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Ducktales, revisited

August 17, 2009
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By Nat

ducktalesjp3Morning, gang! The last part of the Meta-daptations is coming, but right now I want to delve into some old-school (or, rather, ’80s pop culture). Backstory: A few months ago, I found a bunch of Ducktales episodes online. I live-Tweeted it, and then wrote an assessment of the series. Even if you don’t watch the episodes (–and get ‘em while they’re hot, folks. Or, better yet, get the DVDs) , this should be pretty comprehensible. Ready? Let’s do this thing.

Curse of Castle McDuck

0:15: The more adorable the animal, the more delicious

1:20: Based on Hound of the Whiskervilles, which was based on Hound of the Baskervilles, which was based on Richard Cabell.

5:37: effin druids

Is it true that druids only come out at night? One of the tech guys at work is a druid, and I see him during the day…

Scrooge’s great-great grandfather looks like Glomgold

Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s use of logical deduction never fails to amaze–like in Castle Strangeduck they realize that a real ghost wouldn’t need to open doors.

Back to the Klondike

0:45: Valentine’s Day is a waste of time and postage stamps.

Did you know that all these stories were supposed to have taken place during the 1950s?

Glittering Goldie: Mae West as a duck?

In the comic, Scrooge forcibly abduckts (heh) Goldie

Scrooge as a hermit=Jerry Garcia as a duck

9:30: So Dangerous Dan and his lackeys just hide behind rocks all day?

13:00: Dangerous Dan’s a douche.

Dime Enough for Luck

1:20: Gladstone sounds like Dominic Armato , who was Guybrush Threepwood in Curse of Monkey Island, and one of his crew was voiced by Alan Young who was…wait for it…wait for it…Uncle $crooge! …or he sounds like Luke Wilson.

2:05: Who wouldn’t take the car splash over walking into an open sewer and finding a dollar bill?

3:00: How would a silver dollar get through the coffee-pot spout?

3:30: Is Magica voiced by Natasha ? Uhhh June Foray …(who, at 91, is still kicking–you go, June Foray!) Yes she is!

5:00: Good inflation joke. Because that’s more or less what it is.

5:39: You could bypass all the traps by entering through the window in Scrooge’s office.

7:00: One thing this series really had going for it was production values. Okay, the scripts had some flashes of brilliance but were mostly flat, and Webby was just awful–but they put up the cash to animate Huey, Dewey, and Louie–essentially one character but spread out into three, and they didn’t cheat by recycling drawings. There’s also a lot of costume changes in the show, and it’s not wanting for characters, either, and I’m about seven minutes into the episode and there’s already been about 30 backgrounds. The sunset where Gladstone’s walking back to his house is gorgeous…and they’d never use it again.

7:29: Magica’s outfit is priceless. Looks like the opening of Toejam and Earl .

9:00: Ducks with cleavage is creepy.

11:00: Scrooge’s office is now at sunset. It’s like they’re flaunting the quality.

17:00: Lord of the Rings reference? Weird.

21:00: Really good episode–they even got the dichotomy between Gladstone trusting his luck and Scrooge relying on hard work.

Don’t Give Up The Ship

4:47: Introduced to Duckworth–another thing this series had was personalities for each character.

4:50: Wow, tipping with cheese; anyone surprised at a callback joke in an animated series from the ’80s?

5:00: Forgot about Admiral Grimmet. Unbearably hilarious.

8:30: Beagle Boys! In the comics you can’t tell them apart, but in the series you can, in fact each one has a distinct personality–more proof of the high production values.

8:40: Okay, Burger Beagle is Curly; Admiral Grimmet is John Wayne; the Countess from Hotel Strangeduck is Zsa-Zsa Gabor; Gandra Dee is Sandra Dee, sort of; what other impersonations are there?

9:30:”The Junior Woodchucks are so committed to earning merit badges that they can’t get into trouble.”

Wrongway in Ronguay

0:00: Really? That’s the name?

5:10: Oh, I get it. Clever.

19:00: Gold sail?

Cold Ducks

10:00: The point about colors is a disturbingly good observation. This show just continues to impress.

12:45: Webby naked…ewww…

13:00: Beak job, another good joke.

They set up the tuning fork (and didn’t overuse it), walruses eating penguins, the giant walrus (a bit haphazardly), and the colors. This episode is a textbook case in planting and payoff.

What happened to El Capitan?

You can tell Ducktales was ahead of its time because the third episode references a movie where you see Faye Dunaway full frontal.

Too Much of a Gold Thing

0:03: Oh, there he is.

6:37: Looney Toons reference in the last episode, and now Indiana Jones. Clever, clever, clever.

7:00: Scrooge with gold fever doesn’t seem much different from regular Scrooge.

13:26: Apparently sheer will can keep you alive for 400 years.

18:05: There’s a lot of airplane escapes in this show.

Double-O-Duck

1:54: Another plane escape. Does this happen in every episode?

2:55: The people getting off the subway is laugh-out-loud funny.

3:04: “He looks more like Bruno than you-know-who-know.” Three minutes in and this episode has already delivered three really good jokes.

13:34: The animaiton on this one is more cartoony–and funny, especially the fight with Feathers Galore.

