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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.


A Quiet Change for a Loud Duck

donald-duck-madOne of the things I admire about the Walt Disney Company is the care in which they manage their most famous assets. Specifically, I’m speaking of Mickey Mouse and the practice of passing on the role to Disney Studio lifers.

Mickey was first voiced by Walt himself, which I would guess most people are aware of. Next came Jimmy MacDonald, a veteran sound effects man at the company, who took over during production of Mickey and the Beanstalk from the Fun and Fancy Free package film. MacDonald would then hand the role over to his assistant, Wayne Allwine, who is the voice many of my peers grew up knowing from television and Disney World attractions. Along the way, other actors chipped in here and there, but no one else voiced Mickey full-time. Since Allwine’s passing in 2009, the role has actually been passed on to two individuals:  Bret Iwan and Chris Diamontopolous. Not to disparage the work of either of the current Mickeys, their taking on the role ended the tradition of longtime Disney employees taking over, which is kind of unfortunate. Part of that can be blamed on Allwine’s sudden passing, but even before that when his health was failing, Iwan was hired to be Allwine’s understudy, though the two never got to work together.

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Clarence Nash, Donald’s original voice actor and creator, held the role from 1934-1985.

After Mickey, the most famous Disney character is likely Donald Duck, and Donald has benefitted from having just two voice actors in his 80-plus years of existence. Clarence Nash was the first to provide a voice for the irascible duck, and he did so up until his death in 1985 when the role was then passed on to Tony Anselmo, an animator with the company. As Anselmo tells it, Nash was quietly and unofficially training him for the gig for quite sometime leading up to his death from cancer. It was also Nash who told Anselmo that he would take over as the voice of Donald in what was probably a pretty emotional moment for the both of them.

When only two people have handled a singular role, it’s fun to analyze the two and figure out who did it better. Of course, Nash is the original and will always represent the best of Donald Duck. He voiced the character for all of Donald’s classic theatrical shorts as well as his appearances in Mickey Mouse shorts, with his final theatrical performance being Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Anselmo’s Donald is very close to Nash’s, and I’d wager most people can’t tell the difference upon a casual viewing. For those who consider themselves duck enthusiasts, Anselmo’s Donald is definitely a littler higher, and raspier. His delivery allows Donald to better enunciate, which probably makes his version more suitable for early childhood programs like The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Anselmo’s Donald does sound like it requires more effort, and sometimes it sounds too gassy. Voicing Donald is not an easy thing, and Nash was even said to have even passed out during a recording session, so I don’t intend for that to sound like criticism of Anselmo’s work, but as an observation.

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Tony Anselmo took over for Nash and was hired out of the animation department.

Very quietly though, Donald has been given a new voice. Just released this past January, a new cartoon starring Mickey and the gang began airing on the Disney Channel:  Mickey and the Roadster Racers. It’s said to be a pseudo-sequel series for The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, though the target audience is definitely older by a few years. The show stars the same cast:  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto with numerous appearances by the likes of Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow, and other Disney staples. They even featured an episode with a Three Caballeros reunion and a rare Horace Horsecollar appearance (I know these things because I’m a father to a Mickey Mouse addict).

Because I’m a Donald Duck nerd, I noticed when watching the first episode that he sounded a little different. When I pulled up IMDB at the time it didn’t list a voice actor (I took my son to an early viewing of the show in October), but I kept checking as TV spots were regularly aired to remind me and eventually a voice cast appeared with this name beside Donald Duck:  Daniel Ross.

I’ve been unable to find any info on why Donald was recast. The prevailing theory seems to be that Anselmo doesn’t have the time, or his voice can’t handle, voicing Donald in multiple series. This summer, a reboot of DuckTales is set to begin airing which is said to feature Donald more heavily than the original did. There’s also Mickey Mouse shorts, the occasional Clubhouse special, and whatever other roles come up throughout the course of the year so perhaps Anselmo just can’t handle another full-time series.

Like the guys who took over for Mickey, Ross is a professional voice actor and not someone previously tied to the company. It would seem a once time-honored tradition is no more, and as the actors who have played these characters for years get older they’ll be replaced with talent from outside of Disney. A part of me is disappointed in that, though I don’t begrudge anyone for taking on such an iconic role as Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. From what I’ve observed, Ross’s Donald is very similar to Anselmo’s. It’s quite raspy, as opposed to Nash’s more guttural performance. Ross apparently got the job through conventional means, and I found one story on the subject that’s pretty cute online, but couldn’t find anything relating to Anselmo and why he isn’t voicing the character. I’d be curious to know if Anselmo intends to stop voicing the character in the near future (he’s only 56) and if he turned down doing the series. I also wish the company made a bigger deal about Donald getting a new voice, it’s only his third voice actor, after all. Unlike with Mickey, I’m not aware of anyone else even filling in for a spot here or there for Donald which is pretty incredible (though Nash was understandably likely never as busy as Walt Disney was which is what lead to Mickey having an occasional fill-in, once even voiced by Nash) and it would have been nice to see the company acknowledge that, even if it was just a simple press release. I noticed though, and I doubt I’m the only one, so congratulations to Daniel Ross. I would guess Anselmo isn’t going anywhere, especially with Donald less than 20 years away from turning 100, which is probably a nice goal to aim for. I suspect when that day comes there will be a far bigger celebration for America’s favorite duck than what was made of his new voice.

