Episode: 001 “Woo-oo” 8/12/17
Starring: Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, Huey Duck, Dewey Duck, Louie Duck, Webby Vanderquack, Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, and Flintheart Glomgold
Costarring: Bentley Buzzard and Bradford Buzzard
Featuring: Captain Peghook the Scourge of the River Styxx, the Headless Man-horse, and PIcchu the Gold Hunting Dragon
Introducing: Gabby McStabberson, Hack Stabnikov, Slash Stabnikov, and Roxanne Featherly
Setting: Duckburg (McDuck Manor and the Money Bin) and the Lost City of Atlantis
I’m still in awe at how much I loved the reboot – I can’t stop thinking about it! First, I look at DuckTales and its relation to Disney in the broader sense. Then, I break down the episode itself in painstaking detail.
DuckTales macro: The Disney Formula
As television reporter Roxanne Featherly tells us at the end of Saturday’s hour-long premiere, “reclusive adventure capitalist, Scrooge McDuck, is BACK with family in tow; solving mysteries and rewriting history.” As is Scrooge, DuckTales is also BACK from its close-to twenty year hiatus.
This is what Disney does. It takes an experience we loved in the past and reintroduces it to a new generation. Walt built his Animated Features on this very notion: he took familiar children’s stories and reimagined them with a flourish of magic and modernity that both young and old could equally enjoy. This same line of thinking is what inspired his crowning achievement, Disneyland. It was while sitting on a park bench, watching his daughters ride the merry-go-round that he thought to himself “there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.” You see, Disney has a formula – a through-line that began with Snow White in 1937 and carried on with the creation of Disneyland in 1955 and continues with today’s cannibalized version of DuckTales.
This takes me to the experience I had watching Saturday morning’s premiere with my family. Both my wife, Amy, and I are children of the 80s and the original DuckTales was a BIG deal (speaking of spanning generations, it was my Grandpa who recorded the five-episode pilot for me on his VCR back in 1987). Disney reinvented the after-school cartoon with cutting edge animation and complex storytelling that was unlike anything we had ever seen. It took some of our favourite cartoon characters from the past in Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and Uncle Scrooge and made them into globe-trotting, treasure hunters evocative of the Indiana Jones movies (little did we know at the time that it was Uncle Scrooge and Carl Barks who inspired Indy). Back to Saturday morning: my wife and I were joined on the couch by our nine-year-old, Brody, (who has been watching DVDs of the original series since he was three) and our two-year-old, Louie (who spent most of the hour-long episode quietly watching from his time-out corner after throwing a tantrum). I was so worried I’d be disappointed and that it wouldn’t live up to the original but I LOOOVED it! Sure, it was different but that’s okay! Disney’s Snow White wasn’t the same Gothic and convoluted story that made its way to America by way of Germany in its dusty, leather bound books. Nor is Disneyland’s Frontierland the same complicated, true-life American West mired in squalor, violence, and racism – it’s been idealized and romanticized in a way that’s fun, appropriate, and, most importantly, forgetful. Some could even say that Walt’s greatest skill was “rewriting history.”
In Snow White, not only did Walt create the genre of the Family Film but at the very heart of the story was the tale of a young girl who befriended and reinvigorated seven old men who were stuck in a rut. This same idea of bridging the generational gap is what led Walt to create Disneyland and its appeal to grandparents, parents and children alike is what fuels its overwhelming popularity to this day. Then there’s DuckTales; another piece of inceptualized art where the very core of the story is three generations (Scrooge, Donald Duck, and the nephews) coming together to enrich each other’s lives (and Money Bins) while partaking on some pretty cool adventures along the way. Meanwhile, parents and their kids get to watch from the couch and enjoy the show together as Walt intended.
DuckTales micro: Ducks in Trouble
Ducks in the muck… that’s what we have here. We find Scrooge bored and ensconced in the day-to-day of sitting atop a multi-trillion dollar empire and disinterested in the minutiae of running his many businesses. Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, are marooned dockside in a tiny boat where an unemployed and destitute Donald is on the job hunt while the nephews just want to go ashore. Dormant pilot, Launchpad McQuack, is moonlighting as Scrooge’s driver while trying to convince himself and employer that he is meant to take flight. Stir crazy and alone, young Webby Vanderquack yearns for a life of an explorer outside the hollow expanse of McDuck Manor and out from under the over-protection of her granny, Mrs. Beakley – oh, and she also wishes to eat a hamburger. Speaking of Beakley… she just wants Scrooge to remember that she’s not his secretary.