13:40: Yet another failing of paper currency.

17:00: The pocket comb joke was good, the toupee scene is terrific. Is this the best DuckTales episode? It also inspired Darkwing Duck.

19:00: The bad guy dies. Dies. In a kids’ show. So you have sex, violence, really good jokes (hair trigger: Ha!), and a, yes, movingCasablanca nod. And it’s all Launchpad’s episode.

Double-O-Duck apparently inspired Darkwing Duck. And I’m not ashamed to say Darkwing was the better series.¬†Toupee (which Connery only wore for the Bond films–and, dude, that’s a *pardon* fucking obscure reference–no kid, no goddamn adult would get that, but they kept it in goddamn anyway); dominant female (flippin’ that, Larry); and the opening?–everything I ever wanted from an airport: jazz, cocktail lounges, screwing with luggage, and chillin’ outside the plane. And jumps from the plane, gotta have that one, too, and then they go from high up to down below. Is Gyro’s only purpose exposition? This is the best film criticism I’ve ever seen. And the direction is spot-on-ly frenetic. On speed.?

Duckworth’s Revolt

Lost my posts on this, but the two things that stand out are 1) the theme slavery versus voluntary service and 2) the bad guys are vegetables.

1) All throughout the episode, other characters refer to Duckworth as a slave while he repeatedly insists that he works for Scrooge because he chooses to. That’s an interesting theme, but it doesn’t really go anywhere save for Duckworth’s speech on freedom, which seems a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary.

2) I wondered Why vegetables? And then realized it’s so you can tell them apart from the other aliens, who range from animals to minerals. Plus, veggies are static.

Sweet Duck of Youth

Standard adventure episode, but still enjoyable. Nothing really stands out, though you wonder why a conquistador would write in English.

The Status Seekers

Haven’t read the Barks short story, but this one falls flat. Snootiness is not especially funny, and the upper-class Beagle Boys are a disappointment. Plus the jellyfish making it first with Scrooge’s submarine then with the Beagle Boys’ sailboat is just creepy. And, as usual, there’s not much for Ms. Beakley to do, so they just make her save the day with peanut butter.

Random Observations

It’s uplifting to see how well this series stands up, especially against all the other cartoons I watched in the ’80s. Smurfs was bad; Pound Puppies was bad; Thundercats was bad; and rewatching He-Man makes you question any sense of taste and decency you ever had.

DuckTales, once you get past the wretchedness of Webby and skip all the episodes featuring Bubba, just gets better and better. Especially when you stack it against pretty much every other cartoon from the ’80s (with the notable exception of Bakshi/John K.’s Mighty Mouse, and yes, I’m including The Simpsons in that–the Tracy Ullman shorts were pretty bad, as was the one episode broadcast in the ’80s, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire).

You wonder what made it stand out, and, if you’re like me, when you wonder something, you head over to Wikipedia to find out:

The show was the most successful of Disney’s early attempts to create high-quality animation for a TV animated series (earlier shows included The Wuzzles and Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears in 1985).

Disney invested a far greater amount of money into the TV series than had previously been spent on animated shows of the time. This was considered a risky move, because animated TV series were generally considered low-budget investments for most of the history of TV cartoons up through the 1980s.

So DuckTales had the funding, but (as is one of the show’s most runningest of themes) money isn’t everything; you could have three-cubic-acres of cash at your disposal and still produce a sucky cartoon.

Fortunately that wasn’t the case, and it takes a only few episodes to see that the money went straight into the production values. In the first season alone there’s got to be 30+ backgrounds per episode. Each one is individually detailed and painted, and yet it would be used for one shot and that’s it. When the animators lifted the Beagle Boys from the comics, they had a free pass to use one character design for the whole gang; instead, they riffed on the standard Beagle Boy and came up with three distinct characters–each with his own equally distinct personality.

They also went back to Barks, and while, yeah, you can fault them for dumbing down his stories, more important is that they remained true to his characters–Magica DeSpell, Flintheart Glomgold, Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose, even Glittering Goldie are all the same ducks they were in the comics, and the series benefitted immensely from the decision to keep them that way. And, despite a few black marks, the new characters are remarkably well constructed–Duckworth, Fenton Crackshell/Gizmoduck, Mrs. Crackshell, the revamped Beagle Boys, Admiral Grimmet–and soaring (then crashing) above them all is Launchpad, who’s not only one of the few comic relief characters in the history of literature and television that’s actually funny, but who shines in arguably the best episode of the whole series, Double-O-Duck.

In all, I think the success behind DuckTales is that it just did so much more than it needed to (and if you needed another example of its quality, just play the NES game –widely regarded as a classic of the console, and, for God’s sake, to this day bands cover its music. Unlike other ’80s cartoons, it didn’t skimp on the art or constantly recycle backgrounds and character animations. The cast was large and varied, with the sorts of personalities usually reserved for a good sitcom. The music was terrific, too–I mean, who among you can’t sing the theme song?

I’m not saying it’s high art, but it’s a bright spot in 1980s pop culture, which means it’s among a handful of things from that era you’re not ashamed to admit liking.

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