Friday, June 27, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 84, "Bubba's Big Brainstorm"

Oh, it's bad, all right... but, with apologies (is that the right word?) to GeoX and Greg, it's not THE WORST, for several nontrivial reasons.  Hear me out, I promise to make this as painless as I can:

(1)  The plot is reasonably coherent and logical, at least until we get to the land of the Ancient Thinkas.  Bubba's technologically augmented brainpower, and other characters' reactions to it, are built up in a reasonably sound fashion.  There can be no comparison with, for example, the grab-bag of Barksian, pseudo-Barksian, and just plain wrong-headed anecdotes that constituted "Once Upon a Dime."  Nor is there any single aspect of the story that is as egregiously idiotic as the "Cancel every deal!" madness that fatally disfigured "Yuppy Ducks."

(2)  The idea of an advanced ancient civilization that fell victim to... well... excessive civilization is a first-rate one and would have made for a superb story-pivot in a better ep.  The Atlantis of Disney's ill-fated (and, in my view, seriously underrated) 2001 feature film isn't all that far removed from the Thinkas' degenerated realm, though the fine details in the former were worked out with more success than those in the latter.  It doesn't make sense, for one thing, that the Thinkas' descendants have completely forgotten everything related to the history of the "ancient ones" but still know how to use those laser spears, or electric cannons, or whatever they are.  (How lucky for them that the weapons didn't break down or malfunction during that degenerative interregnum, eh?)  For the Carl Barks enthusiasts in the audience, the cluelessness of the tech-garbed natives furnishes an amusing contrast to the spirited Cura de Coco primitives of "A Spicy Tale" (UNCLE $CROOGE #39, September 1962), who gleefully await the instructions from "Tutor Corpsman" Donald that will lift them out of ignorance and onto the lofty plinth of comprehending contemporary pop culture.

(3)  While the Nephews are poorly characterized here -- seriously, straight-A students one minute, unable to complete a simple picture puzzle the next? -- and their bilious kvetching about the super-smart Bubba gets real old real fast, they're not AS badly characterized as they were in "Yuppy Ducks."  Heck, HD&L fans should be positively ecstatic at the boys' report cards after the strong hint in "Raiders of the Lost Harp" that they were struggling in school.

(4)  Frank Welker's riff on William F. Buckley, Jr. as the voice of genius Bubba is truly something special, even for that preternaturally gifted dialectician.  The use of Buckley as a voice-source bespeaks a certain level of faith in the sophistication of the audience (or at least its older contingent).  While Buckley was still very much in the public eye in the late 80s, he wasn't quite as prominent as he had been in the 60s and 70s, and his long-running PBS series Firing Line was winding down.  DuckTales deserves credit for eschewing the use of a generic "arrogant nerd" voice and going "full full-of-oneself" with this parody.  I've long since found that I don't have to enjoy what Buckley-Bubba is actually saying in order to mine a great deal of enjoyment out of this portrayal. 


(5)  There are one or two decent jokes scattered about here.  "You may now pass 'go' and collect 200 fish skins," for one, never fails to get a chuckle out of me.

The above being said -- or, should I say, being tremblingly brought forth for consideration by the "Brainstorm"-bashers -- there's no doubt that this ep does get a whole lot of things wrong, starting with the moral.  Ugh, that hideous moral.  DuckTales didn't partake of a whole lot of moralizing, and that was a very good thing at the time, since so many of the Smurfs-influenced "happy little get-along friends" cartoons of the 80s had well and truly put the stink on that approach to cartoon-making.  What morals DT did dispense tended to be innocuous, decaffeinated ones such as "be yourself," "have faith in your abilities," and "family is more important than money."  Up until "Brainstorm," the biggest mistake that the series had made with morals was plugging them into pre-existing stories where they frankly weren't needed, such as in "Down and Out in Duckburg."  "Brainstorm" blew such errors completely out of the water by getting its "intellectuals are all head and no heart" moral wrong.  Even had genius Bubba been portrayed as a thoroughly despicable character, this simplistic contention would have been a tough sell.  The problem is that Bubba is much more what Greg and other pro-wrestling enthusiasts would call a "tweener" than an out-and-out nogoodnik.  He does make with the egotistical comments, but, seriously, are they all THAT much more offensive than what we would later hear from Darkwing Duck?  As both Greg and GeoX point out, his ability to save the gang by solving various conundrums in the Thinka pyramid makes the negative reactions of HD&L, in particular, seem somewhat hypocritical.  The killing blow, so to speak, is the conversation between Scrooge and Bubba right before Bubba reverts back to his old self, during which Bubba (1) claims that his treasure-hunting efforts were only meant to please Scrooge and (2) voluntarily decides to murder his intellect for the immediate good.  The irony is that, were genius Bubba really as cold-hearted as Scrooge claims, he would never have decided to revert back in the first place (arguing that "the world can't be deprived of a genius like mine," or some such) and might even have decided to keep the treasure for himself (on the grounds that even Scrooge is too primitive-minded to make the very best of his gains).  There was no good way out of this emotional cul-de-sac.  In order to get out of the dilemma of dementalizing Bubba, the whole point of the episode had to be undercut... which means that the point probably shouldn't have been made in the first place.

