Tag Archives: ducktales

Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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The closest the original DuckTales got to Christmas was this TV spot.

When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.

Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.

In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.

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Despite their numerous rescues, the Rescue Rangers never saved Christmas.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale:  Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.

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There is a ton of TMNT Christmas merch out there, but surprisingly no television special to go with it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.

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Yes, it would be silly and possibly stupid to have Goku face-off with Santa, but I bet it would be a lot of fun!

Dragon Ball

One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.

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Goofy has experienced Christmas via Mickey and Goof Troop, but he never got to star in a holiday short of his very own.

Goofy

In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?

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This show was just a commercial for Nintendo products so it’s surprising that they didn’t add in the wonder of Christmas at any point.

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.


Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

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Original air date December 1, 2018

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it weren’t temporary. Does it come too soon? Maybe, but here the season officially starts now and lasts through the holiday.

Welcome to The Christmas Spot! If this is your first time here then let me tell you what you’re in for. Every day through Christmas, we’ll be spotlighting a Christmas special or holiday themed something advent calendar style. Will we talk about a good special? A poor one? Something in between? We’re quality agnostic, which is a damn fine motto. The only thing this site won’t touch are those made for TV Hallmark movies that are basically shown year-round now. I have no interest in them, plus I like to stick to things that are a half-hour format or less to keep things tidy. After all, this is no small task to find time in my day-to-day life to make 25 blog entries in 25 days for the sheer joy of it. So I encourage you to start your day right here. And if one blog entry isn’t enough, well then may I recommend our Christmas archive? It’s a great companion to that first cup of coffee in the morning, or that first visit to the restroom – don’t forget the peppermint scented toilet paper!

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The opening credits get a festive makeover as well.

This year, we’re kicking things off with a relatively new entry to the world of Christmas specials. DuckTales has been around for quite some time. The original run included 101 episodes, but strangely no Christmas one. This is surprising because future Disney Afternoon shows would often feature one. Plus, the star of DuckTales is one Scrooge McDuck. Not only does Scrooge share a name with another individual associated with Christmas, but the character actually debuted in a Donald Duck Christmas story which we covered for last year’s countdown. Well, the new version of DuckTales launched in 2017 would rectify that, though not in its first season.

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We get to learn about Donald’s enthusiasm for Christmas, Scrooge’s hatred of Santa, and that Launchpad is actually Jewish.

“Last Christmas!” premiered, appropriately enough, last Christmas (December 1, 2018 to be exact) and was a late scratch from that year’s list. See, I don’t actually have time to make a post every day for this thing. What really happens is I keep a master list of any and all Christmas specials I know of. Then I arbitrarily pick and choose which to cover each year, and I make posts in my down time and schedule them to go up when they need to. Did that ruin the magic for you? Hopefully not, as this is actually a fun way to get a little dose of Christmas spirit throughout the year. I’m also the type of person that keeps a Christmas countdown going all year long. Anyway, when I found out there would be a DuckTales Christmas special it was pretty late in the game. I almost squeezed it in, but decided maybe it would be best to save it for 2019. A year’s removal would allow me to better put it in perspective. Is it the type of special that deserves to be revisited year after year? Well, this is where we find out.

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Scrooge is predictably grumpy around the holidays.

When DuckTales made its return in 2017 it wasn’t without some controversy within the fanbase. That’s because Disney made the call to recast all of the characters from the original run with new actors all voicing these characters for the first time. This is different from what Disney usually does with its classic characters where a voice actor is paired with a character or characters and serves in that role basically for life. It’s something though that has apparently fallen out of favor with Disney in the past few years. There are currently two(!) voice actors for Mickey Mouse right now, and probably my most popular post ever concerned the handling of Donald’s Duck’s voice when veteran Tony Anselmo was recast for the pre-school show Mickey and the Roadster Racers. When I wrote that I wasn’t aware that Anselmo had the role actually taken from him, as opposed to passing on it. Thankfully, he was returned to voice Donald in DuckTales, but he’s basically the only member of the main cast to return. Alan Young obviously could not return as Scrooge (R.I.P.), but Russi Taylor was basically not allowed to return as the voices of Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

And that’s what makes “Last Christmas!” so special, in a way. Maybe Disney was right to recast the roles of the nephews as now they are individual characters as opposed to a hive-mind, basically. I think they could have all shared the same voice still, but I guess I’ve made my peace with the series concerning this. Still, that doesn’t help Russi Taylor at all, but this episode allowed her to return in a pretty creative fashion. And we have the magic of Christmas to thank for that!

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Webby is a talented trimmer of trees.

This episode opens with a little extra Christmas spice. I love it when holiday episodes do stuff like this. The lyrics are changed slightly to reference the holiday (“Life is like a candy cane,”) and they’re sung by a Frank Sinatra sound-a-like (could not find a credit, so apologies) and accompanied by snowflakes and happy Christmas scenery. The episode then opens at Scrooge’s mansion where Donald (Anselmo) is looking resplendent in a Christmas sweater as he decorates Scrooge’s lawn. Scrooge (David Tennant) then appears on the front step to admonish Donald for covering his lawn with those “inflatable abominations.” Donald points out that Scrooge has the perfect piece of property for a festive Christmas display, but soon sees the error of his ways when Scrooge points out that he also has a pilot who mistakes Christmas lights for runway lights.

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Webby, just waiting for Scrooge to say “Bah! Humbug!” and he will not disappoint.

Scrooge leaves Donald to apparently suffer an awful fate as Launchpad approaches. Inside, Webby (Kate Micucci) is swinging around a massive Christmas tree dressed as a reindeer as she trims the tree while Huey (Danny Pudi) supervises decked in a stocking cap – I so love the holiday attire. Scrooge storms around looking grumpy while Louie (Bobby Moynihan) makes out his Christmas list which begins with an apology to Santa. Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) gives Scrooge the rundown of decorations and the night’s schedule (which includes a reading of Christmas on Bear Mountain) which Scrooge suffers through. He then scolds everyone from a balcony before destroying a polar bear dressed in a Santa costume decoration before retreating to his room. Scrooge apparently has some kind of vendetta against Santa.

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There’s a scene like this in most Christmas specials.

Alone in his own room, Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is reading by the light of the Christmas star in a classic “Christmas Wish” setting. He’s looking a little down and Donald takes notice from the hallway, but sports a curious smile. Dewey is clearly missing the mother he never met, but is roused from his room by an odd sound. He approaches a green-lit door cautiously, unsure of what’s behind, and given this is the home of Scrooge McDuck any manner of spook or spirit could be in there just waiting to curse him for all eternity!

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These aren’t the spirits you’re accustomed to seeing.

When Dewey opens the door he does indeed find some mythical creatures, but not in a setting he was expecting. Three ghost-like bodies surround Scrooge. Dewey assumes the worst, but comes to find out they’re not here for any nefarious purpose. They’re cheering Scrooge on, who’s sporting a mistletoe headband, as he chugs what appears to be egg nog. It’s from a carton, so I guess that’s all the censors required to make it appear like this is an alcohol free activity. Scrooge quickly explains to Dewey these ghosts are actually his friends and they visit him every Christmas Eve. They’re also familiar to anyone who’s seen a Dickens adaptation. There’s a mute Grim Reaper like ghost that’s obviously the Ghost of Christmas Future and a chubby pig who is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Bill Fagerbakke). He’s dressed in attire that is almost identical to Willy the Giant’s from the best version of A Christmas Carol – Mickey’s Christmas Carol. And the third ghost is even more reminiscent of that classic short as he’s a little cricket in a suit, an obvious homage to Jiminy Cricket.

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Past is quite obviously an homage to Jiminy Cricket.

The ghosts explain that one year they confused this Scrooge with another who shares a name with him, but finding this one more fun, they now visit him every year for a good time. Scrooge then explains his whole hating Christmas thing is just an act to keep people away around the holidays so he’s free to spend his evening with these old chaps (the Santa hating thing isn’t an act though, he really detests that jolly old elf). This, he explains, is his one night to cut loose and have fun and it’s especially true of this Christmas now that he has Dewey and his brothers to look after.

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Time for a journey into the Past.

Dewey seems pretty confused, but surprisingly receptive to the story. With that business out of the way, the group decides it’s time to take a trip through time courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jack McBrayer) in search of some holiday fun. Scrooge grabs onto him just as his predecessor did 35 years earlier and the cricket even pops open a tiny umbrella and the four fly out of the window and soar over Duckburg. The scenery begins to change as they journey back in time, but the setting surprisingly does not as the ghost leads them right back to Scrooge’s mansion. Only now they’re in the past and will be attending Scrooge’s first big Christmas party at his home. Scrooge likes the idea and he acknowledges his past self as they enter the premises, his past self saluting back without question (apparently he’s expected this).

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Scrooge’s home on Christmas. Note the painting on the wall appearing to depict Scrooge’s first appearance from Christmas on Bear Mountain.

Inside, Scrooge’s home is filled with guests and assorted easter eggs for those with keen eyes. They soon spot a young Mrs. Beakley on the dance floor and Present takes an immediate liking to her. Unfortunately for him, she’s more interested in Future and hauls him out onto the floor. Scrooge tries to make merry himself, but a still alive Duckworth (David Kaye) mistakes him for his younger self and scolds him for trying to act so juvenile in front of many potential business partners. He escorts him to a group of buzzards who are essentially the opposite of fun.

