Monday, July 16, 2012

Dwelling on DuckTales #4: DT25, "Sphinx for the Memories" (Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1987)


Welcome to the second installment of our DT25 Retrospective. Before we get started...

Some Binkeeping

Okay, I forgot a thing or two from our inaugural edition. First, "Send in the Clones" had a few product tie-ins back in the eighties and nineties. Yes, it was that good of an ep.

"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...


In both cases, I find the other stories with which they were paired to be interesting choices. 

Beyond these initial observations, I won't say much about the above books now, but I always loved the fact that Scrooge's whiskers were rendered gray. A nice touch, I thought.


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.

******

What's in a Title?

Imagine a writer's room. The DuckTales writer's room, to be specific. If they had such a thing. They've got a script in front of them. It's good. Not their best, but still adequate, of pretty good quality. Better than most of the other cartoon crap on TV at the time. The story is set in Egypt, a very Barksian setting. 






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.

But.

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...


Whoops! Wrong one! Sorry! Here you go...


Egypt. Desert. Pyramids. Sphinxes. Bob. Hope. Thanks for the...memories. Egypt. Pyramids. Thanks. Memories. Sphinx.

"Aha!!" the writer exclaims. "'Sphinx for the Memories.' By Walt's frozen corpse, that's what we'll call this ep."

As he looks around the room, he sees that no one is high-fouring him or patting him on the back, for they're all asleep. So, he scrawls "Sphinx for the Memories" on their scripts, then books it for home.

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"?

From a writer's perspective, coming up with a nifty title that will instantly divide your audience in half will automatically guarantee your episode memorability, so it's handy to have. But is the episode itself memorable?

******
The Spirit of '43 B.C. 


After last episode's exhausting clone war (heh-heh), Scrooge and the Nephews head off for Egypt to meet up with Donald, who has just been released by Admiral Grimitz, one of my favorite minor characters from the series, for shore leave...

Although we're not feted with any speeches about making things go "Kablooey!" as we will be in future episodes (Grimitz was obviously a Rumsfeld protege), Grimitz gives us a sense of what life for Donald must be like in the Navy--miserable. As in the old Disney cartoons and the Barks stories, Donald leads a put-upon existence. He's hardly the Naval hero he longs to be (something we will see in a future episode); he's the deck swabber, always saluting, never being saluted. 

I could write reams and reams on my love for Donald (and at times, personal identification with him), the Charlie Brown of Disney characters, but that will have to be (say it with me) another post for another time.

Anyway, Donald is given shore leave...



DuckTales was obviously produced at a time when the United States had only seven colonies and no states. ;-)

In the Bu-gazzi Market, Donald plans on meeting up with Scrooge and the Boys, but gets sidetracked in a doo-dads store, trying on various Egyptian-style hats, including this one...


...and this one...


Two shadowy gents immeidately recognize "Those eyes! That beak!"...


...as "the one we've been searching for."


The Garbled One, reborn! For generations, our people have waited. 

They plan to take him to their palace on the jiffy, but...

...so they follow Donald to an alleyway, where they confront him with a bow...


Thinking they want to give him a tour, Donald refuses and butts through (quite literally), hollering for Scrooge and the Boys...


...but the men proceed to grab him and force him into a basket...



...causing Donald to lose his sailor's hat and camera...


...just as Scrooge and the boys arrive on the scene...


The men start to flee, Donald in roll...


They escape into the vast, unfriendly Egyptian desert, bound for Who-Knows-Where... 


Scrooge cuts a half-priced deal with a "tour guide" who just happens to be there...



...and who happens to also be a member of the Cult of the Garbled One (and no doubt, the aider and abetter of  the shadowy men's getaway)...

We are now taken to the ancient city of Garbabel (or Garbabbel, if the furtively done Closed Captioning on the DVDs is to be believed)...

...home of the Garbled One cult... 

Be patient, citizens of Garbabel. Someday...the Garbled One will be returned to earthly form. 

But not if Sarkus, the High Priest of Garbabel (a pig; like the Redshirts in Star Trek, if it's a pig in a Duck story, you know they're a villain, a politician, or both)...