The ep, of course, piles on its attempted moral (perhaps hoping that repetition will help to ram the point home) with the revelation of the "treasure," the book telling the story of the Thinkas' civilization.  The very existence of this artifact is extremely problematic unless one posits that a proverbial "last Thinka" was able to produce it before perishing, a la the "last Sobram" in the Lost in Space episode "The Flaming Planet."  The Sobram was more than willing to include the tidbit that his was a prideful warrior race whose demise was largely self-inflicted; I have a harder time accepting the notion that any Thinka would be quite so honest about his civilization's inability to combat "the monsters of [its] time."  (If the Thinkas really had become as heartless as the book claims, then wouldn't they have found it easier to lie about their past and make it seem as though their demise was less pathetic than it truly was?  Wouldn't such technologically advanced "hollow beings" have been just as likely to build "weapons of mass destruction" to ruthlessly obliterate their foes as they were to have quailed before them?)  The Ducks' decision to leave the book with the natives is, of course, supposed to "atone" for Scrooge's earlier, Bubba-influenced decision to take the treasure away from the "hopelessly backwards" locals, but it comes across as even more condescending than the original neo-colonialist sin.  How is learning about the Thinkas' fate going to lead to the descendants themselves reacquiring the knowledge and skills needed to plug back into civilization, even in a cursory sense?

I probably should have been on my guard about this ep's failings based on the opening scene, in which Scrooge declares himself incapable of deciphering the Thinkas' map.  I'm referring, of course, to the presence of mathematical symbols (one of which is clearly discernable, at least) in the upper right corner of the document.  Presumably, it is these markings which have Scrooge stumped.  I've learned through harsh experience NEVER to place complete faith in a pop-culture creation in which mathematics is equated with esoteric science -- unless, of course, the creator himself has significant scientific "street cred."

The revelation of Bubba's straight-Z report card isn't as surprising as the later discovery that these marks represent Bubba's first-grade grades.  If I were Julie Blurf, I don't know but what I'd be somewhat insulted by this.  In "Bubbeo and Juliet," Julie certainly didn't seem to be a first-grader; at a guess, I'd have thought that she would be around the Nephews' age and perhaps a little older than Webby.  Yet, there she was, taking art class with Bubba.

I'm not sure whether to classify Gyro's pressure-cooker "thinking cap" as a success or a failure.  I mean, it did its job, didn't it? -- it made Bubba smarter.  There's no indication that a design flaw in the "cap" caused the super-smart Bubba to become an obnoxious know-it-all, and Bubba's later self-adjustments of his cranial capacity -- the ones that caused his head to swell to a positively frightening extent -- weren't sanctioned by Gyro.   It's a shame that DuckTales didn't see fit to reproduce Gyro's "thinking cap" from the comics, but I can understand the DT creative staff wanting to avoid having to explain those birds in Gyro's belfry.