As we soon learn, the catalyst for unstucking yourself from a rut is trouble. Both Scrooge and Donald (who are estranged for some reason) are in various stages of winding down from a past life that revolved around the thrill of trouble. Meanwhile, Webby, Huey, Dewey, and Louie would like nothing more than to dabble in said trouble but the aforementioned adults in their lives keep salting their game. The children are being suppressed by the very troubling legacy they are trying to live up to. Appropriately, it’s while rummaging through the figurative ghosts of Scrooge’s past that the kids release the literal ghosts which force Scrooge (with the help of the kids and his new pilot Launchpad) to engage in some reinvigorating, life altering trouble. It doesn’t take long for the old duck to embrace this sudden injection of youth and adventure in conceding that “you kids are nothing but trouble. Curse my kilts, I love trouble!” From here, Scrooge wastes NO time in announcing the family’s next bit of trouble in voyaging to the Lost City of Atlantis!
After shaking off the doldrums bogging down the characters in the premiere’s first half, the series crystalizes into what we can expect during its (hopefully) very lengthy run. We leave the contemporary urbanity of Duckburg behind, looking for trouble in the exotic, magical, and ancient corners of the globe. This is DuckTales at its best: hitting the road, “solving mysteries” and “rewriting history” all while getting a little richer along the way because, as Launchpad so eloquently says, “family truly is the greatest adventure of… OH NO, THE GROUND!”
It’s nice to see that actual seagulls still live among the anthropomorphized fowl.
We see Donald’s more traditional blue sailor suit but he wears the black one from the comic books (although, here, it’s issued to him when hired by Glomgold) from which DuckTales is originally based on – a nice nod to its history.
Donald owns a smart phone while Scrooge has a flip phone – a subtle insight into generational differences between a duck and his 40s and 70s. Also, the kids have a starter type, non-smart phone. Small details like this make all the difference.
Why are Scrooge and Donald estranged, why does he “owe” Donald, and what is this cryptic reference to the “Spear of Selene” that could be source of the tension??? The best part of all this unspoken history between Scrooge and Donald (and Della?) is that it creates the opportunity for some fill-in-the-blanking, flashback episodes. The depth and possibilities of the show are already evident and exciting.
I’ll be making many references to Cark Barks. He’s the famed illustrator/writer who created Scrooge McDuck (along with most of the places, characters, and stories in the DuckTales universe) and his eponymous comic book series from 50s and 60s. In fact, Barks’ legendary talent for storytelling inspired famous Hollywood icons such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Like Donald’s black sailor suit, Scrooge’s red frock coat is a nod to the Carl Barks version of him from the comic books in lieu of the blue from the 80s.
The collection of giant, framed oil paintings hanging from the walls of McDuck Manor are in homage to a series Carl Barks produced paintings. A simple “google” search would produce them.
Scrooge’s vulture advisor, Bentley Buzzard, mentions they are cutting funding towards historical research, experimental tech, and deep sea exploration – all key components to Scrooge’s treasure hunts.
Launchpad first mentions the snowstorm on the Drake Barrier Reef and then Scrooge is seen reading about it in the newspaper. Scrooge then posits that this weather pattern aligns with a Papia Prophecy that foretells the ocean’s currents providing safe passage to Atlantis.
Scrooge is no “has been,” he’s an “am now.”
“Tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties” is a line straight from Barks.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie are no longer a quacking monolith of youth and precociousness. They are now three individuals with different voices, clothing, and personalities. This was the change I was most apprehensive of but it’s an unequivocal improvement.
Huey (Hubert) is happy-go-lucky and more refined than his brothers – he cooks, irons clothes, creates travel itineraries, and quotes the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook.
Dewey (Dewford) is cynical and moody – he strives for a connection with Scrooge and is obsessed with impressing him.
Louie is described as “the evil one” – he is quirky and street smart.
If 80s Launchpad was originally inspired by Cliff Clavin and Yogi Berra, his sweet and barrel chested clumsiness here is more evocative of Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove.
Webby is also a HUUUUUGE improvement from the original series where she was cloying and whiny. Now she’s an adventure-seeking fangirl. They may have also just aged her up though since we see her Quacky Patch Doll hanging on the wall in (maybe?) effigy.
There are a few noteworthy items on Webby’s bulletin board:
- “Who is D.B. Gigi?” – no clue what that could mean.
- “friend or F.O.W.L. – a reference to the criminal organization from Darkwing Duck.
- “Skypirates Spotted Above. Plain Awful!” – a reference to the main villains from TailSpin.
- A picture of the Phantom Inkblot – an old villain from the comics as well as appearing once in the original series.
