Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"The Alternate Duckiverse" (alt. title: "Is St. Canard In Callisota?")

Darkwing Duck is 25 years old. No news yet about an animated revival of the Disney TV series, but there is an ongoing comic book series published by Joe Books that's available at your (hopefully) better-than-average comic shop currently on it's 4th issue.

Series creator Tad Stones was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter about the milestone and dropped what's been reffered to on social media as a "bombshell": he never really saw Darkwing Duck as a direct spin-off of Ducktales and believed both shows took place in separate universes.

It always seemed like a natural assumption that Ducktales and Darkwing Duck were linked together, first because the latter program featured Launchpad McQuack and Fenton Crackshell/Gizmoduck, two major Ducktales supporting characters who were introduced in said series. A later episode of Darkwing Duck ("In Like Blunt") featured the major Ducktales villains - Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell and the Beagle Boys - in non-speaking cameos. And while Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey & Louie Duck remained offscreen, there was an infamous "Welcome To Duckburg" billboard with Scrooge's face appearing in the episode, "Tiff of The Titans". More-obvious examples of Disney TV shows that likely took place in separate universes, yet featured anthropomorphic talking ducks in the main cast were Bonkers, Quack Pack, The Mighty Ducks and House of Mouse. Those three series depict their lead characters inhabiting worlds that include cartoon humans, yet neither would mix well, unless you add a conceit that one or the other is a fictional series of cartoons being "filmed" within the world of another series, and the protagonists are ret-conned as actors, which is what House of Mouse does.

What supports Stones' logic is that both shows featured stylistic differences that set eachother apart..and I don't mean drawing style. Darkwing was a sendup of genre cliches featuring spies and superheroes. It also featured a lot of broad slapstick and cartoon violence in the vein of Tom & Jerry and the Looney Tunes shorts. Characters were often acutely self-aware and would break the fourth wall, knowing they were in a cartoon. Ducktales was a more conventional adventure-comedy series. Whenever there was any broad slapstick, it stayed firmly in relation to how things would happen in the real world, not cartoon physics. There were exceptions, but Darkwing would often survive a barrage of explosives and heavy metal objects and would shake it off; Scrooge suffered head trauma/amnesia after getting hit on the head with a skateboard in one episode. For Darkwing Duck to get amnesia, it would probably happen with twelve pianos falling on his head. You see what I mean?

The only way to reconcile this revelation with what's already established and all in the past is that a different version Scrooge McDuck and the Ducktales cast of characters exists within Darkwing Duck's..cartoonier universe. That's all. Not knock-offs, just apropos of Darkwing. By the same token, we can assume a different version of Darkwing Duck and his cast of characters exists apropos of the Ducktales universe as well.

And what if they crossover? Which universe does the episode take place in? Well, if it's a self-contained one-shot story, it's set within the context of the respective series. If Darkwing appears in the new Ducktales episodes premiering on DisneyXD in 2017, it'll be within the context established by that series. Same deal if Disney ever thought of a "The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones"-esque TV movie featuring these characters.

And if they really want to run wild...there's the cake gate. It was established in Darkwing Duck that portals/wormholes to parallel universes exist disguised as giant decorative cakes. There could be a cake to the Ducktales universe, a cake for the Super Goof universe, a cake to the Double-O-Duck universe*, a cake to the Carl Barks comic book Durkburg, a cake to the DC Comics universe, a cake to a mashup universe, a cake to the real world and the Disney Parks..and even a cake where Darkwing and Scrooge accompany Sorra instead of Donald and Goofy in Kingdom Hearts..it's a piece of cake.

Happy Anniversary, Darkwing Duck. :)


*Double-O-Duck was the original incarnation/concept for Darkwing Duck in it's early stages of development..I'm actually surprised that the team got as far as creating a press-kit for the character before revamping it into the character/series that we're familiar with today.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

See The Movie..Or Read The Book: "Ghostbusters"

Maybe I should've just seen the lady Ghostbusters movie..I wound up reading 3 books: the junior novelization, the standard novelization..and, perhaps better than either of those - a facsimile of Ghosts From Our Past, the guidebook serving as the catalyst for much of the film's plot.

