Tag Archives: scrooge mcduck

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.


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.


Dec. 13 – Donald Duck in Christmas on Bear Mountain

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Four Color Comics #178 (1947)

For these features, I like to do something a little different at the midway point. This year I’m going to take a look at the classic Donald Dock comic “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” Donald Duck wasn’t just a movie star back in the day, but he also starred in his own line of comics published by Walt Disney. The author and illustrator was the renowned Carl Barks, who also would pen the Uncle Scrooge comics as well. Barks didn’t get to enjoy being celebrated for many years as anything published by Walt Disney was attributed to just one man – Walt Disney. He got to take credit for everything. I don’t necessarily think the intent was malicious or ego-driven, but a marketing one. If people thought these were coming from Disney himself then they would be more likely to buy them. This was a problem in those days across the comics world as the people with money got to take most of the credit, and royalties, away from the actual creators. It’s a problem that has thankfully largely been solved, but there’s still plenty of old wounds out there.

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The first page, with Scrooge’s debut at the bottom.

In terms of Donald Duck comics, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is one of the most famous. It was first published in December 1947 by Dell Comics as part of their Four Color Comics. It’s most notable for being the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s wealthy uncle who would go on to star in his own line of comics as well as the DuckTales cartoons. For his debut, Scrooge is a bit more like his eventual adversary Flintheart Glomgold. He’s a bearded Scottsman with a rather lousy disposition. He claims he hates everybody and everybody hates him. He lives alone in a mansion in Duckberg with just his attendants. He appears to be a cross between Xanadu from Citizen Kane and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. There’s no hint at his adventuring past as much of what will define Scrooge is yet to come, making this version of the character feel more like a prototype Scrooge than the actual Scrooge McDuck we’ll come to know and love.

The comic opens with Donald Duck bemoaning his lack of money in front of his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. He doesn’t have enough money for food, let alone presents for Christmas. He openly wishes his rich uncle Scrooge were more generous, but dismisses that possibility pretty quickly. It’s a convenient thought though as we’re whisked away to Scrooge’s mansion on the other side of town where the old man is bemoaning the oncoming holiday as well. He’s a miserable sort, but also a bit mischievous, and he decides that for Christmas he would like to test the mettle of his cowardly nephew. Scrooge admires bravery and repeatedly references his stingy ways. He never gives anything away for free, but he’s willing to bestow food and presents upon his nephew if he can have a bit of fun at his expense and test his courage. And if he passes his test, he’ll reward him further. He instructs his butler to send Donald a telegram offering the use of his cabin on Bear Mountain where Scrooge intends to spring a surprise on his nephew.

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Many years later, Barks would do paintings of his prized creations and sell them for a tidy sum.

Donald and his nephews are surprised and delighted to receive the telegram from Scrooge offering the use of his cabin for the holidays. The boys set off immediately, though Donald is a little unnerved by the warning in the telegram to watch out for bears. In a bit of role reversal from a popular short like Duck Pimples, it’s Donald who is cowardly while the nephews are dismissive of the warning. They tell their uncle there are no bears around, and the thought is almost put out of Donald’s mind when they arrive at the cabin to find presents and food, lots and lots of food.

Meanwhile, Scrooge is eagerly anticipating pulling his little prank on his nephew. He plans on heading to the cabin himself, but first he must test his prank on his butler, Edgerton. When he summons the unassuming butler to his room he bursts forth in a bear costume prompting Edgerton to dive out of a window declaring he’ll take his holiday now. Scrooge is delighted with the result and immediately calls for his driver to take him to Bear Mountain.

At the cabin, night has fallen and Donald is on the look-out for bears. As the snow starts to come down the nephews declare there are no bears, but Donald is not satisfied. He peers outside through a telescope and is terrified at the sight of a creature, which turns out to be a squirrel. It’s enough to get him to jump into the chandelier and cower in fear, a frequent gag in the coming pages. Scrooge is on his way, but the snow is falling too fast. The roads are impassible, and the driver tells Scrooge they need to turn back. He’s not bothered as he’ll just pull his prank the next day, though he’s not crazy about his nephews getting to eat and sleep on his dime another night revealing he’s never provided a man a free meal in his life.

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The story goes out of its way to reveal just how much of a penny-pincher Scrooge is.

