Saturday, August 31, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 51, "Jungle Duck"

DuckTales' crack at the legend of Tarzan is probably the series' foremost example of a "neither fish nor (uncapitalized) fowl" episode.  Other adaptations of the story of the "wild man of the jungle" have played the story straight, frequently making reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original conception of Tarzan as the lost son of British aristocrats...

... used the Tarzan framework as an elaborate excuse to showcase popular sports/movie heroes in situations more or less convincing...

... or simply mined the idea for laughs, which (the reasonable success of the 1999 Disney animated feature notwithstanding) seems to be the version of the story of which folks are most fond today.

Unfortunately, "Jungle Duck," though it is pleasantly told, never does make up its mind as to whether it's supposed to be a Duckified version of the "Lord Greystoke" legend or a spoof of same.  There are enough serious elements -- the plane crash that stranded young Greystoke in the African jungle, the sympathetic portrayal of the relationship between Greydrake and his ex-nanny Mrs. Beakley, the fact that he's in danger of losing his impending kingship -- that I gather that the FOUR writers who labored over this thing (script by Evelyn Gabai, Jymn Magon, and Bruce Talkington; teleplay by WDTVA production assistant Judy Zook, getting the sole writing credit of her career) were leaning in the direction of playing things relatively straight.  The problem is that the "Jungle Duck" version of Greydrake is rather difficult to take seriously; though he doesn't bungle all that much, his brainpower certainly bears closer comparison to Jay Ward's George of the Jungle than it does to most movie Tarzans, and, far from fighting the idea of leaving his longtime jungle home, he's perfectly OK with it once he's convinced that his "evil uncle" was behind the plane crash.  (It's funny how Mrs. Beakley calls the uncle "evil" as if it were somehow common knowledge.  I agree with Greg and GeoX that this vague motivation seems badly contrived.)  Hopefully, Greyduckistan (or whatever the name of Greydrake's country is) will see fit to provide such a gullible ruler with a quality prime minister.

To me, the most intriguing thing about the episode is the brief, tantalizing hint we get about Mrs. Beakley's past career.  It stands to reason that, if she were able to earn the job of nanny to a prince, then she must have had numerous interesting jobs on her resume before that, much as the Rich family's "perfect butler" Cadbury worked for such masters as "Sir Ruddy Blighter" before being hired to care for the Riches.  RICHIE RICH comics featured plenty of backup stories in which Cadbury told Richie of these past exploits; it seems a shame that Mrs. Beakley didn't get more opportunities to do the same.  Since the Nephews have by now clearly accepted Mrs. B. into their hearts as "the best nanny a kid could have," they could certainly have eagerly taken on the Richie role of fascinated listeners.

We've seen the "You'll never fly a plane for me again!" bit from Scrooge vis-a-vis Launchpad before, of course, but the idea played a much more central role in "Hero for Hire" and "The Right Duck," among other episodes.  Here, it turns out to be a great, big, fat... well, nothing, resulting in ONE throwaway joke as the Ducks are preparing to fly the repaired "silver buzzard" out of the jungle.  In all honesty, I fail to see what was accomplished by including it here.

The "Phantom"'s abduction of "Mizbeaky," the Tarzan/Jane parodies, and the subsequent reveal of "Jungle Duck"'s true identity provide no surprises whatsoever, as GeoX makes exceedingly clear in his review.  Even if a definitive decision had been made to go the more serious route with the plot, this would have been an ideal spot to inject at least a little bit of humor, playing on audience expectations.  For sure, we were never going to get a whole lot of guffaws out of the broadly drawn "savage native" characters.  We never even learn WHY these guys have a swimming pool filled with boiling crude oil.  Why couldn't Scrooge have commandeered the wrecked village for McDuck Petroleum once the natives had been driven away and his hopes for finding the "giant silver mine" had been squashed?  He would be at least semi-justified in doing so, since the natives tried to kill him and the other Ducks for no reason.

The ep's front-loaded pacing -- with too much attention being paid to the Ducks' arrival in the jungle and the initial encounters with Greydrake and not enough time being left over to wrap things up properly -- really begins to work against it once the gang discovers the "silver buzzard."  Needless to say, refining the natives' crude oil and fixing the plane without the use of tools or special equipment requires us to suspend a whole honkin' lot of disbelief, but there simply isn't enough time to make all of this activity convincing.  The last-second creation of the runway (are "Jungle Duck"'s elephants related to the pachyderms who will later notoriously mash coal into diamonds in "Once Upon a Dime"?) is similarly tossed off.  Among other things, I'd be interested to know how Greydrake immediately knew what a runway was.  Perhaps Greg was correct in suggesting that Greydrake was the pilot of the plane.

The encounter with the "evil uncle" is as cut-and-dried as the rest of the episode, with the ruthless relation (whom the IMDB credits rather confusingly refer to as "Uncle Greydrake") rather stupidly revealing his possible complicity in the plane plot.  Even then, I can imagine the uncle filing a lawsuit that would muck the succession up for a while.  For one thing, in order to send the uncle to the slammer, the Ducks would have to prove that the crash of Greydrake's plane was actually caused by sabotage.

