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Eighties kids have a tendency to loudly proclaim that the cartoons they grew up with, your Masters of the Universe, your Transformers, your My Little Ponies were so much better than the cartoons made for kids today.
Why do they say that? Lead. Lead was in everything back then. Paint, exhaust fumes, you name it. And lead is well known to have a harmful effect on intelligence. Couple this with the radiation from the hole in the ozone layer frying their brains and the still lingering effects of Chernobyl and quite frankly it’s a wonder that your typical eighties kid can tied their own shoes, much less attempt an objective assessment of the state of made for TV animation then and now. God love them, they’ve suffered through so much. Now, I am an eighties kid by birth but I converted to the church of 21st century animation a looooong time ago so let me put this one to bed. No. Cartoons were not better in the eighties than they are now. Know how I know? Because cartoons have never been as good as they are now. Pretty much every cartoon made for television from the nineteen fifties to late eighties was garbage. Sure, there were talented people working on them, but they were people, not gods, and there simply was no way to contend with the forces of microscopic budgets, corporate mandated toy-schilling and stiflingly conservative broadcast standards and create something consistently excellent or even good. Yes, occasionally an episode of Transformers might get through that still holds up today but these were very, very rare exceptions (I’m talking exclusively about American TV animation I should hasten to add). Contrast that with today: American animation studios are consistently making shows for kids that are better than most of the stuff they make for adults. Pearl from Steven Universe is one of the most fascinating, layered, tragically flawed characters on television right now, period. Gravity Falls is unfolding an ongoing mystery plot with a skill and intelligence that The X-Files and Lost could only dream about. Adventure Time takes Twin Peaks to school with its pure surrealism. Eighties, I hate to break it to you, even our remakes of your shows are a tenfold improvement. You have Transformers? We have Transformers: Prime. You have Thundercats? We have Thundercats 2011. You have My Little Pony? We have Friendship is Magic.
You have an army?
We have a HULK.
So what happened? Whence came this huge leap forward in quality?
So some time in the late eighties Disney rolled up their sleeves and decided it was time to show these chumps who the big dog was. Disney began producing high quality TV animation intended for syndication. Critics scoffed, saying that this was an expensive folly that would bring the Disney company into bankruptcy.
“Ha. Motherfuckers never learn.”
Instead, these shows completely revolutionised the American animation TV landscape. Soon after, Warner Bros also got in on the act with Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series to name a few. In essence, all modern TV animation owes its existence to Disney’s gamble in the late eighties, and in particular to their most popular show; DuckTales.
The massive popularity of DuckTales is something that’s always confused me a little. I mean sure, I watched the show and I liked it fine, but what is it about this story about three duck kids and their miserly grunkle that made it to 100 episodes? Couple of things. Firstly, simply by dint of the fact that it wasn’t terrible it was already head and shoulders above pretty much any other cartoon on the air. But I think another key to its longevity was the fact that it’s quite similar to Doctor Who. One of the reasons that show is older than Jesus is because, aside from the fact that they can recast the main actor, the Doctor has a machine that lets him go anywhere in space or time. There is literally no end to the stories you can tell with that basic premise. And in a way, Scrooge McDuck also has a TARDIS. He’s so wealthy that there’s literally nowhere on Earth he can’t afford to go. Want to do a story on the bottom of the ocean? Scrooge buys a submarine. Want to take him to space? Scrooge buys a spaceship. Want to do a story with dinosaurs? Scrooge gets his personal mad scientist to build him a time machine. Want Scrooge to meet Satan? He has a heart attack and goes to hell because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see heaven. Again, you will never run out of stories.
Another thing to consider is that DuckTales was based on a hugely popular comic book, by the legendary Carl Barks. Although Donald Duck was of course created by Walt Disney, it was Barks who did more than anyone else to flesh out everyone’s favourite psychotic waterfowl, creating Duckburg and a whole host of supporting characters; Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica deSpell (it truly was a duck blur). The Duck comics have never really been huge in the States where the comics scene is of course SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME but they’re very popular in what I like to call “Asterix country”, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In fact, I even tried to get my hands on a copy of The Many Lives of Scrooge McDuck for this review from my local comic shop. This lead to the following exchange. I swear to almighty God I am not making this up.
“Sorry, it’s sold out. We sold the last copy to Killian Murphy.”
“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”
“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining to Scrooge McDuck. And who were we to refuse him?”
I SWEAR TO GOD.
