Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 80, "The Good Muddahs"

"The Good Muddahs" is not "Hero for Hire," but it's reasonably close... or at least within the same jurisdiction (which is hopefully not the same one patrolled by the two Police Academy wannabes who are so prominently featured here).  Just as that classic first-season episode fleshed out the character of Launchpad, so does this excellent, though flawed, late entry finally make some progress towards giving the much-maligned Webby a legitimately funny, and above all multi-faceted, role.  "Some" progress, I said.  The plot is a strange mixture of daring notions and last-minute punch-pulling, with the worst example of the latter being Ken Koonce and David Weimers' cooking-up of a frankly outlandish "nobody cares about me at home" rationale to justify Webby's decision to stick by her would-be kidnappers, the Beagle Babes.  GeoX tongue-in-cheekedly speculated about how much more "awesome" this ep would have been had Webby "gone rogue [almost typed 'rouge' there, heh-heh] and joined the Beagle Babes for keeps."  Well, obviously the series wasn't going to go there, but I think that having Webby fight the kidnapping at first, then use her own version of "ladylike charm" to win the Babes over (while growing fonder and fonder of the not-really-all-that-nasty Babes in return), would have added some intriguing psychological complexity to the mix and made the Babes' ultimate decision to forego ransom from Scrooge in favor of keeping Webby carry that much more weight, since the choice could have been presented as one in which Webby had some real, non-contrived input.  In that respect, one can only bemoan K&W's decision to give Webby a half-assed motivation for staying away from home as a textbook example of fatefully conventional writing.  That being said, however, the moments of sentiment on display here are real and enjoyable, and Webby really does give a first-rate performance.  And I'm not just talking about her junior-moll acting job.

The opening act isn't as horrible as Greg suggests -- it's not too hard to explain away most of his concerns with logical loopholes and such like -- but K&W step in an immediate divot while they're teeing up the "nobody wants Webby around" theme.  The series has played with the notion of Webby escaping notice before, most notably in "Back Out in the Outback."  Even there, though, the theme was used only as a side plot, not as a motivation for all subsequent action, and Webby was at least partially to blame for getting herself in trouble in the Australian wild country by wandering off after Aussie fauna.  Putting the idea front and center gives us plenty of time to figuratively turn it over in our hands and examine it... and it immediately becomes apparent that the major flaw lies in Webby's OUT OF NOWHERE assumption that her own grandmother isn't interested in her.  By this time, Webby should be accustomed to the occasionally misogynistic HD&L blowing her off, or even to Scrooge being too busy with business to pay attention to her on demand.  But deducing from one instance of job-related preoccupation that Mrs. Beakley could care less about her anymore?  That's WAY too much to have to swallow.  At this point, K&W should have realized that the rationale for Webby's subsequent behavior simply wasn't going to wash.  If only their story editors could have... uh... never mind.

Any idea that Webby could have gotten as to her unwelcomeness should have been scotched by the simple fact that she is later included in the family group that goes to visit Scrooge's exhibition of the Sowbuggian Crown Jewels.  And, no, Greg, I don't regard this as a goof.  Scrooge's initial trip was to the Sowbuggian Embassy, presumably to either pick up the jewels or to arrange for their transportation to the museum.  He could then have doubled back to the Mansion and picked up the family to bring them to the museum.  Yes, including Bubba, who's probably simply out of camera range in the shot below.  He must be poking around the dinosaur exhibit again, though presumably more cautiously than last time.

With the Beagle Boys (including Ma -- and yes, Greg, I believe that this is the first time we've seen the Beagle matriarch in the slammer) jugged for the duration, it's left to the Beagles' "cousins," the Beagle Babes, to go after the tempting museum treasures.  Only the most indefatigable of Disney Duck comics researchers would be aware that these Babes are not the first ones to have been created for a special purpose.  Vic Lockman's versions, who are literal babes, made their first and only appearance in the Lockman and John Carey epic "The Beagle Babes" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #345, June 1969), wherein they tormented Daisy's nieces April, May, and June for three highly contrived pages.  (It says something, I think, that even a writer as experienced with dealing with unlikely Beagle relations as Lockman couldn't manage to squeeze even FIVE pages out of this idea.)

