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."


Joe Torcivia said...

“Next: Episode 40, ‘Ducks of the West.’”


Don’t worry, Chris! We can WAIT for this turkey!

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I wish this episode was the movie...