Sunday, June 30, 2013

Movie Review: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (Disney/Pixar, 2013)... plus Some "Get Off My Lawn" style grousing about Pop-Culture Predictability

Reactions to Disney/Pixar's prequel to the highly successful Monsters Inc. (2001) seem to be falling into three distinct categories:

1.  "Another Pixar Triumph!!!" hosannas from those for whom Pixar has never, and can never, do wrong.

2.  "A Cold-Blooded and Aesthetically Lame Attempt to Cash In!" from disillusioned Pixar fans who are still recovering from the disappointment of Cars 2 and are worried that the huge success Pixar enjoyed with the Toy Story trilogy is leading it in the wrong, overly derivative direction.

3.  "Hey, It's Revenge of the Nerds With Monsters!  Cool!" from casual moviegoers.

I consider myself a Pixar fan, though not a blindly supportive one (I disliked the highly illogical Cars and have no interest whatsoever in seeing either Cars 2 or the upcoming Planes).  Despite the company's high batting average when it comes to the crafting of imaginative, "Heart"-filled movies, I must admit to initially being a little skeptical about the idea of Monsters Inc.'s Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) in a "college frat movie" setting, simply because the track record of such movies in the human world is so notoriously mixed (to put it charitably).  I've never been a huge fan of such movies and worried that Monsters University, thanks to the "extreme non-humanness" of the cast, would try to be even more loud, obnoxious, and gross than the norm, perhaps in an attempt to compete with the cruder, more pop-culture-saturated tone of many other recent animated releases (more about those later).  Thankfully, MU eschews cheap laughs for the most part and sticks staunchly to the basics -- character development, the maturation of relationships, and even some sly commentary about social class.  The result is a highly enjoyable film that I found myself liking even more than Monsters Inc.


The key to the movie's success, I think, lies in the decision to bring Mike and Sully to MU from two different social and psychological worlds.  Mike, who's not really THAT scary on the surface, is the ambitious nerd who seeks to get through the School of Scaring by sheer force of effort and will.  Sully, the shaggy scion of what appears to pass for "nobility" in the monster world, expects to glide through school on the strength of his family name alone -- and we learn rather late in the game that this is an elaborate cover to hide some legitimate insecurity about his own scare-abilities.  The approach ensures that character will take precedence in this narrative, first and foremost, and that we will be full partners in the long, strange (even for a couple of monsters) journey that will end with Mike and Sully as best friends.  All the frat gags and pranks in the world won't be able to obscure those simple facts.  It goes without saying that the casting of Crystal and Sullivan, who clicked so well in the original movie, made the social-class aspects of MU much easier to believe.

Ultimately thrown together in an unwilling alliance with each other -- plus a friendly, much-put-upon fraternity of "geeks and feebs" who hold initiation ceremonies in a member's mother's basement -- Mike and Sully must prove their true mettle in the Scare Games, a fraternity event to determine which society is the scariest.  I was a little nervous when the storyline narrowed down to this pursuit; it reminded me all too much of the contrived X-Games competition in An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000), in which Max and PJ's campus seemed to all but shut down academic activities to focus on extreme sports.  We literally never saw Mike and Sully in class for the entire second half of the movie.  In the case of the Scare Games, however, a version of official sanction was present in the forbidding form of the legendary Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), so I imagine that the monsters must have gotten co-curricular credit, or something similar, for participating.  The Scare Games proceed as you might expect, and the finish seems eminently predictable, but then the narrative takes a clever swerve that carries us through to a somewhat unexpected, but emotionally satisfying, conclusion.  Suffice it to say that Mike and Sully learn that you can achieve your lifelong ambition -- you just may have to take a different path than you originally anticipated.

The Blue Umbrella, the Pixar short that preceded MU, turned out to be a rarity -- a Pixar short that I found myself disliking intensely.  The "animate inanimate objects fall in love, are separated, yet come back together in a contrived manner" plot has so been done, of course, but what made Umbrella particularly creepy was the fact that EVERYTHING in the city was alive -- drainpipes, walk signals, mailboxes, storefronts, you name it.  Some might call this imaginative and whimsical; I call it something that might give an impressionable kid (the kind of kid who tiptoes past portraits at night because he or she is convinced that the eyes are moving) serious nightmares for weeks. 




Monsters University was, of course, accompanied by a raft of "coming attractions" previews for various 3-D animated projects, some of which looked reasonably good (Despicable Me 2) and some of which... did not (The Smurfs 2, which is probably two too many).  The thing that struck me about all of them was the utter SAMENESS of their approaches.  No matter what sorts of creatures were involved, you saw the same kind of smart-ass humor, the same non-stop references to pop culture, the same wild physical action.  Just as the immense success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast locked the "Hollywood Musical" template in place for a decade, the Shrek movies unquestionably inspired the aesthetic directions of many of the subsequent 3-D animated films.  (One could argue that Aladdin anticipated the trend, but that was more of a "Hollywood Musical" with contemporary throw-ins, most of which were confined to the Genie and Iago.)

By my reckoning, the Shrek cycle should have just about run its course.  The problem is that the movie industry is even more aesthetically reactionary now than it was in the late 1980s and 1990s, and so it will take an even bolder creator to buck the play-it-safe mentality.  Even Disney's own 3-D division seems to have joined the herd (though Wreck-it Ralph was certainly a high-quality example of the genre), leaving Pixar as the one 3-D animation factory that seems to be making an effort to keep its output somewhat diverse.  (This, I think, is why Pixar's increased reliance on sequels and prequels has elicited such a negative reaction, even from those who have tended to like the results.) Also tempering the drive for innovation is the fact that, thanks to the omnipresent use of CGI, many of today's "big" movies are, in essence, mixtures of live-action and animation.  This leaves precious little wiggle room for an animated director to produce something truly different from either a bog-standard, Shrek-style smirkfest or an action/adventure film that simply mimics effects-filled live-action fare without the human element.  Among recent releases, The Adventures of Tintin came the closest to splitting this difference, and that movie's disappointing American b.o. is a cause for concern.

The "predictability factor" in animated films is, if possible, even more pronounced in newspaper comic strips.  Nicky and I don't get a daily paper, so I hadn't glanced through a daily comics page for quite some time before perusing the KANSAS CITY STAR at breakfast during the AP Statistics Reading.  Remember the old gags about Ernie Bushmiller preparing his comic strip NANCY using a rubber stamp and a joke book?  Well, reading all of those "badly drawn domestic sitcom strips featuring badly drawn humans and/or sentient animals performing more or less funny verbal gags" made me think that Bushmiller was ahead of his time.  There wasn't a SINGLE truly innovative strip -- and by "innovative," I mean in the narrow sense of simply not BEING one of the aforementioned offerings -- in the bunch.  I knew that newspaper strips were in trouble, but I was unaware as to just how rotten things had gotten.  The vast chasm between these space-fillers and the old strips in the book collections I've been enjoying and blogging about would give even Nik Wallenda pause before he attempted a crossing.