Miracle of miracles, though, who should appear, riding in a basket, but...



...Donald, the 20th-century stand-in for the Garbled One... (He certainly sounds garbled, the High Priestess at one point remarks.) 

The people buy Donald as their long-awaited savior, hook, line, and prophecy...

 ...and speedily give him the No. 1 pleasure that any male god could want...


...women.  

(What of Daisy, you ask? Remember, he's in the Navy. A girl in every port, a gal in every pyramid. I do wonder if he calls every girl  he meets "toots.")


Meanwhile, Scrooge, the Boys, and their guide have stopped for a rest. The Boys are mourning the loss of their Unca Donald. "He wore a sailor hat even before he joined the Navy." 


In the midst of their mourning, the guide offers to take their picture in front of the beakless ruins...

This would have made a great family shot...


...but...




Sometimes, the screen grabs just say it all. 

Say what? 

Say "goat cheese," effendis!



I knew half price was too good to be true! I want my money back! 

Trapped beneath the ruins, the first death trap nears Scrooge and the Boys...



How to escape? The answer is, of course, found in the Jr. Woodchuck's Guidebook, cleverly and conveniently concealed beneath Dewey's shirt...


Pressing a belly button on one of the wall hieroglyphics does the trick, and... 



However, in the world of Disney Ducks, that kind of an escape would be just too lucky, plus it would leave at least an entire segment to fill...


For you see, in addition to mummies and pyramids, the Egyptians were also obsessed (apparently)...


...with mazes...


Back in Garbabel, Sarkus' plot to remove Donald and maintain his control (something he has done many times before) is a-cookin'... 



...in the form of a repeatedly revived mummy. (One must wonder how many Garbled One lookalikes are in the Duck world.)

Just for the record, according to the DVD subtitles, the spell Sarkus recites is, "Toe-fu, Ach-mud, Abu-abu, Mon-due, Kan-ee, La-bu, La-bu!" 

Magica should try that one on her brother. Next time you go through a drive-thru, you should try that one on the garbled voice that emits from the speaker and see if it gets you better service...



...or a Starbucks Mummy.

This mummy, named Ka-hoo-fu, is revived and makes his first assault on Donald...







Don't worry, kids. Donald lives to sleep another day away. Scrooge and the Boys, on the other hand, emerge from the ruins to find...


...they are trapped in a cold and lonely desert...


Dewey, however, finds that their half-priced guide's half-priced camel tracks are following Donald's captors' camel tracks...


In Garbabel, Donald is sitting on the throne pampered and prepared for his midnight possession...


...until he remembers that his shore leave is over...

His departure, though, is strictly forbidden. He is trapped...


...and just as Scrooge and the Boys arrive on the scene and deduce what it is the Garbabelians could want with Unca Donald... 



...he is possessed and reincarnated as...







...the Garbled One, as indicated by that headdress-matching beak extension he is suddenly given. His first command to his subjects? Cease all the bowing, stand at attention, say "Aye, aye, sir!," and salute...




During the possession, Scrooge and the Boys are discovered by their half-priced guide...


...and Sarkus recommends they be fed to the jackals. 


Don Garbled has other plans, though, and gives their deathclaration....

Tie them down in the desert heat... 


...and let the vultures pick their bones! 


Always proving his mettle (and why he has so much metal), Scrooge gets a guts-saving brainstorm and questions Don Garbled as to why he doesn't have his own pyramid...


...Don Garbled wonders the same thing and orders Scrooge and the Boys to build him one...


...a project that Dewey estimates will take 28,611 years to finish...

That night, in their cell, Scrooge and the Boys decide to take advantage of the Garbabelians' superstition of mummies by constructing a half-priced mummy of their own... 





It works, until they meet the real bandages...





After losing Scrooge and the Boys, Ka-hoo-fu makes another assault on Donald...




But it seems that, like vampires, mummies are afraid of fire, too...


...especially when it inflames one of their Band-Aids...





As the mummy flees, Scrooge realizes that there must be enough of Donald left within his body that he can be exorcised and rescued, if they can get him back on the throne at midnight...