"Let's do the Beak Warp again!"  On second thought, let's not.
The rest of a longish Act One follows the subsequent blossoming of Bubba's intellect (and ego), culminating in his cracking of the Thinka map mystery.  It's unfortunate that the ep didn't make more of this latter achievement.  Hearing Bubba explaining exactly how he deciphered the mathematical symbols on the map would certainly have been more interesting than having him spout and scribble various forms of quantitative nonsense in a lazy effort to convince the audience that, yes, folks, he REALLY IS THAT SMART.  ("Pi squared to the 27th degree," my ass.  I can accept "fifth-grader" Huey not knowing what pi is, but Bubba's line is sheer gibberish.)  It's not just those with a mathematical calling who should feel vaguely insulted here; I was unaware, for one thing, that sectioning a pie chart and drawing a sine curve, among other actions, constituted coming up with great "business ideas."
It goes without saying that HD&L don't exactly cover themselves with glory here, for all of Bubba's gloating egotism goading them into acting like jealous jerks.  The HD&L I know might have taken Bubba's intellectual pretensions as a challenge and tried to match him in brainpower (probably with the help of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook) while demonstrating that one doesn't have to be "all head and no heart."  Instead, they take the easy road and blow him off, even when a failure of his intellect (such as when he has trouble figuring out the ancient computer) might mean their doom.  At least the lads aren't presented as dolts the better to contrast with genius Bubba, that painful inability to solve the puzzle aside.
I'd have to agree with Greg that the inclusion of Launchpad as pilot here would have made the experience more enjoyable.   LP's reactions to the brainy Bubba would surely have been more entertaining than HD&L's, since he is perfectly aware of his own intellectual limitations and has no real problem with them.  Since "Brainstorm" counts as one of the few legitimate adventures (OK, quasi-adventures; we probably don't spend quite enough time in the Thinkas' realm to make that particular cut) of the Bubba-Fenton era, it's a shame that Launchpad couldn't come along for the ride.  Lastly, I fully agree with HD&L; LP would have found some way to fly a plane without wings.  I also think that he would have produced a more interesting crash than the relatively bland one we wound up with here.

While it does have its share of moments to shine, Act Three, the big Thinka payoff, is where this ep really falls down, starting with that first native encounter.  The degenerated locals aren't offensive so much as they are incoherently characterized.  They wear the remnants of the Thinkas' civilization as clothing and jewelry and still know how to operate the laser weapons... right.  The chief can barely speak one minute ("Uhhh... What you doin' here?") and is capable of speaking reasonably coherent sentences the next.  Worst of all, even a "primitive mind" would have realized that the arrival of "someone as smart as the ancient ones" represents a golden opportunity to recover the Thinkas' treasure.  Instead, the natives throw the "trespassing" Ducks into the pyramid... which just happens to be where the treasure is located?!  If you're going to do that, then why not ask the visitors to help find the treasure in the first place?  There are bits and pieces of a clever concept here, but writers Mark Seidenberg and Evelyn Gabai evidently couldn't be bothered to construct a medium in which to set them.

The booby traps set by the Thinkas to protect the treasure vault are reasonably clever, with one hideous, cawing, badly-designed exception.  Since the vault is intact, I presume that no Thinka descendant ever made an effort to dope out the musical tones on the ancient computer that neutralized the self-destruct operation (you'd think that some venturesome soul would have tried it, back when the natives weren't quite as bad off as they are now...), or to outwit the "riddle box."  The really peculiar thing about this sequence is the mere fact that the natives follow the Ducks into the vault after having tossed them there.  What motivated them to do that?  Was it the sound of the earth shaking when the self-destruct countdown was activated?  And, if it were, why should the natives even care that some "trespassers" are crushed?  The setup seems like a convenient way to have the natives on hand for the denouement, but the same effect would have been achieved had the natives stayed outside the vault and the Ducks had come out to give them the book in the end.  At the very least, Greg wouldn't have been driven crazy by the idea that the natives couldn't follow the Ducks when the former reached the three-way "fork in the tunnel."  (In truth, based on the visual evidence, I think it was entirely possible that the natives didn't see the Ducks take the center route.)

The appearance of the cockatrice marks a truly painful visual moment.  The design, the animation, the "voice"... all are simply dreadful.  Even the monster of "Ali Bubba's Cave" was well thought out compared to this.  The effect, of course, is to make what is supposed to be a terrifying foe (presumably, similar to the ones that destroyed the Thinkas in earlier times -- though how the Thinkas managed to train this one to be a guardian is beyond me) seem positively ludicrous.  The wonderful, eerily-lit shot of the Nephews and Tootsie trapped inside the crevice is completely neutralized, as is the restored Bubba's ultimate "clubba-ring" of the hilariously homely beastie.  You also have to wonder what happened to the cockatrice after it was thrown into the midst of the natives and subsequently literally backed out of the scene.  I hardly think that it was the type of creature to graciously retreat and allow the characters to dispense a moral that had already been made more than perfectly clear.