Unlike animated films, newspaper strips are probably not making an aesthetic comeback.  The inability of syndicates to even comprehend a different "universe" is probably inherent at this point. The newspaper industry is in parlous shape (it's hard not to be so when half of the country thinks you're biased against it and the other half is busy texting, tweeting, and so forth), and so the most likely location for outstanding strips in the future will probably be the Internet.  (Indeed, I think so highly of KEVIN AND KELL and DAY BY DAY that I have links to them on my Web site.)  We are more likely to see renewed innovation on the large screen, provided that the creators can negotiate the corporate boardrooms, ethical back alleys, and sociopolitical prejudices that have made it so difficult for modern Hollywood to produce anything truly lasting.

Friday, June 28, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 41, "Sphinx for the Memories"

I don't recall being overwhelmed by "Sphinx for the Memories" when I first saw it during the initial week of DuckTales syndication.  It was nice to see that Donald would not be forsaken after the events of "Three Ducks of the Condor," but Michael Keyes' story struck me as more than a little childish in spots.  While I still don't think that "Sphinx" is as strong an animated mummy-and-pyramid caper as, say, TaleSpin's "In Search of Ancient Blunders," I've come to respect it as a very solid effort with a few legitimately spooky moments and a fairly serious underlying theme.  The fact that Donald manages to subvert his essentially passive role as the corporeal receptacle for the spirit of the evil "Garbled One of Garbabel" and inject a little bit of his own inimitable personality into the mix doesn't hurt the ep's cause, to be sure.

There's little doubt in my mind that "Sphinx," despite being produced relatively late in the game, was chosen for airing during the first week of syndication for the reason given by Pete Fernbaugh:  "It's almost as if Disney was trying to reassure the Barks and Disney purists (two separate groups, in most cases) among the audience (at least those who hadn't already tuned out) that after Monday's game-changing, canon-bending menagerie ["Send in the Clones"], the series would still be evoking classic Barks and classic Disney [by guest-starring Donald and sticking to the main Duck cast]."  If the idea was to throw doubting fans a bone, then it would seem that a portion of the audience tossed the offering back, heedless of how off target the return throw was.  In the course of his notorious diatribe against the show, the L.A. TIMES' Charles Solomon complained that "Sphinx" resembled a Scooby-Doo knockoff, full of "familiar "scary" monsters moaning in familiar voices [and] the same chases with the villains falling into barrels."  As we've seen, Solomon had a legitimate complaint but was invoking it in the wrong place.  (He seems not to have had his barrels in a row, either.)

The "villainous" Donald being captured by two law-abiding representatives of Garbabel

There's no real evidence that Carl Barks' "The Mummy's Ring" (FOUR COLOR #29, September 1943) directly influenced "Sphinx," but the two stories do contain more noteworthy points of similarity than one might expect.  Perhaps surprisingly, despite its slightly more "cartoony" surface trappings, "Sphinx" compares quite favorably with Barks' first "solo" Duck adventure:

(1)  In both (mummy?) cases, the antagonists are "sore at modern life" (though, unlike Barks' Bey of El Dagga, it is unclear whether the Garbabel cultists are even fully aware as to what "modern life" entails) and plan to stage an elaborate ceremony to restore "harmony" to their "universes."  The Ducks' ultimate goal is to stop and/or reverse the effects of the ceremony.  One would think that it would be hard to top Donald, Dewey, and Louie's "last-second barge-in" in "Ring" insofar as drama is concerned, but the "transformation scene" in "Sphinx" fully matches it.  The dissolve from the moment Donald is possessed to the scene in which the moonbeams produce the "force field" and Don literally becomes "The Garbled One" (complete with what Pete called a "beak extension" and I call a tiger-stripe beard) gives me the creeps to this day.

(2)  The Ducks get involved in both stories when one of their own is caught up in the drama (Huey by accident in "Ring," Donald on purpose in "Sphinx"), and they are subsequently placed in some degree of peril as well.  The fact that a child is in danger of being buried alive gives the scenario in "Ring" an extra dollop of seriousness, but against this must be weighed the greater variety of perils -- some of which are quite serious indeed -- that Scrooge and HD&L must face before they can save Donald.  You might argue the latter point, but, given a choice between shipboard kitchen duties, a few bullets in an Egyptian street, and a handful of arrows on the Nile on one hand and two death traps, a maze, and a rampaging mummy on the other, I think I know which gauntlet I would be more willing to brave.

(3)  Both stories end with the unraveling of the main mummy menace.  Here, I don't think that there's any question that "Sphinx" handles the matter in a much more memorable way.  Of course, this is largely because the mummy in question is a REAL "restless spirit," as opposed to a petty crook in disguise, but "Sphinx" deserves credit for playing this scene entirely straight.  For all of "The Garbled One"'s supposed evil, you find yourself feeling happy for him as he frees his friend Khufu and finally achieves his eternal rest.  (I do have to wonder, though, why "Garb" didn't try to locate Khufu when he was originally freed from the jar in the "Donald's transformation" scene.  Perhaps he was compelled to inhabit Donald's body due to the alignment of the moon and stars, or something similar, and only got free of the influence after Scrooge and HD&L reversed the spell.)

Most of the other classic Disney Afternoon series, of course, took their own individual whacks at the mummy plotline.  While "Sphinx" is unquestionably superior to Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers' "Throw Mummy from the Train" -- which seems to have been written entirely around the sight gag that comprises its title -- "In Search of Ancient Blunders" trumps it for several reasons: the presence of a great supporting character in the "furson" of the peppy archaeologist Myra, the participation of Don Karnage and his Air Pirates, the clever use of the original idea of an upside-down pyramid.  Interestingly, "Blunders" was famously censored during Toon Disney rebroadcasts to remove scenes in the "Chamber of Eternal Night" involving the characters striking matches, while the blue-pencilers appeared to have little problem with Scrooge repeatedly "flaming" the audience after he and HD&L have been dumped into the first death trap.  Sure, Scrooge is older than either Baloo or Myra, but should that make so much of a difference?  By the same logic, older drivers should always be portrayed as being safer than middle-aged drivers, and we all know that such is not the case.

"Sphinx"'s stature among DAft's ensemble of Egyptian epics is boosted by Keyes' deft use of Donald and the menace of the mummy.  As Pete points out, giving Donald the chance to play all-powerful King allows Keyes to exploit various character traits that have long been a part of Don's animated and comic-book personalities:

The very construct of the script plays to Donald's Everyman desires. Donald went off to the Navy, yearning to be more than a small-town dud. Yet, in the Navy, he's just as stifled by the authoritarian figures around him as he was in Duckburg.  Arriving in Garbabel, he's enticed and seduced with the opportunity to be "more." Being possessed with the spirit of the Garbled One doesn't supplant the true Donald, since he yearns for all that the Garbled One can give him--power, adulation, respect. Being possessed plays to the true Donald's dreams of being special, superior, and marked with success like those around him. He is the Garbled One in (ahem) spirit.  Having the Garbled One's essence also plays into Donald's weakness for the seven deadly vices. He can't be trusted with success or superiority because his natural reaction to newfound power and responsibility is usually abuse.

