Wednesday, October 23, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 61, "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. McDuck"

Uh, oh, a DuckTales story set in a hitherto-unexploited region of those rainy little islands in the North Sea.  Where have I heard that notion before?  As I recall, the last such effort left a whole lot to be desired.  Thankfully, "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. McDuck," though shot through with flaws, does considerably better by London (or a heavily Disneyfied version of same) than "Luck O' The Ducks" did by "The Emerald Isle."

The London of Shedlock Jones and Dr. Jekyll (pinfeathered version) is a decidedly odd mixture of old and new, factual and fanciful.  For whatever reason, writers Michael Keyes and Margaret Osborne (the latter yet another of those mysterious "one [credit] and done" DT contributors in the noble/vague tradition of James A. Markovich and Judy Zook) couldn't seem to come to a consensus regarding how to handle place names and landmarks.  Thus, Dr. J.'s abandoned mansion is located in "Hyde Park" and the crazed "Uncle Moneybags" version of Scrooge is domiciled at "Scotland Yard," but the Queen lives at "Duckingham Palace," the resident genius detective is "Shedlock Jones," Jones' evil archrival is "Professor Moodydoody," and Scrooge is corralled by bobbies at "Tra La La Square."  (I suspect a possible Barksian shout-out in the latter.)  The last-named euphemism is particularly peculiar because the background artists appear to have made a concerted effort to at least approximate the look of the REAL Trafalgar Square:

The iconic dome of St. Paul's Cathedral isn't directly referenced in the episode, but here, too, the background crew appears to have been paying reasonably close attention to the real thing:

Unfortunately, things break down when it comes to simple geography.  The shot below suggests that Big Ben and Dr. Jekyll's mansion are very close together...

... but the clock tower and Hyde Park are actually separated by three or so miles.  Apart from making no geographical sense, this scene makes a hash of the idea that Jekyll's estate is stone broke and that Jekyll's effects had to be auctioned off to pay "outstanding debts and taxes."  There's no way in the world that a prime piece of real estate like that would have been permitted to go to seed to such an extent.

Aside from the hit-or-miss use of and/or references to real landmarks, the DT London reminds me of nothing so much as... St. Canard!  Aside from the sighting of one limousine at the start of Act 2, the streets, fog-bound or otherwise, are utterly deserted.  In a Darkwing Duck episode, this would mean that the field was clear for hero-on-villain violence.  Here, it gives the animators a chance to fancy up their visuals by showing characters moving towards the camera from a distance.  The trick was executed quite well in the top scene below, less well in the scene at bottom (at one point, the oncoming bobby noticeably lunges forward a few paces).  I agree with GeoX that the animators do manage to capture a certain "late-Victorian-style fog-and-gaslight ambience" in a number of their scenes, particularly Jack the Tripper's nocturnal assaults on the banker at the beginning of Act 1 and on "Lord and Lady Somebody-or-Other" at the start of Act 2.  The problem is that even the London of the late Victorian era would have had people and conveyances on the streets at pretty much all hours of the day and night, so the empty London seen here gives one a decidedly uneasy feeling, as if one is reading a Conan Doyle story in which a neutron bomb has suddenly been set off.

Following the introduction of Jack the Tripper and his self-explanatory way of doing criminal business, with a potted summary of the key facts about the life and fate of the late Dr. Jekyll being thrown in for good measure, the plot proper gets off to something of a ragged start.  GeoX correctly notes that both Scrooge and HD&L are a little out of character in the auction scene, the former in his heckling of the auctioneer and the latter in their atypical concern over the possible loss of their "inheritance."  The welcome appearance of Gladstone balances things out a bit, with the gander making a classic killing on the contents of the McDuck-mocked coffer.

Scrooge's subsequent decision to bid on the next trunk isn't as badly out of character as GeoX makes it seem.  His interest having been piqued by Gladstone's success, he is merely rising to the challenge of Jack the Tripper bidding on the item, and you know how much Scrooge relishes a challenge.  After Scrooge makes the ill-advised decision to test the "cologne," the REAL out-of-character madness ensues.  This scene also launches the running "funny hat" gag, which, sad to say, isn't a patch on the repeated phraseology in the previous episode.  It doesn't help that the gag forces credulity to be stretched when the auctioneer calls Scrooge "the man in the funnier hat" rather than recognizing him as Scrooge, as he surely ought to have done (thanks to Greg for noticing this).

Literally tearing Dewey's cheek away from his beak?!  That's gotta hurt...

Greg seemed to have some issues with the logic behind "the madness of kinked Scrooge" -- specifically, the mechanics of how the "Moneybags mania" is triggered and then halted.  It doesn't seem that complicated to me... at least, not up to a certain point.  It's tolerably clear that:

(1)  The initial spray with the "Jekyll formula" brings on the first episode of madness.  "Lord and Lady S.O.O." experienced the same effect at the start of Act 2.

(2)  Being doused with a liquid causes the madness to abate, but the "Jekyll formula" remains in the victim's system until the next contact with money.