Joe and I originally rated "Jungle Duck" as an above-average episode, but I think that I would have to drop its rating a bit now.  I do appreciate the shout-outs to other entertainment entities, such as the comic-strip hero The Phantom (Captain Fargo's referring to "Jungle Duck" as "The Ghost Who Swings by Night"), The Beverly Hillbillies ("Black gold!  Texas tea!"), King Leonardo and his Short Subjects (Greydrake's jungle home being called the "Bongo Congo"), and perhaps even Captain Fargo himself (see "DuckBlurbs" below).  But the balance of the episode, uninspired, thematically inconsistent, and lumpily plotted as it is, is about as "meh" as it is possible for a DT ep to get.





Given that it was produced rather late in DuckTales' first season, "Jungle Duck" got a surprisingly large amount of love when it came to adaptations in other media.  It was featured in one of the DT story books (along with a similarly "mid-table" episode, "Dinosaur Ducks" -- I guess that the editors figured that it would make logical sense to pair two "jungle-based adventures" together) and was the lead story in the second issue of Gladstone's DUCKTALES title (November 1988).  Jim Fanning's script for the latter replicates the TV episode's dialogue very closely, so reading the comic is the functional equivalent of watching the show itself.  Once again, Daan Jippes' lively cover contrasts dramatically with the "functional" Jaime Diaz Studios artwork inside.

(GeoX) There's no addressing at all of the moral/philosophical question of whether entering civilization is the right thing for [Greydrake] under the circumstances.

As I mentioned above, Greydrake's brief objection to the idea of leaving his jungle home is casually swatted aside thanks to the "evil uncle" dodge.  Including a more elaborate exploration of the dilemma would have required a full commitment to a serious storyline and some dramatic cutting of the episode's first half.  The writers apparently weren't willing or able to do that.

(GeoX) Someone at the coronation who looks awfully like Gladstone, though he lacks the usual curls.

The inclusion of the cravat definitely suggests that this was supposed to be Gladstone, though the flashy gander rarely dresses in such drab colors.   A number of the members of the Explorers' Club ("Lost Crown of Genghis Khan") can also be glimpsed in the bleachers at various times. 

(Greg) The nephews surprise me by being impressed with Beakly's juggling skills. My guess is her previous line of work was being in the circus. Now THERE'S a back story that Disney never looked into.

You don't want to go anywhere NEAR there.  Trust me. 

(Greg) We then see a window which is dark with white eyes inside and then it comes out as we see a sailor gray wolf (in sailor clothing which looks similar to Don Karnage; only the uniform is a dark blue.) as he asks how he can serve them. Scrooge asks for a guide and the wolf furry (who so happens to have worn gloves) proclaims he knows someone who is tough as nails and can wrestle a Hippo blindfolded. Now that's my kind of guy. Maybe he can wrestle Hoppo off her See Food Diet. AHHAHAHAHAHA! POW! OUCH! Ummm...And of course; it's the wolf who's name is Captain Fargo (Terry McGovern) as he shows his boat and it looks only slightly better than the airplane that Launchpad just crashed. 

I used to think that Captain Fargo might have been a reference to the Humphrey Bogart character in The African Queen (1951).  Since then, I've seen the John Huston film in its entirety and am no longer so sure.  Fargo is characterized in a fashion that simply shrieks "homage," but who else could be the target of the parody here?
Next: Episode 52, "Duck to the Future."


Pan Miluś said...

Wow! I just realise those are the same natives as in the Amazone level of the DuckTales game. Good for them...

The part when Mrs. Beakley starts crying while telling boys the story is a trully sad moment. And when the boys promise they will never get lost... Aaaawww... I'm also glad we got a Beakley-center episode with no Webby around.

I'm also happy I'm not the only one to notice Gladstone in the audiance :) I so wish they would use him a bit more on this show...

The next one "Duck to the Future" ey? Now that's an episode I find confusing as hell. Scrooge goes to the future and takes the future Magica to present... So aren't there two Magicas now? Also if Magica was ment to melt the dime (as she told in "Send in the clones" and "Dimes enough for luck") how the hell Scrooge simpy remove the dime from her medalion? And where Magica's raven go?
So many questions... :(

Jim said...

Hi Chris I enjoy reading your blog and these DuckTales reviews are so informative and insightful. I am thrilled that my comic-book adaptation was mentioned. I strove to be very faithful to the episode itself as that is what I felt viewers and fans would want. I agree about the "functional" nature of the art but, believe me, it is much better than some of the art that was used for some of the other Disney comic books stories I have written! Anyhow, as a fan of the DuckTales episode guide written by you and Joe Torcivia (I love your blog too, Joe!), I gladly say that I am very much a fan of these in-depth reviews too. Keep up the good work!

Comicbookrehab said...

I don't have that comic anymore, but I DO remember Scrooge's entrance into Greydrake's treehouse was more bland, whereas the cartoon had the gag with the boa constrictor.

I thought this episode fell in line with the zany comedy-adventure episodes like "The Golden Fleecing", "Double-O-Duck", "Dime Enough For Luck", "etc.., where the energy isn't really there to write elaborate treasure hunt stories - you can see the tone shift more toward farce as the episodes go on before Alan Burnett and Jeffrey Scott step in and begin telling superhero stories.

Chris Barat said...


Thanks for responding to my JD review. I never cease to be amazed at the identities of the people who follow this blog on a regular basis.