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Scrooge is not really enjoying himself.

Eventually, Scrooge notices Goldie making an entrance and his demeanor perks up. Before he can confront her though he’s accosted by a potential partner who wants to show him some cube he’s got. He makes references about a job that’s another easter egg, this time a reference to a Carl Barks story, but Scrooge pays him no mind. Then another interruption occurs when Grandpappy Beagle (Eric Bauza) barges in with the lesser-known members of the Beagle Boys. They’re here to rob everyone, and Scrooge is officially over this whole thing.

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That would be Grandpappy Beagle and his Beagle Boys.

Informing Past that his idea was a dud, the chipper cricket informs Scrooge he has a better idea. The two depart, apparently leaving Present and Future behind, and end up in a much more quiet setting. It’s a campsite in the woods, and Scrooge recognizes it as his first Christmas in Duckburg, before he was rich. He seems quite nostalgic as he takes a seat on a log beside a roaring campfire and looks contented, until he’s not. Declaring this is boring, he wants to go elsewhere, but Past has other ideas.

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Past takes Scrooge to an even earlier Christmas – his first in Duckburg.

Past chooses this moment to make his heel turn. He apparently doesn’t like this once a year arrangement with Scrooge and wants to spend the whole year having fun with him. His job of showing bad people their past transgressions has apparently worn on him. Scrooge doesn’t want to remain here though, so he goes on the offensive. The two have a spirited sword fight of sorts; Scrooge wielding his cane and Past his umbrella. The two tire themselves out and collapse in the snow, both apparently enjoying this little sparring contest. Scrooge expresses a desire to do it again and suggests they travel back in time the five minutes or so needed to do it over. Past is thrilled by this suggestion and enthusiastic, but when he goes to do the deed he realizes he lost track of his umbrella.

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Got your umbrella.

Scrooge gives him a sly look and produces the diminutive object. He pops it open and with a flash of green light he vanishes, leaving Past sitting there on the log all by himself. He’s cheerful, and assumes Scrooge is just messing with him. As he sits there though the camera zooms out and Scrooge never reappears.

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Dewey was not going to allow Scrooge to go on some Christmas adventure without him.

We then jump back to the future, but 11 minutes in the past. Time travel can be confusing. The important thing to know is we’re back to when Scrooge and the spirits left the mansion. Only now we can see they had a stow-away. Dewey grabbed ahold of Future’s robes as they flew out, but wasn’t able to hold on for very long. He falls down into a snowbank below. Looking up, he sees the mansion and bemoans he’s still in the same boring place, but then notes the “when” may have changed. Congratulating himself on his expert time travel pun, he runs off into the house.

Dewey is obviously interested in finding out how far back in time he’s gone, because if he’s gone back far enough then someone very important to him may be located in this mansion. He races to what I assume is his room in the present and finds, as he describes it, some emo kid.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you adolescent Donald!

The emo kid is wearing a flannel shirt over a black t-shirt with a Nirvana-like logo while strumming a bass guitar. He sings a rather drab song that’s humorous to anyone who remembers grunge and it soon becomes obvious who this kid is. It’s a young Donald Duck, and he’s voiced by none other than Russi Taylor! He appears to be about Dewey’s age, and is annoyed that Dewey has interrupted his playing. He angrily grabs him by the collar and demands to know how much he heard and also demands to know if it was any good. Dewey lies and says it is, makes up a story about being a long removed cousin, then moves on to more pressing matters – where is Donald’s sister, Della?

Donald informs Dewey that Della is where she always is – out back setting a trap for Santa. When Dewey asks why Donald isn’t with her he explains he’s too old for that stuff and thinks Christmas is stupid, a far cry from the holiday obsessed Donald he’ll become. He tells Dewey he can’t go out to look for her because he was close to a breakthrough with his song. Dewey informs him he was not, and cheerily grabs the bass and hops out the window forcing Donald to follow with a “What’s the big idea?”

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Donald doesn’t understand why Della brought so much food and such a large tent. He’ll soon find out why.

Out back, they find a family-sized tent that’s collapsed and the trees are covered with a red goop. Dewey is alarmed, but Donald just views the scene as a sign of Della’s incompetence. He tastes the red goop splattered on the tree and informs the disgusted Dewey it’s just jelly (“What would you have done if it wasn’t?”) before moving on to inspect the tent. He determines Della gave up at trying to put it together and then attempts to fix it, but has just as much luck as his sister. Dewey notices some tracks in the snow clearly belonging to Della, and some that do not. They decide to investigate, but unknown to them some ominous glowing green eyes are watching from the bushes.

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Huey isn’t the only Junior Woodchuck.

As Dewey and Donald trace Della’s steps, Donald is whacked with seemingly every branch Dewey pushes aside. The creature stalking them soon reveals itself as a large, goat-like being:  the Wendigo. Dewey and Donald are forced to run as the creature chases them, and they wind up right in one of Della’s traps.

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Captured by Della Duck.

Now suspended upside down in a large net, Dewey and Donald are greeted by Della who scolds them for ruining her Santa trap. She wants to trap the red guy as a present for Scrooge and now will have to reset it. Donald demands she release them, calling her “Dumbella” as in Dumb Della, but it’s also a reference to her original name. She demands Donald apologize before she sets the two free, even though they can hear the roars of the Wendigo approaching. Donald apologizes for the insult, but it’s not enough. He then lists other things he’s sorry about, like using her toothbrush to clean his combat boots, things Della wasn’t even aware of. Donald is frustrated that his apologies aren’t good enough, forcing Dewey to point out the obvious:  the giant tent, the vast assortment of snacks, Della just wanted to spend Christmas with her brother on her Santa stake-out but he blew her off. Della is angry with Donald for just wanting to sit alone in his room on Christmas rather than spend time with his family, forcing Dewey to also realize he’s guilty of the same back in his own time. Donald acknowledges that Dewey is right and apologizes to Della for not wanting to spend time with her on Christmas and she in turn lets them out.

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Now that the duck siblings have made up, they can turn their attention to more pressing matters.

At this point though, the Wendigo is on top of them. When they ask him what he wants, he roars back with a “When did go?! Scrooge?!” prompting all three to deadpan “Of course.” Donald and Della, demonstrating they’re used to this sort of thing, jump the beast and start wrestling with it while Dewey looks on. They’re tossed from the creature and Della comes to land beside Dewey. She looks at the remnants of the net from earlier and gives Dewey a knowing look. Meanwhile, Donald too is thrown from the monster causing the bass strapped to his back to break. He looks at his beloved instrument and goes into a classic Donald rage. He attacks the Wendigo, and the opening created by his offense allows Dewey and Della to wrap the beast up in the net.

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Problem solved.

The three ducklings drag the beast back to the front steps of the mansion. The whole time Donald and Della maintain a posture that this is all ordinary to them. When Della finally asks just who Dewey is, all he can do is respond with a big, awkward, hug. He almost lets on that he’s her son, but recovers and maintains his story about being a long distant cousin. Della sees right through it and states “You’re a relative from the future.” Dewey tries to deny it, but Della assures him this is only the fourth weirdest thing to happen to them on Christmas. Donald also expresses knowing the whole time he wasn’t who he said he was. Dewey then comes clean about being a relative from the future, but doesn’t elaborate further, and tells Della he should warn her about her future and she refuses to hear him out. The two then head into the house to fetch their uncle leaving Dewey alone with the Wendigo.

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Dewey can’t stop himself from giving his some-day mom a hug.

This is apparently not a good thing, as the beast soon breaks free from its restraints. It looms menacingly over Dewey, but before it can attack Scrooge appears from the sky and gets the drop on him. He pogos off of the beast’s head, just like the Nintendo game, knocking it out. Past and Future then appear and Dewey questions how he found him. Scrooge says he was heading back to retrieve those two when he saw Dewey below. Dewey gives him a hug and tells him he just wants to go home. Scrooge gives him a smile and tells him he just has something to do first.

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Scrooge is always ready to make a save.

They then turn their attention to the Wendigo, which turns to stone and crumbles. From its head emerges a sad looking Past. Scrooge explains, repeating an explanation Della gave earlier, that a Wendigo is a lost soul driven mad by despair. When he left Past back at the campsite, it forced the spirit to just sit and wait for Scrooge to come back, but he never did. Past went crazy every Christmas looking for Scrooge, until he showed up now. He then says he has a Christmas present to deliver and returns Past’s umbrella to him. He then cheers up, and taking hold of the umbrella the group is whisked away back to the future – I mean present.

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The true identity of the Wendigo is revealed.

Everyone is now where they’re supposed to be – gathered around a grand piano in Scrooge’s living room. Launchpad (Beck Bennett) is manning the ivories wearing a blue Hanukkah sweater. The ghosts are hanging around too to join in on the fun. Dewey, now ready to make merry with his family, sees his uncle Donald and gives him a big hug. Donald lets on that he’s been waiting for this for many years, but before Dewey can confirm he’s referring back to Dewey’s trip into the past, he’s pulled away by his brothers into the celebration. We’re also treated to a cut-away of young Della and Donald exchanging Christmas gifts and we see that’s how Donald got his festive Christmas sweater and likely why Christmas came to mean so much to him. While the gang butchers The Twelve Days of Christmas, we also get to see Mrs. Beakley give Future a rather suggestive glance.

