Friday, July 20, 2012

Silver Dollars - Ducktales at 25

Ever since Disney was quick to note that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the mega-hit Ducktales TV series, it's still unclear how they plan to celebrate...complete the DVD box sets with a Volume 4? Announce new episodes in production? Have Selena Gomez, Debby Ryan and Brenda Song jump out of a cake in bikinis at Disney World?

I was watching Marilu Henner in an interview, recently. She was promoting Unforgettable, which starred Poppey Montgomery and aired on CBS. It's been cancelled, but it was inspired by Henner's ability to recall her whole life with no gaps - she remembers what happened on any date and time of her life in the past and present.

So.. in honor of Ducktales 25th anniversary, I thought I would try to recall the first week that it aired on television and my reactions/comments. It's all so very potted...

September 1987 - Friday: "The Treasure of The Golden Suns" premieres in prime-time as a 2-hour film. I had no idea. The ad in TV Guide for that week was not specific - it just had an image of Scrooge and Huey, Dewey & Louie hiding in a bush, with some new character (Launchpad McQuack) hovering above in a neat little helicopter offering a rope ladder. A large spear is resting on a palm tree behind Scrooge and the boys - presumably the ducks are fleeing from a jungle ambush (does this remind me of Raiders of The Lost Ark? No, it reminds me of Sport Goofy: Soccermania, a TV special that had aired on NBC months before and featured Scrooge, Huey, Dewey & Louie - I had been watching it over and over in the VCR since then).
Bullet points from that time:
1. Donald's cameo: "Why isn't he in this more? he wasn't in Soccermania, either."), Donald's re-appearance in the third act ("This is great! Maybe he'll be in more episodes."), then the realization that this is really about Scrooge, who used to be Ebenezer Scrooge, but is now Scrooge McDuck. (I had not read the comic books). "Scrooge does a lot of cool things."
2. The Beagle boys are redesigned with individual personalities, but still play the same role as stooge-villains, like they did in Soccermania. I love that chase through the candy factory.
3. New characters: Glomgold ("Looks like an evil uncle of Scrooge's"), Gyro ("Interesting"), Launchpad ("Funny guy, kind of like Indiana Jones. It sounds like they'll announce his arrival when he shows up.") Mrs. Beakley and Webby ("Characters for the girls watching. Mrs. Beakley must know Donald if she can tell the nephews apart. Webby looks like Daisy Duck in Disney Babies."), El Capitain ("He's awesome! He must be coming back again! He's the biggest bad guy here!").
4. The City of Gold (viewed in silence with total awe...there were no cartoons on television at the time offering visuals like that. If you were not interested, you must have been some form of deadwood, really).
5. The announcement at the end that this was the start of a new series airing on weekday afternoons, starting Monday: ( "Mom! I need ten blank videotapes to record this!")

Final Thought: Without next week's TV Guide, I had no idea there would be more. During the weekend I suddenly lost interest in Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers, The Smurfs, Yogi's Treasure Hunt and any other series I had been watching...for a while, anyway. ;)

September 1987 - The Following Monday: "Send In The Clones" airs. Magica DeSpell makes her entrance and is just one more great reason to keep watching - they didn't drop the ball after the premiere, though it seems like it won't all be about lost treasures and stuff. We get to see the nephews room (actually, the design of the attic was cooler - says me in the present-day). We get more of the Beagle Boys. Act 3 is great. My Mom "gets" the Webra Walters/Barbara Walters joke and o.k.'s me putting off homework for a half-hour so I can watch this show - it has proven that it is not childish junk.

Tuesday: "Sphinx For The Memories"
Donald's back as special guest-star. This is really his episode. Since it became clear that Scrooge is the star, then in retrospect I think that if they had Scrooge tag-along with Donald, then things wouldn't seem so disconnected after the crazy pace of yesterday's episode (I'm translating my past-thoughts using my present-day brain).

Wednesday: "Armstrong"
As I had observed earlier, Launchpad appears in this episode with an introduction, as we watch him put out a forest fire. Later, he gets to do some awesome Talespin-ish flying with his biplane, The Joyrider. But the character who owns this episode (aside from a neat bit where Scrooge uses gold nuggets to play Checkers) is Armstrong the robot. The design is very much like Barks, or psuedo-Barks, with the light bulb nose and square jaw. You've got to wonder what set the 'bot off and made him go Dalek Emperor/Cybermen on everybody - perhaps it wasn't the toy robot but the fact that Scrooge was using him as cheap labor. "When do I get my hot cocoa break. you old tightwad? I must take over the world so that I can make time to have my own breaks - ha,ha,ha...ha,ha,ha...mek,mek." And Gyro didn't learn...the GICU2 from SuperDucktales is Armstrong 2.0. Armstrong's antics anticipate Gizmoduck's gizmos and gadgets, so you got to wonder, why didn't they expect him to get out of control, too?

Thursday: "Magica's Shadow War"
There was something of a "13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo"-ring to this one, but I like these characters, better. Magica owns this episode, plus Scrooge gets a good moment when he breaks down the door and wears the moose head. (Years later, I learned that the writers for this episode had originally conceived it as an episode of "The Real Ghostbusters" but then tailored it for Ducktales, instead. It works very well. Does this mean the money bin was supposed to be the GB's firehouse?)

Friday: "Master of The Djinni"
Glomgold's back - Scrooge should really think hard about posing with treasure maps in a photo op. After meeting the Genie and race down the mountain, the pace slows down too much. I don't think it recovers, but Shewebbazad is very cute. It's still worth watching for Act One, anyway.