I think it is telling that the possessed Donald's "abuse" of his subjects doesn't involve standard-issue oppressions such as indiscriminate torture, excessive taxation and/or regulation, or the establishment of corvees.  Instead, Don insists upon symbolic respect by demanding that his subjects salute him, as opposed to bowing and scraping.  Like the cockeyed plan to demonstrate his rule over North America as possessor of "The Golden Helmet" by charging people money for each breath they take, this sign of symbolic submission is both believably silly and entirely in character for someone who yearns to be "Numero Uno" but would rather enjoy the mere fact that he's in that position than do or represent anything truly meaningful as a consequence.  The only approach that might have worked even better would have been for the plot to have followed the outline of a Barks "mastery story," with Donald proving to be super-effective as a ruthless monarch before falling victim to hubris and convincing the Garbabelians to ditch their social system and embrace the "modern world" as a corrective.  With Scrooge already established as the star of the show, of course, this latter approach would not have been viable, but think how good of a Quack Pack episode it might have made.  (Or not, given the state of WDTVA by 1996.)

While Donald's real DuckTales personality -- that of the subservient, bumbling seaman who's itching to rise in the ranks -- struggles to come to the fore, Khufu, in the grand tradition of Barks' Bombie the Zombie, remains mindlessly focused on his monarch-mashing mission.  Khufu's ferocity is somewhat obscured by the character's slightly exaggerated appearance, but make no mistake, he/it means business; far from simply "moaning in a familiar voice," the mummy crushes a statue and punches out a pillar while trying to kill Donald and Scrooge.

Keyes handles his fairly straightforward plot in an equally straightforward manner, but he does leave several bandage-ends dangling in places.  The reaction of the two Garbabelians in the Bugazzi market (were DT being shown regularly today, I can see that latter name being dubbed over) to their sighting of Donald suggests that he is the first candidate for the position of "The Garbled One" that they have ever seen ("For generations, our people have waited!"), yet the power-hungry high priest Sarkus mentions "other" contenders that have appeared in the past (and, presumably, were "gotten rid of" by Khufu at some point, which would also account for the Garbabelians' fear of mummies).  It would have been nice to have learned something more about how far these "chumps-who-would-have-been-King" progressed along the path to power before the Garbabelian equivalent of the trap door in Scrooge's office swallowed them up. 

The devious guide's trapping of Scrooge and HD&L in the ancient ruins has always struck me as somewhat contrived -- not the act itself so much as the mere fact that the ruins HAVE a death trap and maze associated with them.  Who the heck installed that stuff, and, if the purpose was to "get rid of" people snooping around or interested in exploring Garbabel, then how could the Garbabelians be sure that the interlopers would stumble upon the traps in the first place?  The convenient presence of a "Garbled One" headdress in the Bugazzi shop suggests that Bugazzi may have some sort of cottage industry related to the legend of Garbabel (think Colonel DuBarque's gift shop in "Launchpad's Civil War"), so I'm sure that local civilians have searched for Garbabel in the past, but would they always have done so in concert with an untrustworthy Garbabelian guide?  That seems highly unlikely.  The death trap and maze do provide an extra measure of suspense to the episode, but they could also be regarded as a sort of animated "busywork," giving Scrooge and HD&L something to do before they arrive in Garbabel and join the main current of the narrative.  (We never even see how Scrooge and the boys manage to escape the maze, so the peril can't have been that meaningful, right?)

For the most part, I agree with Pete's contention that the final dialogue between Scrooge and the chagrined, "de-mystified" Garbabelians was intended to be a comment on the potential dangers of following "magic and superstition"-dominated faiths.  I would, however, point out that, even within DuckTales, this sort of skepticism tended to wax and wane.  In "The Duck Who Would Be King," for example, the prophetess Sen-Sen is presented in a positive light vis-a-vis Toupay's conniving leader Mung Ho, who ridicules the entire idea of a coming "Great One" even as he keeps the populace in thrall thanks to his "gentleman's agreement" with the horde of bandits.  To be sure, Sen-Sen makes a joke along the way of not relying entirely on "destiny" to make her prophecies come true, but she certainly has more in common with the Garbabelians than she does with the hard-headed Scrooge.  Kimba the White Lion (to take just one example) was much more consistent in terms of portraying its main character as a skeptic in spiritual matters... and, even then, Kimba ultimately came to regard the mysterious Mammoth of Mt. Moon as an ally.

It is also interesting to note that our first glimpse of the priestess and the other Garbabelians (who, judging by the size of the crowd, can't number more than 50-100 or so) shows the priestess reminding her fellow believers of the prophecy that "The Garbled One" would return.  Assuming that those in attendance must represent the absolute hardiest of the Garbabelian die-hards, it sounds to me as if she might be trying to head off some amount of growing dissension in the ranks.  Evidently, the Garbabelians' faith was getting shaky even before Donald came on the scene.  Sen-Sen, by contrast, is trying to get her people to heed a counter-cultural prophecy, only to have the "power that is" attempt to squash her.  I'm not arguing against Pete's points here, just pointing out that the reality of the situation as portrayed on screen was somewhat more complex.

"Sphinx" doesn't represent the series' best use of Donald, but I come down firmly on the side of those who call this a very Barksian story, in the positive sense of the adjective.  The mere fact that it is executed so well gives the lie to the Charles Solomons of the world who claimed in 1987 -- and continue to avow to this day -- that DuckTales somehow "betrayed" the spirit of Barks.





(GeoX) "Sphinx for the Memories?" Mmm...sorry, but I'm afraid the committee's going to have to disallow that one. 

Actually, it's not so far-fetched a choice as you might think, given that the Garbabelians' goal is to resurrect memories of their king and implant them in Donald's body.  Of course, TaleSpin featured a couple of eps in which the Hope-Crosby axis was explicitly revived in furry form... 

(GeoX) There's a lot of fun stuff with Donald as leader, first enjoying the life and then trying to escape. I was quite taken with this, so much so that when the perspective switched back to Scrooge and the kids I felt mildly disgruntled.

See my previous comment about the "filler-type" nature of the whole death-trap/maze business.  I think that you were picking up on the same vibe that I was.

(Greg)  So we go to the scene changer and head in town [Bugazzi] as Dewey is asking about Donald's timing along with Scrooge and the other nephews. Man; Dewey's voice sounds weird today...

All of the Nephews sounded more shrill than usual here.  (Maybe Russi Taylor was subconsciously trying to compete in "Duck-speak" with Tony Anselmo.  Good luck with that.)

(Greg)  So we head into the desert with heel #1 and heel #2 riding three camels with the middle camel holding the basket of the kidnapped Donald. They manage to make it to the palace (complete with Crescent Moon which would be painted out of anime dubs I might add).

Though I think that the crescent was meant to be a "generic Middle Eastern design," as opposed to a symbol of any particular religion, I doubt that it would have been used had the episode been made today.

(Greg)  The moon is right for midnight as heel #1 and heel #2 take Donald away stage left. They go into the Garbled One's private quarters as Donald struggles; but then notices about seven virgins inside. Oh boy! That is not going to go over well today. 