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It’s time to celebrate!

As the celebration wraps up, we’re then taken to a much quieter setting. On the moon, Della Duck looks longingly at Earth and at a picture of Scrooge, Donald, herself, and the eggs she left behind. With tears welling in her eyes, she wishes her boys a merry Christmas then resumes work on her spaceship vowing to return to them soon.

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Young Della and Donald exchanging gifts.

“Last Christmas!” is a tremendously fun ride of a Christmas special and a great way to kick things off this year. Time travel stories are often a blast and the show really has fun with it via numerous puns and by introducing a paradox of sorts. Past’s motivations for trying to trap Scrooge with him in the past is a bit rushed, but the results are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter much. It’s a fun twist to put on the Scrooge character, and I’m quite happy to see the writers elected to acknowledge the character’s connection to A Christmas Carol by turning the concept on its head as it would have been supremely disappointing if the show had just done a conventional re-telling.

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Donald and Dewey’s embrace at the end is a nice callback to the look Donald featured at the start of the episode when he was looking in on Dewey.

The first half of the episode is pretty fun, but the second half is where the show finds its emotional core. Dewey going back in time to meet his mother for the first time, but also a younger version of his uncle Donald, was quite sweet. Through their relationship he comes to understand his own with his family. It’s simple, but so effective here as the characters feel so honest, even though they’re cartoon ducks. Russi Taylor being given the role of young Donald is genius and I practically cried when I first heard her voice. It almost takes away from the humorous visual of young Donald. It also makes so much sense that I’m disappointed with myself for never thinking of it on my own. Even though this is a young version of Donald, it puts Ms. Taylor in rather exclusive company as being one of the few to officially voice Donald Duck for a Disney production. A well-deserved honor. It’s sadly all the more poignant too since we lost Taylor to cancer in 2019. Thankfully, we have hours upon hours of her voice to enjoy and to help keep her memory alive for generations to come.

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Della wishing her boys a merry Christmas is the episode’s last effort at inducing tears in its viewers. It’s probably successful.

This episode should also be commended for naturally fitting into the DuckTales continuity. Often holiday specials are a departure from a show’s narrative, sometimes they even feel non-canon. This one is special because it contains Dewey’s first interaction with his mother, even if she is just a child. It also brings the adult version in at the end to remind viewers she’s still out there, and in just a few episodes after this one she’ll finally return to Scrooge and her boys.

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“Last Christmas!” is heartwarming and fun without coming across as cheesy or conventional. Best of all, it doesn’t count if you’re playing Whamageddon! this year.

“Last Christmas!” is one of the best, new, Christmas specials I’ve been exposed to. Not only does it tell a fun and inventive story, it looks fantastic as well and is a supremely rewarding experience for those familiar with the original show and comics. I very much appreciate the obvious nods to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the meticulous way the episode is crafted. So much of the resolution is hinted at early on, which is a must for any story dealing with time travel. Hopefully the writers of DuckTales return to time travel in future episodes as they appear to have a talent for handling it.

If you want to catch this excellent episode of DuckTales then keep an eye on the Disney Channel. I’m sure it will be shown more than once and may even be On Demand for certain cable subscribers. It’s also available for purchase via streaming platforms and on Disney Plus. Being a relatively new Christmas special in a still-running show, it should be easy to track down. And if this write-up didn’t make it clear enough, you absolutely should track it down this Christmas and every Christmas yet to come.

In one final act of nostalgic bliss, the ending credits are done up in the same style as Mickey’s Christmas Carol.


Lego Mini Figures – Disney Series 2

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Series 2 gives us more Aladdin which probably isn’t a surprise considering the new movie coming out.

I feel like I need to take credit for the existence of this wave of Disney Mini Figures. It wasn’t that long ago I wondered why the flood gates never opened following the 2016 release of Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World and the wave of mini figures that preceded it. Just days after that post Lego announced a new set based on Steamboat Willie was incoming. Then just days after that a second wave of mini figures based on Disney properties was announced! My timing could not have been better.

Obviously, I am joking about the credit thing because these were in the works for months, if not years, before being announced. I just ended up having extremely good timing where Disney and Lego are concerned. When that Steamboat Willie set was released I snatched it up and shared my thoughts here on the set as a whole. Now I’ve tracked down the entirety of the mini figures that followed in May and I’m ready to tell you all about them.

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I’ve got these, and other Disney objects, displayed all over my house.

Series 2 for the Disney brand of Lego mini figures largely went as expected. Several characters complement the characters from series 1 while others are just logical inclusions based on their level of popularity. There are 18 figures in total, two of which are variants of previously released figures. Each comes in a blind bag, but those willing to stand around in-store feeling up bags should be able to reasonably ascertain who’s who without purchasing doubles of any character. Below, I’ll talk about things to look for when hunting as I found this series pretty easy. The only way you’ll end up with doubles is if you get impatient, which is easy to do as no one is 100% comfortable feeling-up bags of toys in a store while strangers look on. You just have to suck it up and feel like a dork for a little while. Each figure retails for 3.99 in most places, but specialty shops may tack on a buck or two and each figures comes with at least one accessory.

1928 Mickey and Minnie Mouse

So these two should look familiar. These are the same figures included in the Steamboat Willie set. It’s not at all surprising to see Lego save a couple of bucks by doubling-up here, and for those not interested in that set at least they can get a Minnie and Mickey this way. The only difference between the two is that these versions use a black, white, and gray color scheme while the Steamboat Willie figures utilized silver instead of gray to make them seem extra special. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my toys so I actually prefer this color scheme. Mickey and Minnie both feature a removable hat affixed by a peg with Minnie even coming with an extra in case one gets lost. Mickey sports his iconic steering wheel while Minnie gets a buoy. It’s a pretty lackluster accessory for Minnie as this is also Lego’s go-to piece when creating a toilet seat. Why not give her the ukulele or bird? These two are super easy to find though because of their unique head sculpts. And distinguishing between Mickey and Minnie is also simple given that giant steering wheel. I came across many in my search so they may even be packed slightly higher than other characters, or it could be that many people are leaving them behind. I kind of wish I had extras of the series 1 Mickey so I could get extras of these ones to make a classic, colored, Mickey by combing the black and white head with the colored body.

Huey

Coming in from the Disney Afternoon is Huey, the red-clad nephew of Donald Duck and great nephew to Scrooge McDuck. Huey is based on his classic look and the one most commonly associated with the original DuckTales from the 80s. He uses Lego’s kid legs which are immovable, has the “duck butt” debuted with Donald and Daisy, and removable cap. His accessories include the Junior Woodchuck’s Guide Book and a compass. When trying to find him in a blind bag, look for the book which comes in two pieces and is pretty distinct. Huey looks pretty great and the head sculpt is quite nice. Mostly, I am delighted to see some love for the Disney Afternoon. And naturally, you can’t have Huey without his brothers…

Dewey

Dewey (and Louie) is exactly the same as Huey only the red parts are blue. It’s another way for Lego to save some money and it makes sense as the triplets are identical in the source material (maybe this is why Lego decided on 80s DuckTales instead of the new one). The only other thing differentiating Dewey from Huey is his slingshot accessories. He comes with two, and it’s what you need to look for when feeling up a bag. It may be a small piece, but it’s actually pretty distinct even through a bag.

Louie

The last of the nephews and the one clad in green. I probably should have just put all three together, but oh well. He’s the exact same as his brothers, only he comes with two flashlights. They utilize the lightsaber hilt from Lego’s Star Wars sets and a stud for the light portion. Again, pretty easy to figure out as once you’ve identified that you’ve got one of the duck nephews you just need to find either a stud or the handle as Huey and Dewey do not have a similar piece.

Scrooge McDuck

My personal favorite of this wave is Scrooge himself. Based on his DuckTales look, he’s sporting his blue coat and top hat while also featuring a cane and his number one dime (plus an extra cane for good measure). His head sculpt looks great as it features his glasses molded right onto his bill. They’re colored instead of transparent, but look fine. His cane is missing a handle though, and the red stripe on his hat is molded on, but not painted. As a result, he could have been better, but still looks pretty rad to me. When hunting for Scrooge (who seems to be popular and a touch harder to find as a result) you can safely just key-in on the two walking sticks. Surprisingly, he’s the only figure with a perfectly straight, round, piece like that. If you want further assurance, his hat is also pretty easy to find and he’ll have the duck butt piece as well.

Chip and Dale

The mischievous duo of Chip and Dale make their Lego debut. While they’re obviously not in scale with the other characters, I still consider it a positive to receive such an iconic and classic pair. Chip and Dale utilize the better kid legs which are able to move like conventional mini figure legs as well as unique sculpted heads like the other mascot characters. The only way to distinguish between the two is their accessories. Chip comes with an acorn that’s disassembled. Through a bag it just feels like little, tiny, pieces. Dale, on the other hand, comes with a sack (a nut sack?) that’s pretty distinct and should be a reliable way to separate the two rodents. Lego also took some creative license with the pair and made Dale lighter in color. I’m not sure if this is a popular occurrence in the merchandise world, but I had not encountered it before. Again, purist here, so I’d prefer the two look the same, but it’s not a big deal. I do wish they had a tail piece instead of a printed one on their back. Overall though, they look plenty cute and the designs didn’t suffer in the transfer to 3D.