The DuckTales Beagle Babes represent three well-established archetypes of the stereotypical female villain: the bosomy boss-lady (Jo Anne Worley's Bouffant), the pneumatic, dim bombshell (Victoria Carroll's Boom-Boom, whose number plate reads 38-22-38 and is almost certainly the only Beagle plate never to touch the owner's sternum at any time), and the feisty little spitfire (Susan Blu's Baby Doll, the Bette Davis sound- and at least partial look-alike).  Interestingly, they're presented as being at least somewhat envious of their better-known cousins, at least in the sense that they want to pull a "big job" after a presumably lengthy period of "robbing Avon ladies" (and, from the looks of things, heavily sampling their victims' wares).  I can envision this character dynamic being used in a future episode in which the Babes and the Boys bump heads, compare notes, and do whatever it is long-separated criminal relatives are wont to do.  Unfortunately, that future ep will remain a mental exercise for all time; this is the Babes' first and only appearance.

With the initial plan to steal the Crown Jewels foiled by a surprisingly clever "dumb blonde" moment (Boom-Boom forgetting to load the Babes' rods with ammo because she was not told to do so), Baby Doll ups the criminal ante by stealing Webby away.  Depicting a child's kidnapping is a pretty risky thing to do in a cartoon; when TaleSpin essayed the RANSOM OF RED CHIEF plot in the episode "The Ransom of Red Chimp," it ignored the fact that the main cast featured two kids and made Louie's rambunctious Aunt Louise the kidnap victim.  The snatch-and-grab here is sufficiently violent and sudden (complete with dramatic tracking shot) as to make the offense seem all the more shocking.  Mrs. Beakley, whose entirely believable revenge vendetta against the Babes is teased several times during the episode -- sadly, without amounting to much -- can't prevent the Babes from escaping out of the ladies' room.  No, the stalls below don't count as "toilet shots."  Not that I really expected anyone to be counting...

I will have to agree with Greg that Webby's bawling fit (12 hours?  Really??) represents a certain retrograde motion in her character.  It would be somewhat unrealistic to expect her to react as the cooler-headed and more "adventurously experienced" HD&L might in a situation like this, but you would think that she would draw inspiration from her experiences with the boys at some point and start planning an escape attempt.  Webby does finally get off the mark, after her garbled fairy tale from "Dinosaur Ducks" has put the Babes to sleep, only to decide to stay because *sigh* "no one at home wants me."  It's not hard to dope out how this moment could have been strengthened.  Webby could have teased going home, only to consider that the Babes do seem like "nice ladies" underneath it all (softening a couple of the Babes' earlier "shut her up" lines could have served as a justification for Webby's more positive attitude towards her captors) and that she might try to win them over with kindness, so that justice will go easier on the Babes when they are finally arrested by the police.  This may not have fixed all the ep's problems, but it certainly would have been preferable to Webby's making a blanket assumption that doesn't hold water under even the most cursory scrutiny.

Following Webby's subsequent cracking of the Babes' "hard candy shell" (through a game of musical chairs! -- another clever bit), the ep proceeds to spin its wheels for the vast majority of Act Two -- not that that's a bad thing, at least not in this case.  If you're going to do a kidnapping plot at all, you have to figure on having to fill in some down time, as the captors deal with their captive and the good guys try to figure out where the captors are hiding.  I will say that I wish the ep had spent even more time with the Babes and Webby and less with the inept police trainees, who wear out their welcome quickly after one extremely funny pun ("Well, ya said the kid was nappin', we're gonna check her room!").  The rest of the time, the cops are just plain annoying, try as Frank Welker might to make their "antics" remotely amusing.  It does make a twisted sort of sense that a city with a legal system as screwed up as Duckburg's would hire schlemiels like these as potential police officers, but that doesn't make them any easier to spend time with.  Perhaps their biggest sin (yes, including the car-chase pile-up at the end, which is pretty much SOP in plots involving incompetent cops) is their mistakenly picking the revenge-bound Mrs. Beakley off the street under the delusion that she might be a Beagle Babe.  It would have made perfect sense for Mrs. B., with her strong feelings of devotion towards her granddaughter, to have been in on the final raid on the Babes' hideout in some manner.  The resourceful Beakley of "Cold Duck" and "Jungle Duck" could have contributed something meaningful to that finale, don't you think?

