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DuckTales Premiere “Woo-oo”

ducktales_2017_by_xeternalflamebryx-db1zb8bWhen Disney set out to reintroduce DuckTales to a new generation of youngsters they clearly decided the most enduring legacy of the late 1980s cartoon series was its catchy theme song. Penned by Mark Mueller and covered in exhausting detail in a new Vanity Fair piece, the DuckTales theme has remained a unifying force of nostalgia for those who heard and watched cartoons during its run. It’s upbeat, poppy, and entrancingly catchy qualities are essentially the one aspect of the old cartoon preserved almost exactly for this new edition of DuckTales. Sure, it’s now sung by Felicia Barton and that final verse is altered ever so slightly, but it’s relatively unchanged from its origins and it still rocks.

The theme has been a central part to the advertising blitz laid out by Disney which seems to know it has something in DuckTales. So confident is the sense coming from the company that it’s a wonder this wasn’t attempted sooner. Is there something magical about waiting for the 30th anniversary of the original program as opposed to the 10th or 20th? Or have we just arrived at a moment in time technologically speaking where this show can be done at a reasonable cost without resorting to the 3D computer-generated imagery of many of Disney’s modern cartoons? Whatever the reason, the song appeared in a quick teaser for the show last year along with the unmistakable “Yeah!” of Donald Duck. The new cast was introduced via a YouTube video where they all sing the song with great exuberance and some pretty impressive timing. And why not? The song is perhaps the best cartoon theme ever concocted and should be leaned upon heavily to bring this franchise back.

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The money bin is still a thing, and looks to be harder to penetrate this time around.

And DuckTales is indeed back. Saturday August 12th marked the debut for the new series, and much like its predecessor, it debuted with an hour long special. Disney XD was the chosen landing spot and the entire day’s programming has been dedicated to airing the new episode of DuckTales, titled “Woo-oo”, for the entire duration of the day. It’s a bold way to announce a new show and it will also be streaming on Disney’s websites and apps presumably until the show’s re-debut in September.

Resurrecting a beloved franchise isn’t easy and often thankless. Fanbases seem to become increasingly protective of that which they love as time marches forward and the slightest change can cause the biggest disruptions. Perhaps that’s why the show has felt so secretive with Disney waiting what felt like an eternity before showing off even a still image from the show. In general, it seems most took the show’s new look with enthusiasm. Scrooge now sports his traditional red coat from the comics from which he first made his name. The show is presented in 2D as opposed to 3D, and all of the familiar faces are still there. The children have received a makeover, as expected, but they don’t feel as forced as the ones the nephews got for the short-lived Quack Pack program in which Disney seemed to be forcing teenaged culture into the show in a mostly unauthentic fashion. The show also promised to send its cast on more timeless adventures, seeking treasure and uncovering all manners fantastic all while maintaining not just the spirit of the original toon, but those Carl Barks stories as well.

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Expect to see some old foes pop-up eventually.

Naturally, some voices had to change as well and Disney kept its casting decisions under wraps for some time. Alan Young was basically the only Scrooge my generation knew, but Father Time made sure it wouldn’t be possible for him to continue the role for the new series (RIP). David Tennant has brought his Scottish charm to the new series. His Scrooge is a lot more youthful sounding, but comes across as authentic and dashing and I think it’s a voice that will suit him. Terry McGovern, who voiced Launchpad McQuack in the original series as well as in Darkwing Duck, lobbied hard for the role here but was passed over in favor of Beck Bennet. Bennett is fine, and I understand the feeling in the building that this should be a new show for a new generation, but Bennett basically sounds like he’s doing his best McGovern impression which makes me wonder what’s the point in re-casting him? The nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie have unique voice actors for really the first time in their existence in Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan. I’ll miss the adorable duck voice of Russi Taylor, but I can’t argue against the decision to make the nephews feel like distinguishable characters from one another. It used to be that only the color of their shirt differentiated one from the other, but in this series all three have their own unique personality. It seems like Huey will be the boy scout, Dewey the crafty trouble-maker, and Louie more of a laid back sort. Kate Micucci is Webby, who too seems like she’ll have a more pronounced character other than girl duck. Mrs. Beakly has perhaps received the most pronounced makeover as she’s gone from grandma-like in appearance to a hulking behemoth. She’s voiced by Toks Olagundoye and I’m curious to see what kind of backstory has been crafted for her to explain this brawny physique. Last, but certainly not least, is Donald Duck voiced by the irreplaceable Tony Anselmo. Donald was reduced to a cameo role for the original DuckTales due in part to Disney being sensitive about using its classic characters for TV and over concerns of his sometimes unintelligible speech pattern. Thankfully Donald has been restored to full-time cast member as he was in the comics and DuckTales 2017 already has a huge leg-up over the original.

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Donald and his nephews have a very hum-drum sort of existence when the show opens.

