The Little Mermaid, the series: Wish Upon a Starfish

“Hey Mouse. I did you a solid with that Ursula episode, right? So how’s about you don’t rag on me quite so mercilessly from now on?”
“My my. Am I already at the part where I hallucinate that the series I’m reviewing is talking to me? How time flies.”
“C’mon Mouse. Isn’t there enough negativity in the world? Just give me a good review and I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Lie to my readers? Why that’s…I couldn’t possibly…NO! GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE! LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“Suit yourself. It was only a suggestion.”

Wha’ Happen’?

Of all the nerve! I’m going to be absolutely brutal on this one. Wish Upon a Starfish begins with Sebastien looking for Ariel and telling her she’d better be studying for her “Crab Philosophy” test…okay, I already have a million and one questions here.

Ariel is receiving some kind of education? Sebastien is her tutor now (why am I not surprised)? But most importantly, which crab philosophers are on the curriculum? Crabistotle? Socrabstes? Crab Camus?

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk beside me because I walk sideways. Because I’m a crab.”

Anyway, Sebastien tells Ariel that there’s a storm going on overhead so she swims to the surface to see if she can get some of that sweet, sweet human swag. She finds a music box with a ballerina figurine (I would really have liked if this was the same music box we see in Part of Your World but alas) but Sebastien and Flounder yell at her to come back because the storm is dangerous. Somehow.

Oh no! They might…drown?

Well yes, actually. They get hit by a wave and we next see Ariel unconscious, washed up on a beach with Flounder beside her. And Flounder’s first words are “Ariel, are you okay?!”

Yeah dude. She is. Because she has LUNGS.

Like, sweet and all that he cares about her so much but sometimes it’s okay to prioritise your own needs, y’know?

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The Little Mermaid, the series: Against the Tide

Wha’ Happen’?

The episode begins with Ariel riding a sea horse throughout the entire ocean to wish every single sea creature a good morning and to continue her descent into self-parody. One creature who is not having a good morning however, is whatever the hell this thing is:

What? What!? WHAT?!!

So this…flipped bird from evolution itself is a Bad Luck Creature and none of the other sea creatures will have anything to do with it because it’s supposedly unlucky which, clearly from the fact that it’s living, it is. The creature, which we shall call Lucky, is very sad because all of the other ocean denizens shun it and call it names.

“FREAK!”

Ariel comes across this abomination and starts make cooing noises and oh God, you know what this means don’t you?

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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Save the Whale

Wha’ Happen’?

If my kids ever ask me about the nineties I’ll tell them of a wondrous time when the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War was over and we were all free to focus on what was really important: dinosaurs and whales. Seriously, if it wasn’t big, extinct or going extinct it could get fucked. The mania of interest in dinosaurs obviously followed in the wake of Jurassic Park, whereas the world’s global bout of cetaphilia was a result of the movie Free Willy, a film about boys and whales and whales jumping over boys.

Not a great movie. Sorry.
“Between this and talking shit about Darkwing Duck, you are just asking to be killed by nineties kids at this point.”

This episode deals with Spot, a baby killer whale that Ariel adopted in the pilot for this series which I haven’t reviewed because Disney, in their infinite wisdom, decided to not put it on Disney plus. And this episode is a sequel to that one where Spot returns because Disney was decided in 1993 that having an episode about a killer whale trying to escape from a water park might be an easy sell.

Ahem.

Actually I can’t be sure of that. This episode aired in October 1993, a mere three months after Free Willy premiered which seems like an awfully quick turnaround. I mean, that would mean that this episode was just slapped together in ninety days and ohhhhhhhh I see…

And all the pieces fell into place.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Thinga-Ma-Jigger

Wha’ Happen’?

