Ducktales: A Look Back
Life is like __________
Here in _________
Racecars _______ Aeroplanes
It's a duck-______
Might _____ a mystery
Or rewrite ________
Ducktales A Whoo-ooooh.
In the era of arcade machines, Nintendo and good Saturday morning cartoons, the after-school world of Disney is where ever kid would run home and embrace. A few lucky ones could maybe have a VCR and program the thing to record, but most got out, ran home, popped open a pudding snack and watched the block of programming known as the Disney Afternoon. Various shows came and went on it, ranging from great (Rescue Rangers, Talespin, Gargoyles) to mildly amusing (Goof Troop, Aladdin) to not-so-great (Timon and Poomba). The one that started it all, and still the best, was Ducktales (whoo-ooh!)
Ducktales first showed up a few years before the Disney Afternoon put its stamp on children's programming and blocked all the shows together, many of which were repeats of the initial run of Ducktales or Rescue Rangers from syndication. For me, it was my local ABC affiliate that played them after school, at least until another station got the syndication rights for the Disney Afternoon in 1990, which I'm pretty sure was Fox in my market. For a kid only around ten, that was all pretty confusing, but a kid will seek out his favorite shows without hesitation, like a bloodhound, and even if he's already seen it ten times before.
This isn't about Disney programming, though. It's about the start of all that programming with Ducktales. Ducktales is about as high of a quality children's show you can get. It's fun, entertaining, well animated, well written and doesn't insult the audience or reach low-brow depths. It's simply purist Disney entertainment that was new every day. While the adults had their daily soap operas and newscasts, children finally had their daily form of entrainment. There was nothing like coming home after school with huge expectations on the new episode. It was especially fun when it was in multiple parts. It was like getting a movie for free.
Speaking of movies, Ducktales is the only one of Disney's cartoon serials that received a theatrical film out of the whole thing. While I can wax nostalgic on the television show, I have to be honest, I didn't go to the theater to see it. As it turns out, a lot of people didn't as the film did pretty poorly. However, I actually caught it for the first time only a few years ago and all those old Ducktales memories started to flow back...as fuzzy as they are. And I was reminded of the main reason why I, and so many others, loved it:
It was adventure in its simplest form.
It's a little like Indiana Jones in that respect. Sure, there's the cast we love, the fun and sometimes mischievous nephews, the smart Gyro, the dumb but loveable Lunchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, Duckworth and Webby. Then, of course, you had Scrooge McDuck who, we have to assume, worked his ass of to stock his money bin, traveled the world and had seen it all. With his new crew, and some enemies that never seem to go away, Scrooge is always out traveling the world from pyramids and rainforests to snowpeak mountains and underground civilizations. He even travels through time. It's that whimsical sense of being whisked away on his adventure with this characters that got us to watch, and still would if the show was aired today.
A Brief History of Ducktales (whoo...ok I'll stop that)
-Ducktales is based on the comic series that originated in the 1952 entitled "Uncle Scrooge" (Scrooge himself was based on his brief appearances alongside Donald in a few comics a few years prior). The comics established Duckberg (which was mentioned briefly before), the relationship between Donald and Scrooge, the world-traveling adventure aspect, the three nephews, the Beagle Boys, Scrooge's rival Flintheart Glomgold, Gyro Gearloose and Magica DeSpell, not to mention Scrooge's infamous money bin. The comic, and Scrooge's creation along with everything Duckberg related, is thanks to Carl Banks. Even some episodes are taken directly from his comics. Don Rosa, another comic writer, expanded Scrooge's universe even further.
-Another inspiration for the show can actually be found in the animated short from 1967, Scrooge McDuck and Money. This is the first official appearance of Donald's uncle in animated form as he takes you through the history of money. You'll see he has his money big, enjoys playing in it (even using his cane as a golfclub), Huey Dewy and Louie are there as well and even call him "Uncle Scrooge."
-In an attempt to improve children's programming, notably for syndication, Disney began creating and selling shows in the mid 1980s that were expensive and high-quality to produce. To sell solely to syndication was a radical idea, most cartoons being owned and controlled by networks, not to mention the fact Disney set out to spend money to create something higher than the often low-budget animated shows currently airing. They based their model on reruns of live TV shows, which are often sold to various outlets.