(3)  After each subsequent contact with money, the madness returns and can only be halted by another splash of liquid.

(4)  (Here, there be speculation)  After a certain point, the "Jekyll formula" completely compromises one's system.  Scrooge's rapid-fire transformations at Tra La La Square were an indication that he was about to permanently switch into "Moneybags mode."  Once in jail (or, should I say, "gaol") at Scotland Yard, Scrooge would have become permanently mad had HD&L and Shedlock Jones not brought him the antidote in time.

The difficulty that I can't adequately resolve is this: When Dr. Jekyll created the antidote, he was presumably in the "final phase" of the madness, at least according to the note in his journal ("it's too late for me").  So how could he have gotten his increasingly erratic actions under sufficient control to cook up the stuff?  And how would he have known about the "48-hour rule" (the fact that the antidote will fail if not used within 48 hours of the initial spraying) without having tested the antidote on someone other than himself?  Admittedly, the use of "the six-hour time difference between London and Duckburg" (yet another indication that Duckburg is on the East Coast of the U.S., by the way) to buy HD&L and Jones some extra time is undoubtedly the cleverest aspect of the episode.  It does lose some of its effectiveness, however, if the absence of a good explanation for the "48-hour rule" makes it seem more like a haphazard contrivance.  I almost hate to say it, but, had all references to the "48-hour rule" been dropped in favor of a more logically coherent explanation of the antidote's existence -- say, that Jekyll had created the antidote at the same time that he created the "Jekyll formula," but had overdosed himself with the "Jekyll formula" and thus gone mad before having had the chance to use the antidote -- I wouldn't have minded at all.  We might even have gotten a good anti-drug message out of the ep as a result.

Happily, Shedlock Jones, like his real-life... er... literary equivalent, is not presented as a perfect savior with all the answers.  In our first few moments with him, he actually comes across more like a cross between Darkwing Duck and the bumbling detective Goosely Clueless from "The Great Paint Robbery."  Jones' use of a huge signboard to advertise his existence to all and sundry, criminals included, surely indicates a Darkwing-sized ego...

... and, of course, Jones haughtily blows off HD&L's entreaties to help with their "little" problem before belatedly realizing that his "honor as a Junior Woodchuck" is at stake.  There is an interesting foreshadowing of Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers in the whole idea of "big crook" Professor Moodydoody trying to cover his trail by disguising himself as a "little crook."  The contrast would have been more satisfying had Moodydoody been pulling his various crimes as a precursor to executing a much BIGGER plot.  Given Moodydoody's intense interest in the "Jekyll formula," perhaps he could have been presented as a master chemist who plans to plant the stuff in London's water supply and reap massive rewards from the crazed citizenry as a result.  (He could even have been ingeniously renamed Professor Molarity for the purpose, which would certainly have made more sense than the where-the-heck-did-THAT-come-from "Moodydoody.")  Now that would be a sinister scheme fully worthy of Shedlock Jones' chief antagonist.  I simply refuse to believe that all of Moodydoody's efforts were geared towards the "mere" theft of the Crown Jewels.

After a few too many additional "tripping" gags, Jack/Moodydoody takes his final tumble, and we close with the funny sequence in which HD&L are sorely tempted to let "Uncle Moneybags" shower them with mail-order gifts.  (If you like, you can regard the boys' self-sacrificial decision to cure Scrooge as a tacit admission that their earlier "inheritance" comment was out of order.)  Scrooge's parting blowoff of Jones both reestablishes his ultra-thrifty bona fides and provides the perfect capper to his money-flinging actions throughout most of the episode.  The neatness and tidiness of these concluding scenes make the confusion of some of the ep's earlier parts all the more frustrating.

"Dr. Jekyll" may be a middle-ranking DT ep, but it's a veritable masterpiece compared to the Ducks' previous jaunt to Ireland... not to mention the return to bonny Scotland that's right around the corner (and the oncoming presence of which is duly signaled by the piercing sound of "electric bagpipe" music).  I'm looking forward to the latter in the same manner that I would relish a hot, steaming haggis... which is to say, not a-TALL





(Greg) The bobbies go to the iron gate as the tall bobby tries to get the lock open but the short one tells him to let it go. The tall one is addressed as Chucky as he explains that no one would ever hide in Doctor Jekyll's old mansion; not even Jack the Tripper. Well; he just did you idiots! Then again; I'm not surprised. In DTVA; the police are even dumber than the heels sometimes. 

Actually, it's fairly clear that Jack slipped over the gate and into the shadows of the Jekyll estate far enough in advance of the bobbies that they might legitimately have missed him.

Why, Chucky, how transparently phallic of you!

(Greg) The auctioneer starts with fifty dollars and Scrooge gleefully blows him off. Then we go [to] $40 and Scrooge blows him off on that one because he's not called Shirley see. Now here's an obvious logic break: Don't all auctions in real life starts with a low bid and then the bids INCREASE as they go on? Doesn't this auctioneer realize that he's LOSING that MONEY, MONEY, YEAH, YEAH?