In the end, even one of Frank Welker's most memorable performances can't save this badly-conceived production from itself.  It's not the Spawn-of-Hell, "F*** you, DuckTales" travesty that some have made it out to be -- as I've said before, I'm convinced that this sort of fiery reaction is primarily ideologically driven, and there is a difference between disliking an episode because of poor writing and characterization and disliking an episode because you don't happen to agree with the philosophical point it's trying to make -- but the negative portrayal of intellectualism is certainly annoying enough without ladling left-wing animus on top of it.  For me, the saddest thing about "Brainstorm" is its tacit admission that Bubba, as a character in and of himself, is fatally lacking, and that you need to give the character a complete makeover in order to make him remotely interesting.  This is as good as a confession that the inclusion of Bubba in the DuckTales cast was a mistake.  Bubba will be a decidedly minor player in the series from now on, and I don't think that it's a coincidence.




Bumper #19: "Doughbegon"




(GeoX)  The whole thing resembles some sort of crazed, nationalist rant about intellectuals sapping our National Vigor. And they can't even get that rant right; we're supposed to hold Bubba in contempt for being too cowardly to beat a monster with a club, but wholly unremarked is the fact that, just minutes ago, they would all have been horribly crushed to death if smart-Bubba hadn't been able to correctly answer a series of riddles.

See my point above about HD&L's hypocrisy. 

(GeoX)  As Bubba ineffectually tries to decide which passage to take: "Louie's coin-toss is never wrong, Bubba! We go right!" Yeah! Your √©litist commie faggot book learnin' is no match for our good old-fashioned common-sense salt-of-the-earth, uh, blind luck! Christ, guys…

It isn't even as common-sensical as all that.  Why would you use a two-sided coin to choose which of THREE paths to take? 

(GeoX) Also, note the way it's made quite clear that Bubba isn't just smart-Bubba; he's a completely different person (as explicitly evinced by the way he says "goodbye" and "I'm back!" when changing back to "normal"). We don't even want to suggest that Bubba could even potentially have something of the Evil Intellectual in him. God forbid.

That last bit doesn't bother me so much as the mere fact that the "recovered" Bubba is aware of what has happened to him.  That seems more troubling, in a sense, than smart Bubba's dismissal of his "primitive" past life. 

(GeoX) "How long is a piece of string?" "[It's] Twice the distance from the center to either end!" So the answer is "twice as long as half a piece of string?" And only the genius could figure that out? Ducktales' idea of relative intelligence is kind of terrifying.

Hey, at least that was more imaginative than the nursery-school riddles that made up the remainder of the trap-quelling trilogy. 

(Greg) ...Bubba proclaims that he has ideas to boost [Scrooge's] profits as shown on his notepad. Scrooge loves this and offers [to let him] stay in the mansion as a reward. Okay; I got to admit, they booked this scene right since Scrooge loves Bubba as this because it benefits him. And Bubba seems to have no trouble with Scrooge anymore. It doesn't save the rest of this episode; but this scene doesn't insult me like the rest of it.

Scrooge's characterization in this episode is not without its own share of problems.  One can easily imagine him falling in love with the super-smart, business-savvy Bubba, or even agreeing with Bubba that the natives don't "deserve" to keep the treasure (Scrooge has a knack for justifying such actions to himself without any outside assistance).  But blowing off the "appointment-less" Nephews when they come to the "Think Tank" and want to play with Bubba?  That seems rather harsh.  Needless to say, Scrooge is quick to recover his senses when his family members are in danger, the better to provide a contrast to the dismissive Bubba.

(Greg) Scrooge can smell the treasure; Dewey only smells trouble as the walls pop up surrounding them and they then for some reason push right towards them. I'm not going to point out the obvious logic break here because it is such a waste of my time...CLIMB OUT YOU F***S~!

"Climb out?  Why, I, I wouldn't know where to begin."

(Greg) Yeah; apparently; the ancient thinkers were so smart that they used picture books instead of complex words with no pictures in it. UGH!

Actually, I don't have a problem with this.  The Thinkas might have reasoned that those who came after them would be less advanced than they were, so why not tell the story in a simple a manner as possible?

Next: Episode 85, "Dough Ray Me."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Belated Update

Sorry for the long, long silence.  I got back from the AP Reading in Kansas City last Wednesday, and Nicky and I have since been supervising the complete reconstruction of our kitchen, so things are in a bit of a mess.  In addition to that, my CPAP machine, which I use to combat my sleep apnea, is broken and I can't get a new one until the first week of July at the earliest, so I haven't been getting quality sleep.