Elsa

The first series of Disney mini figures surprisingly avoided the princess characters, but this one did not. And how could Lego ignore the incredible popularity of Frozen, especially with a sequel coming later this year? Elsa comes clad in her classic ice blue dress. She has a cape, which I suppose is supposed to be the transparent parts of her dress, but just looks like a cape here. It’s a dark blue and covered in printed snowflakes. She also has an oversized snow flake, a braided hair piece that takes her hair over one shoulder, and a head piece with two facial expressions: a smile and a winking smile. Her base is a trapezoid like piece to account for her robes. Maleficent utilized a similar piece in series 1, but the difference here is that there’s some slight molding on the front to provide a hint of legs underneath – a nice touch. It’s that base that makes it easy to narrow down the other figures when looking for them as she shares that piece with Anna and Jafar. To further separate her from her sister just look for the snowflake. It may be a bit of a dumb accessory, but it does make it easy to find Elsa. Plus, she really didn’t have anything else in the film going for her. The cape looks silly, but the overall likeness is fine and sure to please your daughter (it did mine).

Anna

Anna comes sporting her traditional look when she sets out to find her sister. Her body sculpt is the same as Elsa’s except her hair features two braids instead of one. She even has a smirking face and winking face as well on her head piece. Her cape looks much better by virtue of it being pretty simple making her my preferred Frozen sister. Her accessory is also a bit more fun, though also not tremendously important to her character as it’s just a lantern. It’s a unique piece though making it easy to find Anna in a blind bag. Once you found the leg base piece, just look for the lantern and the cylinder that goes inside of it.

Jafar

Series 1 of the Disney mini figures included Aladdin and the Genie, so why not Jafar in series 2? We need more bad guys, so the sorcerer is welcomed. He has his standard look and comes with his large serpent-topped staff, the piece to look for when hunting. He also has a cape, shoulder pads, and his rather large hat. His head only features one expression, but it’s not like Jafar needs anything aside from his scowl. Characters with a lot of distinct characteristics in their clothing seem to work best, and it’s why Jafar is one of the best figures in this series. Like Anna and Elsa, he also uses the robed base and the abundance of accessories make him a cinch to figure out. The only thing missing is a little parrot stand-in for Iago.

Jasmine

Another princess, this one also pairs nicely with Aladdin. Jasmine is a conventional figure with all of her clothing being printed on. The sides of her body are blue which makes her look rather weird at certain angles, but this is how Lego does this sort of thing to make its figures actually look less blocky. She comes with a bird as seemingly all Disney princesses are capable of conversing with animals. It’s not a particularly exciting accessory, but I guess giving her a tiger would have been a touch excessive. When on the hunt for Jasmine you basically have to use process of elimination as her figure is rather plain. From there, look for the hair which is in a long braid and is rather soft and pretty easy to locate.

Hades

Arguably the easiest one to figure out when feeling-up the bags is Hades. That’s due to his unique leg-piece which is similar to Ursula’s from series 1. It’s molded to feature his robes which have a life of their own in the film he’s from. And if for some reason you can’t locate it, the little flames are also pretty easy to fine. Hades has a great look and the flames on his head are actually glued on. He’s another welcomed bad guy, and while I’ve never been a fan of Hercules, I’ve always liked Hades in spite of his detestable voice actor. He’s one of the better looking figures in this set as the bad guys really stand out.

Hercules

Since we got Hades, it’s no surprise to see Hercules in this wave as well. He’s a traditional mini figure who features two expressions, two swords, a shield, cape, and hair piece. The circular shield is pretty easy to fine, and the two swords stand out as well. I already mentioned I’m not much of a fan of the source material here, but for what it’s worth Hercules looks pretty good. He’d be hard to mess up.

Sally

Coming in from the always popular Nightmare Before Christmas is that lovable scarecrow Sally. Sally is another conventional mini figure with no additions aside from her hair. And it’s that hair that makes her a dead giveaway when searching through bags as it’s huge and spoon-shaped. Which is good because her little flower accessories, which have to be assembled, are somewhat nondescript when on the hunt. Otherwise, her features are achieved entirely via screen-printing as Lego opted not to give her any cloth pieces, which feels like a mistake as her model in the film has such lovely textures that this figure just can’t capture. She’s one of my least favorites as I find this depiction a little boring.

Jack Skellington

Naturally, if you’re going to include Sally then you need to include Jack. He’s able to “wow” more than Sally by virtue of his easily translatable look and additional pieces. He has his bat-like bowtie and cloth suit tails. His accessory is a Christmas gift, I believe the one that houses the shrunken head in the film, only this time it’s filled with little circular snowflakes. The cubed box is the item to look for when figure hunting and should stick out like a sore thumb. Jack’s face looks great and overall it’s hard to find fault with this one. Lego could have gone with a unique head piece, but I think the standard one works just fine for the character. After all, part of the charm is seeing the characters converted into the Lego style.

Edna Mode

Serving as a compliment to last summer’s Incredibles 2 Lego sets is this version of Edna Mode. A previous one was available, but it was rather lackluster. This one uses the Lego child body and an oversized hair piece that features Edna’s glasses to really bring her look alive. She also comes with a pair of coffee mugs and what I assume is a purse. By virtue of the fact that she shares a base with the nephews, you’ll want to try and find that hair piece. It’s bowl-shaped and quite deep so you shouldn’t worry about confusing it for one of the caps included with the duck boys. Mostly, use process of elimination as the duck boy heads are easy to distinguish and the duck butt is as well. You shouldn’t worry about confusing her with the chipmunks as their legs can move and it’s rather easy to actually move them through the bag without fear of tearing it open. I’m not much of a fan of the Incredibles or this character, but she looks good for what Lego is shooting for.

Frozone

Lastly, we have Frozone. It was surprising to see him excluded from the Lego sets from last year, but I guess that’s because they were saving him for this wave. Frozone comes with two ice pieces that his hands can grip as well as a saucer meant to serve as one of his ice sleds, I suppose. That saucer is what will make him easy to find as it’s large and flat. Lego opted to screen print his cowl on rather than make it a separate piece and it works considering how tight his costume is supposed to fit. The little sled piece makes him fun to pose, and overall he’s a logical inclusion that looks great.

img_4021And that concludes series 2. Will there be a series 3? I sure hope so as Lego still owes us a Goofy. How he managed to avoid inclusion in this wave is beyond me since he really should have been in the first with the other Disney originals. Aside from him, Pluto would be wanted even if he was depicted as a mascot rather than a four-legged dog (maybe make him a unique figure for another Disney park set?!) and Lego has yet to tackle any of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods. The Disney Afternoon is also teeming with potential figures, the most-wanted likely being Darkwing Duck. And if Lego insists on reusing its Mickey head well there’s a whole bunch of other outfits to explore. In short, a wave 3 would be easy to fill out and is probably likely to sell as well as any other series of mini figures, if not better, so hopefully it happens. I’m not ready for it to end.


Della Duck Comes Home

della flashbackIn the 1938 short Donald’s Nephews, Donald Duck received a postcard from sister Dumbella asking him to look after her three boys:  Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Who knew that afternoon would turn into nearly a century? Along the way, sister Dumbella would undergo a name change and the boys would even change guardians, but after many long years, Donald’s sister has finally made her way back to her children.

Airing last week was the episode of DuckTales titled “Nothing Stops Della Duck!” detailing the character’s journey from the moon to Duckberg and into the lives of her children for the first time. Interestingly, prior to the revamped DuckTales, Della had done little of note. She never appeared in a Donald Duck cartoon, nor did she have a meaningful appearance in the comics by Carl Barks or Don Rosa. She was Della in the Sunday strip, but Barks would rename her as Thelma with Rosa reestablishing the name Della years later. She appeared as a child in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, albeit briefly. Aside from that, her most notable appearance is in the often circulated Donald Duck family tree in which she’s just a headshot.

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The infamous postcard, back when Della was Dumbella.

Most of the canon surrounding Della has been recent and has trended towards her being a pilot or astronaut and she’s either missing or presumed dead. This was established in the 2014 Dutch comic 80 is prachtig which was part of a celebration of Donald Duck’s 80th birthday. The story is by Evert Geradts and is drawn by Maximino Tortajada and appeared in a Donald Duck magazine. It’s unknown these days what Disney considers canon, but her backstory there is similar to what has been introduced in DuckTales. The boys have, on occasion, identified themselves as orphans suggesting they believe she’s dead, but for the most part the subject of their parentage has been avoided. It’s likely the characters of Donald’s nephews, first introduced in a 1937 comic strip illustrated by Al Taliaferro from which the cartoon short was based on, were just created to give Donald some juveniles to bounce off of without saddling him with kids of his own. It was the 1930s, so Donald being a single father with three kids out of wedlock was probably too taboo, and having him marry would make him too domesticated. As nephews, the trio could simply come and go, which is largely what they did on film though it became clear in the printed world of Donald Duck these boys were here to stay.