Which they do, until Ka-hoo-fu makes a final assault. At that moment, however, a rather nice (and touching) twist in the tale occurs and...



...and it is revealed that Ka-hoo-fu and the Garbled One, whose spirits have both been trapped in that awkward zone between life and death, are "cursed to an eternity of unrest"...



Freeing his friend...



...Ka-hoo-fu and the Garbled One depart Garbabel, presumably for the Spirit World...



Sarkus is imprisoned and the people are now freed from centuries of bondage to old superstitions...


Donald returns to his carrier and his old station in life, where Admiral Grimitz informs him that his excuse is the weakest, dumbest, most ridiculous story he's ever heard and orders him to swab the deck.

And he means the entire deck!






A sailor's life! Aw, phooey!

******

Don Garbled

Although he appeared in Parts One and Three of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," this is Donald's first appearance in DT's daily syndicated run. After introducing a slew of new characters on Monday's "Clones," it's interesting that the producers opted to pull for their second episode one that was more tried-and-traditional than other DT stories. 

First, we have a classic Disney character, Donald, as the focus of the adventure, virtually unchanged in distinctive characteristics from his traditional portrayals. Second, we have the Barks' Fab Five--Scrooge, Donald, and the Boys--in a semi-Barksian adventure that is set in a purely Barksian locale. 

There was great wisdom in choosing this order. It's almost as if Disney was trying to reassure the Barks and Disney purists (two separate groups, in most cases) among the audience (at least those who hadn't already tuned out) that after Monday's game-changing, canon-bending menagerie, the series would still be evoking classic Barks and classic Disney. It's almost as if Disney anticipated the early critical reaction that would meet its series from professionals and long-term fans alike.

"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.

If I may be permitted...

...A Moment of Ponder...

So often, entertainment companies find the public demanding "something new." Yet when entertainment companies attempt something new, they discover that the public really wants "something new that is old."

Naturally, DT didn't please everyone. Oh, the snobbery that eeked out of Gladstone Series I's letter columns toward DT was often so hoity in its toity that a fan could feel lower-class for even flipping past the series. DT did, however, retain enough of the (more open-minded) classic fans to sustain the series until the new-generation fans (the DuckTales generation, if you will) found it and attached their future nostalgia to DT. 

It was a tightrope act, and Disney maneuvered it magnificently. In fact, everything they did right with DT, they would later do wrong with Quack Pack.

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.)

This flies against those purists who, even this past week on the Disney Comics Forum, were trying to argue that DT didn't have any sustainability, didn't achieve its goals as a series, was no better than seventies-era Whitman Disney comics, and ended up ruining Disney comics in America for good.

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.

If Disney should be faulted for anything, it's for not continuing production on the series beyond the initial 100. Going beyond 65 episodes was unusual back then, although going beyond 52 is unusual today, so we should be grateful. However, if DT was enough of a ratings powerhouse to make money well over a decade after the last original episode aired, imagine how long production could have continued on original episodes!

Whew!!

That was a longer moment of pondering than I intended...

(Pondering Ceases)


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!"


Der Pharaoh's Fate



It's interesting to return to an episode after so many years and find that my opinion has softened over time. This was never my favorite DT episode, and it still isn't. But it's not even close to being my least favorite.


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. 

While not as free-form as the direction by Alan Zaslove in "Clones," the direction by David Block is true to his last name. He's very good at "block"ing scenes. Block rarely settles for the expected angles, choosing to use various close-ups and overhead shots to establish personalities and atmosphere. Two examples of his skilled direction shine forth. The first is seen within the opening and closing scenes where Donald is subject to Admiral Grimitz, both in size and perspective. Especially in the opening scenes, Grimitz's authoritative presence is emphasized with burgeoning clarity by a variety of increasingly sharper-edged close-ups, until the screen can barely contain his grimaced command. Each close-up has a different stance that hovers over Donald.

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. 

For 22 minutes, a lot is accomplished without feeling rushed. Keyes and Block should be credited with their economic use of time. Plus, Donald is given a good introduction to the series, and he's allowed to shine as more than the Duck with a garbled voice. 