Ariel and Flounder are out minding their own damn business when a naval battle between some pirates and the Royal Navy breaks out overhead. During the battle, one of the pirates drops a boot and Ariel, little hoarder that she is, is fascinated by it and takes it back to Atlantica to show to her friends. Now, The Little Mermaid the film had a lean, tight little screenplay with very little fat which was to its credit. But it does mean that Ariel’s world is really under-populated. She has literally two friends in that movie (Sebastien is more of an authority figure), Flounder and Scuttle and she hasn’t actually met Scuttle yet. So the episode has to create some new fish friends for Ariel. Who are these fresh new additions to the rich Mermaid canon? Well, we get an unnamed posh lady fish who loves fashion dahling and an uninspired Woody Allen impression. God, uninspired Woody Allen impersonations used to be everywhere in cartoons and they were never a good sign. Foodfight! had one. That should teach you plenty. By a rather morbid coincidence this episode would have aired right around the time Dylan Farrow went public.

Probably why this guy isn’t on a lot of merch.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: The Evil Manta

Wha’ Happen’?

Things get off to a bad start right away when The Little Mermaid the series violates the unwritten rule that all Disney series from the nineties have to have an absolute banger as a theme song. Instead, TLM has a wordless medley of the themes for Under the Sea and Part of Your World. Fantastic pieces of music no doubt, but it still feels more than a little lazy.

Anyway, remember the Under the Sea sequence from the original movie? Sure ya do. Well, it turns out that’s just how life is in Atlantica all the time, a never-ending calypso-infused bacchanal under the kindly patrician gaze of beloved despot King Triton. So Triton and Sebastien are taking a trip see the “turtle races” and Ariel and Flounder take the opportunity to go exploring. Near a sinister looking volcano they hear a weak, pathetic voice begging them for help and discover an unseen creature trapped in the volcano’s crater. Ariel wants to help but Flounder reminds her of the legend of a terrible monster that was trapped in a volcano (much like this one actually) by the ancient Atlanticans and that would certainly doom their entire civilization if it was ever freed. Ariel, naturally, tells Flounder not to be such a little bitch and frees the creature which turns out to be…the thing, the thing I just said.

I’m not even going to insult you by telling you who they got to voice him. You should be able to tell just by looking at him.
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The Little Mermaid The Series: Introduction

Look, in my time I’ve clapped back at people who disputed bad reviews I gave with the shop-worn riposte “well it wasn’t made for you!” but there does come a point where you have to admit that something just…wasn’t…made for you. Case in point, over the next few posts I’ll be reviewing a cartoon series made for nine year old girls in the early nineties. And it’s one thing to dunk on DarkWing Duck but beating up on a show made for little girls is cheap even for me. Fortunately, Unshaved Mouse inc. has a nine year old girl on staff and she kindly agreed to watch the series with me. And Mini Mouse peaced out after three episodes so I know it’s not just me. Actual transcript:

“Is this a new show?”
“Oh no, it’s almost as old as I am.”
“Oh, that’s why it’s so…”
“So what?”
“Nothin’.”

And look, I wanted to like this series. Hell, I have always wanted to like this series. I’ve mentioned before that The Little Mermaid was the first Disney movie I ever owned on VHS. I loved that film as much as it was safe for a seven year old boy in a rough North Dublin school to love that movie. And I remember being deeply bored by this series. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. Not because the series is good (oh no) but it is ABSOLUTELY BUCK WILD.

See this? This is from the episode where Ariel defeats a racism powered Ocean Satan with footwear. I made LITERALLY NONE OF THAT UP.

Buckle up, Mother-Guppies. We’re gettin’ weird.

You win. Good day sir.

In 1964 British-Norwegian author Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I wouldn’t call it the greatest Dahl novel (I actually prefer the sequel, believe it or not) but it’s a fun romp nonetheless where you the reader get to enjoy one of the most scabrously funny writers of the twentieth century sit an entire generation of children down and say “Listen up, you little bastards. Here’s why you suck.”

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Wonka_Book_8934.jpg

However, it has to be said that the ending is objectively terrible. Willy Wonka finishes the tour of his factory, glances over his shoulder and sees that Charlie Bucket has survived his gauntlet of death by dint of having no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, and essentially says “yes, you, bland cipher child, you shall inherit my chocolate factory!” And that’s it. That’s the ending.

Now, a mere seven years later the book was adapted into Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory directed by Mel Stuart and starring the late great Gene Wilder in the title role. The screenplay is solely credited to Roald Dahl but around 30% of it was actually written by David Seltzer, including (I’m pretty certain) the scene I want to discuss. It’s a movie that I love with all my heart and soul and consider one of the very best literary adaptations ever made. I love this film. I love the performances, I love the songs, I love the gags. Those weird, Monty Python-esque skits where the whole world goes nuts looking for the Golden Tickets? I love ’em. And, in my opinion, it improves on the novel in every single change that it makes.