I can let loose with the good news that my kidney transplant surgery is now officially scheduled for July 21 at Johns Hopkins.  I was planning on attending another statistics meeting in Arizona the week prior to that but was advised to cancel those plans.  If the surgery goes well, I'll have to lay out a minimum of 6-8 weeks from school, because I'll be taking anti-rejection medication and my immune system will be temporarily compromised.  I may come back to teach the remainder of the Fall semester after that, or Stevenson may ask me to wait until spring, as they did when I had my hematoma last Fall.  The exact plan is unknown as yet.

I should resume regular blogging activities in the next day or two.

Monday, June 9, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 83, "Metal Attraction"

It's taken a bit longer than expected, but we've finally reached the first true "original classic" of DuckTales' second season.  (I use the qualifier "original," of course, because "The Land of Trala La" was an adaptation of a Barks story, albeit one with a whole lot of new elements.)  This opinion is actually a slight upgrade of my initial assessment of the ep.  I liked it just fine the first time around, but it didn't quite knock my socks off in the manner that such future second-season efforts as "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity," "The Big Flub," or "The Golden Goose" did.  With the wisdom of hindsight, I have a much greater appreciation for some of the risks that it took, especially in the area of... shall we say... interpersonal relationships.  It's fair to say that in no other DT ep was sexual tension ever planted so definitively front and center as a dominating influence.  At the same time, the script serves up a healthy portion of satire -- some of it surprisingly sharp, considering that one of Disney's greatest sources of pride and joy is one of the main targets -- and it also offers a textbook example of how to deliver a "character learns a lesson" moral without pulling the character in question completely, or even partially, out of character, or even making the character unlikable (even temporarily so) in order to get the point across.  All in all, a nice comeback episode for Ken Koonce and David Weimers following that recent... unpleasantness... though Alan Burnett (who co-wrote) and Cliff MacGillivray (who got a story credit) probably chipped in a large portion of the goodness, and Susan Blu's uber-caffeinated performance as Robotica is the X-factor that helps lift the production from good to great.

The actual debt that "Metal Attraction" owes to the popular thriller that inspired its title is relatively limited in terms of specifics, and particularly in terms of the emotions we feel regarding the characters.  Unlike the Michael Douglas character in Fatal Attraction, who came to regret (and that's putting it mildly) his brief extramarital fling, we sympathize with Fenton when the hyper-emotional robot maid Robotica sets her sensors on Gizmoduck.  Likewise, Robotica can't really be faulted for anything she does in any of her modes, whereas the Glenn Close character... well, can.  That's not to say that the characters don't bring at least some of their troubles upon themselves.  Fenton, after all, wouldn't have been put in the "Duckyland double-date dilemma" that dominates Act Two had he not been overly attentive to Gandra Dee, prompting his girlfriend to set up the outing to show him how other dating couples act.  As an audience, we are placed in the enviable position of enjoying and laughing at Fenton's subsequent discomfiture without feeling all that guilty about it.

There are a pleasing number of call-backs here, starting with the opening scene in which Gyro is inspired to tackle "domestic engineering."  Bang-bang-bang, Gyro refers to past exploits involving time and space travel and even references a goofy throwaway gag from "Super DuckTales" before confessing to Scrooge that he has "no new frontiers to conquer."  Given Gyro's robotic recidivism (which Scrooge not-so-gleefully comments on once he gets his first look at Robotica), perhaps the inventor has a point.

Mrs. Beakley's sudden desire for domestic help seems to come OUT OF NOWHERE and is the one major aspect of the episode that has a contrived feel to it.  We've seen Mrs. B. overworked before -- for example, when she's obliged to decline a chance to play with Webby in "The Good Muddahs" -- but whence cometh this tipping point?  Was it the arrival of Bubba and Tootsie?  Seems logical to me, especially if Mrs. B.'s current list of duties include "scooper detail."

The "overly mechanical" version of Robotica reminds me a bit of the interpretation of the robot maid Irona (oddly enough, voiced by Joan Gerber!) that was presented in the early-80s Hanna-Barbera Richie Rich show.  In her few seconds of screen time, "Robotirona" even performs a classic Irona routine, lifting up a heavy "something" (in this case, a refrigerator) in order to dust underneath it.  I shouldn't go too far with the analogy, though; Irona always had some personality, even in her most robotic forms, and never scared anyone to the extent that our cranium-spinning cyborg does here.