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One of the few canonical images of Della has been confined to a family tree.

Scrooge McDuck would eventually come along and he and his nephews would form a grand, adventuring, team which eventually found its way to television in the form of DuckTales. There Scrooge was in charge of the boys while Donald went off and joined the Navy and the subject of Della Duck was never broached. When the show re-launched in 2017, things were different. The ending of the premiere included the boys stumbling across a painting of Scrooge, Donald, and their mother Della in the midst of some heroics on a pirate ship. Throughout the first season, the boys would search for clues about what happened to their mother, the truth of which nearly driving them away from their Uncle Scrooge. The final shot of the first season revealed that Della was still alive, but trapped on the moon.

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Della’s fate was revealed in the first season finale of DuckTales.

Season Two has partly followed Della and her trials on the moon. There she fended off monsters (and lost a leg) and befriended a peaceful race of moon people that aided her in rebuilding her rocket to get back home. Prior to this show’s creation, Della Duck was a character I paid no mind to. I’m sure many others did the same considering how little impact she’s had over the years. DuckTales though has made me interested in her, and “Nothing Can Stop Della Duck!” only amplified that.

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Della is too nervous to knock.

The episode wastes little time in cutting to the chase. The previous episode ended (agonizingly on a Friday) with Della (Paget Brewster) blasting off so she’s outside of Scrooge’s estate when the episode begins. Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is waiting for a bus which is to take him away on vacation for a month and he sees the rocket crash and races over to find his sister, but she’s already gone. She quickly makes her way to Scrooge’s front door eager to see her uncle again and finally meet the children she left behind as eggs.

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Scrooge seeing Della will break you.

It’s in the moments outside of Scrooge’s door where the episode shines brightest. Della is eager, but also terrified of what her first impression will be like. She can’t bring herself to knock or ring the bell and instead starts trying out first impressions. It’s partly played for laughs to lessen the obvious tension. On the other side of the door, Scrooge (David Tennant) is armed with some priceless artifact in the shape of a quill that can magically lead him to any treasure if he uses it to sketch a map. He, the boys, and Webby (Kate Micucci) are ready to leave, but when Scrooge opens the door he’s stopped dead in his tracks as the quill falls to the floor shattering into a million pieces.

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The boys appear guarded and unsure initially.

Della then basically cracks a joke of an introduction as we see the tears well up in Scrooge’s eyes. It’s beautifully illustrated and the two share a warm embrace. When the camera pans to the children, they’ve become withdrawn and are looking on cautiously. Webby is casually positioned in front of them just taking everything in and it’s she who first posits that the woman at the door is their mother. Della enters and drops to her knees with tear-filled eyes as Scrooge introduces her. The scene is paced so intelligently as the boys are both excited but also very guarded. Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is the most exuberant and the firs to embrace his mother, while Huey (Danny Pudi) needs to only hear her quote the Junior Woodchuck handbook to know he’s found his mom. Louie (Bobby Moynihan), the most casual and laid back of the three, is also the most hesitant. He justifiably wonders if this is some weird trick and Della is going to turn into a ghoul or monster. He eventually gives in, and the three share a heartwarming group hug.

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Della falling to her knees feels like her succumbing to the weight of the moment. 

The scene dealing with both the joy of an unexpected, but welcomed, reunion coupled with some degree of trepidation and fear of the unknown is handled about as well here as it is in any medium. I was so impressed with the moment, but not surprised, because the bread crumbs this show had laid down gave me the confidence in knowing it could handle this kind of material and do it well. I was so convinced of that going into it that I made it a point to view this one by myself without my children. I love them dearly, but my son especially is at that stage where he asks 20 questions a minute when watching a TV show or movie so it can be trying to actually absorb and enjoy something when he’s around.

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The well-earned payoff.

The rest of the episode remained poignant and clever as Della tries to get readjusted to life within a family she hardly knows. She has to find her place and also figure out how to be a mother overnight. There’s confusion on all sides, and there’s a sense that Della is trying to force affection and a motherly persona onto her boys and all of them will adapt at different speeds. The show is establishing rather quickly that Della and Dewey will be kindred spirits and that bonding with him will come easier than it will with Huey and Louie. Della will have to spend time getting to know her boys and they will have to do the same. They love each other right now out of obligation and duty, but a more natural affection will take time. I think it will be an interesting experience to take in and you know the writers of the show will handle it deftly, mixing in plenty of humor and adventure.

Perhaps well aware that something they setup in the first episode was now being paid off, the writers saved one reunion for later. For when Donald stumbled into his sister’s spaceship he accidentally reactivated it sending himself to the moon. Della left behind a ruler who was scheming a way to motivate his people out of their docile, comfort, zone and into a more aggressive position by portraying Della as a villain to his people upon her departure. As a result, the environment Della found welcoming will not be so for poor Donald. Worse for him is that they all think he’s gone on vacation so they won’t even be looking for him. Eventually, they’ll have to go searching for him or Della will realize her ship is missing, but for now viewers will have to wait for the reunion of brother and sister. It was teased slightly in the episode with a cautiously optimistic and slightly excited Donald looking through the wreckage for Della. Meanwhile, Della has a moment by herself where she looks at a picture of Donald and the boys and thanks her brother for raising them so well (even if he didn’t give them the names she wanted). That moment to come may not be as satisfying as a reunion of mother and child, but I have a sneaking suspicion this show will handle it just fine.


DuckTales Season One Review

ducktales newRebooting an old cartoon property has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, reviving an old brand means the core of what you’re trying to build is already in place. Characters, relationships, stories, even music can all be mined from the old and adapted for the new. There are often tweaks made to the look of the show, new voices to cast, and a whole new team to assemble, but it’s undoubtedly easier and less expensive than starting from scratch. And it also allows a new generation of creators to take something they enjoyed as youngsters and mold it into something else. It also comes with risks, and as we’ve seen all too often recently there is an aspect of fandom that is, well, toxic to say the least. Take She-Ra, for example. Originally conceived as a way to market action figures to girls, She-Ra was integrated into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, itself a show designed simply to sell toys to boys, and the backlash was swift and quick. Even those behind the creation of He-Man looked down on She-Ra and blamed her for hastening the decline of the franchise as a whole, “Now my sister wants to play with me? Gross!” This is all captured quite well in the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, if you want to know more.

She-Ra, I’m sure, had fans of her own, but they definitely were small in numbers, relatively speaking. Rarely did I ever hear anyone in conversation bring her up in a positive light and I literally met no one pining for a reboot in the same mold as He-Man himself. And yet, when a new concept was recently unveiled for She-Ra online the He-Man fandom and nerd culture as a whole was swift to pounce on it. Blaming it for ruining the character or for unoriginally adhering to the “CalArts style,” these fans were loud and largely obnoxious. It was similar to the backlash towards a new ThunderCats show that has yet to air. Did you ever watch ThunderCats back when it was originally aired? That show, just like She-Ra and He-Man and countless other programs, was terrible. It’s fine to be nostalgic for them because you grew up with them. I certainly watched a lot of crappy cartoons, but I don’t want to subject my kids to the same. If there are to be new versions of these shows I want them to be good! Not some 23 minute toy commercial. Fans should be happy these things still exist for a new audience. And the beauty of it all is, if you don’t like what’s new, you still have what’s old. It doesn’t go away or vanish the moment a new version shows up.

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The cast is much larger, but many episodes still revolve around Scrooge and his nephews (plus Webby).

It’s interesting that one of the companies behind the pivot from making shows that sell toys to just making good animated programming was Disney with its Disney Afternoon programming block. The original Disney Afternoon toon was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but the show most associate with the block is none other than DuckTales. Basically a loose adaptation of the Carl Barks comics for television, DuckTales centered not around Donald Duck but around his rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. He was partnered with his grand nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie along with his personal pilot Launchpad. Together they went on grand adventures searching for treasure. They wouldn’t just travel to far away places, but backwards and even forward in time! It was memorable for its lavish animation that went far beyond the likes of Dic and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention for its incredibly catchy theme song.

As such, it seems appropriate that when it came time for Disney to adapt DuckTales for a new audience it largely escaped the internet backlash that had befallen other properties. Oh, I’m sure there are detractors that do not like the new visual style or the Felicia Barton sung intro, but by and large the response I have seen online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive. DuckTales just concluded its first season. Commercially, I have no idea how well the show has done, though it’s done well enough to receive a second season. It’s hard to judge that sort of thing in this day and age when ratings mean almost nothing thanks to streaming options and DVR. There hasn’t even been a tie-in toy-line until very recently so sales of that aren’t going to offer much of a measure. Creatively though, it’s hard to think of a cartoon reboot that has been more successful than DuckTales. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come close with their 2012 reboot, and really that ThunderCats reboot of a few years ago was miles ahead of the original, though it did not last very long. DuckTales is on another level though, and there are a lot of reasons why.

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After mostly chilling on the sidelines in the original series, Donald is a part of the main cast this time around. He doesn’t get to relax as much as this image suggests.