But yes, Donald Duck comics are a big effing deal in many parts of the world. Personally though, I always found the entire concept of DuckTales the TV show to be really depressing. Think about it. Hewey, Dewey and Louie get sent to live with their uncle, Donald. I don’t think we ever found out why in the show, but there is no good reason that happens. And then, after losing their parents, Donald passes them off on his uncle, a miserly one-percenter who clearly cares more about his money than his nephews while Donald is off in the navy. Those three little ducks must be carting around a metric ton of abandonment issues. The reason why Donald isn’t present in the series apart from a few cameos is that Roy Disney didn’t want any of Uncle Walt’s classic characters getting TV stink on ’em. Instead, the character of Launchpad was created to fill the role Donald usually did in the comics. Today’s movie, Treasure of the Lost Lamp, came out in 1990 and served as a season finale of shorts to the beloved series. Did DuckTales go out with a bang or a whimper? Let’s take a look.
So the movie begins with Scrooge McDuck (Alan Young), Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webigail (all Russi Taylor), being flown into Genericstan in the Middle East by Launchpad McQuack (Terence McGovern), Scrooge’s personal pilot. Webby is the grandaughter of Mrs Beakley, Scrooge’s housekeeper, because no one in this universe has parents. Nobody. In fact, did you ever notice how many nieces and nephews are running around the Disney universe? It’s like their family trees can only move diagonally like chess bishops. Anyway, Scrooge is shocked to learn mid-flight that Launchpad never took flying lessons (this never came up in one hundred episodes?) but Launchpad cheerfully says that he “took a crash course”.
Ha! Good one! So. You’re fired. You’re going to jail. And you may be about to crash and burn alive.
Launchpad crashes the plane, resulting in the greatest destruction of priceless Arabian antiquities prior to the rise of ISIS. Some of the local Arab dogs (to clarify, they’re anthropomorphised dogs, I wasn’t disparaging Arabs) tell Scrooge that they’ve found a chest belonging to the legendary thief Collie Baba. Scrooge has been looking for Collie Baba’s treasure for forty years but when they crack the chest all they find is some old dirty robes. But in the robes they find a map to a hidden temple way out in the desert. One of the Arabs, Dijon, then sneaks away to inform his master, the sorcerer Merlock and ohhhhhhhh boy we need to talk about Dijon.
Okay. So. One interesting think about the Disney animated TV series of the late eighties and early nineties was that they could be…how shall I put this, RACIST AS BALLS.
One of these screencaps is from 1955. One is from 1989. Try to guess which is which.
Dijon is just…yikes. He’s cringing, stupid, cowardly, servile, treacherous and speaks with a weird sing-songy…I wanna say Indian
accent? I mean, say what you will about the Dumbo
crows, they at least were cool
. They were their own…birds. This guy is just awful. In short:
Much better is Merlock, voiced by Christopher Lloyd and frankly that’s an automatic pass right there. Any cartoon with Christopher Lloyd as the villain has to be more good than bad, right?
“Because it can’t.”
Merlock tells Dijon to offer his services to Scrooge as a guide so that he’ll lead them straight to Collie Baba’s treasure. Merlock then changes into a vulture and flies off because the dude knows how to make an exit. I respect that.
So the ducks head into the desert with Dijon in tow, following the map beneath the blistering Sahara sun.
Mmmmm…smells likes Christmas dinner.
They find a massive pyramid that’s absolutely filthy with booby traps which Dijon proceeds to trip one after the other after the other until finally they fall through a trapdoor that leads them right to the treasure. And I gotta say, that is some piss-poor booby trapping. I hope Collie Baba kept the receipt for that one. Anyway, they find the treasure which Scrooge has been searching for his entire life.
A diamond. The size. Of a tangerine.
The ducks start splashing around in the loot because, honestly, I don’t even think they spend money in this universe it’s just used for swimming. Webby finds an old oil lamp and Scrooge says that it’s not even worth taking and how did this guy get rich again? It’s an oil lamp in an Arabian treasure tomb, of course it has a genie. What do you think is in it, fucking oil? Dijon also seems rather interested in the lamp.
After they’ve bagged the treasure they get ready to go, but Merlock arrives, steals the treasure bags and flips a switch on the wall which starts to lower the ducks into the pit of giant ferocious mutant scorpions below.
“Begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism!”
These kind of animal based traps always bug me. I mean, who’s been feeding these giant scorpions? Did Collie Baba just leave a huge mountain of scorpion food to last the millenia, or do the scorpions work in shifts? Are some scorpions going out for food while the rest sit and watch the treasure while contemplating the futility of their lives? Is the food distributed equally or by seniority? Who decided that? Do they have scorpion laws? Is there a scorpion president? DO SOME WORLD BUILDING MOVIE, GAWD!