The next morning the boys have fun playing in the snow while Donald enjoys rummaging through the fridge for breakfast. When the boys request oatmeal, he tells them they’ll eat their lobster newburg and like it! Later on, Donald tries to relax by the fire but the nephews inform him they need a Christmas tree. It’s the one thing missing from Scrooge’s cabin, and given that it’s Christmas Eve, the place really needs one. Donald has no intention of going off into bear-infested woods looking for a tree, but the kids cry and complain and eventually he gives in. When they first set out, Donald thinks he sees bear tracks and runs back inside to hide under the bed while the boys point out they’re just rabbit tracks. Donald angrily grabs an axe and mutters his way through the snow. Finding only a single hollowed-out tree, the boys are forced to settle and they haul it back to the cabin.

The boys make the most of their sad tree by hanging colored soda bottles from it. Donald is more interested in finding some dessert and the kids are onboard as well. When they leave the living room it’s revealed their tree has a stow-away. A little bear cub emerges from his slumber and climbs out of the tree. He takes note of a teddy bear nearby and gives it a whack with his paw, startling the ducks in the other room. When the nephews come in they don’t notice the cub by the teddy bear, and Donald cowardly asks them to check the other rooms.

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Chandeliers make for great hiding places.

The little cub runs off undetected to the kitchen where he finds the strawberry shortcake the ducks were planning on eating, and consumes it himself. After finding no sign of bears, the others return to the kitchen and are shocked to see their cake has vanished. Donald immediately returns to the chandelier for cover, while the boys nervously tiptoe around the house. The cub though has returned to the tree for cover, and when he sees the boys leave he re-emerges. He drops out of the tree only to land on a roller skate just as Donald hops out of his hiding place. The bear goes rolling along and plows into Donald, who still doesn’t get a look at him but does notice the bear fur left behind. He then returns to his chandelier in terror.

Hearing the commotion, the boys return to the living room but again find no bears. Donald tells them his assailant fled through the door and the boys hear the sound of their roller skate on the floor. They angrily give charge only to slip on the discarded skate and crash into the wall. The bear has a look at the dazed ducklings, before he cheerfully resumes his skating. Donald asks what happened, and the boys don’t know, but they hear the skates and give charge once more. The cub hears them, and grabbing a box of chocolates, jumps back into his tree. When the boys enter the room they see no sign of the bear, but then one of them gets knocked on the head by the discarded chocolate box. They now know the bear is hiding in the tree and one of the nephews angrily yanks the cub out of his hiding place.

Just then, the mother of the cub awakens in the stump the ducks left behind and she is not happy to find her cub missing. She tracks them back to the cabin and smashes the door down. The cub though has managed to escape the ducklings, and after they failed to find him, they plead with their uncle to come out of his hiding place. Assuring him it’s just a tiny bear, Donald finally emerges to aid his nephews in their search. He confidently strides into another room expecting to find a cub, but naturally he finds the cub and his mother. He runs off and dives out the window as the bear gives chase and his nephews follow.

Night falls and the boys are forced to watch from outside as the bear and her cub enjoy the food and warmth of the cabin. After a satisfying meal, the bear lays down to sleep by the fire while the cub plays with the roller skate once more. The nephews then urge their uncle to go inside and tie the bear up while she sleeps while they’ll take care of the cub. Donald does not want to do this, but since the alternative is freezing to death, he has little choice. They slip in, and the boys start chasing the cub around. Donald, shaking uncontrollably, sneaks up to the mother bear. Before he can begin tying her up, the bear lets out a great sigh causing Donald to faint in fright right beside the bear who wraps an arm around him.

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Aww, they look so sweet together.

Just then, Scrooge shows up in his bear costume. He sneaks into the cabin and is immediately met by the cub who is being chased by his youngest nephews. He’s amazed at their bravery, even if it is just a cub, but not as amazed as he is when he looks into the next room. There he sees the slumbering mama bear, with Donald sleeping right beside her. He’s proud to see his nephew in so brave a state and even remarks the boy is like him and doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear. The bear then lets out another sigh, terrifying Scrooge who bolts out of the cabin. He’s not too scared to be proud of his nephew though, as he shares what happened with his driver, James. He intends to host the boys for Christmas dinner the next morning and instructs James to give them the good news.

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I love how Donald’s feathers explode when he’s frightened.

At Scrooge’s the next day, the boys enjoy a hearty meal. The youngest ducks get to consume liters of pop while Donald and Scrooge down lemonade. Scrooge is cheerful and supremely generous, all because he thinks his nephew is the bravest duck in town. To reward his bravery, Scrooge tells Donald he has a special gift for him:  a bear skin rug. When Donald sees the head of the rug he shrieks and faints. Scrooge is confused, but the nephews insist he just fainted from too much turkey. