."  In this case, Homer may truly be meant for the life of a scholar and storyteller, rather than that of an heroic adventurer.  After all, as Scrooge himself points out at the end of the episode, "Young people usually grow up to be themselves."

Back to the books, Buddy!

Not until Greg made his point about Homer's decidedly unheroic role in this episode did I fully understand how unconventional this episode is.  Rather than going for the obvious point about "learning to face your demons," Adams challenged the logic of the situation head-on and came up with a clever solution that is believable, funny, and makes sense in literary and historical context.  Rather than injuring my opinion of "Home Sweet Homer," Greg's comment actually makes me appreciate Adams' efforts all the more.




(Greg)  We begin this one with the sky shot in front of the mansion as a duck in mail clothes with a package of letters [is] walking in a slanting motion. Oh my goodness; it cannot be. It's Quacky McSlanty! See; his gimmick is that he walks on a slant. This is even worse than Vacation Von Honk and even Benzino Gasolini. Even Benzino's gimmick in drawing attention to himself was interesting if you can take him being absolutely annoying. Quacky doesn't have even the grace of Von Honk's vacation gimmick to save him. Quacky is like a gimmick from WWF circa 1993-1996. And of course he cannot pull the letter through the mail slot. So he twists the arm (after thinking about it) and puts it through the mail slot and walks out in a slant. Thank god he's gone.

I'm willing to give Adams credit for at least trying to use McSlant.  Don't forget that Quacky also appeared as a literal "spear-carrier" in the opera scene at the start of "Maid of the Myth."  Those were his only two appearances apart from the birthday-party scene in "Sweet Duck of Youth." Actually, the mailduck appears somewhat older than Quacky did in any of his previous scenes.  Maybe this is Quacky's Uncle Askew, or something.

(GeoX) Blowhard wants to stop sneezing as Huey wonders if something on the island is making [him] sneeze. There are only two choices at this point: (1) the duck feathers or (2) the big ass berries. My MONEY, MONEY, YEAH, YEAH is on the berries since he was sneezing before the feathers took into effect. Louie's money is on the berries as it's the pollen of the Umma-Gumma fruit. Translation from Duckcrap to English: Gummi Berries.

Alternative (and far more believable) translation:  Adams was referring to the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma (1969) here.  My wife Nicky has a special edition release print of the album cover.

"Yooouuu JESSSST! David Gilmour couldn't hold a CANDLE to Syd Barrett!  Syd was a... MMMMOUNTAIN of a MMMUSICIAN."

(GeoX)  [T]he Sirens--purple mounds with duck heads on top--are super-creepy in a somewhat Lovecraftian way.

I have to admit it -- I still find it hard to watch this scene.  The Sirens just sound so bizarre.  Full marks to Welker for his voice performance here.  By contrast, the Yuccalinda monster is almost cute.  Almost.

Next:  Episode 31, "Much Ado About Scrooge."

1 comment:

Joe Torcivia said...

Circe is what DT’s Magica SHOULD have been!

A magnificent performance and the way I “heard” her in the comics