The only disadvantage to opting out of seeing the film is that I can't say anything about the cast or choices regarding direction, production values and special effects. What I can observe is how earnest the story is. Erin and Abby's friendship is central to everything that happens...but it reminds me of the stuff with the baby in Ghostbusters 2 - actually, it's not as bad, but you can't have a proper screwball comedy romp when you try to add greater meaning to the shenanigans. Erin and Abby's dilemma belongs in a very different comedy, yet I'm aware that without it, this whole thing might resemble a remake of Pixels.

In the junior novel, Erin comes off particularly bipolar - she's looking for any chance to bail one moment, licking radioactive ghost traps the next. The junior novel, I'll bet, resembles the final cut of the film. Nancy Holder, who wrote the adult novel, goes to great lengths to flesh out Erin and Abby's backstory with lots of flashbacks to their salad days as teenagers and college students, eventually chronicling the disintegration of their friendship. That leaves little time for Holder to devote much to fleshing out the best characters: Kevin the receptionist and Jillian Holtzman. Midway into the final 3rd of the novel, she gives Holtzman and Patty Tolan a precious moment to talk about themselves, in a scene reminiscent of a moment between Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson driving across the Brooklyn Bridge in the original film. For the sake of a sequel centering around Holtzman at least, I wish the film was successful enough for the studio to make one.

Other hints of the author taking creative license include an attempt to explain lame gags - the same Chinese food deliveryman, the dangerous radioactive device that gets handed like paperweight, Jennifer Lynch and the Mayor's obsession with keeping up appearances, Erin a popular target for getting slimed/puked on..

Oddly, Holder and Andrew Shaffer - the writer of the Ghosts From Our Past facsimile - invent contradictory accounts of the ghost Erin encountered as a child. Shaffer's account is more farcical and set around Halloween; Holder's account offers background on the old woman ghost and why she would want to haunt Erin. Shaffer and Holder also can't agree on how many hard copies of Ghosts From Our Past were self-published by Erin and Abby before Abby ultimately made it available on Kindle: Holder limits it to two copies, Shaffer implies far more, but never gives an exact number; just enough copies for other characters - debunker Martin Heiss in particular - to discover. These examples of discontinuity are not exclusive to these two; Ozzy Osbourne's cameo has a completely different line of dialogue in the junior novel and in Holder's novel! I prefer "I can't follow THAT!" (junior) to "SHARON!! I'm having another flashback!" (Holder novelization), but in this case, I'll bet the latter is in the final cut.

The guidebook is hilarious...though I wonder why they could make room for John Belushi and Chuthulu, but have no room for likely-to-have-been-seen-and-documented-before Ghostbusters rogues like Slimer, Viggo the Carpathian (whether you like him or not), Gozer the Gozerian, Vince Klortho and Zuul. Why not? This shit had rules? Nerds.

Hands down, the best passage in the guidebook was an Epitaph purportedly from Kevin, still completely at sea, trying to write abouta guidebook he opted out of reading...and trying to see if he can see the movie, instead...

...writing-wise, I think Kevin's my intellectual opposite/counterpart in the fictional world...

At the end of the day, I thought it was all okay...kind-of middle-of-the-road, story-wise. It's a story built on the outline of a plot I've seen before, so the interesting stuff was all the character moments..you could fashion a plot around this team never encountering any ghosts at all and still be entertaining...but that's not Ghostbusters...the appeal of this franchise is the blue collar approach to encountering the paranormal - like bug exterminators! It's a deceptively simple dynamic..but they got it half-right! It could've been much worse..

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mary Jane Watson: What Do WE Know?

If you're regarding the recent reveal that actress Zendaya Coleman had been cast as Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming (or Michelle Jane Watson, but still "M.J." regardless) in terms of fidelity to the source material, then it probably is disappointing that Hollywood is still adverse to gingers..but Zendaya is an actress and glamorous model..and the Mary Jane Watson of the comics is an actress and glamorous model...she's as good a choice (perhaps a better casting choice) than the 2 actresses who preceded her (Kirsten Dunst and Shailene Woodley). And there's another thing to consider:

"Face it tiger, you hit the jackpot!"..is kind of a ridiculously corny thing a woman could say. The only actresses who could get away with saying that line just right - in all sincerity, without a trace of sarcasm or saccharine schmaltz - are Karen Gillan and Ellie Kemper, and they're not teenagers. Megan Fox could do it, because we've seen her play the M.J. all of you detractors think you want to see onscreen...in 4 Michael Bay movies (yes, I'm counting the TMNT movies). And I don't know if Bella Thorne could've delivered that line, either.