The premiere opens with Donald and his nephews aboard a houseboat that they apparently live on. It’s seen better days, and Donald is preparing for a job interview. When he realizes he can’t leave his nephews home alone, he decides to ask his estranged uncle for a favor. We find Scrooge in a state of depression as his life has become rather mundane and unexciting. He’s still fabulously wealthy, but doesn’t appear to be living a truly rich life. He and Donald had an unexplained falling out and their first encounter in many years is hardly warm and fuzzy. Still, Scrooge agrees to help out his nephew by watching his grand-nephews, who before today had no idea they were related to the famous Scrooge McDuck. They think they’re meeting a great adventurer, but are pretty disappointed in what is presented to them. They soon meet Webby, the grand daughter of Mrs. Beakly who lives with Scrooge and takes care of the household. Webby is starved for adventure and her sheltered life in the mansion appears to be driving her a little crazy. The boys and Webby make some fun discoveries while poking around the mansion, which helps to bring out Scrooge’s adventurous side. Meanwhile, Donald gets his job, but his new employer is going to cause some problems for his uncle. Everyone ends up on a collision course for Atlantis, the adventure is appropriately grand.

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Scrooge will have no shortage of enemies and challengers to his title of World’s Wealthiest Duck.

Right off the bat I find myself in love with the visual style of DuckTales. There’s a very Barksian quality to the look of the show with some of the images appearing very influenced by Barks’ later works of art. The animation is undoubtedly done on a computer, whether it’s done South Park style by creating 2D models that are animated or if they’re hand-drawn onto computer tablets I do not know, but it does work. It’s not stiff and it’s not lazy and it doesn’t really look like anything else on television right now. Scrooge warms up to his adventuring lifestyle pretty fast, but it’s fun so I’m not going to quibble with a fast-moving plot. The adolescents are convincing and there is room for exploration with all of them. Mostly, of course, I really am fascinated by this Donald Duck. He possesses his trademarked short temper, but it also appears he’ll be the voice of reason in the group who at least tries to keep everyone in check. It’s a role Donald has really never served on film and it will be a lot of fun exploring this rarely seen side of an 80 year old character. The easter eggs and callbacks are also handled as well as fan-service can be with only one line spoken by a reporter sounding forced, but I won’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy it. And I really loved the reveal at the very end of the episode, which I won’t spoil here, as it seems to suggest this version of DuckTales will have something very new to explore.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on this new version of DuckTales. I may have done things a little differently if given the chance, but I can’t deny the finished product looks and feels great. This show has a lot of potential and something about the way it’s being marketed just exudes an infectious amount of confidence in the material that’s very reassuring. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun stuff to look forward to on the horizon, with other Disney Afternoon properties even rumored to resurface. Whether you loved the original series or never watched it, I encourage you to check out DuckTales as this looks like it’s going to be a really fun ride.


The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

Mickey Mouse is the character that launched an empire.  When Walt’s darling little mouse took to the screen he captured the hearts of millions of movie-goers in the 1930’s, adult and children alike.  And even though he’s no longer a big part of Disney’s animation output, the theme parks and other merchandising have made sure that Mickey has never faded far from the spotlight. His earliest exploits though are thematically different from what is presented as Mickey Mouse today.  Sure the obvious distinction of Mickey no longer appearing in black and white is clear, but it’s his character traits that are most notable.  In his earliest days, Mickey was more like Bugs Bunny in that he was a bit of a trouble-maker.  He was never on Bugs’ level in that regard, but he did partake in things some parents were not overly fond with.  The cartoon that famously introduced the character Pluto, “The Chain Gang,” begins with Mickey in prison, of all places.  He smoked, he drank, and he could be a bit of a jerk in those old cartoons.  Walt Disney, after hearing the complaints from some parents, decided he needed Mickey to be the face of his company, and as a result, he needed to clean him up just a bit.  His cartoons still needed the characteristics he was about to excise from Mickey, so he took them (and then some) and applied them to a new character, an anthropomorphic duck he named Donald.

Donald took off like a rocket.  His easily irritable and temperamental nature made him a hit with fans who either rooted for him or against him.  His tendency to exhibit wild mood swings added a charge of electricity to his cartoons; fans knew the tantrum was coming, they just didn’t know when.  At first, Donald appeared alongside Mickey for the most part, but soon his popularity earned him his own series allowing him to surpass Mickey himself in terms of popularity.  To date, no other Disney character has appeared in more cartoons than Donald and he’s appeared in more comic strips than any character who doesn’t wear tights and fight crime.  Donald Duck is recognized all over the world and has become an institution, so it should come as no surprise that he has several DVD releases in the Walt Disney Treasures line as well.