The initial "Hiya, toots!" scene would probably make the cut, given Donald's established personality (read: libido level) in many of the cartoon shorts.  The later "using a babe as a footstool" scene, however, almost certainly would not.  Besides, Toadie already has dibs on that whole routine.

(Greg)... the high priest name is Sarkus (Sacos according to Chris; I think Disney Captions got this one right) who is voiced by Larry Moss (Chris has it as Peter Cullen; but USIMDB has him as Larry Moss) 

I had all sorts of issues identifying voice actors and character names here.  I still prefer Khufu to the "official" Ka-hoo-fu because of the connection to a real-life Egyptian pharaohSarkus, however, is probably better than Sacos because of its link with "sarcophagus" (but in that case, shouldn't it be spelled "Sarcos"?).  I was pretty much flying blind on Larry Moss and Joe Ruskin, and, in the case of the former, I even had the wrong Larry Moss in mind; there is another Larry Moss who is well known as a dialogue coach.

(Greg)  We then cut to the area where the pyramid is going to be (with a helpful bill board just to make it worse for Scrooge and the nephews) as Scrooge proclaims that they have made some progress which is just about ten blocks tops. Dewey proclaims that it will only take them 28,611 years to finish.

The "Pyramid Coming Soon" billboard is a clever gag, though a little anachronistic given that the Garbebelians aren't supposed to know much about the outside world.  One has to wonder where the Garbabelians got the raw materials and tools to build that thing.

Next: Episode 42, "Time Teasers."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE, Episode 40: "Ducks of the West"... Plus... well, something considerably MORE fascinating!

I must admit, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this return to retrospection -- not because I've lost my enthusiasm for the whole retrospective enterprise, but because "Ducks of the West" surely must rank as one of the five worst DuckTales episodes.  If possible, I like it even less now than I did back in the day, because very rarely does the series indulge in misbegotten mischaracterization to the extent that it does here.  When you find yourself wishing that writer Richard Merwin had scripted this DT "adventure" MORE like a conventional and modestly competent Scooby-Doo episode, you know that dire doings are a-web.

Thankfully, while Internet-surfing earlier this week, I ran across an utterly fascinating piece of overseas DuckTales trivia.  (Actually, "trivia" may not be appropriate in context here, as you'll see.)  What made it doubly fascinating and meaningful for me was the country involved.  The fact that I'm putting the discussion here, rather than in the "DuckBlurbs" section at the end of the post, reflects (1) my own indirect personal "connection" to the matter and (2) my intense desire to avoid talking about phony ghosts, missing oil, and contrived cowboy contests for as long as I possibly can.

We Americans have come to call the generation born in the last two decades or so of the 20th century the "Millennial Generation."  (The designation used to be "Generation Y," following up on "Generation X," but evidently it was felt that we'd started too close to the end of the alphabet for comfort.)  In Hungary, by contrast, the same generational cohort is popularly known as Kacsamesek generacio, or "the DuckTales generation," because many young Hungarian adults associate the show with the first significant post-Communist political event in their lifetimes.

DuckTales began running on Hungarian state television channel MTV1 in the early 1990s.  On Sunday, December 12, 1993, a broadcast of the show was interrupted for an announcement of the death of Jozsef Antall, Hungary's first democratically elected prime minister after the fall of Communism.  Someone preserved a VHS tape of the original broadcast and has put it up on YouTube.  The coincidence would be intriguing enough... but guess what notorious scene from the series was so abruptly interrupted?

It seems that a LOT of kids were left wanting to know what happened to Scrooge's "ice cream" and what became of that "sea monster"!  In fact, there's apparently a Facebook page entitled Akik nézték a vasárnapi Disney-t, amikor meghalt Antall József (Those who were watching Disney Sunday when Jozsef Antall died) with over 10,000 followers.  And, yes, I have confirmed all of this -- here, for example.  (Also here, but watch out, reading Hungarian is known to cause the eyes to bleed.)

UPDATE (6/23/13):  In preparing the next retrospective, "Sphinx for the Memories," I went back to Pete Fernbaugh's piece on that episode and noticed that he mentioned the "DuckTales generation" business in passing.  For whatever reason, I didn't pick up on it then. 

I think you can understand why I find this so amazing: the combination of series, episode, and country simply boggles my mind.  I don't doubt that, had a more mundane scene from a more mundane episode been cut off in this case, the memories would have not been nearly as indelible.  And if a scene from "Ducks of the West" had been cut off... well, the interruption might have come as something of a relief.  (Nice segue, eh?)




GeoX pretty much nails just about EVERY SINGLE problem with "Ducks of the West" in a single paragraph of his review:

I'm not gonna lie to you: this episode caused me physical pain with its stupidity. Scrooge will go broke if the oil doesn't start up again? In spite of the fact that, as the series (let alone the comics) has made abundantly clear, he has all sorts of other business concerns? He's willing to gamble away his entire fortune* without even knowing the details of what the contest will involve? And then, having done this (and not having bothered to question the incredibly obvious tricks that JR [Mooing] used to cheat), he has barely any noticeable reaction--instead he's more concerned with finding the missing oil, which wouldn't be his anymore anyway? And then, after finding said oil, JR conveniently morphs into a good guy and just gives back his whole fortune, no further action needed? Seriously, was this episode written by people with severe head injuries?

*Reminding me of his insane decision to give his entire fortune in exchange for a lentil concern in that batty-ass Romano Scarpa story "The Lentils from Babylon."

I swear, Geo must have been reading my mind when he wrote this.  The real shame of it all is that, if Merwin had really been bound and determined to do a Scooby-Doo plot with the DT characters in a Western setting, then Carl Barks had already teed up the ball perfectly for him.  This situation simply screamed for an adaptation of Barks' "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad" (UNCLE $CROOGE #56, March 1965).  In addition to employing the same "phony ghost" and "ghost town" conventions, "Railroad" added a few bits of lore from Scrooge's past and two good one-shot female characters in the forms of Scrooge's old acquaintance Hashknife Kate and her gun-toting granddaughter "Ducky Bird."  (I'm sure that Joan Gerber and Tress MacNeille could have dished up fitting voices for these characters.)  J.R. Mooing, complete with dead-on Frank Welker voice parody of Larry Hagman, could have served as a more effective "red herring" as one of the other characters holding railroad stock certificates (and perhaps conniving on the side to buy out some of the other old investors).  Launchpad, of course, would have to be involved, if only for his participation in the climactic train chase.  Even the "phony ghost" business in "Railroad" is handled far more expertly than in the TV episode, where the "ghost of Jesse Jones" just happens to have exactly the same voice as one of the few incidental characters that had been introduced into the narrative.  The only reasonable objection that I can see to using the plot of "Railroad" here is that the rationale underlying Barks' plot -- the desire to snaffle up the old railroad shares and "make a stock market killing" by selling out to the missile-base people -- might have been regarded as overly dry and not sufficiently "interesting" to kids.  Funny, that didn't seem to bother Barks any... and if "Railroad" had been included in the Celestial Arts collection, or if someone (Jymn Magon?) had been a little more persuasive about the quality of the Barks story, then I can easily imagine the DT production crew reaching the same conclusion.