Past Spider-Man films tended to downplay M.J.'s personality to match the performance of their Spider-Man/Peter Parker. Dunst's M.J. could be noncommittal and fickle. Leaked dialogue for Woodley's deleted scenes appeared to portray Mary Jane as pragmatic and less of a party girl than the M.J. from Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.'s stories. In other words, she might've been characterized as having more in common with Peter, socially.

There's a superficial take on Mary Jane..and a more complex one. The superficial M.J. is...Megan Fox in a Transformers movie. I'm not going to waste words - if you want to see quintessential M.J. Watson, watch Megan Fox in the first 2 Transformers movies. That's Mary Jane in all but name only...yet lacking complexity.

The complex Mary Jane Watson is the one who became Peter's confidant..and eventually, his wife. She's the one who became the love of his life..first by staying by his side to help him with his grief after Gwen died. We haven't seen that M.J. depicted on film at all...maybe we will see Zendaya bring out that aspect of the character. That would be awesome.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mrs. Columbo..What Do WE Know?

Reruns of Columbo aren't hard to find on television. He really is the American Sherlock Holmes - not a copy or a parody - Columbo has his own style, but like  Sherlock, he can appear unflappably masterful as a detective. This has a lot to do with Peter Falk's performance..it would be a serious mistake if Hollywood executives tried to remake/reboot/revamp Columbo under the assumption that this was simply a recyclable intellectual property...

...but they tried that already. Twice! Even did a gender-bend! I'll get to that in a bit, but the 2nd time they did it was with Matlock. That show enjoys a long life in reruns because it capitalized on Andy Griffith's folksy good 'ol boy persona, but let's not be naive; Ben Matlock is, as a character on paper, Columbo as a lawyer.

  Now, the 1st time NBC (the network that originally broadcasted episodes of Columbo, as well as Matlock...and Perry Mason movies) tried a revamp/reboot/remake was with Mrs. Columbo.

We knew nothing about this woman. Actually, we knew small stuff that Columbo would say about her during his many dialogues with the actors who guest-starred as the murderer in each episode. "Mrs. Columbo" - if she existed (series co-creator William Link liked to tease that this might be a ruse by the Lieutenant as an ice-breaker...her name was never revealed) - would always stay offscreen. Columbo himself could be enigmatic; it's only due to the efforts of a particularly fussy prop wrangler that the i.d. card bundled with Columbo's badge revealed that his first name is "Frank".

Episodes of Mrs. Columbo have been locked away for us to never see. Or maybe I'm being presumptuous. I'm convinced a couple of episodes of the series were offered as "bonus episodes" bundled DVDs of Seasons 3 and 4 of Columbo as a test by Universal Home Video to see if we would want more. I know this because they were on sale for ten bucks each at Best Buy and I was able to witness if we were missing out on a treat...

...we're not missing anything. Our imaginations can do a better job of picturing "Kate Columbo" solving mysteries as an amateur sleuth while raising young daughter Jenny Columbo..and Columbo himself could actually be in it! Behind-the-scenes, Peter Falk refused to appear in the spinoff series, so they compensated by making sure viewers at home see Columbo's battered Peugeot convertible and "Dog" - Columbo's pet dog - would be present. It became a role reversal: every episode would show whodunit, you were watching to see how Kate Columbo would solve howtheydunit. And while she didn't wax on anecdotes about her husband to murderers as a way of talking shop like her spose did, Lt. Columbo would stay offscreen.

As an actress, Kate Mulgrew looks more comfortable playing the captain of a starship in outer space or the den mother in a women's prison..than a housewife who solves mysteries. Maybe in a Cagney & Lacy, "lady cop" role, but then I realized that maybe Tyne Daly could play Mrs. Columbo better...than I recall the original argument against casting an actress in her late-20s to play the wife of a middle-aged man who - for this marriage to have happened - would've likely married her when she was 14...sticky situation. So it's no wonder Mrs. Columbo was eventually revamped into Kate Loves A Mystery, with her name changed to Kate Callahan, with any references to Columbo removed from existence as a ret-con. The show faded away, anyway. Coincidentally, "Kate Callahan" is the name of a detective Jennifer Love Hewitt played in the series Criminal Minds...and she didn't fare well on that series, either. Maybe the name "Kate" is jinxed; Leslie Easterbrook played a cop named "Callahan" in the Police Academy movies, which enjoyed a longer lifespan than anyone expected, so that surname isn't jinxed.