Removing Charlie’s Dad? Makes Charlie more sympathetic and gives Mrs Bucket more of a focus. Having each child only bring in one parent to the factory? Trims the fat. Making the Oompa Loompas little orange dudes instead of Arican pygmies?

But these are all mostly minor, cosmetic changes. There are two scenes added to the story that drastically change the meaning of the story and the character of Willy Wonka. The first interpolation happens between Violet Beauregard being turned into a blueberry and Veruca Salt being sent to the furnace (man, this movie is a fun time). Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe steal Fizzy Lifting Drinks and almost get chopped to pieces by a ceiling fan. They belch their way to freedom and rejoin the tour, with Wonka seemingly none the wiser.

Now, a lot of people hate this addition and I can definitely see why. The whole point of Charlie is that he’s not like the other kids. He’s supposed to be the good one. And, you could argue that by stealing the Fizzy Lifting Drinks Charlie is actually worse than the other kids. I mean, it’s definitely worse than Augustus Gloop drinking from the chocolate river. Wonka just let those kids loose in a chocolate world and told them to go nuts, so why wouldn’t Augustus drink from the river? Why is the river off limits but not anything else? Mike Teevee was definitely out of line but I think the real blame is on the Oompa Loompas for shrinking him. Violet Beauregard may have taken the chewing gum against Wonka’s advice, but at least she was upfront about it and didn’t steal it behind his back! And Veruca…

Okay, Veruca just straight up trashed the egg laying room like the Rolling Stones trashing the Miami Hilton.

ROCK AND ROLL!

He’s not worse than Veruca but, other than the upper echelons of the Nazi party, no one is.

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Darkwing Duck: Just Us Justice Ducks

Wha’ happen?

If, like me, you were unfortunate enough to grow up in a third world nation untouched by the beneficent glow of the Disney Channel then your only way of experiencing TV shows like DuckTales and Darkwing Duck was the sporadic VHS releases that Disney deigned to let drop from their table. In the case of DarkWing Duck, this meant that the only contact I had with this show was the two-parter Darkly Dawns the Duck which we’ve already looked at and this, Just Us Justice Ducks. And going from one to the other is a bit like watching Iron Man and then following it up immediately with Endgame.

WHO THE FUCK ARE ALL YOU PEOPLE?!

In these episodes Darkwing puts together a superhero team of former super-powered enemies and rivals to battle his arch-nemesis Negaduck who’s put together his own Legion of Doom of Darkwing’s most dangerous foes. The trouble is, thanks to Disney’s insistence on releasing episodes in an order dictated by tarot cards and the phases of the moon, many of these characters hadn’t even been formally introduced yet. Hell, considering that Just Us Justice Ducks consists of episodes 18 and 19 and Darkly Dawns the Duck was episodes 29 and 30, you could argue that Darkwing himself hadn’t been introduced yet.

Anyway, Darkwing is preparing to go on a date with Morgana MacCawber, a Transylvanian sorceress who was a villain but who he’s now dating (this fucking show). Unfortunately, their date has to be cut short because two of Darkwing’s villains, Megavolt and Crackerjack, have attacked the local power station. Darkwing tries to stop them but Morgana turns him accidentally turns him into a pudding and the villains, having him at their total mercy, just laugh and leave him there. They then install an “electro slave” device in the power station and Darkwing just…leaves it there.

Later, after he’s been returned to normal, Darkwing races to the police station which is being attacked by two other villains, Bushroot and Liquidator. He also runs into Stegmutt, a genetically engineered dinosaur duck hybrid with the strength and intelligence of a car-compactor. The villains get away by convincing Stegmutt that Darkwing’s on fire and telling him to put him out.

“Puny god.”

Bushroot causes a massive bean stalk to grow up under the police station and they am-scray back their hideout where we meet the leader of the villains: Negaduck. Ohhhhh boy and I gotta explain him now don’t I?