"You have chosen... UNWISELY."

There are some mildly funny bits in the pre-Texas stages of "West."  Scrooge's encounter with the stuttering gas-station attendant (surprisingly, this is a dated reference today, at least to those of us who don't frequently traverse the New Jersey Turnpike) is good for a laugh, simply because Scrooge literally walks down the side of his limo to go beak-to-snout with the guy.  When McDuck business is at stake, it seems, Scrooge is capable of at least partially defying gravity.

Then, of course, after Scrooge discovers that Launchpad can't fly him to Texas due to the lack of McDuck fuel, Scrooge has to submit to the massive indignity of flying Air Glomgold.  I'm glad that Merwin resisted the temptation to actually give Glomgold himself a walk-on here, opting instead for the picture of Flinty on the sign.  I am puzzled, however, at the... um, irrelevance... of LP's brief appearance.  How many of us, when we first saw Launchpad appear in this scene way back when, figured that LP would have to play some sort of role in the adventure to follow, gasless plane or no?  (After all, LP has at least a couple of planes available back at the "Launchpad Unlimited" hangar.)  It hardly would seem worth the trouble to bring LP on stage -- and with a speaking part, yet -- for such a comparatively trivial moment.  Perhaps Terry McGovern had more voice responsibilities here than I had originally thought.  (For example, he, rather than Alan Oppenheimer, might have voiced our rope-belted, grease-jockeying friend above.)

In the hurry to get to the Scooby-Doo/cockeyed contest stuff, the Ducks' sojourn at Tex Dogie's Lucky Duck dude ranch gets virtually no screen time whatsoever.  This may not seem like a major problem, but it makes for an awkward moment at the climax of the ep, when HD&L snaffle the as-yet-unmasked "ghost of Jesse Jones" using the roping skills they "learned at the ranch."  Uh, when, exactly?  Right after Tex Dogie reveals the existence of the ghost town, the boys (no surprise) are off on their trusty mount Gluefoot to investigate.  When they finally return, Scrooge has just lost his fortune to J.R., and the Ducks immediately go back to the ghost town to seek out the oil that the Nephews had discovered.  Since I can't imagine that Scrooge wasted any time in plunging into his initial investigation of the oil famine with "the original" Wildcat, the Nephews had, what, maybe a couple of hours to absorb the delights of Dogie's spread?  I know that they're quick-witted and have the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook as a resource, but BOY, is that a quick turn-around time.

I can't imagine how unendurable this episode would be had Merwin taken inspiration from the "Texarock" episodes of The Flintstones and thrown a few "Ever'thang's bigger 'n better in Texas" tropes into the mix.  As it is, for all the sneering and attitude, J.R. Mooing comes across as almost low-key in terms of visual bling, with the satellite dish and hot tub in his limo (which also boasts spurs on the tailfins) being the only real signs of excess.  His mansion, seen in medium shot several times, is positively modest -- heck, he didn't even pay to have the flag on top of it animated so that it would float in the breeze -- and he even drives his own limo!  Of course, the whole point about the "real" J.R. Ewing was not how much money or how many possessions he had, but how he behaved towards others.  In that respect, Welker provides an outstanding, if somewhat diluted, version of the live-action TV inspiration... until things fall completely apart at the end.

The Toon Disney version of the episode cut out a chunk of the initial encounter between HD&L and the "ghost of Jesse Jones."  The music suddenly swells as Jones comes down the stairway and reveals himself at the end of Act One, with the whole "dance while I'm a-shootin' at your feet" sequence being removed.  Act Two begins with Jones complaining "I ain't ready yet!" as the boys vamoose, after which we see Jones shooting at the backs of the fleeing kids.  So... purposely shooting to miss is verboten, but actively trying to shoot someone in the back is not.  Got it.  Compounding the censorial confusion, the later scenes in which Jones barely misses HD&L's heads (including the one in which Louie gets spattered with oil and thinks he's been hit) are preserved.  Those shots came almost as close to the heads of the boys as some of the shots aimed at Kit Cloudkicker, which were cut by TD.  If YOU can spot the consistency here, then I'd appreciate some enlightenment on the subject.

The episode, of course, starts its irrecoverable trip down the "inglorious hole" when Scrooge decides to play cowboy, put on a laughably transparent disguise, and accept J.R.'s challenge to the winner-take-all contest.  OK, now... the Barks Donald Duck of the 1940s might have done this, or something reasonably similar, and I can even imagine the young, full-of-beans Scrooge of Don Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES accepting a challenge to risk SOME of his money on a point of honor at SOME point in his development.  But this, this is... beyond ludicrous.  Merwin doesn't even get Scrooge's ultimate admission of fault right; he has Scrooge realize that "I'm no cowboy" and "I should never had tried to be what I'm not."  Of course, Scrooge has been a cowboy in the past, and many other things besides; at the very least, his experiences in the Klondike should have equipped him with some elementary Western survival skills.  The "proper" reaction here (not that such a thing could possibly exist under the circs) would have been for Scrooge to realize that he's too old and out of practice to be playing cowboy.  In practice, however, this creative decision is simply unsalvageable.

Once Scrooge has been cleaned out, he suddenly turns detective and joins HD&L to track down the missing oil... which, as GeoX noted, is completely irrelevant to his present predicament.  In its own way, this reaction is more irrational than either his passive resignation in "The Money Vanishes" or his over-the-top, Magyar-youth-traumatizing tantrum in "A Whale of a Bad Time."  The ep actually improves a little once Merwin decides to turn it into a pure Scooby-Doo caper, with the "white buffalo" nicely repaying the Nephews' earlier kindness by helping the Ducks break out of the decrepit jail cell (for some reason, this scene has always reminded me of the Brady Bunch two-part episode set in the Grand Canyon) and HD&L taking the wrangling lead in literally bringing the villain to his knees.  Anyone who has heard the ep's dialogue knows who the man behind the mask will be, of course, so let's rejoice that "McDuck Oil is back in business! [sic!!!]" and quickly cut to the non-Chasen's chili...

... and J.R.'s OUT OF NOWHERE switch to the side of the angels, or somewhere near there.  WHAAAAA...?!  This is Barks' signature end-of-story phrase "And things are again as they were" taken to an absurd extreme.  I'm shocked that the story editors actually allowed Merwin to get away with this nonsense.  Forget "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad"; Scrooge entering his "cactus wildfire chili" (and given that's he's "no cowboy," where did he learn to make it, I wonder?) against Ma Beagle's glass-cutting "red" in a chili cook-off would have made for a more coherent and entertaining episode than the mess we wound up with here.  Whoosh goes all of the audience good will that Merwin had built up thanks to "Top Duck."  (Either that, or it's the "cactus wildfire chili" backing up on me.)  Sorry, Greg, but "Citizen Khan" is... well, Citizen Kane compared to "Ducks of the West."