The undeniable highlight of the middle-game Babes/Webby interactions is the scene in which Webby quite literally shames the Babes into returning the doll that they had stolen from "nice Mr. Slinky" the toy-store owner.  Greg argues that this scene works particularly well because Webby doesn't go into histrionics or "scolding mode" so much as simply point out how unfair the theft was to Mr. Slinky.  I'm inclined to agree.  This scene could easily have made the cut in a revised episode in which the "nobody wants me around" theme had been excised and would still have provided the opportunity for some legitimate bonding between Webby and the Babes, as well as a reason for why Webby might want to stay with the "nice ladies," or at least insist that they not be prosecuted, after HD&L and Bubba have located her.

After an entire episode of serving as a superfluous "fourth Nephew," Bubba finally gets something meaningful to do when HD&L use his tracking skills from "Marking Time" to trace Webby to the Babes' lair.  (Enjoy the attention while you can, Bubba; the next episode won't even allow you that moment of glory.)  There, we are forced to once again go through the litany of why Webby feels unwanted (grrrrrr! Do we have to be reminded?) before Webby gets the bright idea of using "make-believe" to convince the Babes to let her loose.  So we can presume that the entirety of what follows, the whole riff on Bugsy Malone (1976) with "Da Boys" acting as pint-sized hoods and Webby as a gun-twirling mini-moll, was cooked up entirely in Webby's wee head.  Given that the act involves (among other things) Webby manipulating a pistol and "Huey Kablooey" treating a stick of dynamite (I guess) as if it were a cigar, this glimpse into Webby's, er, "creative side" is actually a little disquieting. The idea that Webby has hitherto unimagined powers of aesthetic imagination is heightened by the fact that HD&L can suddenly materialize color-coordinated mini-gangster outfits on the spur of the moment.  (It's not as if they had the time to fly back to Monte Dumas and find them in the same place where Huey and Louie found the perfect-fitting Musketeer garb.)  Perhaps Webby took a hint from Louie's ability to produce a megaphone from OUT OF NOWHERE and proceeded to show that she can, too, upstage the boys in a "Toon-related" matter.

After the inept cops, for no other reason than to give the episode something resembling an "action-packed" finish, finally do something right and stumble upon the "Bagle Beebs"' lair, we get another bit that I can't quite believe passed BS&P muster: the kids bumpily driving the Babes' car back to the Mansion.  This, in and of itself, would probably have been enough to have gotten the episode blackballed from Toon Disney if the blue-pencilers were feeling even moderately feisty.  (The only online sources of the ep that I've been able to find are from Family Channel Canada and some other non-TD source that I can't identify.  Can anyone out there confirm that "Muddahs" ever actually appeared on TD?)  The ensuing chase sequence winds up destroying part of the front of Scrooge's Mansion (after the events of "Ducky Horror Picture Show," you'd think that Scrooge would have had that location reinforced) and gives K&W the excuse to indulge themselves with yet another Wizard of Oz reference (Webby's "There's no place like home").  There follows Scrooge's offer of a job to the captive Babes, which GeoX labels "insulting" but which I have always regarded as a sort of unconscious tribute to the practice of another Toon quadzillionaire of note, Mr. Richard Rich (Richie's Dad, if that weren't obvious), who was in the habit of offering even the most sinister of criminals a position once they had repaid their debt to society.  Pinning the onus on Scrooge for the daycare gambit is actually somewhat unfair, since it was Webby who gave Scrooge the idea to begin with.  No, the actual problem with the job offer is that it would have made much more sense had the plot played out as a "Red Chief riff" and Webby had made the Babes' lives miserable.  After successfully bonding with Webby and managing to take care of her reasonably well, wouldn't the Babes have considered the possibility that taking care of kids might be an honest task at which they could actually succeed?  Perhaps K&W wanted to leave open the possibility that the Babes might return with another crooked (but fashionable) scheme.  Alas, it was not to be.