First and foremost, the work of Carl Barks has not been ignored. Scrooge is back to his red overcoat and he’s partnered with all of his nephews this time – including Donald Duck! Back when the original Disney Afternoon was conceived, Disney was hesitant about letting any of its big stars headline a show. Landing Donald for the few episodes he was in was a huge get, as characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were completely shut-out at the onset. That stigma has long since passed allowing Donald to finally star alongside his uncle as he should. Huey, Dewey, Louie are still around and now they have distinct looks and personalities all to themselves. The prior nephews in basically every iteration were interchangeable. It was part of their charm, but also pretty limiting from a character perspective. Now they’re free to be themselves and the writers are allowed to explore each individual duckling. Huey is the closest to the original mold, the burgeoning Junior Woodchuck. Louie is more slothful and laid back while Dewey embodies the adventurous spirit of his great-uncle with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. Webby is also back and she’s no longer the little girl who seems to get in the way, rather she’s an adventurer herself who looks upon the likes of Scrooge and Donald as something close to legendary figures. She’s good-natured, and her grannie Mrs. Beakly is still around to look after her. Oh, and Mrs. Beakly is no longer the meek maid to Scrooge but a former covert agent herself with a rather massive and intimidating physique.

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One of the more radical redesigns is that of Mrs. Beakley, who went from doting old maid to a tank-like brawler who still has a soft touch.

The show’s approach is similar to the original DuckTales, take Scrooge and the gang on adventures to fantastic worlds with treasures to uncover and villains to foil. Since the cast is larger, episodes will often pairs things down to just a handful and save the full cast for the most important episodes. It also includes more structured story-telling and the first season revolves around a character we’ve only ever seen mentioned, and rarely at that – Della Duck. Della is the sister to Donald and the mother to the boys, and at the end of the second episode (aired as one long episode for the premiere) the boys uncover a painting that depicts her alongside her brother and uncle. Della previously was basically only mentioned in the cartoon short “Donald’s Nephews” with Donald shown reading a letter from her asking her to watch her kids. She’s basically never been mentioned again and never seen, as far as I can recall. The boys start off knowing something happened to her and it may or may not have led to a falling out between Scrooge and Donald. The first episode deals with Donald reluctantly going to his uncle for help in watching the boys so he can go on a job interview, and that arch ends with Donald and the boys moving in as Donald seems to understand its best for his nephews (plus his house boat was destroyed in the process). The boys spend parts of the first season secretly investigating what happened to Della, and the mystery is unraveled slowly and takes some twists and turns. It even threatens to split the brothers apart as Dewey discovers something and decides to keep it from his brothers. Things come to a head in the penultimate episode leaving the finale, which just aired this past Saturday, to deal with the fall-out.

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Lena and Webby’s friendship is one of the main plot points weaved throughout the first season.

The other big teaser throughout the first season revolves around Scrooge’s old enemy – Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate)! She was a frequent foil in the original series so naturally she’s back. As basically the big baddie of the whole thing, it’s a lot of fun to see the show treat her as such. When the season begins she’s magically sealed away and only able to interact with the world through her niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn) who poses as a friendly sort in order to gain the trust of Scrooge and thus somehow free Magica from whatever keeps her sealed away. To do so she gets close to Webby and the two become best friends. Throughout much of the second half of the season we get to see Lena being pulled between the two forces in her life; her friendship with Webby and her loyalty to Magica. It’s nothing new, but it’s handled well and there are some genuinely emotional moments that come of this and there’s a lot of payoff in the end. Plus, the animators used this really creepy effect where Lena’s eyes turn black and “spill” shadows to form Magica. It’s genuinely unsettling.

The original DuckTales cartoon dealt with plots that continued from one episode into the other. There were even changes to the main cast as was the case with the introduction of Bubba and Gizmoduck. Those storyline pay-offs though were not on the equal with the new show. The main theme of family is at the core of this new show and it never strays too far from that. Very few of the episodes in the first season felt like filler as all seemed to serve some purpose. Either a character learns something about themself or their relationship to the others or something else happens to move the overall story along. It’s a great way to structure a show and I always love seeing what is primarily children’s programming take this sort of risk. There will always be television executives who look down on children and think the simpler the better, but trust me, kids notice this stuff and appreciate it when a show doesn’t treat them like brainless buffoons.

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Many of Scrooge’s old villains have returned.

Additional challenges arise when creating a new version of a 30-year-old show. Namely, the voice talent available isn’t the same anymore. Alan Young, who provided the voice of Scrooge for decades, is no longer with us. And since it was decided that the nephews would be approached differently this time around, the talents of Russi Taylor were declined and instead each was given a unique voice. These changes are often the hardest for the old fans since not only do these characters barely resemble what we fell in love with as children, but they also sound very different. Once you get past that change though, it’s hard to say bad things about this cast. David Tennant is a great Scrooge with a natural Scottish accent. He brings everything you need from a voice actor to the character. He can be gentle, intimidating, enthusiastic, and even sad. It was hard to say good-bye to Young, but Tennant has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm. The nephews are voiced by Danny Pudi (Huey), Ben Schwartz (Dewey) and Bobby Moynihan (Louie) and they all impart their own personality on the characters. If there is one negative to this season, it’s that Dewey definitely feels more developed than the other two and thus Schwartz shines brighter than the others, but season 2 could easily rectify that. Kate Micucci is Webby and she was perfect in the role while Toks Olagundoye voices her grandmother Beakley. Beck Bennett plays a more aloof Launchpad, but otherwise kind of sounds like he’s trying to do Terry McGovern which is a little sad because I know McGovern really wanted the part. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with all of the newness in the cast then at least you have Tony Anselmo reprising his role as Donald Duck, as it should be.

The new visual style of the show is bright and expressive. It’s a bit flat, which seems to be a trend in 2D digital animation, but it has its own look which helps differentiate it from the original series. The look of the old series just can’t be duplicated in today’s environment, so the show was smart to not even try. I really like the new look for Scrooge and Donald and feel it suits them well. The nephews have taken some getting used to as they have really large heads and in some respects resemble chickens more than ducks. The backgrounds are all really well done and there’s plenty of variety to be found from suburban settings to creepy castles. There’s also more imaginative and fantastic settings to be found and the show does an admirable job of mixing things up. It does the same with the villains and guest spots and virtually everyone you know and love from the original series makes an appearance or two here. There are also a few new characters thrown around, some inconsequential and some rather imaginative (I’m looking at you statue-headed horse) and almost all have some pay-off.

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And many old allies are back as well.

Of the first season’s 23 episodes (25 if you count the premier and finale as two episodes) it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first episode, “Woo-oo” was wonderful for its patient and rewarding reintroduction of these timeless characters. Any episode that pits Scrooge against Glomgold was usually humorous and entertaining to watch and the episode “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System” was equally humorous for its focus on Launchpad, plus it had Gizmoduck! Some of the episodes have some rather delightful Easter Eggs in them. You have undoubtedly seen or heard about the numerous Darkwing Duck ones, and the finale included one Easter Egg from the old NES game. And it’s really hard for me to not just pick the last three episodes as my favorites. They’re the most weighty with the biggest emotional moments in the whole season. I even get a lump in my throat just thinking about them.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to imagine a reboot having as successful a reintroduction as DuckTales did in 2017 and into 2018. The new show proves the old comics and original series still have legs, their foundation was one that can anchor any show in any era. This is the rare reboot that should have little trouble appealing to the old fans while also being something new for a younger generation that may never have even heard of DuckTales before 2017. If nothing else, my own children have proven to me time and again that the old theme song will never go out of style as the two will happily sing it at the dinner table, from their car seats, or while they play. It’s really rewarding as a parent to see your children embrace something you loved as a kid yourself, even if it’s not the same and in a new form. I have no doubt that DuckTales is in good hands right now and I look forward to watching the second season with my kids, or even on my own after they go to bed (it can be hard to focus on these things with a pair of short-attention span toddlers).


PhatMojo DuckTales – Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck

IMG_2498It’s been nearly a year since DuckTales returned to television airwaves. Scrooge McDuck, along with his nephews and surrogate niece Webby are back to solve mysteries and rewrite history. It’s a fun show that adheres more to the work of Carl Barks than to the series that ran in the 1980s while also doing its own thing. For the first time really ever, the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are distinguishable by more than just the color of their clothes and the cast is large enough that the writers don’t seem to feel pressured into fitting everyone into every episode. Sometimes Scrooge will be missing, other times Donald will be. It seems to be a show more about the kids and how they view the almost mythological Scrooge. And it also has other mysteries to uncover and it’s mostly good fun.

Back when the original series ran it surprisingly did not coincide with a ton of merchandise. Maybe this was a deliberate attempt by Disney to distinguish its cartoons from the competition which were often toys first, shows second. The only DuckTales toy I can remember owning was a Gizmoduck that came in a box of cereal. It seemed like this new incarnation was going to befall the same fate, but along came PhatMojo to rectify that. Now, I know nothing of this company and this is my first introduction to them, but I’ll say it’s mostly a positive one. Alongside some figurines and plush dolls, PhatMojo has put out its first line of DuckTales actions figures. Apparently exclusive to Target, the inaugural line contains single-carded figures of Scrooge, Donald, Launchpad, and Flintheart Glomgold. In addition to those figures are a pair of two-packs of Huey and Dewey and one of Webby and Louie. Also available is Launchpad’s airplane which also comes with his figure and Scrooge’s Money Bin playset, which seems more like a storage device for your toys than a full-fledged play set.