So this Negaduck is Darkwing Duck from an evil “Negaverse” which would only be introduced 17 episodes after this one aired. Oh, and I said this Negaduck because there was also a Negaduck introduced in the episode “Negaduck” who was the result of Darkwing Duck being hit by a beam by Megavolt that split him into good and evil versions. And, despite that Negaduck being considered the “first” Negaduck the episode where that happens is actually the last one in broadcast order.

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Darkwing Duck: Darkly Dawns the Duck

Wha’ happen?

Darkly Dawns the Duck originally aired as a one hour special on the Disney Channel, introducing the main character and his supporting cast and setting up the status quo for the series going forward. That was a smart thing to do. Disney then took this one hour special, re-cut it into two episodes and made them episodes…30 and 31 of Season 1 on Disney Plus. That was a very stupid thing to do and I have no idea why they did it. In fact, the entire running order is batshit insane. Characters appear in episodes as a known quantity only for Darkwing Duck to meet them for the first time twenty episodes later, it’s crazy.

“We’re experimenting with avant garde forms of non-linear story-telling you philistine clod!”

Unfortunately, this means we also miss a pretty fantastic sequence of Darkwing hunting some criminals through the streets of Saint Canard to the strains of the immortal theme tune sung by Jeff Pescetto who also sang the theme for Ducktales and Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers. The Disney Plus version just cuts to Darkwing delivering these hoods to the local police station and bemoaning that he can’t get no respect around here and he needs to start taking on some big time criminals.

He gets his wish when Taurus Bulba (Tim Curry) a crime boss who’s been running his empire from his prison cell, sends his goons to steal the Ramrod, an anti-gravity cannon, from a military train. DW fails to stop Bulba’s men (technically sentient farm livestock) despite and assist from Duckburg’s own Launchpad McQuack.

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Darkwing Duck: Introduction

Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTales is? How would you even explain that show to someone who’d never heard of it?

“Richie Rich if he was an old duck?” That’s not even a premise, that’s a meaningless Mad Lib. And yet, DuckTales was a massive, massive deal. It ran for one hundred episodes, kickstarted the modern era of high quality TV animation and spawned a veritable multimedia empire. What gives? How did a show with such a weird, clunky premise achieve that kind of success? I think it comes down to a few different factors:

  1. Carl Barks was given a job drawing funny little Donald Duck cartoons and decided to use that opportunity to write the Great American Novel. His duck universe cartoons were used as the basis of DuckTales and that’s some damn strong source material.
  2. Mark Mueller’s theme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
  3. Scrooge McDuck is basically the Doctor.

Here’s what I mean. The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is that it’s an inexhaustible premise. There is an alien with a box that can go anywhere in time and space. You will never run out of stories to tell with that setup. In the same way, Scrooge McDuck has something almost as powerful as a Tardis: A metric shit-ton of money.

And this is why the show was able to run for 100 episodes. Scrooge is so rich he can basically buy his way in to any genre you can think of. Over the run they did space-opera, western, time travel, romance, pulp adventure, giant mech battles, horror. That’s the beauty of Scrooge McDuck; he’s a strongly defined character who nonetheless can slot into almost any kind of story. Case in point: the time they made him a superhero.

Right, so in Season 3 Scrooge gets so sick of the lying or “fake” news media making people think that the gold-loving billionaire is a bad guy so he decides to become a vigilante and wooooooow this hits different in 2021. Anyway, in order to improve his public image he becomes a superhero called the Masked Mallard.

Stop sniggering in the back, please.

Okay, fast forward a year after DuckTales ended and Disney are prepping a new reboot of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show only to discover that they don’t actually own the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“That story makes no sense.”
“Back in the nineties there were still things Disney didn’t own. It was nuts.”

So a hasty, last minute replacement had to be found and they decided on expanding the Masked Mallard concept into its own TV show. The Mallard was re-worked into “Darkwing Duck”, a fedora wearing, cloaked, nocturnal crime-fighter clearly modelled on…

“Don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman…”
“The Shadow.”
“Never doubted you.”

And so, as the first stop on our look at Disney cartoon animation for Shortstember, I’ll be doing mini reviews of four episodes of this childhood classic. Let’s get dangerous.