(GeoX) There were a few small things I liked about this episode: Scrooge's affectation of a Texas accent is pretty hilarious, and I enjoyed his foreman, Wildcat's, laconic "yeps" and "nopes." Oh, and the "ghost" buffalo that the kids save is pretty cute. But that's all.  

I'd have to agree, adding on the two funny early bits that I mentioned above.  It strikes me that Frank Welker's J.R. Ewing parody is getting to be almost as dated as Chuck McCann's imitation of Gary Cooper was in 1987.  Perhaps not as badly as the Morton Downey Jr. parody Lawrence Loudmouth in "The Masked Mallard," but there's a difference between a youngster of today knowing of the character of J.R. Ewing and knowing how he sounded and acted.

(Greg)  So we cut back to the nephews checking on their remote control airplanes and they proclaim that they are out of gas. Who in their right mind would sell gas powered remote control airplanes?! Don't these whippersnappers know about BATTERY operated aircraft? And wouldn't gas powered be too dangerous of a fire hazard for children to use?

You can still find gas-powered model airplanes on the market.  Here, for instance.  I gather that you would have to have considerable experience in handling simpler craft before you were ready to try a gas-powered model, though.

(Greg)  So we logically go into the desert as the nephews are riding west (HA!) on a gray horse as Louie is singing a Texas song so badly that Louie would be shot in the face by Dick Cheney just for being such a bad singer. Yeah; I went for the low blow; but seriously, the singing is crappy. Oh wait; it's Huey which somehow makes it worse. He calls Dewey Deadeye Dewey which at least sounds witty. Louie is Lonestar Louie as they are riding on the range like real cowboys....and doing a decent job of it; bad singing notwithstanding. Louie of course screws up on the Texas accent as we cut to the ghost town. We know this because there is no one in the town and there's nothing but tumbleweed being animated by TMS. We pan over east as the horse rides into town with a lot of wind blowing. The horse is called Gluefoot as it stalls while Huey tries to get it to sell properly. Gluefoot goes all Scooby Doo on us (he even sounds like a crappy Scooby Doo which means Frank Welker is voicing him.)

I think that it would have been clever had Gluefoot been designed in the manner of Tanglefoot or another classic Floyd Gottfredson model horse.  Granted, it wouldn't have come close to salvaging the episode, but it would have provided a nice link to past Disney comic-book and comic-strip stories set in the West.  The semi-realistic equines of "Horse Scents" and the look of the series as a whole probably made this wish impossible to fulfill.
(Greg) The nephews bail stage right and head for the sheriff's office and remember to close the door this time. We know it's the sheriff's office because it has a silver star on top.

A nice bit of visual continuity here: as in Duckburg, stores and other public buildings are "identified" by a visual marker above the door.  For example, the stables in the ghost town have a horse's head posted on them.  Also recall the handcuffs signifying the police station in "Hero for Hire" and the cheese above the door to the Novaygian cheese shop in "Scrooge's Pet."  

Next:  Episode 41, "Sphinx for the Memories." 

Friday, June 21, 2013


The recently deceased actor James Gandolfini's career intersected with that of Nicky's family a couple of years ago.  Nicky's Uncle Rick has built up a dog-training business with several four-footed "alumni" who have gone on to appear in movies, TV shows, print ads, and commercials.  One of his charges, a Chihuahua named Spidey, appeared with Gandolfini in a commercial for American Airlines.  This commercial still appears on TV from time to time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Meeting the Million Question Challenge

On Tuesday, I returned home from yet another AP Statistics Reading.  Hard to believe that I've been doing this for nine years and at four different venues.  After previous stops in Lincoln, NE, Louisville, and Daytona Beach, the AP Stats caravan moved to Kansas City last year, but I was unable to attend.  This year was a different story.

I've never written much about my AP experiences on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter, so I've decided to write a little bit regarding what this operation is all about.  The AP Stats exam was first offered in 1997, and 57 good folk and true (true Stats junkies, that is) from high schools, prep schools, and colleges across the land graded about 8000 test booklets that first year.  To give you an idea of how the enterprise has grown, there were many more first-time AP Readers ("Acorns," as we call them, based on the College Board logo) in K.C. this June than there were readers at that first go-round.  For the first time, we were faced with the Million Question Challenge: with 640 Readers and about 170,000 students taking the exam this past May, our task was quite literally to grade over 1,000,000 questions.  No, I didn't have to grade each and every one of the six free-response questions.  A Reader typically is assigned two questions, cycling back to finish grading the first once the second is done.  The Reading day runs from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with two breaks for... well, a break, and one hour for lunch.

Gone are the days when Readings could be held on college campuses such as the University of Nebraska (actually, we stayed in NU dorms and graded on the neighboring former site of the Nebraska State Fair).   Not even Daytona is big enough to hold us now.  Instead, it's large cities, chain hotels, and large convention centers all the way.  We worked at the Kansas City Convention Center (at right in above picture) along with the Readers for AP Calculus, AP Biology, and AP Government and Politics.  Did I mention that the KCCC was large?  Actually, we Stats folks stayed pretty much to ourselves, even when we joined the huddled masses in the dining hall (aka the Grand Ballroom) at lunchtime.  The food service at past Readings has ranged from delectable (Lincoln) to dubious (Louisville and Daytona), and I'd rate the KC experience somewhere between those two poles.  We definitely got mass-catered food, but it was good mass-catered food, and I made it a point to tell one of the caterers as much on the last day.  The logistics were definitely better than they were in either Louisville or Daytona, with 10 serving lines and plenty of seating space.

At lunchtime, I typically found it the better part of valor to head outside and eat on a patio adjacent to the Grand Ballroom.  Not because I'm claustrophobic, but because I needed the chance to thaw out.  The Reading rooms (actually, open spaces separated by curtain partitions) are COLD, especially late in the day when they crank down the thermostat to help keep us awake (at least, such is my entirely reasonable theory).  I was obliged to wear long pants and my "Kit Cloudkicker Collection" green sweatshirt most of the time.

Cold temps aside, the KCCC was fairly comfortable apart from one somewhat scary moment on Saturday the 15th.  An afternoon thunderstorm blew through town and knocked out the lights.  Luckily, the auxiliary lights quickly came on, so we could continue grading.  The rain got heavy enough that a literal cataract of water could be seen leaking down one of the walls of the hall.  Kansas City is known as a "City of Fountains," but it didn't have to arrange an extra display for my benefit.  No real damage done, thank goodness.

We didn't have many opportunities to see the local sights (and, yes, KC does have sights) so I contented myself with the next best thing: visiting local restaurants.  I was already planning to get breakfast outside the convention center and was lucky enough to hit upon a branch of a local supermarket chain, Cosentino's, that appears to be the KC-area version of the East Coast's Wegmans and the Richmond area's late, lamented Ukrop's.  This self-billed "Unique Food Experience" (not strictly true, but I'm not complaining) offered a wide variety of prepared foods in addition to the standard supermarket items.  The chain was founded by an Italian immigrant, and the wall behind the customer service desk featured a picture of him next to a (gasp!) crucifix.  What would Al Khan of 4Kids make of that, Greg? 