I have a weakness for toys, that is obvious to anyone who reads this blog, and perhaps a greater weakness for Donald Duck merchandise. Despite that, I’ve actually never owned a proper Donald Duck figure until now. I have statues and Lego mini-figures, but no action figures. Most of the is due to scarcity. There is a phenomenal Donald Duck figure available by a company called Herocross, but to import him is over $100. Yikes! There have been some Kingdom Hearts Donald Duck figures, but those have never spoke to me for one reason or another. Years ago there was a line of figures based on Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I do kind of kick myself for not collecting it. I was in high school when those came out and just didn’t have much money for action figures. I’m guessing if I looked them up on eBay right now I would not like what I see in terms of price too. As for Scrooge, he received a pretty darn good figure just last year from Funko, purveyors of those Pop! figures you’ve probably seen everywhere. That Scrooge was part of a line based on the old Disney Afternoon so it’s Scrooge with his blue coat. Herocross also released a version of Scrooge from that series and it’s both awesome and terribly expensive.

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“Hello?”

Not wanting to get too far into another line of toys, I forced myself to just stick with Donald and Scrooge when I encountered them over the weekend at my local Target. Might as well start with an overview of the line as a whole. These are mass-market retail figures, and even though I’m a man in his mid-30s, I can admit these are aimed at children. As such, it stands to reason you shouldn’t expect collector grade quality with these figures, and the price of 8.99 a piece captures that. The figures have unique sculpts with simple paint apps and even simpler articulation. The heads sit on a ball-joint that offers solid range of motion, but that’s it for fancy joints. The shoulders are on simple pegs and there’s no elbow or wrist articulation. The legs are also on simple peg joints at the hip with no knee articulation. As a result, these figures are very limited in what they can do as far as posing goes, but what’s there has a solid build and isn’t flimsy or anything.

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That’s the best he can do as far as taking a picture goes.

Let’s talk Donald Duck first. In case you are unfamiliar with the show or the work of Carl Barks, this Donald is in his comic accurate attire, which is how he’s presented in the show (his more popular light blue shirt gets set on fire in the first episode). His shirt is black with gold buttons and he wears a white hat instead of a blue one. The character is brought to life once again by Tony Anselmo and it’s really fun to see this Donald on television for the first time. He’s not as quick to anger as his personality in the cartoon shorts dictates and he’s very much a doting uncle most interested in the well-being of his nephews. Donald stands just under 4″ and comes with two accessories:  a camera and a smart phone.

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What you see is what you get, but what you see also is pretty good.

First of all, this figure is a dead-ringer for the show. He has that rounded look in the head with harder lines on the beak. The paint app is simple because it doesn’t call for much, and my figure looks pretty good in that area (some on the pegs were less impressive). Because of the limited articulation, he can’t really do much with his accessories, but he can kind of hold the phone like he’s talking into it. My only criticism of the sculpt is in how the legs meet the body which looks odd, but it was obviously done this way to keep it simple. The little tassel on his hat is also molded to his head and I wish it was jutting out on its own to impart a touch more personality, but again, this is the simple approach. Donald has a sunny disposition to him which may have felt out of place for his toon counterpart, but for DuckTales this feels appropriate. Overall, this is a very solid figure that, while not much fun to pose, definitely nails the likeness.

For Scrooge, we have a slightly more ambitious design. His tophat, glasses, and overcoat make him slightly harder to sculpt, but once again PhatMojo pretty much nails it. His hat pushes him close to 4 1/2″ and he has his little tuffs of hair pushing out from underneath it. Some may be disappointed that the hat is non-removable, but I think it looks better this way. Like Donald, this Scrooge is more in-line with the design of Barks and features a red coat instead of the blue one from the 1980s. Voicing him in the show is David Tennant, and man did he have some pretty big shoes to fill, but so far he’s pretty much nailed it. He comes with two accessories of his own, his trusty cane and a little gold colored idol that just sort of sits there. His articulation is the same as his nephew, only his overcoat really limits what can be done with his legs. In fact, I can’t even tell if his legs are articulated or not since they basically can’t move.

Paint-wise, he’s a bit more of a mixed bag. I had a hard time finding a good one at the store and had to settle for what I have. He has a little red dot on the brim of his hat and in a few places on his coat is a dab of white or black that shouldn’t be there. It’s not killer, but I notice these things. His eyeglasses are also kind of funky. Rather than use a piece of transparent plastic like Funko did with their Scrooge, PhatMojo just made a block of plastic to place on his beak and painted on glasses. This means the open area where there are no glasses is just painted yellow. It looks okay from a head-on perspective, as his nose should probably be there anyway, but from an angle of any kind it’s a bit clumsy. Again, this feels like a cost-cutting move as cutting out the dead-space would mean a more fragile piece in the end, but I wish they did a little better here. All of the figures I saw also had a weird little gap underneath Scrooge’s belt buckle. Not really noticeable when the figure is just displayed, but pick it up and you’ll see it. It’s probably the result of how the bottom part of his overcoat was connected to his torso.

Even with the problems I highlighted with Scrooge, I still think he’s a sound figure and he looks great on my desk alongside Donald and Funko’s Scrooge. Both Donald and Scrooge look like they’re supposed to given the source material. And considering the price, it’s hard to quibble with them too much. When I was a kid, I paid upwards of 7.99 for ToyBiz figures and that was in the early and mid 90s. To only pay 8.99 for these in 2018 is a pretty tremendous value. I don’t know how fun they are for kids given how limited they are in what they can do, but I played with similar as a kid and had no shortage of good times. If you like the look of the new DuckTales and want some figures from it, give these a look. You may want to catch them in person rather than through the web given the paint issues I saw. And if you’re a stickler for scale you may be a little disappointed with the others as Launchpad is definitely on the small side and the kids a little too big relative to Scrooge and Donald. The two-packs also run a tad more expensive at 12.99 each, but given you’re getting two 3″ figures instead of one 4″ the value seems about equal. For me, I’m probably content to just stick with these two. If a Darkwing Duck or Gizmoduck shows up I may give them a look. I’ll also probably try and push my kid towards these things as I’m always looking to foster more duck-enthusiasm in him. Got to start them young!


DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.


DuckTales (1989)

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DuckTales (1989)

Licensed games are trash, or at least, that was the lesson the video rental store taught me as a child. Renting a video game on a Friday night was a special occasion in my house. Maybe a friend was sleeping over, or my parents wanted to rent a movie they didn’t really want me watching, so they got a video game to keep me occupied. The only thing that could ruin the evening, or rather the weekend, was renting a bad game so early on I learned what games to avoid. Usually, those games featured a licensed tie-in:  Roadrunner, Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, X-Men – all terrible games with attractive box art.

One consistent exception to that rule were the Disney games, especially the ones centered around the Disney Afternoon programming block. Recently released in a bundle for modern consoles (though sadly no portable devices), The Disney Afternoon Collection is a reminder of just how much better these games were than the usual licensed junk. Developed by Capcom, these were real games meant to entertain with their play mechanics. The games didn’t need the license, the license needed the games. And the cream of the crop was DuckTales, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989.

DuckTales was not the first of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it soon became the flagship series for the block. Featuring a great cast, stories adapted from the renowned works of Carl Barks, and the best animation on television by a mile, DuckTales was an easy hit and it’s a cartoon that holds up remarkably well today. It’s adventure themes are easily adaptable for a video game, so in some ways it should come as no surprise that the game matches, even exceeds, the quality of the program.

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In DuckTales, Scrooge’s adventures take him beyond Earth.

DuckTales is a pretty traditional game for its era. The player controls Scrooge, notably decked-out in his comic attire red coat instead of the blue from the show, who can run and jump his way through five stages collecting treasure as he attempts to recapture his lucky dime from the villainous Magica DeSpell and Flintheart Glomgold. Scrooge handles like a standard character from the era, with the notable distinction that he can’t simply stomp on the heads of his foes to defeat them. Instead he must utilize his cane. When standing next to certain objects, he can swing it like a golf club to knock objects into enemies or objects. Mostly though, he needs his cane to function like a pogo stick. Bouncing off the head of an enemy utilizing his cane in such a fashion is Scrooge’s primary method of dealing damage. It also helps to give his jump an extra boost allowing him to clear wide chasms or reach higher platforms.

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I think every side-scroller was required to have an ice stage.

It’s the pogo quality of Scrooge’s cane that lies at the heart of what makes DuckTales so much fun, even today. Also playing a role are the large, open, levels. There may only be five of them, but they’re much larger than your garden-variety Mario or Mega Man stage. Scrooge can roam around them in basically any direction, and all are loaded with secret chests and treasures for Scrooge to find. Amassing a fortune is part of the game, and the amount of cash a player finishes the game with affects the ending cinematic, a rarity for 1989. Scattered through-out the levels are also other characters from the show, including Scrooge’s nephews and Launchpad, who are able to help out in small ways.

