Welcome to the second installment of our DT25 Retrospective. Before we get started...
"Send in the Clones" was adapted as the second story in this installment of the 1990 DT tie-in books from Mallard...
I'll be writing more about this series of books later on, as they were particularly special to me as a child. Copies of these books are pretty easily found online from various sellers. A good thing, since I think I actually need to replace the above volume in my collection.
Today's episode was also part of another volume...
Both "Clones" and "Sphinx" were also part of the U.S. VHS releases, "Clones" paired with "The Time Teasers" in the volume titled "Masked Marauders" (another interesting pairing)...
...and "Sphinx" paired with "All Ducks on Deck" as part of the Donald-centric volume, "Seafaring Sailors."
Finally, "Send in the Clones" was one of (going by memory here) six (could have been five) episodes adapted for this DT sticker album from Panini (no, Burger, not the sandwich)...
I'm betting Ryan Wynns tried to collect these stickers, and I'm betting Ryan will tell you how aggravating of a prospect that was, especially with limited kiddy funds to compensate.
I feel like I'm missing another tie-in for at least one of these eps. Alas and alack, as alluded to in another posting, I'm 10 hours and thousands of miles away from all my stuff, so covering various DT products will have to wait until I return home in August.
Second, in my last posting, Chris Barat and I had a brief discussion about the production order of each DT episode, since it's obvious to longtime fans that the broadcast order skipped around quite a bit, especially in the early months of the series debut. Chris began his retrospective last Sunday (and continued it today) and has kindly included the closest thing to a correct production order that he has. Check it out and check his retrospective out as well.
According to Chris' list, "Send in the Clones" came in at No. 20, while today's episode, "Sphinx for the Memories," came in around No. 41. I was slightly surprised by this. I would have swapped production numbers for the two eps, since "Clones" seems even more polished and familiar than "Sphinx." Shows what I know...
Speaking of "Sphinx," let's hop on our camels, summon a few ancient spirits, revive a very tired mummy, and plunge headfirst into today's episode.
Basically, Donald gets kidnapped, then his essence gets hijacked by an ancient spell and replaced by a dead Pharaoh. Scrooge and the boys save the day. Yada-yada-yada-yada. They're ready to finalize the draft.
They don't have a title.
What to name a story that's about mummies, Pharaohs, cultists...
After 20 hours of deliberation, one writer, a Bob Hope fan, starts thinking back to the days when he had an easier job digging ditches on Mount Kilimanjaro. Besieged by fatigue and plagued with giddiness, he starts murmuring Hope's theme to himself as fond images of shovels and bulldozers dance through his weary writer's wrinkled noggin...
Hence, the oh-so-bad-it's-good pun that baselines the title for this episode. And yes, I consider that to be a compliment. This has always been one of my favorite DT titles, although in the early years of childhood, I wasn't quite sure what a sphinx was or how to pronounce it. Is the "h" silent and what to do with that "p"?
Anyway, Donald is given shore leave...
"If Walt Disney could see 'DuckTales,' his reaction would eclipse Donald Duck's most violent tantrums," shrieked the Los Angeles Times reviewer.
Aside: The reviewer obviously forgot that Unca Walt made a holy-cow mint off TV fare in the fifties and sixties, so I'm guessing Unca Walt's reaction would be one of pride, not of toddler-tantrum violence.
Incorporating Donald into the show on a cameo basis (by extending the notion of Donald having nautical aspirations) was a solid move, as was showcasing him prominently in the TV-movie premiere as well as the second-run episode. The message seemed to be, "Donald is here if the show needs him." (Along with, "Don't get your bagpipes in a bunch.")
When the second season rolled around, the risk of a cameo Donald had worked so well that his life-support services were no longer needed, as the "other Ducks" had overwhelmingly proven their ability to waddle alone.
DT was so successful that the series demanded original content from 87 until 90, then continued to shovel cash into the Disney coffers as it played out over the ensuing decade in broadcast and cable reruns. This was followed by fairly successful DVD sales in the '00s. I'm fully expecting the show to have a rerun resurgence at some point in the next decade, too.
If Disney allows it.
That "something new," so controversial in the past and the present, building off the "something old," proved the critics wrong and was able to solidify its foothold for decades while establishing an identity away from its source material. After all, we're still talking about DT 25 years later, and Disney is feeling the need to acknowledge this anniversary years after it had forgotten that DT was not exactly locked away in the legendary Disney vault (hence, the removal of the series from YouTube and the availability of the movie for purchase on the same site.)
Yes, all of these points and more were argued here. Chris, Ryan, and series designer Mike Perazza, among others, did a magnificent job of defending the series against the onslaught of all these points.
I honestly have never understood why these folks, purists all, feel so threatened by the series. Especially when both DT and Barks and the comics have all proven their ability to stand on their own webbed feet!
Furthermore, I honestly "don't get" how these folks "don't get" that we're comparing two different mediums, both with strengths and weaknesses. DT never pledged fidelity to Barks. Hell, the creation of Launchpad and Webbigail are enough to earn them a Scarlet Letter for eternity.
So why continue to compare DT to Barks? Because it used a few of his stories as a spinning-off point? So did Scarpa. So did Rosa. So did Van Horn. Each of those comics creators, including Rosa, went off in their own directions, creating original characters, developing their own continuity, etc. In fact, I would argue that there's less Barks and more Koonce and Wiemers in DT than vice versa.
But that's (sigh) another post for another time.
To honestly evaluate DT in a historical context (and I know some hate to do that), we have to evaluate the state of television animation at the time, the long-term effect DT had on its artistic medium (television), and its overarching legacy as a result.