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.

The Pyramid of (Gar)babel

Those of you raised on Sunday School retellings of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9 probably know the story by heart. The Earth spoke one language and was becoming technologically advanced rather rapidly. They decided to use this technology to build a tower that would enable them to reach God, and in one of those eyebrow-raising, head-scratching twists that occurs many times when reading about the O.T. God, He sees this making of a name for themselves as an act of pride and fears what could become of it, even though their very mission (building a tower to reach God), an impossible one, would end in humiliation all on its own. Nevertheless, God confuses the languages and scatters the people.

In Scripture, this story is told rather succinctly and sparingly, and as with most Scripture, there is more going on between the verses than in the verses. 

So it could be said of this DT episode, where one of the final scenes seems to hint that Keyes was going for something deeper in "Sphinx" than the average viewer might perceive.

For centuries our people have relied on magic and superstition, the High Priestess says in the episode's wrap-up. It has made us sheep, living in the past of our ancestors. 

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. 

I don't think it's an accident that the city in our story was named Garbabel. In many ways, Scrooge, with that statement alone, and Donald, by acting as the receptacle that frees the spirits of Ka-hoo-fu (possibly a spin on Khufu, an ancient Egyptian king) and the Garbled One, have helped to deconfuse their language and scatter them into the real world. 

It's not a very long scene (not even 30 seconds), but it shows an overriding sense of skepticism toward religion, especially religion of an occult nature. This skepticism toward forces that control you rather than you controlling your own destiny is found repeatedly throughout the series and repeatedly throughout all of Disney's early series.

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).

Like "The Garbled One," magic and superstition is garbled, playing to the fears of the people and not appealing to their common sense and self-worth.  

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.)

The theme is also ironic, since the Ducks are wont to pursue myths and legends of a magical, superstitious nature.

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.

Next: William Shatner's duck doppleganger joins the series as the gang embarks on its first of many space-themed adventures in "Where No Duck Has Gone Before." Oh, and along the way, we'll introduce you to The Tragedy of Doofus, a character no one asked for and apparently, a character no one ultimately wanted, but another character whose existence we'll attempt to justify, especially since he appears in so many terrific episodes. This justification, however, will take more than one installment to develop. 

In the meantime, you can watch the first few minutes of "Where No Duck" from the UK video release...


...where apparently it was part of three episodes (!!!) on a volume called Jailhouse Duck...



...which really frosts me tailfeathers, 'cuz here in the States, we only got two episodes per volume!!!


Until then, enjoy some great Mummy Pantomime as performed by Huey...














15 comments:

  1. Pete:

    Another super job!

    Once I saw the first two regular episodes were titled “Send in the Clones” and “Sphinx for the Memories” respectively, I knew I was “in love”! (Ahem!) Er…well, as “in love” as anyone with a normal life could be with an animated TV series, that is… and all that sort of rot, you know….

    These were the kind of TITLES I loved when Mark Evanier did them for his Gold Key Comics work. In our long ago mail correspondence, he told me that his stories could often be identified by puns in their titles.

    These were also the kind of titles I pledged to myself that I would try to formulate, should I ever become privileged to write for such comics someday. I’d like to think I kept to that pledge.

    Put me in the camp that regards “Sphinx for the Memories” as Barksian. The presence of a “Donald Clone Ancient Desert Kingdom Character”, as seen in Barks’ “Donald Duck in Ancient Persia” helps make that case.

    While I can’t think of an instance where Barks made reference to Donald’s voice in any of his stories – though he DID for Scrooge’s in “The Swamp of No Return” – it CAN be done.

    Here’s a line from a Scrooge script of mine that went unpublished at Boom! Two more issues and we would have gotten to it, I believe.

    A villain (I won’t spoil who) has impersonated Donald and made off with the Number One Dime. He shouts to Scrooge:

    “Hee-Hee! Thanks, McDuck! If ya want th’ dime back, it’ll cost you! An’ somethin’ extra for my throat doctor. Doin’ yer nephew’s voice is murder!”