Gyro fixes the "stiffness issue" by impregnating Robotica with a floppy disk (remember those?) that is presumably encoded with the entire gamut of emotions that will soon be on extravagant display.  Which leads me to wonder: If the insertion of the disk caused Robotica to develop a personality, then couldn't the emotions be neutralized simply by removing said disk?  If Fenton had known about that little detail, then perhaps he could have suckered Robotica into a hug, or something, and returned her to her "factory settings."  Too bad that he wasn't privy to this little programming detail.

The emotionally amped Robotica takes zero time to make an impression... and, if Launchpad had made a similar "impression" when he smashed into the wall of Toupay in "The Duck Who Would Be King," then he would probably have gone right through the wall.  Blu's hysterically hamboned delivery doesn't need any amplification, but, for some reason, it gets some when one of Robotica's verbal riffs is accompanied by a ba-dump-tush sound, as if it were some sort of comedy-club punchline.  We'll hear a similar frisson a little later when the Robotica-entrapped Gizmoduck pleads, "Kids are watching!"  Quite frankly, I don't understand why the embellishments were needed.  What, you writers don't think this stuff was funny in and of itself?  What's next, a laugh track?

Fenton's concurrent investment of poor Gandra Dee with all manner of gifts, both inanimate and otherwise -- well, actually, do those singing chocolates guys count as animate or inanimate? -- marks the first time since "Super DuckTales" that we have seen these two characters interact.  It's immediately clear that, while Fenton may have gained in self-confidence thanks to his Gizmoduck alter ego and a newfound appreciation for his own latent abilities, he still has some ways to go to be completely comfortable "in his own feathers."  Burying Gandra with so many material goods indicates a certain level of insecurity in Fenton regarding his ability to hold Gandra's affections on his own merits -- this, despite Gandra's open admission at the end of "Super DuckTales" that she had always wanted to go out with him anyway.  Gandra's deep reservoir of affection for Fenton is probably the only reason WHY she doesn't take GeoX's advice and hit him with a restraining order.  Despite his annoying behavior in these scenes, Fenton doesn't do anything to make himself seriously unlikable; we recognize his behavior here as a logical extension of his personality as a whole.  As is reflected in his "Have I fallen short?" response to Gandra's recitation of his various efforts, he is simply one of those perpetually-on-the-make types who can't be satisfied with things as they are.  The upcoming "The Big Flub" will spin off the same conceit, with Fenton asking Scrooge to give him more business responsibilities so that he can show what he can do (to himself, as well as to Scrooge).

I don't want to let Gandra completely off the hook here.  Yes, all things considered, she does react to Fenton's smothering with disturbing passivity.  She does, however, have several opportunities to confront Fenton directly about what he is doing -- and she never takes them, instead using such indirect criticisms as "Can't you see?" and "You wouldn't understand," or having Fenton go on the double date in order to enlighten him through experience.  I guess that this makes some sense if you buy into the whole "men and women are from different planets and express things differently" theory, but come on -- if you're that discomfited by my actions, then I would certainly appreciate your telling me so.  Of course, if Gandra hadn't waited until the very end to verbalize her feelings (to Gyro, of all people!), then we wouldn't have had much of an ep.  Still, it bothers me to see Fenton get all of the blame here.

Fenton gets to see "how the better half lives" when Gizmoduck reports to Scrooge for repair duty (huh?  Isn't Gizmo kind of overqualified for such mundane tasks, just as he'll be overqualified for various other jobs in "The Unbreakable Bin"?) and sets Robotica's pistons a-popping.  The innuendo here gets fairly serious, especially in the scene at the Money Bin when Robotica wraps the hapless Gizmo up in her extendable arms and forces him to the ground.  Luckily, Blu's acting is so over-the-top that any arousal that might be occasioned here is dissolved in guffaws.

"Over the top," did you say?

The scene at the "Econo-Lube and Perm Boutique" kicks the weirdness factor of the episode up several additional notches.  The obvious parody of the "Madge" Palmolive ads isn't the half, or even the quarter, of it.  For the dual-entity beautification gag to make any sense in the first place, we have to conclude that "Midge" has had patrons like Robotica before, else why would Robotica have bothered to patronize the place?  Does this mean that there are other robots (of necessity, not all of which could have been created by Gyro) walking around Duckburg as a matter of course?  When did we suddenly enter the hyper-advanced Duckburg of Carl Barks' "Island in the Sky"?