Could Mrs. Columbo have worked at all the way it was? I liked Lili Haydn as Jenny - you could imagine that this girl is the daughter of Peter Falk...the same way you could imagine her as Rodney Dangerfield's daughter in Easy Money. She's okay. I found out that in real life, she was a musical prodigy and is an accomplished violinist. That scene of her in Money playing scales on the violin was no goof; she can play that thing.

The real problem is with Kate. Take out Mulgrew...who would you replace her with? This might not be a whimsical exercise - there might be an executive saying "Hey, we could totally do this! Make it period piece set in the late-70s! We'll cast Victoria Principal or Dana Delany as Mrs. Columbo and air it on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel and watch the money pour in!"...

...OMG..they totally could do that today, couldn't they? Damn fidelity to an old TV series - they could totally do a retro spinoff series fit within the continuity of Columbo...and there would be no need to re-cast Columbo...whoa..

I'm going back to my original safer thought about who would've been better cast as Kate Columbo than Kate Mulgrew..William Link had suggested Maureen Stapleton, but I think the best choice would've been Elaine May. If you don't know who she is, look her up. She actually played Peter Falk's wife in a movie! They collaborated on 3 films together - one in which she directed! I don't feel like I need to work hard to sell this choice..I just wish NBC executives had thought of it...then we would've had a Columbo umbrella franchise that would rival the CSI franchise. Jenny Columbo would've had a Punky Brewster-esque spinoff..."Dog" would've starred in a Saturday Morning cartoon animated by Ruby-Spears or Hanna-Barbera...The Peugeot convertible would've probably become the new Speed Buggy or Herbie the Love Bug...and Peter Falk came back to do Columbo movies in the 80s and 90's, so this could've been a big branding machine of a thing...and they could totally do this now...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pepe Le Pew's Comeback Perfumance

It was announced at San Diego Comic-Con that Warner Brothers was developing a solo film starring Pepe Le Pew. In case you're not into cartoons, Pepe is a cartoon skunk from the Looney Tunes cartoons. A DVD collecting all of his appearances - "Pepe le Pew: Zee Best of Zee Best " - was released on DVD a few years ago.

For the most part, Pepe's cartoons are virtually plotless. They are essentially chases. He has a pronounced French accent and spends every cartoon chasing after a female cat mistaken for a lady skunk. Even though they were directed by Chuck Jones and written by Mike Maltese, they suffer from a lack of originality; there are only occasional flashes of wit that remind you that this character was created by the same director who created Wile E Coyote and The Road Runner. They're nice-looking cartoons, though. The 4th Pepe cartoon, For Scent-imental Reasons, won an Oscar. It also set the formula for every Pepe cartoon that followed. Did Chuck & Mike ever imagine having Pepe pursue a real female skunk? He was married in Odor-able Kitty, even though that's more apocryphal than canonical Pepe (even Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were depicted as having spouses and children in different cartoons; continuity wasn't a big concern, laughs were).

I never thought his pursuit of the black cat with the painted stripe was funny...because that female cat didn't do anything funny. She would just appear frantic and panicky in the presence of a smelly skunk, so she would inspire pity more than laughs. That was the weakest element of the cartoons..and that was all Chuck Jones ever did with him.

The screenwriter of the Pepe movie, Max Landis, is proposing that the character will be modified somewhat. The plot of this film is going to be a comedic crime-caper...I recall the plot of one Pepe cartoon involved a robber painting a stripe on the cat to create havoc inside a bank, clearing a path for him to raid the vault..that's one idea..

I think Warner Brothers realizes they have a character in their stable that could rival DreamWorks Animation's Puss n' Boots. Maybe Jean Dujardin or Jean Reno could do the voice of this new Pepe, rivaling Antonio Banderas' Puss. And of course, Penelope (that's the name given to that lady cat) will be voiced by someone famous..maybe Julie Delpy. I admit casting these respectable French thespians isn't quite as kitsch-catchy as Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, so maybe they'll just see if Christopher Walken is willing to dust off the French accent he used for "The Continental" - his hilariously creepy and debonair Saturday Night Live character. Just a thought...Wow..wowie wow wow!. THAT would be AWESOME! "Champagne-y?"