Of course, I simply had to try some of that legendary KC barbecue while in town.  Unfortunately, most of the really legendary places were too far away to be easily accessible without taking a long and expensive cab ride.  I "settled" for the somewhat less famous Jack Stack BBQ, which was within walking distance.  I had been given a tip that this was a good place to go, and the food was good, but eating there wasn't... well, momentous.  To be perfectly honest, Extra Billy's, my favorite BBQ place in the Richmond area, was just as good.  Perhaps I failed to appreciate the piquancy and finish of the sauce, or something.

I had a better dining experience at Grunauer, a German-Austrian place next to Jack Stack in what is called the Freight House District.  I suppose that I was swayed by memories of all that great eating in Vienna and Budapest during our trip to Europe several years ago.  If so, then I should let such memories be my guide more often, for the food was excellent.  I had Hungarian beef goulash mit spaetzle und kraut, and, though the portions didn't seem all that large, they filled me up right quick.  I had a good table at the bar to watch Phil Mickelson let it get away in the final round of the US Open.  And, yes, beer was present, as well.  In fact, I had more beer during this KC sojourn than I've probably had in any such concentrated time period in my life.  Only after Reading hours, naturally...

As long as they'll have me, I intend to continue active participation in the AP Readings.  It's a tiring but fun experience.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 39, "Catch as Cash Can, Part Four: Working for Scales"

At the very least, "Working for Scales" treats us to a more exciting -- though somewhat more logically problematic -- climax to a Scrooge McDuck-Flintheart Glomgold money-piling contest than the one Carl Barks delivered in "The Money Champ."  In Barks' telling of the tale, the fun (read: Glomgoldian chicanery) began after all the money had been piled; in the DuckTales version, getting Scrooge's fortune to Macaroon despite external attack and internal conflict commands the lion's share of the attention.  Bruce Reid Schaefer's cleverly structured teleplay gooses the suspense by alternating between scenes on and around the "flying island of Atlantis" and scenes of funny byplay between Glomgold and the Grand Kishki.  All of the ingredients for a four-star (or five-star, by Greg's scheme) episode are certainly present, but the whole recipe is severely compromised by the insertion of what GeoX correctly termed a "super-ultra-contrived" conflict between Scrooge and his Nephews.  In truth, the episode would have played out in almost exactly the same manner had the boys spent the entire episode looking for the treasure of Atlantis with Scrooge's explicit blessing until being forced to take over following their uncle's "big fall."  I suppose that Magon, Zaslove, Talkington, and Schaefer were attempting to maintain some vague continuity with the depiction of a crotchety, occasionally loony Scrooge seen in previous chapters of the serial, but there's a HUGE difference between sudden emotional/mental breakdowns and the completely bizarre, borderline-paranoid rant in which Scrooge indulges here.  The episode's climactic action contains a fair number of logic breaks, but the ep still works as a good wrap-up of the "Firefly Fruit" caper and includes a number of indelibly memorable sequences.  It does fall short of what it could have been, however, thanks to the misreading of Scrooge and HD&L's characters.

The burning question that flares up during the opening scenes -- where is Doofus, and why did the Nephews take his place? -- can be easily doused by establishing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Scrooge, Launchpad, Gyro, and Doofus had to have returned to Duckburg after the events of "Aqua Ducks."  It is possible to imagine Gyro inflating the recovery balloons to a large enough size to carry the island away from its surfacing point -- how convenient that the Fish Folk threw the balloons into the "junkyard" to begin with -- but the other gear used to pilot and steer the island certainly wasn't among the supplies carried in the Gold Digger (unless you disagree with Gloria Steinem and believe that a fish does need a bicycle).  The Ducks would also have needed time to pull Scrooge's money into a tidy pile, ditch the upside-down ship (which probably would have made the island less aerodynamically stable), and pick up any other comestibles they might need.  As for the "infant exchange," I suggested in the "Aqua Ducks" review that Doofus' mom did "mind" (her son going on another mission with Scrooge, that is) and that Scrooge took advantage of the opportunity to ask his Nephews to join him.  Webby, presumably, was still busily engaged in eating (or at least trying to do so).

Enjoying the interchanges between Glomgold and the Grand Kishki would, I suppose, count as a "guilty pleasure," considering the ethnic implications.  Given Hamilton Camp's interest in Eastern spirituality through the so-called Subud movement, I wonder whether he had certain twinges of doubt about depicting this particular caricature.  Even so, it's difficult not to laugh at most of these bite-sized comedy bits.  I have always had the impression that the Kishki of "Scales" started out as pretty much the same naive-but-otherwise-on-the-ball character we saw at the beginning of "A Drain on the Economy" and then proceeded to get more and more childlike as the ep ground on, but now I'm not so sure.  Consider that Glomgold almost immediately tells "Kishy" outright that Scrooge's fortune is probably still "at the bottom of the ocean."  Assuming that specific details of the tycoons' money movements have been kept from the public -- a reasonable precaution on the part of both Scrooge and Glomgold, I'd say -- how would Flinty know this unless he were somehow involved in the sinking of the money?  But "goodness-gosh-no," the Kishki doesn't buy the freely offered clue, and the ep proceeds in a similar vein from there.  "Kishy"'s fascination with Glomgold's "Amazing Tartan-Kilted Schemecoat" remains extremely funny; his ignorance of the concept of "spin dry" and mistaking of the appearance of the flying island for the abrupt onset of "bedtime" a bit less so.  The package as a whole still manages to amuse, mostly because of the fine performances by Camp and Hal Smith.

The role played by "the terrible" (and, once again, mercenary) Beagle Boys here wanders all over the map.  We get a quick torrent of dopey food references from Burger that rival anything experienced during the show's more comedic second and third seasons... and then, the Beagles perform some frankly eye-popping feats in Glomgold's jets.  Seriously, given that the Beagles needed their cousin Bomber's aerial assistance in "Top Duck," what are we to make of their triple snaffling of a grappling hook while flying inside a large tent?  It's hard to imagine any of the pilots who appeared in TaleSpin -- yes, even Ol' Baloo -- pulling off a stunt like that.  Burger's in-flight "fake machine gun" antics add to the cognitive dissonance.  The phrase idiot savant comes to mind.

The strangest character business here is, of course, the trumped-up tempest touched off by HD&L's neglect of the cloud machine.  Now, in all honesty, this was a major gaffe on the boys' part.  Their interest in finding the treasure of Atlantis could be attributed to the "wealth-finding gene" that they've no doubt inherited thanks to their location on the Duck family tree, but Dewey's mention of the Junior Woodchucks archaeology merit badge suggests that a wee bit of self-centeredness may have been involved as well.  For Scrooge to give the boys a scolding for their carelessness would not have been out of character.  I might even have been able to tolerate a line of dialogue in which Scrooge wished that the "lads" who will presumably inherit his fortune one day would show more responsibility. Claiming that HD&L were "trying to ruin [him]," however, takes things way over the line.  In fact, it'd be hard to find a nastier comment issuing from Scrooge's beak in the entire series (though some of his comments about Bubba Duck during the "Time is Money" serial come pretty close).