The Following Monday: "Hotel Strangeduck"
This is more like Monday's episode - fast paced and wild. I'd rank this one very high on the Top 10. Is Ludwig Von Strangeduck related to Ludwig Von Drake? Fredericka Von Strangeduck (along with Webra Walters) continued to pop-up here and there in cameos, or at least their character designs did, even in a few Darkwing Duck episodes.

What an uneven, yet delightful week and a half that was! A wacky witch, a crazy robot, mummies, a haunted hotel, a clone saga, a shadow war, invisible men, hot furry lady ducks..a distillation of things we now use to describe the series to people under 20 who are occupied with the adventures of talking kitchen sponges...and there was more, much more! I hadn't even discovered the comics, yet!


  1. Best line from "Send In The Clones" : "Eat your soup while it's still alive!"

    I was no longer a kid when the series aired, but I had just become a big fan of Carl barks so I was totally freaked out, espeically by seeing Magica so early and with June Foray's Natasha voice. And how cool was it that someone actually still used a Peter Lorre voice for the villain in "Sphinx For The Memories"?

  2. The reference to SpongeBob Squarepants in the last paragraph should have been "the adventures of a talking yellow sea sponge".

  3. Joecab: That was Peter Cullen, best known as the voice of Optimus Prime. He also used the same "Peter Lorre" voice for Bratarat in Filmation's Ghostbusters.
    I had not seen an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle until after Ducktales, so you can imagine the surprise from my end!
    At the time, I recall that I liked seeing Donald again and hoped he would appear in more episodes - he did, sometimes by surprise, but not so much, then not at all after the new characters showed up. Ever since I learned about the Paperinik/Duck Avenger stories, I couldn't help but wonder why they didn't use that in stead of Fenton/Gizmoduck, especially since Romano Scarpa worked on that show, so who knows if they did? But these thoughts came years later. I think I'll send Tad Stones a tweet. :)

    Mario 500: Hey, you got my reference! That means I don't have to correct it. ;) Also, the design is that of a kitchen sponge - real sea sponges don't look like that. :P

  4. Maybe introducing the Duck Avenger concept in new episodes would have changed the show even MORE...In that case, it would make more sense to feature it in Quack Pack, instead. Oh, there's no love for THAT show on the web...try looking, you won't find it.

  5. For those of you new to Ducktales, here's a thumbnail sketch of the episodes featured:

    "Treasure of the Golden Suns" - Donald Duck joins the Navy for real. His Uncle, Scrooge McDuck, becomes the guardian of Donald's nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Together, the four end up on a quest for a lost city of gold.

    "Send in the Clones" - Magica De Spell disguises The Beagle Boys and herself as housekeeper/Nanny Mrs. Beakley and the three nephews in order to sneak into Scrooge's mansion and steal his precious Number One Dime.

    "Sphinx For The Memories" - Donald is on shore leave in Egypt, so Scrooge and the nephews plan to meet him there. There reunion is interrupted when Donald is kidnapped by followers of an ancient Pharaoh, The Garbled One, who believe Donald is the reincarnation of their late king.

    "Armstrong" - Gyro Gearloose's seemingly perfect robot upstages Launchpad at every turn, but it goes out-of-control and tries to take over the world after being handed too many responsibilities by Scrooge.

    "Magica's Shadow War" - Magica goes in over her head when her new scheme to get Scrooge's 1st dime results in her own shadow becoming too powerful, creating an army of shadow creatures.

    "Masters of The Djinni" - Rival tycoon Flintheart Glomgold competes with Scrooge in a race for control over a magic lamp with a genie that has his own ideas.

    "Hotel Strangeduck" - Scrooge converts an old castle that once belonged to an eccentric scientist into an upscale hotel, but weird guests, a ghost and an invisible man create chaos.

  6. CBR,

    An interesting perspective from someone who DIDN'T have exposure to the comics beforehand. Aside from "Soccermania," how much experience DID you have with the Ducks before this?

    Scarpa didn't actually work on the show; he created a brief animated segment involving Scrooge, HD&L, and the Beagle Boys, apparently in an effort to convince WDTVA to let his studio work on the show, but WDTVA stuck with the Far Eastern studios throughout the first season.

    Quite a tidbit regarding the Lofficiers originally intending "Magica's Shadow War" to be a REAL GHOSTBUSTERS ep! I have a copy of the original script and can certainly see that happening. The original script, BTW, was considerably longer and more detailed than what ultimately appeared on screen.

    Chris Barat

  7. Chris:

    I recall "Mickeys Christmas Carol" was my first exposure to Scrooge - which was aired more often (and on the same network that aired Soccermania), as well as Scrooge randomly inserted into merchandise featured the stock company of Disney characters (Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Minnie, Goofy, etc - though he didn't appear in Mickey Mouse Disco, or maybe he did - I don't have the book anymore, just the cassette) but there were childrens room decals with Scrooge thrown in too, so he might have been ingrained in my subconcious, just like the mouse ears and Superman's cape. I certainly didn't regard him as "new". No, not ever.
    As for the comics, I saw an issue of Uncle Scrooge for the first time around late 1988 - that was a Gladstone comic reprinting "Statuesque Spendthrifts". It was a neighborhood grocery store that had a newsstand.
    I did not know that about Scarpa. I've also looked at some of the early episodes, like "Magica's Magic Mirror" and even "Magica's Shadow War" - the "pinched" compact look I attributed to Tony Strobal is there on Scrooge and all the ducks (I had forgotten how Scrooges sideburns were shorter) so it looks a lot like his designs were there all the time.

    I think the website was or smesuch (this was around 1999) - anyway, It was a RGB fansite that had an interview with the Lofficiers. That's where I learned about the script's origins. I'm curious as to what "longer and mre detailed" means, so I guess that's a treat for when you review the episode. Everyone stay tuned!