My understanding always has been that the increasing of bids only begins after the first (minimum) bid has been received, and the auctioneer has the option of lowering the proposed minimum bid if the original minimum bid is not given.

(Greg) So we go back to the auctioneer again as there are items recently received from London. We cut to see a black trunk on the pillar and the auctioneer asks for $100, and Jack's voice beckons as Scrooge cannot put his bid in. The auctioneer proclaims that Jack is “the man in the funny hat”. Big logic break #2: Why didn't Jack just STEAL the trunk from the house from the start? Unless the writers are implying that the stuff was already in Duckb[u]rg beforehand... And why would he be stupid enough to appear in an auction without a proper disguise so he doesn't obviously look like Jack the Tripper? 

I'm assuming that everything of importance in Jekyll's mansion (with one or two highly notable exceptions) was carted over to Duckburg for the auction.  As for the lack of a disguise, people in Duckburg (as opposed to people in London) naturally have no clue as to who Jack the Tripper is.

(Greg) And so we cut to inside Scrooge's room as Scrooge (in red pjs) walks to the picture of Goldie with her blunderbuss and opens the frame as it is a hidden safe.

We'll be seeing that portrait of Goldie again -- in a different, and more prominent, location in the McDuck Mansion -- in "Till Nephews Do Us Part."  I wonder who painted it?  Images of an itinerant, starving artist wandering the Klondike for random commissions come to mind.

(Greg) Dewey asks what will happen if there is no antidote; and Scrooge proclaims that he can never touch money again. He goes to the closet and then it open and a wave of dollar bills and some coins entomb Scrooge. Oh; that wasn't contrived in the very least no siree. 

Yeah, as if every (visible) closet and room wouldn't have been thoroughly vetted for valuables long before this.

(Greg) Shedlock Jones is voiced by Clive Revill... 

You can't possibly list Revill's credits without including Matilda (1978), the notorious -- or it would be, if anyone remembered it -- "family-friendly" movie about a boxing kangaroo that was supposed to be a monster Summertime hit and the source of a major crossover promotion with McDonalds (at a time when such tie-ins were still relatively new).  Instead, the finished product turned out to be so hideously awful that the movie barely made it to any theaters at all.  Revill, who plays Matilda's trainer, can be seen in the video's opening scene.

(Greg) Interesting Moment #1: And then history is made as Shedlock Jones is actually SMOKING HIS PIPE and there's smoke coming out of it! And Disney DVD doesn't censor it at all! I don't know if Toon Disney cut the scene out; but Disney is one of those companies that has been painstaking[ly] strict when it comes to smoking to please anti-smoking groups for years now. Huey does blow him off with a health promo; but so what?!... Shedlock claims that he doesn't smoke the pipe; even though he clearly DOES in that scene. He's not fooling anyone. 

Early version of an e-cigarette, anyone?  It would have been so much easier if they'd simply nixed the Meerschaum and showed Shedlock engaging in one of his other pastimes, such as shooting cocaine into his... um, er, such as playing his violin!  Yes, that's the ticket.  We've had enough drug references in this episode already.
(Greg)  Shedlock leans on the fireplace and asks the boys to study the painting and ask what is wrong with this picture. Huey claims it's ugly. Shouldn't LOUIE be cracking that joke? Then they get the LIGHTBULB OF BLOODY CLARITY and see that there is a green door in the painting even though there is none. 

Actually, Dewey is the one with the brainstorm, a very fitting choice given past practice (cf. "Duck in the Iron Mask").




The immeasurable coolness of the following two "mash-up" videos (made by two completely different people, as far as I can tell) goes without saying.

Next: Episode 62, "Once Upon a Dime."


Pan Miluś said...

I like this episode! :) In a way Jones remind me Basil o Beker street.

Did you notice how the guy on the auction know Gladstone's full name but had no clue who Scrooge is ("Gentelman in the funny hat")
Odd that Scrooge isn't the more reconazible one.

Also odd how Gladstone vanishes in the middle of the auction scene... I wish they would use him more (one of the british cops was voice by the same voice actor BTW)

Funny how Jack the Tripper could simply just enter the Royal palace and grab the Queens crown like that... But that's master criminals for you ;)

P.S. Boy, the next episode is painfull one...

Anonymous said...

In fairness, 1939's the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty's ultimate crime was to steal the crown jewels (but from the Tower of London, not from atop the Queen's head).

Interesting fact - in the early days of the Klondike gold rush, entrepreneurs serving the gold miners made a killing with highly inflated prices for food and services, luxuries i.e. somebody got rich from a restaurant catering to prospectors. An artist in the Yukon (who had travelled up there with the other prospectors) might very well have pocketed a lot of gold dust (although not from Scrooge).

Pan Miluś said...

I know this is of topic but... Did you know that the upcoming "PEANUTS" Movie will be HAND DRAWN ANIMATED?

Ow happy days!