In passing, we learn here that Gandra is a "receptionist" at the bean factory.  This is something of a surprise, actually, given that Gandra's first act in "Super DuckTales" was to come out onto the factory floor, files in hand, and pass along the boss' compliment to Fenton.  That's a task that one would normally expect an employee with more authority to perform.  Of course, we'll eventually learn that Gandra's talents extend well beyond looking pretty and taking phone calls, so perhaps the duties of a "receptionist" at the bean factory are more comprehensive than one would think.  Actually, they would almost have to be.

Duckyland, the site of the double date (or is it a threesome?  It's kind of hard to tell), features parodies of Disneyland sites both mundane (the distant shots of a generic Matterhorn-style mountain and castle) and ingenious (the "Teacup Ride," in which patrons literally get to experience a "Tea Party" from the inside).  The Tunnel of Love -- shaped like a giant box of chocolates with a ribbon tied around it, in case you didn't notice -- was probably thrown in just as much to provide a cordon sanitaire between Duckyland and its real-world namesake (which, famously, does not have that cliched carnival conveyance) as to provide a fitting setting for the breakup/breakdown of the Gizmoduck/Robotica relationship.  Even so, it's hard to miss the sting contained in Fenton's description of the park as "this middle-class marketplace of mirth."  It's one thing to riff on park rides and such, quite another to zap Disneyland's stereotypical clientele.

The obligatory "two places at once" shenanigans are carried off rather well.  Fenton does slip a couple of times -- using his own voice when Gizmoduck orders the drinks, forgetting to remove a Gizmo-arm when he comes to join the ladies on the bench -- but, considering that he never thinks to use his established "popping up out of nowhere" routine to make his life easier, he manages to pull off the charade almost as well as Clark Kent did during the woebegone Superman IV.  Being Fenton, however, he can't keep the plot from eventually coming unstuck, with the offended Gandra charging off in a huff.  Nor can he be completely faulted for trying to "turn off" Robotica's affections by telling her the "other woman" story in the Tunnel of Love.  It's the truth, after all -- at least, when the "aluminum siding" is removed -- and how was he to know that his action would result in Robotica going berserk, complete with that unforgettable Susan Blu screech?

The ep stumbles a bit at the start of Act Three, when the crazed Robotica returns to the Mansion to... er, do some dusting?  Granted, it's agitated and overly emotional dusting, but I would think that she would be fixated on finding Gizmoduck at this point.  Instead, we must wait for a glimpse of the family portrait and Scrooge's overheard phone conversation to see her to go on the warpath once more, this time to find the "other woman."

As some of my readers have noted, the existence of the portrait below does, in fact, suggest that Bubba and Gizmoduck have met at some point, even though they never will do so on screen.  There is something contrived about the idea, however, at least as it is presented here.  Bubba's presence in the portrait, I can understand, but since when has Gizmoduck been considered a member of the McDuck household?  Gizmo may have visited enough times that, in the words of a Nephew in "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity," "the welcome mat has skid marks," but, hey, just because my best friend in childhood came over to play lots of times didn't mean that I considered him to be one of my siblings.

After Fenton's massive marzipan make-good has finally pushed Gandra over the edge -- demurely, of course -- we get some Fatal Attraction-style nastiness as Robotica confronts Gandra with her "treachery."  At least no knives or boiled rabbits were involved (though the rabbit anthros who were on the "Teacup Ride" might beg to differ regarding the latter).  Robotica's attempt to destroy both Gandra and the Money Bin at one blow finally gives Scrooge a tangential reason to care about the outcome, and Fenton, thanks to overhearing Gandra's lament, finally gets the hint that he's been coming on too strong to his lady.  I agree with Greg that this sequence -- in particular, the showdown at the Bin -- whisked by a little bit too quickly to have the impact that it could have had.  A little more threatening of Gandra by Robotica, a more artfully-staged explosion (that missile sure took its sweet time to reach the Bin, didn't it?), and we would really have had something.   

I can certainly see where GeoX is coming from with his comment about the Stepford Wives-esque reprogrammed version of Robotica.  The problem here, I think, stemmed from the fact that Susan Blu, having gone to both extremes in her previous interpretations of the character, apparently couldn't decide  what a "normal" Robotica ought to sound like.  She tried to dial down the emotion while returning some of the "robotic" flavor to the voice, and the end product reflects the uneasy compromise.  Robotica's dialogue itself isn't all that unnatural or off-putting, but the voice makes it seem so.  It's a smudge, but a minor one, on an otherwise top-drawer voicing performance.