Webby seems a little TOO excited, there...
I recall liking this episode quite a lot when it first aired, simply because -- Yay!  They're letting Webby do funny stuff! -- but, unlike the post-"Hero for Hire" Launchpad, the post-"Good Muddahs" Webby did not build on this bravura role.  Indeed, in "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby," we'd slide back to an even more primitive version of the "no one appreciates me" trope, with Webby literally being overlooked because she is too small.  (Last time I checked, she wasn't much smaller than HD&L.)  Still, this was a much-welcomed attempt to do something legitimately interesting with the character.  Too bad that the writers weren't sufficiently motivated -- or gutsy -- to take the plot in a more morally ambiguous direction.




Bumper #15: "Dino-Wagon"




(GeoX's correspondent "Christopher") Baby Doll's speech patterns are based on Bette Davis. Lines from several of her movies, including "All About Eve," are sprinkled throughout this episode.

And therein hangs an hypothesis -- a somewhat far-fetched one, I'll admit, but one that has rattled around in my brain-pan ever since Greg's review enlightened me about Charles Pierce, who voices the warden and Mr. Slinky.  Pierce, whose only animated appearance this was, was famed as a female impersonator, and one of his best-known characterizations was... Bette Davis, from the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).  There's just no way that his casting here could have been a coincidence.  Still, given Pierce's... um, unique skill set, why would WDTVA go to the trouble of hiring him and then cast him in a couple of secondary, throwaway roles?  Could it be that Pierce was originally intended to have voiced Baby Doll, using his Bette Davis impression?  Someone in the chain of command may then have nixed the idea, relegating Pierce to the subsidiary roles instead.  Two years after "Muddahs" first aired, in the Darkwing Duck episode "A Brush with Oblivion," WDTVA would succeed in getting a very similar performer to play a signature role, casting Michael Greer to do his "Mona Lisa's Mouth" routine.  Evidently, someone at WDTVA was really taken with the whole idea of tossing gay icons a creative bone.

(Greg) So the Beagle Boys (and Ma Beagle) are in jail locked up according to the warden as Scrooge wants the warden to keep a close eye on them so they won't escape and steal the [Sowbuggian] crown jewels.

Amusingly, both Carl Barks, who originated "Sowbuggia," and DuckTales used the term "Sowbuggia" in almost exactly the same manner -- as a humorous, repeated throwaway reference to a country that Scrooge and company would never actually visit.  Barks employed the term several months apart in "Flour Follies" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #164, May 1954) and "Tralla La" (UNCLE $CROOGE #6, June 1954), while DuckTales used it in "The Land of Trala La," then waited only three days (in broadcast terms) before employing it again in "Muddahs."

(Greg) ...we scene change to a bunch of abandoned apartment buildings as I just realized that the abandoned building in question is the one next to the original Beagle Boys hideout.

Which must have teleported for the duration, since previous shots of the Beagles' lair (such as the one at bottom below, from "Liquid Assets") clearly indicate that there is no building immediately to its right.  The looks of the buildings are different, as well.  It would be nice to think that the Beagle family would be "this close," but the facts militate against the notion.

(Greg)  Webby demands that they read Cinderella to her. [Bouffant] tells Boom Boom to tell her the story; but Boom Boom only knows tall tales to a jury. HAHA! Why doesn't that surprise me? So [Bouffant] decides to do it and she tells it in 15 seconds and it involves Cinderella killing the two stepsisters (I guess the stepmother was a goddess) and marrying the prince.... So [Bouffant] tucks Webby in bed and Webby blows her off because that story is false...  Baby Doll decides to give it a try and her version of the story involves tying Cinderella to a chair and eating rats from the cellar. It amazes me that DTVA would have the guts to revise Cinderella into something that looks closer to the original thing and/or has personality; and yet it's done by a company who released a completely watered down version for families.