- Scrooge’s sister, Horetense, married Quackmore Duck which produced Donald.
- a note from the Senior Woodchuck Council – is Scrooge involved?
- “Good for the Goose” pointing towards a picture Gladstone Gander – a goose and Donald’s cousin.
- “Scotty McDuck > alternate timeline?” this is in reference to Barks first giving Scrooge’s father the name of “Scotty” before Don DeRosa and the 80s version changed it to Fergus.
In the 80s, Mrs. Beakley was hired during the pilot specifically to watch and care for the nephews. Here, she’s already employed by Scrooge as his housekeepr – for a long time too since Donald is familiar enough to call her “Mrs. B.” Also, she always had a Mid-Atlantic accent but this feels more pronounced here. Speaking of “more pronounced,” so is her build and musculature – she’s less plump and more pumped. Here’s hoping these features factor into future adventures/episodes.
We had a fair amount of world-building nostalgia when the triplets referenced TaleSpin’s Cape Suzette while Scrooge referenced Darkwing Duck’s St Canard and Goof Troop’s Spoonerville. The inclusion of Darkwing Duck makes the most sense since it’s a spinoff from DuckTales. Goofy makes everything better and could easily be integrated into an episode or two. TaleSpin feels the least organic since it took place in the distant past while DuckTales has always been decidedly contemporary. Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers’ locale probably wasn’t mentioned because it takes place in New York City in the human world.
Among Scrooge’s relics in the “Wing of Secrets (err… garage) are the following:
- The lamp from the feature length film, DuckTales and the Treasure of the Lost Lamp
- A golden disc from the Valley of the Sun of the 5-part 1987 pilot, “Treasure of the Golden Sun.”
- Armstrong the robot’s head from a 1987 season one episode entitled “Armstrong” which is about a Gyro-created robot that goes haywire.
I love that Webby refers to Donald Duck as “one of the most daring adventurers of all time!”
The girl sitting next to Donald waiting for the job interview looks a lot like a grown up Roxanne from A Goofy Movie. This same girl also appears at the end of the pilot as a reporter.
“What in Dismal Downs is going on in here?” Dismal Downs is the ancestral home of Clan McDuck in Scotland.
The plane Launchpad flies looks like the same model of cargo plane that he would often pilot in the 80s.
Chekov’s Medusa Gauntlet: the old relic comes in handy when Scrooge uses it to turn Picchu into stone.
The show’s opening credits are done with a comic book panel pastiche.
Flintheart Glomgold was a Barks’ creation but was originally South African and changed to Scottish in the 80s due to not wanting to be associated with the country’s controversial politics such as apartheid and the like.
Glomgold Industries operates off the mantra of “taking an idea and making it your own – better, faster, and cheaper”
Scrooge calls Dewey “Sunny Jim” which could be a reference to many things but was chiefly a common, old-timey nickname – namely for James Joyce, the famed Irish author. But it’s nowhere near as funny and apropos as when Scrooge also refers to him as “Bluey.”
Launchpad getting attacked by snakes could be a callback to the 80s pilot when LP battles a nasty water snake.
The sequence where Dewey dances across the laser bridge while Donald, unbeknownst to everyone, thwarts the fiery boobie traps is among the best this episode.
Junior Woodchuck Rule 841: there’s always another way around.
Launchpad is fluent in Swedish.
Dewey notices a young female duck in the painting of Scrooge and Donald fighting Captain Peghook and wonders aloud if it’s his mom who is also Donald’s sister, Della.
Don’t mess with Webby. She single-handedly takes down Glomgold’s sword wielding henchwoman, Gabby McStabberson.
Dewey finally gets Scrooge’s approval as he refers to him by name and calls him an “adventurer.”
The Jewel of Atlantis isn’t just a pretty rock, it’s also practical and will serve Duckburg as an “efficient clean source of energy that can power Duckburg for fifty years.”
Both the overprotective Donald and Mrs. Beakley agree to loosen the reigns but Mrs. B puts it best when she tells Webby “you are safer in a sunken city with Scrooge McDuck than you are in a vault in Fort Knox.”
In the 80s, Donald came and went since his enlistment in the Navy kept him away most of the time while this was a;sp the reason for Scrooge’s guardianship of the nephews. It will be interesting to see if Donald ends up moving into McDuck Manor with the boys like show seems to imply.
Notably absent was Duckworth, Scrooge’s butler. I’ve heard he’s showing up and even appears in the opening credits. My guess is that he’s no longer a dog and is that Armstrong-looking-robot from the credits and an invention of Gyro.