    I may not have consciously realized it at the time… but I was channeling DUCKTALES for that line, more than I was channeling Barks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You more than lived up to your pledge, my friend!

      For those of you out there who haven't read Joe's stories, here's a sampling of his "pledge-keeping"...

      "Now Museum, Now You Don't"
      "When Posty Met Patty"
      "A Game of One-Cupmanship"
      "The Last Auction Hero"

      ...and my personal favorite...

      "The Synthezoid from the Deepest Void!"

      It takes a certain kind of brain to conjure up titles like that, and Joe's that certain kind of brain! ;-)

      I've always loved when other characters joke about Donald's voice. In reality, they should have killed that voice in the audition process, because it's so difficult to understand. But Unca Walt was right...there's something about it that works.

      When other characters joke about it, though, it makes Donald even more appealing to the audience, because they realize they're not the only ones catching every third word.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, suh! I'm hoping to high hopes that the "Core Four" return and your story gets printed. Apparently, though, Disney nowadays thinks their company was founded by Stan Lee.

      With those box-office returns, I'm not sure I can blame them...

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  2. Good recap/ review, enjoying reading these.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention that the High Priest of Garbabel was made to sound like Peter Lorre!

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    1. Thank you for that tip, Anonymous!! I'm now smacking my head and shouting "D'oh!!!"

      The whole time I was writing this post I kept thinking, "I know Sarkus sounds like someone, but I can't place it..."

      And I'm a big Lorre fan!

      You *will* get a shout-out in my next write-up! Thank you for that, and thank you for your kind words.

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  3. Thanks to you, I watched this again last night, along with “Send in the Clones” and “Where No Duck has Gone Before”.

    Two things strike me, after “being away” from them for so long.

    1: The BEAUTIFUL backgrounds. So much better designed than anything seen in TV animation to that point! I think the only previous series to run with it might have been the original JONNY QUEST.

    2: (And shame on me, of all persons, for not saying this earlier) The Dialogue! Gag laced, just the way I like it! I can recall saying, at the time, that DT ushered in a period of greater verbal humor to complement the plots and the animation. …Or, if it wasn’t DT, it was the ‘80s MIGHTY MOUSE – or both.

    That’s what lead us to ANIMANIACS and FREAKAZOID! …Not to mention THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY!

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    1. I *really* appreciate everything you wrote, Joe. A large percentage of my motivation for doing this series came from the excessively negative, almost angry reviews I was reading of DT online. I couldn't quite fathom why a couple of bloggers were taking such a negative stance against it. The only conclusion I could reach was that "snark is in, and snark is easier and 'funnier' to write."

      Yes, the backgrounds!! I've been working my way through "Saturday Morning Cartoons, 1960s, Volume 1" (and LOVING it), and of course, the backgrounds on many of these shows repeats every few frames or so. That's not a criticism; it's part of those shows' charm.

      But!! Disney wanted DT to be MORE THAN the average TV cartoon. It had to look like it came from Disney, and it had to be rich in design because there was no other way to represent the source material.

      I marvel when people say Disney "half-assed" the show. Huh??!!! Because DT had a few duds and made some questionable creative decisions??!! Is there ONE TV show that hasn't "bombed" a few times and made some questionable creative decisions??!! I would argue, "No, there isn't."

      It's what happens when a team is on a heightened production schedule. Sometimes, scripts that look good on paper don't turn out as well on the screen; sometimes, decisions made in the moment to stay on schedule don't hold up as well in the long-run.

      Under the production constraints of television, it's a MIRACLE when any studio decides to go the extra mile. Disney did that for the first several years of DTVA, and the results are still paying off.

      And yes...the dialogue. Even within the duds, there is still witty dialogue. This show had such good writers that even when they were at their weakest, they still managed to not be "all bad."

      I'm working on "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" right now, and that is one funny show. You can tell the folks working on DT were having a blast.

      Thanks for your follow-up observations, Joe!

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    2. Pete:

      You’ve hit upon the trouble with a great deal of the Internet: Snark *IS* easy to write… and too many folks do it rather than make the effort to create, innovate, or properly analyze.