-The first official season for Ducktales was aired in 1987. 100 Episodes (as well as a movie) were produced between 1987-1988. Ducktales went on to enjoy years of repeated showing afterwards, eventually helping form the Disney Afternoon (alongside another syndicated show, Rescue Rangers). This new outlet allowed Disney to produce new shows alongside it.
-The memorable theme song was written by mark Mueller (who also did Rescue Rangers).
-Much of Ducktales' style and stories can be credited to Fred Wolf, supervising producer and director. Wolf also worked on Ninja Turtles and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
-1990 saw Ducktales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp hit theaters. It did relatively poorly, but found success on the home video market.
-Ducktales was removed from the Disney Afternoon in 1992, however did briefly remember in 1997 as the Disney Afternoon began to dip in ratings and quality as well as Disney's emergence of Toon Disney, a channel devoted to its animated shows on cable.
Top 10 Ducktales Episodes
Being in syndication allowed for a ton of episodes to be made and aired in a rather short period of time. As a result, I'm making a list loosely based on memories of which ones I remember best and had the fondness for. I don't own the DVDs either, so let's play "how much do you remember." Then we'll see what Youtube comes up with.
10: "Something about a dime. McDuck's coin....magical bitch that I think turned into a crow. Apparently her spell goes awry and her shadow comes alive."
That would be "Magica's Shadow War." Magica DeSpell, a recurring villain on the show, is always after Scrooge's Number One Dime: it's his lucky dime that he says made him a rich duck. Her spell this time is to use her shadow to infiltrate and steal the dime. Her shadow, though, begins to think and act on its own and she eventually loses control. For some reason that shadow scared me as a kid, maybe it was its miming a little talking that did it.
9: "Ok so somehow there's this time freezing thing that Gyro makes. Only it doesn't freeze time, it just makes the person wearing it move so fast that it looks like time is froze. That's just awesome, especially to a kid. Oh, and that movie Clockstoppers totally ripped it off."
"Time Teasers," I actually remembered the title once I saw it. Time traveling was all the rage back in the 80s. Bill and Ted, Back to the Future, even the Terminator. Ducktales had a quite a few stories about traveling through time, but none about how manipulative it can be. This was cool because you saw what happens when someone moves so fast that everything else seems to just slow down.
8: "Beagle Boys...large robots....robots that play hockey? Ma Beagle steals them and her boys use them to get Scrooge's money. It's in the opening when the three robots high-five each other."
One of the earliest episodes known as "Robot Robbers."
7: "Scrooge visits his castle, like he needed one, and they go to Scotland. Scotland rocks!"
I was already a big of things like Ghostbusters and Scooby Doo, so when there were episodes in other series about ghosts and mysteries, I always enjoyed them. This episode was known as "The Curse of Castle McDuck."
6: "Some dude, an accountant, becomes.....Gizmoduck! He helps Scrooge get his money back from the Beagle Boys. Multiple part one."
I completely forgot, "Super Ducktales" was actually originally aired as a Sunday Night Magical World of Disney movie at first. Only later did it get put into episodes. The Gizmoduck character was obviously an effort to make the show "cool" and "hip" but it actually ended up being a really fun story about a hero who is pretty unheroic. The episode is officially titled "Liquid Assets." Oh, and Fenton Crackshell isn't an accountant, he's a bean counter...big difference. He can count anything in just a glance, which is why Scrooge hires him, he's got to keep track of every single penny in Scrooge's vault.
5: "Donald and Egypt and some Pharaoh ghost."
As cool as Duckberg itself was, you could only do so much. I far preferred the episodes that took the gang out to exotic locales. In this case, it's all about Egypt. There weren't too many episodes with Donald, but this was one that really put him front and center. Donald was one of my favorites and anything with him got me watching instantly. "Sphinx for the Memories" is a prime example of the globe-trotting Indiana Jones-inspired adventures Ducktales takes you on, and the rest of this Top 10 will reflect that.
4: "Abominable snow bitch falls in love with Launchpad...Scrooge uses him to get the treasure he's seeking."
Our next adventure takes us to the Himalayas. The Episode is called "The Lost Crown of Genghis Kahn." This crown is Scrooge's treasure in his sights, as so often there was, but is guarded by an abominable snowman. Everybody loves launchpad and this is one of his best episodes, plus the whole idea of a race to achieve "Explorer of the year" always keep you on your toes. Cheating, racing, clues, traps...it really has it all plus a good snooty villain that makes us appreciate Uncle Scrooge even more..