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Donald is to be voiced by Tony Anselmo in the upcoming DuckTales reboot.


A Mickey Mouse Christmas

Mickey Mouse has appeared in many Christmas themed specials and shorts over the years.  I suppose that should be expected of a character who has been around for over 80 years.  I don’t think he’s appeared in more Christmas specials than any other popular character (the boys in South Park actually had a nice streak going on of a Christmas special nearly every year) but he’s certainly in the discussion.  Many of Mickey’s Christmas exploits took place on the big screen in the form of shorts, but have since become television staples during the Christmas season.  Rather than make an individual post here and there on certain ones, I’ve decided to make one long post that hits on the ones I’m most familiar with.  This list isn’t exhaustive as I’m sure there are more modern television specials that I’m not familiar with, but consider this a good start.  The following list is in chronological order, starting with the earliest.  They’re all available on DVD in some fashion, and the old shorts can be found on youtube as well (Disney is pretty lax with its old shorts when it comes to youtube, probably because the Treasures line of DVDs is out of print)

Mickey’s Good Deed (1932)

The original version was in black and white, but colorized versions exist today.

The original version was in black and white, but colorized versions exist today.

Mickey’s rise to fame nearly coincided with The Great Depression.  As such, it’s a pretty common site to see Mickey depicted poor and penniless.  In Mickey’s Good Deed, he’s a street performer looking to make a buck.  As far as we know, his only possessions are his cello and Pluto.  After a day of playing, Mickey and Pluto look to score some dinner and find that passer-byes have been tossing nuts and bolts into Mickey’s cup instead of coins.  Down on their luck, Mickey has a mishap that leads to the destruction of his cello, while a rich pig offers to buy Pluto for his bratty kid.  Mickey, of course, refuses but he soon happens upon a family of poor cats.  Wanting to give them a good Christmas, Mickey reluctantly sells his dog, dresses up as Santa, and gives the cat family a nice Christmas.  Pluto, meanwhile, is miserable as he’s abused by the bratty boy pig leading to the father tossing him out and spanking his kid.  Pluto is able to happen upon a despondent Mickey and we get a nice, happy ending.  It’s a cute little Christmas short that unfortunately is never shown on air because of one instance of perceived racist imagery.  A little balloon the Santa Mickey carries appears to depict a blackface character portrait on it.  This means the short is relegated to the vault section on the release Mickey Mouse In Black and White Volume 2.  Despite that, it’s actually been released here and there on VHS and DVD, including a colorized version on the most recent release Holiday Celebration with Mickey and Pals.

Toy Tinkers (1949)

It's all-out war when Chip and Dale sneak into Donald's house.

It’s all-out war when Chip and Dale sneak into Donald’s house.

I’m cheating here, because this is actually a Donald Duck short and does not feature Mickey, but who cares?  This Christmas themed short pits Donald versus perhaps his most famous antagonists:  Chip and Dale.  While out chopping down a Christmas tree, the mischievous chipmunks take notice and follow Donald back to his home where they see a nice, warm environment and bowls full of nuts.  The duo slip in and immediately start using the toys around the tree to transport the nuts out of there.  Donald, not one for charity, takes note and a full-scale battle breaks out over the nuts with the two using pop guns and toy cannons on each other.  It’s a silly, and fun short where Donald is mostly punished for his cruelty (and because it’s more fun to see Donald lose his temper) and things mostly work out for Chip and Dale.  Unlike Mickey’s Good Deed, this one will pop up from time to time on the Disney channel during the holiday season.  Otherwise, it can be found on some compilation releases and the Treasures release The Chronological Donald Volume 3.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)

Pluto is very protective of his Christmas tree.

Pluto is very protective of his Christmas tree.

Despite what it’s title suggests, Pluto’s Christmas Tree is actually considered a Mickey Mouse short instead of a Pluto one, for some reason.  It’s also one of the few shorts to feature Jimmy Macdonald as Mickey Mouse, as Walt found he didn’t have the time to voice the character any longer.  Pluto’s Christmas Tree is actually fairly similar to Toy Tinkers.  Mickey and Pluto set out to get a Christmas tree and they settle on one that happens to be occupied by Chip and Dale.  Once inside the house, Chip and Dale immediately start to make themselves comfortable in the Christmas tree while Pluto takes notice.  Pluto tries, in vain, to point out the chipmunks to Mickey who just sees Pluto’s antics as the usual.  Eventually he can’t take it anymore and attacks the tree, finally revealing the chipmunks to Mickey who basically has the opposite reaction as Pluto.  The short ends with Christmas carols, where the chipmunks take issue with Pluto’s singing voice.  This is another wildly entertaining Chip and Dale story mostly full of slapstick humor.  This one is really easy to get ahold of as it’s been released several times on VHS and DVD and is one of the most well-received Disney shorts.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Not a Christmas season goes by where I don't watch this one numerous times.