      Another of my “pledges” is to not exhibit that sort of thing on my Blog. I think I’ve kept to THAT ONE too!

      Keep enjoying “Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume One” – and then be sure to move on to Volume Two. It’s better still.

      I think the reason folks say Disney did DT “half-assed” is because they didn’t do “UNCLE SCROOGE by CARL BARKS”.

      Honestly, I would rather have seen “UNCLE SCROOGE by CARL BARKS” over what we DID get… but that doesn’t make DT “half-assed” by any stretch – just similar but different.

      “Sphinx for the Memories” shows just how much like “UNCLE SCROOGE by CARL BARKS” the show COULD have been if it tried.

      Yet, the amazing “Where No Duck has Gone Before” is as unlike “UNCLE SCROOGE by CARL BARKS” as you can get – so maybe we should just enjoy “the good”, no matter what form it takes.

      Also, thanks VERY MUCH for you kind words on my scriptwriting. There’s some unpublished stuff still waiting to see print – and how I would love the opportunity to do more!

      Joe.

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  4. Pete,

    I wouldn't say that this episode hits the religious angle quite as hard as does RESCUE RANGERS' "The Case of the Cola Cult," but the fact that Keyes saw fit to include that bit of dialogue between Scrooge and the High Priestess is quite suggestive.

    Which of Donald's appearances on DT do you think was the best? This isn't the best ep to include Donald -- not by a long shot -- but one could legitimately argue that this is his best ROLE. The mixture of the shorts Donald and the comic-book Donald, which originally seemed like a weakness, now seems more like a strength, for the reasons you gave.

    This episode was probably moved up in broadcast order partially because WDTVA wanted to let those viewers who may have MISSED the two-hour version of "Golden Suns" know that Donald would, in fact, be part of the cast. Those who had seen "Golden Suns" wouldn't have needed the reassurance.

    Another excellent write-up, and thanks for the multitude of screen grabs!

    Chris

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    1. "The Case of the Cola Cult" is one of my favorite CDRRs.

      As far as Donald's best appearance on DT, I'd have to go with "Spies in Their Eyes" as his best (or maybe my favorite) with "All Ducks on Deck" a razor-sharp second.

      Thank you for your kind words! Sorry for the lengthy delay in reply. I'm catching up on blogging.

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  5. Pete,

    Just went back and checked... Six episodes were represented in that Panini sticker album: Back to the Klondike, Dinosaur Ducks, Duckman of Aquatraz, Send in the Clones, Hero for Hire, and Hotel Strangeduck.

    Chris

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    1. Thanks, Chris! I need to get another copy of that. Maybe this time around, I can get a complete stickers set...

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  6. 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.

    Ummm; not quite Pete.

    Walt didn't hate television animation; but the reason he never did television animation was that he thought television animation would be too expensive to maintain the quality levels of Feature. So his main reason was money; which puts a bigger dent in the reviewer's attempt to blast DTVA. If he saw Ducktales; I think he would have been happy that Michael Eisner at least made an effort to pick TMS as the studio of choice; but he would have rather had it done by an in house studio even if it was an in house studio bought by Disney (Like Walt Disney France was formally studio owned by the Brizzi's or like Walt Disney Japan was originally Pacific Animation Company (they did Thundercats) with TMS personnel and some from a defunct unit of Sarino.).

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    1. What are you sources on Walt's views on television, Greg? I'm intrigued, because I've never really studied his views on the medium so much as his output in it.

      Regardless, there is no question that Walt Disney was one of the first Hollywood moguls to place great value on television. In many ways, he anticipated the multimedia marketing approach that is commonly used now by studios.

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  7. This was the first episode of Ducktales I saw. I missed the first few minutes and didn't even realize that Donald wasn't the lead character of the series. It was quite a shock when he left at the end of the episode and didn't come back for quite a while. But I was already hooked and kept coming back for more.

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    1. Hey Rob! I bet it was a shock! Donald was such an integral part of every major Disney production featuring Ducks to that point that it probably seemed like blasphemy not to have him as a regular. Not only did this gamble on the producer's part work, but they later wrote Donald out of the series altogether.

      Thanks for commenting!

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