Following Scrooge's rather underhanded treatment of them, HD&L promptly go over the top and down into the pit of despair.  Even the setting reflects their atypically self-tormenting state of mind (check out the poses of the statues in the first screenshot below).  As out of character as Schaefer lets matters get here, I will give him credit for one thing: he is very consistent in keeping Huey as the Nephew who seems to be the most interested in finding the Atlantean treasure.  When confronted by Scrooge, Huey tries to justify the boys' behavior by using the treasure-hunt excuse.  Then, in the boys' subsequent "squat and sulk" scene, the red-clad Nephew continues to insist that HD&L can get back in Scrooge's good graces by finding the treasure, ceasing and desisting only when Dewey tells him to "let it go."  Clearly, Huey can't do so, for, after the boys' later attempt to fill the scales has left Glomgold in the lead, he immediately jumps in and declares that the Nephews must now find the treasure to win the contest as the supposedly dead Scrooge "would have wanted us to."  Fittingly, when HD&L tumble into the temple and discover the clues to releasing the treasure, the key clue winds up in Huey's hand.  

The "ultimate comedic free fall" that takes up the first few minutes of Act Three may have been set up in the most contrived way imaginable, but it continues to satisfy and delight to this day; it's definitely one of my favorite set pieces of the entire series.  Think of it as a sort of "comedy/tragedy faces" bookend to Kit Cloudkicker's far more dramatic plummet from the Iron Vulture in "Plunder and Lightning, Part 4."  Both work perfectly in context.

The Nephews understandably assume that Scrooge and Gyro have perished as a result of their fall, but Unca Donald had better hope that Huey's lament "We're all alone now!" refers specifically to the boys' present situation.  (Mrs. Beakley, Webby, and Duckworth might not be amused, either.)  Russi Taylor does, as Greg noted, act this fairly thankless scene (including the whole "We gotta win this contest for Unca Scrooge!") rather well.  Unfortunately, the first of a number of annoying late-term logic breaks occurs soon after this, as HD&L spot the "glowing X" scale-target below them but fail to pick up on the fact that this might represent evidence that Scrooge did in fact survive.  Scrooge's claim that "the laddies came through" isn't quite so bad, because HD&L are, after all, the only characters who could possibly have steered the island to the scales, so it's reasonable for Scrooge to assume that they did so.

The big pelf-pour could have been handled better.  The animators flub badly in one instance: when HD&L lose control of the operation, the falling money, which should be tumbling onto the ground next to the scales, just seems to disappear.  More troublingly, the gang on the ground, presumably including the Grand Kishki, can clearly see that some of Scrooge's fortune has accidentally been poured onto Glomgold's side of the scales... so, when the contest ends in a tie, shouldn't that mean that Scrooge wins anyway, whether the Nephews find the treasure of Atlantis or not?  This really makes "Kishy" look clueless, don't you think?

The "Atlantean treasure reveal" makes for a great climactic visual, but, even here, there's a bit of an aesthetic misstep: when HD&L see Scrooge and Gyro alive and well, they react with... well, I can only characterize it as mild surprise.  Surely they should have evinced a bit more glee, given how devastated they were by Scrooge's apparent demise?  At least we close with some good gaggery involving the Kishki's continuing fascination with Glomgold's coat.  As for the mixing of Scrooge and Glomgold's fortunes during the pouring process, I'm willing to defer to Scrooge's encyclopedic knowledge of the contents of his Money Bin and accept that the two old misers managed to work things out without an untoward number of lawsuits.

So, where does "Catch as Cash Can" rank on the list of the five DuckTales multi-part stories?  Well, it certainly lacks the sheer magnificence of "Treasure of the Golden Suns" and the narrative consistency and "global import" of "The Golden Goose."  "Super DuckTales" is just about as messy as "Catch," but its component parts are arguably superior, particularly those involving the introduction of Fenton Crackshell, the birth of Gizmoduck, and the wild final chapter set in outer space.  I would, however, agree that "Catch" rates higher than "Time is Money."  The characterizations and situations in the former may test one's patience, but they don't represent the kind of out-and-out mistakes that foul up various portions of the Bubba Duck serial.  Nor is any chapter obvious "filler" in the manner of such "Time"-wasting episodes as "Bubba Trubba" and "Ducks on the Lam."  "Catch" could certainly have been much better, but it's still an enjoyable, albeit bumpy, ride.





(GeoX) "Straw that Broke the Camel's Back" notwithstanding, ONE DIME WILL NOT MAKE THAT MUCH DIFFERENCE.

It looks as if you softened this initial reaction in response to Christopher's comment about Barks' "The Second-Richest Duck."  I agree with Christopher that the use of Old #1 to break the tie seems quite fitting.  Glomgold's subsequent revelation of an extra shovel-load of money, by contrast, seems rather contrived.  Since he got his money to Macaroon first and doesn't know the exact amount of money that Scrooge will be bringing after him, it doesn't make much sense for Flinty to hold that much cash in reserve.

(Greg)  So we logically go to the skies as a cloud is moving and Scrooge is laughing because Glomgold will never find him and his train up in the clouds as we see a cartoon eye inside the telescope lens. And then we see Scrooge looking on from the Floating City of Atlantis as it's being carried by giant ass pink/green and yellow balloons.

We also get a rather surprising sky-shot of the scales here.  Can you see something amiss with the arrangement below?

Whoever built the scales next to a deep ravine must not have been thinking straight, or else must truly be a "Macaroonie."  Clearly, any mishap in pouring the money onto the empty scale would cause the cash to fall into the ravine.  The ground-level image of the scales that I displayed above does show a cliff of some sort to the left of the scales, but the dropoff doesn't appear to be nearly as sheer as is suggested in the sky-shot.
(Greg)  Scrooge and company run back towards the bicycle as we cut back inside the ancient building as the nephews are looking around the area and then [spotted] Glomgold's planes. Ummm; check your internal logic guys; there is a stone CEILING which prevents them from spotting anything. 

Yes, based on the visuals we got, they SHOULDN'T be able to see the planesWhat, you think that they learned how to distinguish one company's jet engine noises from another's as part of their Junior Woodchuck training?

(Greg) Scrooge is amazed that the balloons didn't pop [when the Beagles shot them] and Gyro on the bicycle casually tells them that they are steel belted. Oooookkkkkaaaayyyy; that [sort of makes] sense as Scrooge praises him and [is] almost tempted him to give him a raise.

Um, since when is Gyro a salaried employee of Scrooge's, as opposed to a freelance inventor?

(Greg)  ... the needle points to the dollar sign in red for the first time in the episode and then it sways towards Flint's side and he declares himself the winner. The needle then ultimately lands right smack in the middle as Kishke swears in DUBBED ANIME STYLE (holy nimrud) and declares it a tie. 

I think that he actually said "holy nimnul," which would certainly make sense in a WDTVA context.




For professional reasons, I won't be able to do another RETROSPECTIVE for a short while -- probably not until the weekend of the 21st-23rd. 

Next: Episode 40, "Ducks of the West."