Not a Christmas season goes by where I don’t watch this one numerous times.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is fairly recent compared with the other shorts.  It’s also quite easy to catch on television or find on DVD and was even recently rereleased on Blu Ray (along with Pluto’s Christmas Tree, among others) this year.  It’s the classic Dickens’ tale with Mickey as Bob Cratchit and Minnie as his wife.  Scrooge McDuck is, naturally, the film’s Scrooge while other Disney characters show up in supporting roles.  As far as takes on A Christmas Carol go, this one is my favorite as it’s both funny and poignant and the inclusion of Disney characters somehow makes it more relatable.  The recent re-release does make it all the more obvious that one giant Christmas release from Disney is necessary.  Mickey’s Christmas Carol is also how many were first introduced to the longest running voice of Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine (who passed away in 2009), and also marks the final performance of the original Donald, Clarence “Ducky” Nash.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)

Once Upon a Christmas is far from timeless, but it is nice to see all of the Disney characters together at Christmas time once again.

Once Upon a Christmas is far from timeless, but it is nice to see all of the Disney characters together at Christmas time once again.

Once Upon a Christmas is a traditionally animated direct-to-video collection of three shorts starring Donald, Goofy, and Mickey.  It’s shown annually on television still and represents the modern Mickey Mouse and friends.  The first short, titled Stuck on Christmas, stars Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and is a take on the story of What if Christmas Were Every Day?  In it, the three boys wish it could be Christmas every day and are then forced to deal with the consequences.  It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, in that the boys need to be considerate of others and have the perfect day to undo the spell.  The second short, A Very Goofy Christmas, stars Goofy and his son Max as Goofy tries to prove to Max that there is a Santa Claus after their neighbor Pete informs him there’s no such thing.  The third short, Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi, once again depicts Mickey as rather poor as both he and Minnie try to scrounge up some money to buy each other the perfect Christmas gift with both discovering the only thing that matters is having each other.  The animation on all three is pretty well done and it’s kind of fun to see modernized versions of the characters.  Aside from the Mickey short, the others tend to run a bit too long and run out of steam towards the end.  It’s a solid Christmas special but falls short of being a classic due mostly to the pacing issues.

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004)

Another direct-to-video Christmas special, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is naturally the sequel to Once Upon

The CG look for the characters just doesn't do it for me, and as you can see here, the backgrounds suffer too.

The CG look for the characters just doesn’t do it for me, and as you can see here, the backgrounds suffer too.

a Christmas, though the stories contain no obvious references to the previous ones.  Differing itself from its predecessor, Twice Upon a Christmas is entirely computer animated and the results are something less than spectacular.  The characters are mostly harmed by the transition to 3D models which makes sense considering they were never drawn for such a look to begin with.  This collection also contains five shorts which does address the pacing issues from the first set.  The shorts are:  Belles on Ice, Christmas: Impossible, Christmas Maximus, Donald’s Gift, and Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas.  The first one stars Minnie and Daisy as competitive figure skaters and is easily the worst of the set.  There just isn’t much to it.  Christmas: Impossible stars Huey, Dewey, and Louie as they sneak into Santa’s workshop to get on the nice list.  It’s kind of cute, but the CG really shows its limitations as the should-be wondrous Santa’s workshop is really unimpressive looking.  Christmas Maximus stars Goofy and Max, who’s now returning home for the holidays from college with his new sweetheart.  It’s only slightly better than Belles on Ice but is ultimately forgettable.  I also found Max’s look to be really off-putting for some reason.  Donald’s Gift is a rather simple Donald tale where his grumpiness and overall bad demeanor nearly ruin Christmas for his family, but he redeems himself in the end.  I’m a Donald sucker, so I was entertained by this one but it can’t hold a candle to Donald’s classic shorts.  Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas is definitely the strongest of the collection as Pluto runs away to the North Pole after Mickey gets mad at him.  There he befriends Santa’s reindeer and adopts the moniker Murray (Murray Christmas, get it?!) and even gets to fly.  The reindeer characters are entertaining, and the CG look actually works for Pluto, though I still prefer the traditional look.  Eventually Pluto is reunited by Santa with his depressed owner and everyone’s happy in the end.  Overall, this is a weak collection and the CG makes it hard to watch.  Check it out if you happen to catch it on TV, but don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to see it.