I love Donald and always have.  I liked Mickey too when I was a kid, and I always had a fondness for Pluto, but Donald was my favorite.  He’s just an inherently funny character and a lot of that comes from the performance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash, Donald’s voice actor from the 1930’s thru to the early 80’s concluding with Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  That semi-intelligible voice is perfect for the character.  It sounds like something that would come from a duck, if a duck could speak.  Of course, that impression may only exist because Donald has been around for over 70 years but that certainly must have been the sentiment when Nash was awarded the role.  Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to figure out what Donald is saying, but that adds to the humor.  Early on, other duck characters that would appear in Donald cartoons, including Daisy, would speak like Donald but overtime that was dropped.  Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, exhibited a lesser but similar speech pattern until DuckTales when they were basically made to speak somewhat normal.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

The Chronological Donald was released in four parts from 2005-2008.  As the name implies, the shorts appear in chronological order beginning with Donald’s debut from the Silly Symphonies series “The Wise Little Hen.”  This makes Donald the rare character to debut in color before black and white.  His first appearance with Mickey came in the short “Orphan’s Benefit” which can be found on the set Mickey Mouse in Black and White.  It would have been nice to have it here too to mark the occasion as several other sets contain overlapping cartoons, but oh well.  After “The Wise Little Hen,” the rest of the shorts are Donald cartoons though he wasn’t officially given his own series until 1937 with the first short being “Don Donald.”  Mickey doesn’t appear in any of these cartoons (with the exception of one brief cameo), but Pluto and Goofy make appearances as Disney seemed to enjoy pairing Donald with those two.  This set also contains the debut of Donald’s nephews in the cartoon appropriately titled “Donald’s Nephews.”  We’re also introduced to Donald’s cousin Gus in one short who never made another appearance that I’m aware of.

For the most part, these shorts try to put Donald in a new role in each one.  That role is either an official one like “Officer Duck” or making him a golfer or a celebrity chaser.  Some of the ideas repeat, such as “Donald’s Ostrich” and “Donald’s Penguin.”  There’s repeating gags too, of course the most famous being Donald’s tantrum where he thrusts out one arm and swings the other while hopping up and down.  If he doesn’t assume this pose in every cartoon, well then he does in almost every one.  It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, as several shorts here are ones I’m familiar with from my childhood so they have a nostalgic quality for me.  “Sea Scouts” is one where Donald and his nephews are sailors and have to contend with a shark.  It’s a mostly slapstick affair with a great sequence of Donald trying to keep from getting swallowed by the shark.  “Beach Picnic” is another where Donald finds his water float to be uncooperative and Pluto finds himself victimized by the irascible duck.  This cartoon also contains the Pluto fly paper gag, one that shows up in several other cartoons.

This set was created before the vault concept was created for this series.  For those unaware, the vaulted cartoons are ones that contain offensive material.  Leonard Maltin is the host for the set and he does comment on some of the shorts.  The most common bit of offensive material is stereotypical portrayals of native americans.  Anyone around the age of thirty who grew up watching old Warner Bros. shorts or Disney cartoons (including feature-length films such as Peter Pan) should be familiar with this kind of material.  I don’t tell people how to raise their kids so if you’re not familiar with this kind of stuff and are weary about showing it to your kids do some research.  In the case of Donald Duck shorts, a great many can be viewed on video sites for free making it easy to preview the material first.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Of course, if you want to purchase such a set for your kids know that it isn’t easy.  Disney only released a limited amount figuring only collectors and Disney diehards would be interested so walking into a store and simply buying a set of Donald Duck cartoons is basically impossible.  Volume One was produced in larger numbers than others but still can command a hefty price.  Amazon has it currently priced at $65 and volume two at $54 with volumes three and four jumping over $100.  I don’t know if they’re worth it, but if you do love Donald and want some of his cartoons you will find this to be a quality set.  The DVDs came housed in a plastic DVD case which in turn is packaged in a silver tin.  The only negative to the packaging is that the tin can be prone to denting in the shipping process.  The cartoons look great for the most part, especially when one considers how old they are.  Some have survived better than others and it shows on some with the usual white Donald being a little dingy or sometimes yellowed.  The quality of the animation can’t be dulled by age though, and if anything, it only looks more impressive in today’s age where a lot of animation is low-budget or computer generated.  Hand drawn animation is practically dead and this set certainly helps to bring the viewer back to the golden age for animation.  Animation fans and Disney fans would do well to track these sets down.  I own three of the four, and the completest in me likely demands that I eventually get the fourth.  I’ve watched them all and on a lazy Sunday morning it’s not uncommon to find me on my couch with a cup of coffee and Donald Duck playing on my TV.

The shorts:

  • 1934
    • The Wise Little Hen
  • 1936
    • Donald and Pluto
  • 1937
    • Don Donald
    • Modern Inventions
    • Donald’s Ostrich
  • 1938
    • Self Control
    • Donald’s Better Self
    • Donald’s Nephews
    • Polar Trappers (with Goofy)
    • Good Scouts
    • The Fox Hunt (with Goofy)
    • Donald’s Golf Game
  • 1939
    • Donald’s Lucky Day
    • The Hockey Champ
    • Donald’s Cousin Gus
    • Beach Picnic
    • Sea Scouts
    • Donald’s Penguin
    • The Autograph Hound
    • Officer Duck