The visuals and sound of DuckTales are also areas where the game performs well. Naturally, the game makes liberal use of a digitized sample of the DuckTales theme, though I never found myself tiring of it. The sound effects are pretty standard for Capcom games of the era and are probably more enjoyable today with the aid of nostalgia. The graphics, while good for the time, are probably just a little above average for the NES. Some of the enemy sprites and character models are quite fun and expressive, though the bosses sometimes leave something to be desired.

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Launchpad isn’t totally useless, but he also could be more helpful here.

Games for the NES are sometimes considered quite difficult by today’s standards, but DuckTales is a fairly forgiving title in this regard. While it lacks a password or continue system, the adjustable difficulty makes it pretty easy to taylor the game to one’s skill level without making it embarrassingly easy. Changing the difficulty largely affects how much damage Scrooge receives from enemies, which is a simple and fair way to measure difficulty. The game doesn’t throw anything odd at the player, or introduce a foreign play mechanic at any point (unlike say Battletoads which just throws a racing level at the player out of no where), and anyone who has played a decent amount of 8-bit platformers can probably find a way to finish the game. It’s not a long game, though the desire to find all of the hidden treasures and achieve the best ending help provide incentive to play the game again and again.

Mostly, DuckTales is a really fun action-adventure game for the NES. It’s the type of game I can play today and hope that younger generations are able to see what made the game so much fun in 1989. As I mentioned early in the post, DuckTales was recently re-released as part of a bundle of Disney Afternoon titles so you don’t need to have a working NES on-hand to play it, though that’s currently how I enjoy it. And this is a game still worth playing, even after all these years.


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.

Postscript:  When I published this piece I never could have anticipated the reach it would have. It was mostly just me thinking aloud on the internet about a subject I thought was really only interesting to me, but as is the case with anything Disney, that is certainly not the case. Since then, this post continues to be my most popular as it usually gets a hit or hits every day. And if you’re reading this for the first time, please check out the comments as much of what was speculated at the time has been answered by none other than Tony Anselmo himself. Some have expressed disbelief that Mr. Anselmo would make a comment on some random blog, but I assure you it is indeed the real deal as I confirmed as much outside of this blog space (I did not go out of my way to verify the comments from Daniel Ross and Gary Marsh). It is my sincere hope that he didn’t get any heat from anyone at Disney for sharing the real story here. I assume he’s doing just fine since he continues to voice the character and he’s never asked me to remove the comments. He’ll always have my thanks for the generosity displayed here, and because he’s freakin’ Donald Duck!

In short, the role of Donald Duck was recast because that’s what the showrunner for the program decided on. It should go without saying that was the wrong thing to do. The role of Donald Duck is Anselmo’s and it should remain his until he retires. Programs that have since premiered such as Legend of the Three Caballeros and DuckTales should be proof enough that Anselmo’s Donald is as good as ever. Now obviously, as fans there’s little we can do when we disagree with the whims of a mega-corporation like Disney. I have done my part as best to my ability. I wrote to CEO Bob Iger, though I never received a response (not that I expected one) and expressed my displeasure with the move. I was also fortunate that my children never developed an attachment to the Roadster Racers program so it was easy to phase it out. Similarly, I do not put on the Mixed-Up Adventures which features Ross as Donald for them either, and I do not buy any of the merch associated with those programs. And I will continue to only support projects that Donald appears in so long as it’s Anselmo voicing the character. Whenever he does decide to hang ’em up and pass the torch I will embrace that new actor whole-heartedly, because a character as iconic as Donald Duck is bigger than all of us. That time has not come though and I don’t think it should for a long while yet.

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You can still hear Anselmo’s Donald on DuckTales and Legend of the Three Caballeros, perhaps the two best television programs ever to feature Donald Duck.


The Best in Televised Animation – Introduction

ARCHIVAL PHOTOProbably 90% of the posts here could be separated into two broad categories:  video games and animation. Thus it would come as no surprise to anyone who has spent even a small sum of time browsing this blog that I love animation, especially the classic hand-drawn kind. I’ve never given much thought as to why I enjoy animation so much. I would guess it’s because animation can do anything, even things live-action cannot. It can imitate real life or do the exact opposite. It’s often a haven for comedy and a natural destination for characters who began life as a comic book.

Animation has spent considerable time on the big screen and on television. As film, animation often takes the form of a general audience picture running around ninety minutes. It of course began life as a short subject often pre-empting a more traditional picture, then Walt Disney came along and decided animation could go feature-length. On television, animation often occupies children’s programming, but select shows have broken through as animated sitcoms and adults-only comedy acts. Trying to narrow down the best animated films and television shows is quite a tall task, which is why this feature is going to concern itself with television for now. This I envision will be a long-running feature. I’ve settled on what I consider to be the ten best animated programs, but there’s always the possibility I could continue to add to it even after I do a write-up on my ten favorites. It’s also possible I never finish. The possibilities are endless!

Before getting to my top 10, I wanted to make an introductory post on the feature and use it as an opportunity to highlight the shows that just missed the cut. My list does not exclude the animation aimed at children and my top ten is almost half kid’s shows and half adult programs. I tried to approach all of them with the same basic questions:  Is the show entertaining? Is the medium used well? Is the artwork pleasing to the eye while suiting the show’s needs? Naturally, the list will be influenced by the era I grew up in, the 80’s and 90’s, so the shows that came before that time are unfairly penalized (though in my opinion, most of the cartoons from that era are garbage). I also didn’t include the package shows like Looney Tunes. I loved those cartoons growing up, but they’re theatrical shorts

With that out of the way, it’s time to hit on the ones that just missed my list. One of the first cartoons I can remember watching daily as a kid is DuckTales. DuckTales was extremely pleasing to the eyes, like just about all of the Disney cartoons from that era, and featured a fun, engaging plot with likable characters and a catchy soundtrack. It holds up pretty well today, but is obviously aimed at children. The show could get redundant as well as the premise for most episodes was Scrooge having to thwart the Beagle Boys, but as far as children’s entertainment goes, it’s hard to beat DuckTales.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

DuckTales was an adventure program, and another adventure program that’s still fun to this day is Dragon Ball. Hailing from Japan, Dragon Ball tells the tale of Goku who travels the world in search of the seven magic dragon balls. The plot gets more complicated than that as the show moves along, but it’s packed with equal parts action and humor. Since it arrived in the states after its sequel series, Dragon Ball Z, anime dubbing was able to improve and english speaking audiences were treated to a wonderful dub, something that was rare during the 90’s. Dragon Ball Z is the more popular show, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the quality of Dragon Ball.

Superheroes have seen a great many takes on their comics in the world of televised animation. One such character has received numerous adaptations: Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man. Two adaptations stand-out for the wall crawler, the simply titled Spider-Man from the 1990’s and the more recent Spectacular Spider-Man. The 90’s Spider-Man was a great introduction for kids unfamiliar with the character. It hit on lots of Spidey’s most famous stories from the comics, and even though it was for children, it took itself very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. Spectacular Spider-Man distinguished itself with a unique look. It’s style was a bit off-putting at first, but the animation was crisp and the show packed a ton of energy. Sadly, it was a casualty of the Marvel purchase by Disney and an inferior Spider-Man program took its place.

Superhero shows were quite popular in the 90’s, but one stood out amongst the crowd for its satirical take on the genre. I am, of course, talking about The Tick. The Tick closed out the mega-popular Fox Saturday Morning block of programming and was a particularly zany take on the superhero genre. It was probably too weird and too out there for a lot of kids, but it’s definitely a show that works better on older audiences. So obvious was this fact that Fox attempted a live-action sitcom starring the dim-witted blue hero starring Patrick Warburton. It was not a success.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

In the world of adult cartoons, Family Guy is pretty popular these days. It was roughly animated when it first showed up, but the increased ratings lead to better production and the show looks much better these days. Unfortunately, like another very famous adult cartoon that I’ll get to much later, its current output is far less creative than the first couple of seasons. Family Guy really only had 2 and a half seasons of good content before the formula became too obvious and the characters unlikable. An even more vulgar program for older audiences, Beavis and Butt-head dominated a small chunk of the 90’s. It was impossible to find a teen that didn’t know who those two were. The show was a lot sharper than most gave it credit for, though the animation was as crude as it comes. It would make a Hell of a nice time capsule kind of show.

When it comes to cartoons not aimed primarily at children though, all present cartoons owe a great deal to The Flintstones. The Flintstones were basically a stone-aged take on The Honeymooners and the first primetime cartoon. It’s premise is clever, and the setting is a good example of one that works far better in animation that it ever could have as live-action (just watch The Flintstones movie if you’re not convinced of that). It’s also a show hurt by the age of your humble writer. I grew up watching The Flintstones in syndication when it aired as just another cartoon among many others. I enjoy it for what it is, but it doesn’t engage me enough to make my top ten. It very nearly did though just on its laurels, but I wanted to go with the programs that I personally enjoy the most, because after all, it is my list.

All of those shows I just mentioned were good at one point or another, though truthfully, other than The Flintstones, it wasn’t hard for me to leave any of them off my list. The ten I have picked as the best really are ten shows I enjoy quite a lot and I look forward to doing write-ups on them as I find time. And now, a few others I considered for this post:  Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012, 2003), Rocko’s Modern Life, Sealab 2021, Batman Beyond, and Bob’s Burgers.


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