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:
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.
Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTalesis? 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:
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.
Mark Mueller’stheme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
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.
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.
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…
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.
Beatrice flies through a blizzard, desperately searching for Greg. She sees him ahead, standing in a snowy clearing with the Beast. Suddenly, she is blown away by a mighty wind.
The Beast asks Greg to bring him a spool of silver thread and a golden comb. Greg brings him a cobweb and a honeycomb, demonstrating the kind of lateral thinking that’ll probably get him a job in Google down the line. For his final trial, the Beast tells him to lower the sun into a teacup. So Greg simply puts the teacup on a tree stump and waits for the sun to set so that it looks like its going into the cup from the right perspective.
The Beast is apparently satisfied by this transparent con job and tells Greg to wait in the cold until everything starts feeling real warm and comfortable.
We begin our episode in a strange and mysterious wonderland full of great music and childlike whimsy and wonder.
Wirt is pacing his bedroom nervously, having just created a mix-tape for Sara in the hope that she will immediately consent to be his wife and tend his farm (as was the custom in the nineties) After chickening out and unravelling the tape, he finally mans up and repairs the tape. He then makes a Halloween costume out of a re-purposed Santa Claus hat and a repurposed Civil War era jacket.
Finally resolving the mystery of why he’s dressed like an idiot.
Of course, this doesn’t actually answer the question of what exactly he was dress as for Halloween. My guess is that he’s going as General Gandalf Ulysses Mayberry, commander of the 11th Ohio Wizards.
Known to his men as “Ol’ Spellface”, he was eaten by a dragon at Gettysburg.
Wirt heads over to the school football field and watches Sara through the fence. Sara is currently dressed as a giant bee as she is the school mascot.
I don’t think this is why Wirt’s into her, but no judgement either way.
Greg, who’s apparently been out trick-or-treating alone (ah, the days before 9/11) and we finally learn what he was dressed as: an elephant.
While Beatrice searches for the boys, Wirt, Greg and the Frog sail down a river in an outhouse. Things are looking pretty grim. The Unknown has gone from Summer Autumnal to Winter Autumnal, Wirt has slipped into a deep depression and worst of all they can hear the Beast singing opera some ways behind them. Or, as Wirt puts it; “The obsidian cricket of our inevitable twilight, singing our requiem.”
Sidenote: Despite blogging for eight years, I still thought it was a good idea to look for this gif by googling “Wanking Gif”. I got everything I deserved.
Wirt says that it’s Greg’s fault that they’re trapped here and that he’s given up all hope that they’ll ever make it home. Greg asks if that means he’s the leader now and Wirt says “Whatevs” and Greg promises Wirt that he’ll be a good leader and won’t let him down because the kid’s a little champ.
So the…I feel weird calling Wirt, Greg and Beatrice “our heroes” all the time. I really should come up with a name for them. The Unknown Wanderers? The Frog Squad? The Autumnal Avengers? Greg and the Gregettes? What am I saying, the answer is obvious.
So Greg and the Gregettes have split up with Wirt and Greg having ditched Beatrice after her trying to sell them into indentured servitude to an evil witch (God some people are so sensitive).
They’re ambushed by the Woodsman who tries to warn them the Beast is after them after the events of Songs of the Dark Lantern but they of course think that he’s the Beast…or a lunatic with an axe which either way, y’know? So they flee until they come to a creepy cottage in the middle of the woods and hide inside.
Inside the cottage they find a barrel of the mysterious black turtles that have been cropping up all over the forest. The boys are discovered by a thin, pale servant girl named Lorna. They hear a noise outside and Lorna nervously whispers at the boys to hide in the turtle barrel so that they won’t be found by “Auntie Whispers”.
“How’d you do I, see you’ve met my, faithful HANDY man…”
Nearing the end of their journey, our heroes are riding a ferry to Adelaide’s house and everything seems great. Greg is having a grand old time and even Wirt (Wirt!) is happy and relaxed for once. Plus they’re on a boat inhabited entirely by fancy, fancy frogs and who doesn’t love frogs?
Daaaaaaaw don’t touch it, it is literally poisonous enough to kill an entire village.
Only Beatrice seems ill at ease and unhappy. Suddenly, two frogstables show up and try to arrest our heroes for sneaking on to the ferry without paying. Beatrice suggests they just surrender and get thrown off the boat but Wirt refuses because they’ve come so far. The cops chase them all over the ship until they disguise themselves using the Ol’ Totem Pole Trench technique.
And afterwards, they can buy beer and go see R-rated Frog movies.
…with Wirt, Greg, Beatrice and Fred the horse having dinner with the fabulously wealthy and utterly batshit insane tea mogul Quincy Endicott who thinks that Wirt and Greg are his nephews. And he thinks that because…Beatrice has straight up told him that they are because she wants his money.
Wirt is aghast that Beatrice wants to scam this sweet old man and Beatrice explains that she was actually thinking of just straight up robbing him.
Looking for shelter in the middle of a storm, our heroes arrive at a creepy tavern full of people dressed in American colonial era garb and who apparently have no names, only job descriptions. The Tavern Keeper insists that Beatrice wait outside as birds bring bad luck. When Beatrice tries to explain that blue birds bring good luck the Tavern Keeper snaps “good luck, bad luck, I don’t need any of it!” and hits her with a broom.
Fuming, Beatrice waits outside in the stable with a weird horse that seems to be wearing lipstick. She hears the sound of someone chopping wood in the dark forest, and a deep voice singing…
In the tavern, the Tavern Keeper demands to know what Wirt and Greg’s deal is but Wirt doesn’t know what to tell them. After listening to the Highway Man’s song, Wirt asks the way to Adelaide’s House. This leads the tavern patrons to decide that he’s The Young Lover and throw him up onstage to sing his love song.
Outside, frustrated that Wirt’s not making any progress, Beatrice flies off into the dark forest in the direction of the singing and chopping, hoping to ask for directions.
After leaving Pottsfield, Wirt, Greg and Beatrice are now trying to reach the house of Adelaide, the Wise Woman of the Woods. In order to get Greg to stop singing, Beatrice tries to crush his indefatigable optimism. She tells him that the world is a miserable place and that he should be more like Wirt, a beaten down husk of a pushover who just quietly does whatever he’s told. Well, Wirt may be a triangle nosed goober cosplaying as David the Gnome’s secret abandoned lovechild, but even he has his pride. So when the trio stumble across a small school in the middle of the forest where a young woman named Miss Langtree is trying to teach a class of blank eyed animals to read, he joins the class just to spite Beatrice. Greg, who isn’t that big on book learnin’ (I know, stunned gasps all round) instead hangs around outside the school with a bunch of truant racoons, deer and possums.
As Miss Langtree explains in a wistful monologue, the school’s in real trouble. Her father, the owner of the school, is threatening to shut it down, her fiancée Jimmy Brown has done R.U.N.N.O.F.T. and there is the little matter of a mad gorilla on the loose.