If the point weren't already obvious, "Metal Attraction" reinforces, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Fenton's worthiness as a member of the Duck cast.  This is basically his episode -- Scrooge, HD&L, and the rest of the clan play only a minor role -- and he carries off the responsibility without a hitch.  Like Fenton, Koonce and Weimers prove that they, too, can learn a valuable lesson; "Metal Attraction" wears its moral far more lightly than some of the duo's earlier, more heavy-handed efforts to get a "bigger point" across (*cough "Down and Out in Duckburg" *cough*).  The "sitcom era" of DuckTales may have a different feel to it than the first season, but "Attraction" is the first significant indication that the show's somewhat looser approach doesn't mean that storytelling quality will be pitched out the window.  More examples of this will follow... but first, we will be obligated to digest another undeniable stinker.




Bumper #18: "Cashflow"




Fun fact before we begin:  The official release date of Fatal Attraction was Friday, September 18, 1987 -- the first day that syndicated stations across the country broadcast "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  I wonder how many people saw both Fatal Attraction and "Golden Suns" on that same weekend.  There must have been at least a few, given that DuckTales attracted adult viewers from the start.

(GeoX's correspondent "Christopher") I notice that in one of Robotica's hyper-emotional states she's clearly crying visible tears. What do you think they are– axle grease droplets?
(GeoX) Let's hope so--the idea that Gyro would have included actual bodily fluids in her construction inevitably leads to conclusions that are way too gross and disturbing to dwell on.

How about the fact that Robotica offers Gizmoduck lunch and cafe au lait?  Why would a robot be offering another presumed robot actual food?

(Greg) We begin this one with Scrooge's mansion as we zoom in and head inside the basement as Gyro is standing in piles of dollar bills while Scrooge is doing something with a giant ass pot. He fishes out a jar with tongs as Gyro talks about having nothing left to conquer in the invention field. Scrooge puts the money in the jars as Gyro ponders making a machine to help him with his money canning. Yes; he's canning money. And you thought canned heat was absurd.

"Can" it be possible that this was a reference to the Barks cover of UNCLE $CROOGE #15 (September-November 1956)?  Yes, it certainly "can," even though Scrooge is canning coins, rather than bills, in the Barks version.  Unlike the "cash castle" in "Blue Collar Scrooge," the canning conceit carries through to the very end of the episode, as we see several additional scenes in Scrooge's basement cannery. 

(Greg) Then the door bell rings and Robotica goes to answer it; but not before going into an awesome rant that goes on and on before Scrooge blows her off. 

Scrooge's exasperated reactions are just as funny as Robotica's words here.  I'm not trying to be a spoilsport, but this scene was probably the sole reason why Duckworth was not part of the episode, since he usually handles door duties.

(Greg) Then we head to the teacup ride which Wang Films animates all right (proving me wrong again); although when the bunny furries get dunked; it looks awful. I think that's the only time they used bunny rabbit anthros for this show.

I think it was, too.  Could this have been a reference to the notorious "bunny-boiling" scene in Fatal Attraction?

(Greg) Mrs. Beakly is at the closet and Robotica shows her the [family portrait] as evidence looking mighty pissed off. Beakly claims that she barely likes [Gizmoduck] and has nothing to do with him.

Which would seem to preclude Gizmo being included as part of a family portrait, no?  I'm surprised that Robotica didn't press Mrs. B. harder on this.  Of course, by this point, her powers of reasoning have pretty much malfunctioned...

(Greg) Gizmo unties Gandra and Gandra hopes she's less emotional this time around because she smothers Gizmo Duck like Fenton smothers Gandra. Gizmo Duck realizes why she doesn't like Fenton anymore and thinks Fenton has got it since they are best buddies. I cannot argue with that overwhelming logic there Gizmo Duck. Gizmo asks Gandra for one more chance...

I really like the way Hamilton Camp reads these lines.  He makes it sound as though a humbled Fenton "gets it" without slipping out of character as Gizmoduck. 

No new RETROSPECTIVE this coming week, as I'll be in Kansas City for the AP Statistics Reading.  So you'll have to wait a bit before I "favor" you with that deathless classic: Episode 84, "Bubba's Big Brainstorm."