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Grape Ape?"

DC Comics has a line of comic books reinventing old Hanna-Barbera characters    out in shops right now: Scooby Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland, The Flintstones and Future Quest. The last book is a crossover series featuring the casts of Johnny Quest, The Herculoids, Birdman & The Galaxy Trio, Space Ghost, Frankenstein Jr. & The Impossibles..and is Mightor in there? If he's not, I'm sure he'll turn up. It's not entirely clear if all of these books are ongoing series. Future Quest alone feels like a maxi-series along the lines of Crisis On Infinite Earths.

What all these books have in common is that they ask us to take these cartoon characters a lot more seriously than we ever did before - although Scooby Apocalypse isn't far away from incarnations of Scooby-Doo cartoons where the "ghosts" were portrayed as real and not crooked realtors cosplaying as monsters. The likely inspiration for these makeovers was Archie Comics success with Life With Archie, Afterlife With Archie and the ultimate revamp of the line - with the exception of the digests - with the stock company characters redesigned for a more "realistic" look. None of these books are really for kids, although they'll likely be exposed to it ( the same way I saw parents take their kids to see Deadpool - "Rated 'R'? What's that?").

If this run is a hit, who's next? DC teased The Jetsons would be the next candidate...assuming someone at DC Comics is reading this, can I suggest you do something with The Great Grape Ape?

Why Grape Ape?..I used to believe that the cartoon characters who had become most-indicative of "Hanna-Barbera" - the ones that immediately come to mind among people under the age of 30 - were Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and The Jetsons...and then the subject came up at work and my co-workers replied with "Grape Ape" and "Huckleberry Hound", so I bid that theory adieu.

"Grape Ape? Wow..they don't even show reruns of his cartoon on Boomerang."

"I know, I know...nobody believes it, but I love that character."

"Fair enough, fair enough. I like "Precious Pup" - people aren't even sure who THAT is! But they DO know Grape Ape."

I'm convinced the director of Scooby-Doo and The Monster of Mexico attempted a subliminal revival of Grape Ape by recasting him as a Chupacabra. There could be no other possible explanation for re-imagining a creature often described as vampiric, reptilian preying on goats in Puerto Rico as a burrowing simian preying on tourists in Mexico*. This Chupa was Grape Ape in all but name only.

I'm not saying a Grape Ape comic book should recast him as a Chupacabra..maybe he could be a genetically modified grape rescued by a lab animal (Beagly Beagle) and they go explore the world, on the lam, like The Zeta Project...or Kermit and Fozzie evading Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie...but what could the villain want from Grape Ape?..maybe his bodily fluids make an excellent beverage? A key ingredient in Kopi Luwak is the excrement of a species of jungle cat; perhaps there's some delectable drink that can be mixed from Grape Ape's purple stuff?

Movin' right a-long, Grape Ape-Grape Ape, dugga-dunk, dugga-dunk...Movin' right a-long..

*still a mystery why THAT Scooby-Doo film relocated the Chupacabra "legend", to Mexico..Season 3 of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" had an episode set in Puerto Rico ("Don't Go Near The Fortress of Fear!")...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The "New Look"- Era of "Ducktales" is Coming..

When the original Ducktales premiered on television in 1987, it's appearance was consistent with two other series produced by Walt Disney Television Animation that debuted the previous year: The Wuzzles and Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears.

With this in mind, it makes sense that the revival of Ducktales would look like other DisneyXD fare: the Mickey Mouse shorts, Wonder Over Yonder, Gravity Falls and Star vs. The Forces of Evil. It really does look like a crossover between the shows is not impossible..I can't help wondering what Launchpad McQuack and Darkwing Duck would look like in this "New Look" era...it definitely looks like there's a humorous tone..I'm getting a Venture Brothers meets Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated vibe off this image that was revealed by E!Online.

And of course, early reaction from old-school Ducktales fans resembles Donald Duck's expression at the bottom of that teaser image..."What the doggone blazes is that?..Is Deputy Dawg gonna' show up?"

I'm looking forward to it. :)