Episode: 106 “The House of the Lucky Gander!” 10/14/17
Starring: Donald Duck, Gladstone Gander, Scrooge McDuck, Louie Duck, Dewey Duck, Huey Duck, and Webbigail Vanderquack
Costarring: Launchpad McQuack
Featuring: Toad Liu Hai and Pei Pei
Setting: The City of Macaw (House of the Lucky Fortune)
Plot: Scrooge and his gang travel to the City of Macaw in search of the Temple of the Lost Cricket. But first, they must pay a visit to Gladstone Gander who is staying at a mysterious casino.
In an episode that takes place in an illusion filled casino that isn’t what it seems, we also get a metaphysical cry for help from Scrooge that threatens to break down the proverbial fourth wall and expose the show for what it is. Previously, we’ve bemoaned the marginalization of Scrooge McDuck where his place in the show is seemingly passing him by while Webby and the nephews have become the catalysts for these new stories. Analogous to Toad Liu Hai holding Gladstone* captive and feeding off of his luck, this incarnation of DuckTales has become Scrooge’s prison where the show’s younger cast is trading off of his vim and vigor (and fortune) to bankroll their own adventures. Meanwhile, we get a transcendent performance from Donald Duck that’s evocative of his earlier work from classic roles of Disney past.
Scrooge finally gets us out of Duckburg in an effort to take his family on one of his globetrotting, “rip-roaring” adventures** that have defined his character and story for over 60 years. But, alas… his search for the Temple of the Golden Cricket never leaves the hotel lobby as his purpose gets hijacked by Gladstone’s woes in the House of the Lucky Fortune. Then, once the prospect of “a proper adventure” reveals itself in learning of the casino’s true nature, Scrooge jumps at the chance to play hero. However, this is Liu Hai’s game and, instead, opts for the less capable Donald Duck to participate which leaves the old adventurer lamenting, “I don’t even get to be part of the blasted challenge!” Scrooge’s mounting frustrations within the show are mirroring our own – he’s just as trapped within the construct of the show as Gladstone is in the casino. The only difference is there is no roadmap or plot twist offered for his escape. His presence is still felt but we just want to see Scrooge do “Scrooge Things”***.
Amidst all these impediments we do still get some insight into what makes Scrooge tick when contrasted with his “layabout” nephew, Gladstone Gander. Scrooge has no respect for luck and sees patrons of casinos as “no-account freeloaders looking to get something for nothing.” Scrooge is a captain of industry who is as proud of the cunning and hard work it took to amass his fortune as he is of his exorbitant wealth itself. He sees Gladstone’s lifestyle as a personal affront and takes it as the ultimate insult when Liu Hai suggests Scrooge is a beneficiary of good fortune, clapping back with “luck has nothing to do with my success!” It’s almost as if Gladstone’s appearance and the setting of a sleazy casino (or, as Scrooge calls it, a “monument to moochers”) is a mere plot device in featuring Scrooge’s better personality traits.
In gambling parlance, Donald is a cooler. His bad luck is legendary and his prickly temperament is the perfect foil to Gladstone’s happy-go-lucky serendipity. And, in using his special blend of slapsticky daring to save the day and pratfall his way to victory, Donald regains the adulation of his nephew, Louie, after being taken by his cousin and rival’s superficial flash earlier in the episode. In the Uncle Scrooge comics as well as in DuckTales, Donald has been always been more of a complimentary piece to allow for Scrooge’s antics to dominate the action. Donald’s role here, particularly in that final scene, is something of a throwback to the Golden Age of Disney Animation where Donald was a star and one of the most recognizable and popular cartoon characters of all time****. In fact, his entire turn this episode is best encapsulated in the lyrics of his theme song that would introduce his eponymous cartoons from 1947 through 1959:
Who's got the sweetest disposition?
One guess -- guess who!
Who never never starts an argument? (Woman: Hmmmm?)
Who never shows a bit of temperament?
Who's never wrong but always right? (Donald: Yeah?)
Who'd never dream of starting a fight? (Donald: That so?!)
Who gets stuck with all the bad luck?
No one... (Donald quacks angrily) but Donald Duck! (Donald: Yeah!)
Donald is a hot mess but an entertaining one at that. He even inadvertently illustrates Scrooge’s sentiments of hard work as he hustles his way through the “blasted challenge” while Gladstone lackadaisically waltzes his way to second place. Perhaps Louie says it best in offering his uncle these words of encouragement, “you keep going, you never had the common sense to give up before, why start now?” If Scrooge must take a backseat for one more week, I’m glad it’s Donald captaining the ship.
Despite my hand wringing over Scrooge’s place in the series, this episode still has many positives. Not only does it successfully wrest itself from the municipality of Duckburg, it also takes us to the exotic locale of Macaw and introduces us to an evil luck vampire. Here, it’s the grownups who take center stage and teach us that Gladstone’s luck-based results aren’t as important as the hard work and effort it takes to achieve that success. It’s easy (for me) to get lost in the show’s mechanics, made-up politics, and meta commentary (which may or may not exist) but this was just a fun, well-executed episode.
(*) Another creation of Barks’, he made his first appearance in a Donald Duck comic from 1948. After being a mainstay in the Duck comic universe, he would also go on to appear in an episode of the original DuckTales series.
(**) Like the kind of “trouble” that reinvigorated Scrooge so in the series’ Pilot and has still failed to encounter again until this seventh episode.
(***) He does end up outwitting Liu Hai in the end but it’s more of an afterthought and is clearly overshadowed by Donald’s more dramatic performance.
(****) His appearances in theatrical shorts would even eclipse those of Mickey Mouse.
The shot of Scrooge’s plane approaching the city of Macaw is breathtaking and among some of the best animation we’ve seen from the series thus far.
Macaw is based off of Macau – an autonomous region in East Asia that borders China. Even its skyline is taken from the real-life version.
Donald wins the day with his panic stricken “We’re all gonna die! I’ve wasted my life!” as Launchpad touches down on the waters surrounding the city.
Who is this old girlfriend of Launchpad’s and what’s her problem with the local crime family? Let’s hope we get an LP-centric episode soon where we find out more about his adventure with Ziyi that left him with a panda on his back, riddled with arrows, and wearing an eyepatch.
What’s the significance of Pep Soda? Its advertisements were emblazoned on the walls of Gladstone’s hotel suite.
Duckburg’s population is mostly ducks, dogs, and pigs where Macaw boasts pandas, toads, and tigers (although the big cats are not anthropomorphic).
One of the more popular games of chance was a Plinko-looking, pinball game but my favourite was the “How Many Fingers am I Holding Up?” booth (of which Donald guesses “27” multiple times).
“Aquarioon: The Scared Waters of Aquarien” is a bit of casino entertainment that’s reminiscent of a water-based Cirque du Solei.
Scrooge mentions settings from other adventures he’s been on such as the Infinotaurs Labyrinth and the Forever Fields of Fantoom.
The Buffet of Many Lands features fusion fare such as Taco Dim Sum and Fettuccini Eclairs.
Louie says it best, “luck’s overrated.”
Scrooge eventually does make it to the Temple of the Golden Cricket but its findings are decidedly underwhelming.
LP may not have crashed to open the episode but the plane’s mangled appearance at the temple makes good on the missed opportunity.