Baby Doll's sinister little fable wasn't a revision of Cinderella, it was a swipe from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

(Greg) Boom-Boom is looking for Bonnie & Clyde dolls and the owner blows it off because they were killers and are bad role models... [A]nd then Boom-Boom asks for toy guns and the owner states that they are in aisle three. HA! This has to be a rib on those “moral purity” organizations.

Or the NRA.  I pick the latter.

(Greg) [Bubba] sniffs Webby's doll (which is funny because I don't recall Webby ever dropping the doll when she was kidnapped) and we have the scent as the nephews do a tongue twister to annoy GeoX.

Webby did drop the Quacky Patch doll.  When Baby Doll grabs her, you can (just barely) see it slip out of her hand on the far right of the screen.  I wasn't able to get a very good screenshot of the moment, but, if you squint at lower right below, you may be able to see Quacky, or a smoodge resembling it.

Next:  Episode 81, "Yuppy Ducks."


Joe Torcivia said...

Chris writes:

“(It says something, I think, that even a writer as experienced with dealing with unlikely Beagle relations as Lockman couldn't manage to squeeze even FIVE pages out of this idea.)”

I’m actually surprised to see someone, as familiar with the publication history and formatting of these comics as you are, make such a statement.

Of course, you know that January, 1967, brought about “The Gold Key Comics Club”, taking an annoying and unnecessary SIX PAGE BITE out of every Gold Key comic book – and placing every title into a very restrictive format, when it came to interior page content.

Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories was no exception – and it’s 32 pages, at that point, consisted of a 10-page Donald Duck story, a 10-page Mickey Mouse serial chapter, the required “one page text story” and (what was at the time) usually a 5-page Uncle Scrooge and the Beagle Boys story – for a total of 26 of those 32 pages. Now, I kinda liked that line-up, but it only offered characters that were ALREADY available in the regular bi-monthly titles.

Later, most likely in the name of greater Disney character diversity, the 5-page Uncle Scrooge was dropped in favor of TWO ADDITIONAL STORIES – one THREE PAGES and the other TWO PAGES. …Because that was ALL that was left to use - and you could get TWO additional character series into that tiny space.

The April, May, and June / “Beagle Babes” story, to which you refer, was one of those three-pagers. So, it’s not that Vic Lockman COULDN’T “squeeze five pages” out of the idea conceptually, and by his choice (Personally, I have no doubt he could have gone six-to-ten, easy), but that the restrictive Gold Key format would not allow for any MORE than three, because there was another two-page story, already there to follow it.

I daresay, if Lockman had his way, he’d have created (and run with) an entire “Junior Version of Duckburg” – taking Barks’ established HD&L and April, May, and June, and adding The Beagle Brats and Newton Gearloose (as continuing characters) and his version of The Beagle Babes. Didn’t he even have a “Gladstone Lucky Nephew” at some later point?

…Oh, and Scrooge also had a “Sowbuggian Sludgeworks” in some story titled “The Hard-Shelled Sage of Duckburg” (In 2008’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 375), though modesty prevents this humble commenter from revealing the author of that particular reference!

Pan MiluĊ› said...

As with few more this episode could easly cut out Bubba... but I didn't mind him in this one.

I thnik the part when the boy pretended to be gangsters was very funy (the idea that the Babes would take it seriously as well).

Part with toy owner being shock about idea of "Bony and Clyde dolls" but is ok with kids buying toy guns was a nice satirical joke as well.

Also when one of Beagle Babes say "I will never put a stiff into a truck. It's way too cruel" - Unusual dark line for this show... but I love this type of stuff.

As for the upcoming episode, I have two conspiracy theories about it :

1) The illuminati message in the background :


2) VonSwine was ment to be VonDrake, damn it! :P