Anyway, the ducks escape the scorpions (but there’s so much I want to learn!) and make it out via an underground river. Launchpad and the kids are grateful to be, y’know, alive, but Scrooge is depressed because he lost “the treasure of the century”. Um…the whole treasure fit in a large basket. How is that the treasure of the century?
Surely THIS is the treasure of the century?
Webby gives Scrooge the lamp back to cheer him up.
“Oh yeah. That totally makes up for losing a priceless treasure. Idiot. You’re an IDIOT, Webby!”
Back in Duckburg, life is such a hurricane of
racecars, lazers, aeroplanes intrusive press queries as to what happened to the treasure that Scrooge can’t work and decides to go home early. Back at the mansion, Webby is polishing the lamp and accidentally frees a djinn, a creature created from smokeless fire by Allah himself.
Or a doofus in a stupid hat.
This is Gene the genie (lives on his back) who’s voiced by Rip Taylor, who did a lot of voice work for Disney TV projects, playing characters as diverse as Wacky Weasel and Skunky Skunk.
Well. I say “diverse”.
I…don’t like this character. At all. I mean, he’s not going to crack my list of most annoying supporting characters (that is an elite crew, yo), hell he’s not even the most annoying character in this movie (hello Dijon) but he gets in some licks on my last nerve, lemme tell ya.
Most annoyingly, he has a habit of yelling “SHABOOWIE!” for no reason and godammn it but catchphrases are just lazy writing.
Gene is overjoyed to be free after centuries trapped in the lamp and immediately starts reading all of Scrooge’s encyclopaedias…
It was like Wikipedia, but made of books…
We’re not doing this again, moving on. He’s also amazed to learn that the Earth isn’t flat even though Pythagoras more or less put that one to bed 2,600 years ago. The kids are all “Hey, we’re happy for ya bud, now WISHES, bitch.” In fact, they screw poor Gene out of three wishes each, or twelve in total. Louie sensibly wishes for a million wishes but Gene just says “Get serious, that never works.” Which okay, fine, that is one of the main rules. But then Huey wishes for peace and happiness all over the world and Gene just says “These are wishes, not miracles!”
“Pff…some all powerful genie.”
Webby finally wishes for something small, an elephant, which causes so much destruction that Huey has to use up one of his wishes to get rid of the thing. Scrooge arrives home and suspects that there’s monkeyshines afoot but they tell him that Gene is just a friend who’s sleeping over.
They go outside to play and blow a few wishes on life size trainsets and the world’s biggest ice-cream sundae and are so late getting home that they have to use a wish to change Scrooge’s personality so they won’t get in trouble. Speaking of pure evil, as they get ready to go to bed Gene tells them about his former master Merlock, and how he was able to use his amulet to get unlimited wishes from the lamp. He explains that Merlock is immortal (his first wish) and that he was responsible for some of history’s worst disasters like the destruction of Pomepeii, the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of nu-metal. Gene also tells them that with the amulet he can turn into any animal, even a bird.
Sure enough, Merlock and Dijon arrive at the mansion the next day looking for the lamp. Merlock changes into a rat to sneak around undetected while the boys and Gene play cops and robbers. But then, Webby uses the wish to bring all her stuffed animals to life and OH MY GOD JUST KEEP THE PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER AWAY FROM THE SMALL CHILD THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.
Anyway, Scrooge has finally figured out what’s going on and snatches up the lamp, saying that he’s going to wish for the world’s biggest
diamond diamond mine all the diamond mines the entire mining industry the whole darn pie. Finally, he settles down and wishes for Collie Baba’s treasure and then, taking the lamp, he announces that he’s going to the Explorer’s Club to really rub their faces in it. He orders Gene to get back in the lamp but the kids beg him to re-consider, saying that he’s their friend (who’s good for another few wishes at least). But Scrooge says that genies aren’t people, they’re things. Y’know, like credit cards. Or chauffeurs.
He flies off to the Explorer’s Club with the lamp and Merlock and Dijon in hot pursuit. Gene sees Merlock at the party and tries to get Scrooge to wish them them to safety but Scrooge refuses to waste one of his wishes. Gene hides both of them in his lamp and they manage to give Merloc the slip but Scrooge trips over a dining cart and oh oh spaghetti oh! He drops the lamp and mixes it up with a gravy boat. Dijon picks up the lamp and Gene is shocked to discover that he has a new master now.
“Tonight the part of Scrooge McDuck will be played by an extremely problematic Arab stereotype.”
