Nostalgia Time: Ducktales

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By Chris Chan (@GKCfan)
 
Though it may sound shocking in the nerd community, I have never been much of a fan of superhero comics. The only comic books I thoroughly enjoyed growing up were Hergé’s Tintin series, and comics about Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. As a kid, I noticed that there was a massive gulf in quality amongst the Duck stories. Some were brilliant, intelligent, creative adventures, and others were as flat as the paper on which they were printed. It was not until decades later that I would learn about the two gentlemen who produced the Duck work I truly enjoyed: Carl Barks and Don Rosa. (Anybody looking for quality Duck comics would do well to purchase the new hardcover collections of the Carl Barks and Don Rosa Libraries.)
 
In the late 1980’s, a Disney animated television show became a runaway popular and critical hit. Jumping off from the Duck universe largely created by Carl Barks, the series started with the magnificently rich Uncle Scrooge abruptly becoming the guardian of the triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie once Donald Duck joins the Navy. (Unlike the Barks stories, where Donald was prominently involved in the narratives, Donald only makes a handful of appearances in the Ducktales series. This is one of my few disappointments with the series, although it is justified, because although Donald Duck’s dialogue is clearly readable in the comics, in animation his distinctive garbled voice is far harder to understand, and the jokes that appear in Barks and Rosa’s work would lack the proper delivery.)
 
The episodes featured all sorts of storylines, but in many cases, Uncle Scrooge would go on a hunt for some ancient treasure, and Indian Jones-esque adventure would ensue. Comedy and thrills blended brilliantly, with all sorts of parodies of ancient cultures, science fiction and fantasy, Greek mythology, American history, and classic legends. Some of the new characters created for the show were better than others, but the most inspired creations– primarily the amiably loopy pilot Launchpad McQuack, the mild-mannered accountant turned superhero Fenton Crackshell, and Fenton’s TV-obsessed curlers-wearing mother– were delightful comic characters.
 
ducktales 2
 
One of the best things about the show is that the writing was geared for adults as well as kids. Like some of the best children’s entertainment, such as the best-written PBS educational programs, it was peppered with references and jokes that only adults would get– for example, it was not until much later in life that I understand the references to Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca, Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, James Bond, and countless other classic movies, books, and historical events. Watching the show decades later, with a full education and exposure to popular culture, bring previously unglimpsed layers to the program.
 
Many other factors elevated the show, but for me, the greatest and riskiest aspect of the show was the characterization of Scrooge McDuck, who loved his status as the world’s richest duck, but who prized adventure more. Unlike any of the other classic Disney characters, Scrooge McDuck was the only one who could just as easily have turned out to be a villain. Mickey Mouse and Goofy ‘s hearts were unquestionably pure, and Donald Duck, though often bad-tempered, was never seriously at risk of turning evil. But Scrooge was different. More than any other Disney character, he was seriously afflicted by a deadly sin– greed, and to a lesser extent, anger. Throughout the series, Scrooge repeatedly puts the desire for wealth above the wellbeing of himself and others, and though he invariably made the right decision, there was always the very real possibility that covetousness would be his downfall. Indeed, the moral that “family and friends are the true treasure” was stressed frequently throughout the series, and it was abundantly clear that without the grounding force of his nephews, Scrooge would have been consumed by his desire for gold. The character of Flintheart Glomgold became the image of what Scrooge might have become had his family not rescued him.
 
Was the show perfect? No. Some plotlines were unforgivably dumb, a certain level of continuity was lost by the end, and sometimes the morals were ham-fisted. However, thanks to the comedy, the surprisingly sophisticated art direction, and the vast and wondrous world created for the series, Ducktales became a gem, set apart from most of the bland pap that passed for children’s fare.
 
While the work of Barks and Rosa may be more refined and cerebral, even after over a quarter-century, Ducktales still stands up as quality children’s– and family entertainment. The show could and ought to have gone on for much longer, but even after all this time has passed, it seems like the powers that be at Disney have realized that there’s still a market for the franchise. The classic original video game based on the series was recently remastered, with an excellent revamped soundtrack (once again, the highlight is the iconic Moon Theme), and the voices of all of the surviving (at the time) cast members. A reboot of the series is coming shortly, and though the art looks very different, there is reason to be optimistic. An all-star cast, including David Tennant as Scrooge, suggests that some considerable effort has been taken to make the reboot a quality product. Though only the first 75% of the series has been released on DVD, one can only hope that after a long delay, the remaining episodes will finally be made available to the public again.


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