3: "Birds try to eat launchpad? Something about a dragon and the treasure its guarding."
The episode named "The Golden Fleecing" starts out as so many good and adventurous Ducktales episodes do...Launchpad McQuack flying. In this one, though, it's a dream or, should I say, a premonition because soon they are whisked away to...wherever. Actually they kinda just jump into a copter and start flying, I assume to Greece, then get attacked by Launchpad's harpys. What puts this slightly above others, other than my jumbled memories, is the rather surprising appearance by fan-favorite Ludwig von Drake who appears here as Launchpad's therapist. That statement alone is amazing...say it again "Ludwig von Drake is Launchpad McQuack's therapist." That...is...awesome.
2: "Gay Genie...like the movie but not."
"Master of the Djinni" , which is a title I wouldn't remember if I tried. Scrooge's rival, Flintheart Glomgold, who does beat out Scrooge in the awesome name category, is looking to beat him out on Scrooge's next treasure: Aladdin's lost lamp that may or may not be the home of a homosexual genie. This (and the feature film in the same vein) was before the big-screen Disney Aladdin film, so it was really the first introduction to this myth before Robin Williams and company took over.
1: "The first few episodes"
That would be...oh. Nevermind. Yes, out of all the Ducktales episodes, it's really the five part "The Treasure of the Golden Suns" series that sticks with me the most. Many of those scenes are shown during the opening of theme song of each episode. The five part series was called "Treasure of the Golden Suns" but all the episodes had individual titles (and no "Part I and Part 2" in them) and the very first episode called "Don't Give up the Ship." It establishes everything we know and love about Ducktales and you'll notice that Scrooge is far from the lovable character he would eventually become by the fifth episode. In fact, he's a bit of a hard-ass, even more than usual, but his nephews begin to soften him up. It's then you start to realize that the show isn't just about going on adventures, it's also about family and sticking together, no matter how many monsters, traps and screw ups might happen.
We are eased into the world through Donald Duck. I was a pretty big fan of Donald (and Daffy on the WB side, for that matter...guess I had a thing for ducks) and always enjoyed him in cartoons. To see him was like a badge of quality and approval for the show to me and there was little I enjoyed more than watching Ducktales and playing Quackshot on my Genesis, which was my first game for that console, and obviously Ducktales on the NES which I put in my Top 10 without hesitation. Donald sets his nephews, and in a way us, on to a new life and new world. Boy was it magical.
*Honorable Mention: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.
One of the best Ducktales adventures comes in the form of the feature film from 1990, so it needs to be acknowledged. Scrooge and his nephews go off to look for the treasure of Collie Baba, which also contains a magical lamp, within a pyramid in Egypt. It's more like a refined version of the show. The animation is slightly better and the story a little better paced than what they can cram into a 22 minute episode. It's fun and surprisingly not on DVD (or at least out of print). Oh, and Rip Taylor voices the Genie...I just wanted to give a fair warning on that as it's hard when you get older to separate the look of the man from the voice of the character.
If you want to hear something sad, though, it's this: think of Ducktales. Go on, close your eyes. Well, don't do that then you can't read...so think of the fluid animation, great music and voicework and fun adventures you went on. The light tone and charm is probably flowing through your veins right this minute. Now know this: shows like Ducktales will never exist again. I say that without hesitation. Now shows are either cheap and low-brow or stylish and anime-inspired (if not from Japan altogether, which is a country still putting out quality hand-drawn animation to this day). The pure, fun adventure of something like Ducktales or Talespin is dead and we'll probably never see it again on regular television. They had their time, and now it's over.
Even Toon Disney, the channel dedicated to Disney cartoons, didn't play a single episode, now that channel is gone in favor of not playing anything at all. Now there's Disney XD (it's cooler, because it has an "x" in it) that doesn't play anything that isn't "edgy" so you can forget about anything Disney related. I know these channels aren't made for adults to merely be nostalgic, but come on. Boomerang gets it. While we can recollect how great they were and discuss them, it's bittersweet. Somewhere, stuffed between the end of the grunge music era and the beginnings of the Michael Bay filmography, it all turned to shit.
Somewhere, someone far more versed in the history of animation is maybe reading this and correcting me. But if there's something that is remotely of this quality on today that isn't imported from Japan, then please let me know. I shed a tear for today's kids who not only don't have a show like this to enjoy...they probably wouldn't appreciate it as much even if it were around and aired every day like I had it.