Scrooge arrives back at the Money Bin to discover to his horror that Dijon has wished for his fortune and that there has been some serious wealth re-distribution going on here.
A furious Scrooge is arrested by his former security goons who now work for Dijon, and has to spend a night in the cells. He’s released on bail by the kids and his butler Duckworth and Mrs Beakley (how come they don’t work for Dijon now?) and Scrooge plots to break back into the Money Bin using his knowledge of all the alarm systems. Because it’s not a Scrooge McDuck plan without copious amounts of child endangerment he sends the kids in first to disable the Bin’s security systems which veer on the ostentatious for somebody who’s usually so careful with money.
“Now Mr McDuck I see from the plans you want a corridor of deadly lazer beams that can only be avoided by walking on the white panels of a chessboard patterned floor.”
“Have you considered that it might be far cheaper and more effective to just install a re-enforced steel door with a secure passcode?”
“No. When those fuckers come for my money, I want to smell their flesh cooking.”
“Sir, you are one sick duck.”
Little do they know, Merlock has also stuck into the Bin in the form of a cockroach. Scrooge arrives in Dijon’s office and Gene distracts Dijon so that Scrooge can grab the lamp.
“You’re so handsome…and your beard is so…twisted.”
But, right before Scrooge can get the lamp Merlock transforms back into his real form and snatches it from him. Merlock then places his amulet on the lamp, meaning he now has unlimited wishes.
Merlock’s first wish is to transform Dijon into a pig who then runs away screaming like he’s gotten the scent of David Cameron. Know why I love Merlock? He’s a villain of the old school. After dealing with Dijon he gets Gene to turn the Money Bin into a massive spiky castle with dragons and gargoyles all over it. IN THE FUCKING SKY.
“JUST THE TWOOOOO OF US!!!!
BUILDING CASTLES IN THE SKYYYYY!!!”
Scrooge, never one to know when he’s beat, starts mouthing off to Merlock who orders genie to cast him out of the flying castle (if only he was some kind of flying animal). But then Huey uses his slingshot to shoot the lamp out of Merlock’s hand and the lamp and Scrooge go over the edge together. Merlock turns into a griffin and flies after them but Scrooge kicks his ass because, I may not have made this clear aleady, Scrooge McDuck is fucking badass and he smashes Merlock’s talisman which causes him to fall to his doom. Scrooge then snags the lamp and uses his second wish to return them all safely to terra firma. Finally realising that the lamp is too dangerous, and that he was wrong to consider Gene a “thing”, he uses his last wish to turn Gene into a real boy. Gene is overjoyed and Huey, Dewey and Louie ask him what he wants to do and he tells them he wants to play cops and robber while doing a James Cagney impression and no. No no no.
I knew Genie. Genie was a friend of mine. And you, sir, are no genie.
They run off and Scrooge goes for a swim in his money only to find Dijon there stuffing his pants with loot. And so the movie ends with Scrooge chasing Dijon over the horizon while the theme tune to DuckTales plays, a song so ridiculously catch that you could score an ad for liquified ebola to it and it would probably sell.
More of a dry run for Aladdin
than a great genie movie in its own right, Treasure of the Lost Lamp
isn’t an awful send off for the Ducktales gang but it’s not exactly a crowning highpoint either. I’d give you some recommendations for better Ducktales episodes, but why should I when there’s likely a legion of Duck fans in the comments only too happy to do that very thing. See you next time, and remember, as Donald Duck always says *incomprehensible quacking gibberish
Uneven, but definitely several notches above the TV show. Certain sequences actually rival movies from the canon.
It’ll be interesting to see how the reboot handles Scrooge McDuck in a post-Occupy Wall Street world. Personally, I can’t help but love the old bastard.
God, I miss the days when Disney villains just showed up and start magically wrecking shit and didn’t waste time talking about their feelings.
Supporting Characters: 06/20
“It’s an Indiana Jones esque romp!” “But without the racism and insufferable comedic sidekicks, right?” “Hey, don’t go putting words in my mouth.”
DuckTales always had awesome music and David Newman delivers a pretty darn epic score.
FINAL SCORE: 59%
NEXT TIME: 29 October 2015
Yes. I said I was going to review a Don Bluth move after DuckTales. I lied to you. Why?
Because I’m a wild animal.
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger based in Dublin. The blog updates with a new review every second Thursday
. A new chapter from his novel, The Devil’s Heir
, posts every Saturday. Today’s review was made possible thanks to the kind donation of Juha Tilli. Thanks Juha! Original artwork for this blog was commissioned from the oh-so talented Julie Android who you should definitely check out.