Why this is so hard to "get" is beyond me, especially when volumes have been written about Barks, most of which strive to put him in a historical context. Providing context is one way in which you show respect to an artistic endeavor.
Fans seem to be divided on whether this is episode is "Barksian" or not. (Yes, I know. I thought we were through with this after my ponderings. We're not. This will, unfortunately, be a recurring theme as we progress.)
Some have contended that Barks wouldn't center a story around Donald's voice. And I agree. But I also would argue that Barks didn't have to because he was writing comic books in which Donald's voice didn't matter. (The argument could also be made that Barks did write or contribute to many stories centering around Donald's voice when he was a head story guy on the old Disney cartoons.)
Unlike Barks or other comics creators, the animation writers had to contend with a more Barksian Donald who still had the Clarence Nash voice (now performed by Tony Anselmo) from the old cartoons.
This Barksian Donald is still difficult (at times) to understand, something for which DT compensates with self-deprecating (perhaps read: "easy") jokes. In places, I had to turn on the DVD subtitles to fully comprehend what Donald was saying. I'm ashamed to admit that, for I have long prided myself on being a Dedicated Donald Decipherer.
Ah, well. You can take that Jr. Woodchucks Merit Badge from me.
Although some would disagree, I think writer Michael Keyes found a comfortable middle ground between seven-minute Donald and 10-page Donald.
The very construct of the script plays to Donald's Everyman desires. Donald went off to the Navy, yearning to be more than a small-town dud. Yet, in the Navy, he's just as stifled by the authoritarian figures around him as he was in Duckburg.
Arriving in Garbabel, he's enticed and seduced with the opportunity to be "more." Being possessed with the spirit of the Garbled One doesn't supplant the true Donald, since he yearns for all that the Garbled One can give him--power, adulation, respect. Being possessed plays to the true Donald's dreams of being special, superior, and marked with success like those around him. He is the Garbled One in (ahem) spirit.
Having the Garbled One's essence also plays into Donald's weakness for the seven deadly vices. He can't be trusted with success or superiority because his natural reaction to newfound power and responsibility is usually abuse.
"Being in charge isn't half-bad. In fact, it's not bad at all. Well, what do I do first? Make a speech to my subjects?"
Giving Donald the Garbled One's essence is effective because Donald longs to be effective, to wield the same kind of power that Admiral Grimitz lords over him.
At the end of the episode, as in the Barks stories, once all illusions/delusions of grandeur are removed (yet again), Donald is returned to his original stature in life, swabbing the deck and thoroughly underappreciated. This leads him to conclude, in a moment that merges a characteristic seven-minute Donald catchphrase with the 10-page Donald...
"A sailor's life. Aw, phooey!"
Originally, I would have been inclined to basically quote Chris and Joe's review from their DT Index verbatim. But I dunno...
...I really like this episode. It's not one of the series' Top Ten, and it's not Donald's best appearance on the series (we have two coming up that will compete for the claim to that title). It's fine as it is, though. Very entertaining and exciting.
Like "Clones," this episode keeps the plot moving, so in true 24 fashion, leaps of logic and plot holes are glossed over in favor of momentum. Like "Clones," barely a moment is wasted.
This clever manipulation of varying angles in character close-ups is used effectively throughout the episode.
Second, to establish the vastness of the desert and the isolation of Garbabel, Block makes efficient use of a variety of establishing shots, sometimes overhead, sometimes long and wide. It communicates to the viewer that we are in a city that exists in the modern world, yet is isolated from it.
As for the script, there are places in the story where the plotting could have used a bit of an imaginative right hook, where Keyes could have stretched himself a little bit farther, maybe have dug into some ancient Egyptian lore and incorporated those elements a la Barks, but that seems almost nitpicky, since there's a great deal of good here.
And whatever (slightly) by-the-numbers elements may plague the script, it is wholly redeemed by the possession/exorcism plot and the wholly unexpected and original (and quite touching) twist at the end. Therefore, the plot is intriguing enough to keep you hooked, even when some of the intricacies seem a tad cliched.
However, one episode element that occurred within the last few seconds of the show struck me this time around more than it did on any other viewing.
Scrooge then predicts, Ah well, with hard work and you as their leader, I'm confident that the people of Garbabel will find the outside world most rewarding.
Hard work and strong leadership, not to mention the bond of family, will always win out over magic and superstition. Furthermore, hard work and strong leadership open you up to a rewarding life, whereas magic and superstition isolate you and turn you into sheep (for the slaughter).
This is a recurring theme throughout DT, and it's very Barksian in nature, where even the luck of Gladstone Gander is looked upon suspiciously. It was this theme of hard work and strong leadership, in fact, that enabled me to convince my well-intentioned parents that Magica de Spell wasn't Disney's subtle way of trying to indoctrinate me into Satanism. (I'm exaggerating, but this, too, will have to be another post for another time.)
I don't want to dig too deeply here, but it's almost as if this episode is communicating an underlying distrust of the most fundamentalist religions. There is certainly much about Garbabel that parallels the worst of the modern faiths. This speculation is, like any speculation, not conclusive, of course, but basically Scrooge is telling the High Priestess to flee this life and join the modern world. It's better, more rewarding, and doesn't enslave you like a ritualistic system of faith does.
It should be noted that the message of hard work and strong leadership is almost undermined by the concluding scene where the Boys wonder how much trouble Donald will get in with the Admiral for being late returning from shore leave. Scrooge responds by saying that good leaders, ones with authority, tend to be understanding.
Admiral Grimitz is anything but understanding, especially when it comes to Donald the Everyman, whose spirit is just as trapped as it ever was, only this time, in uniform.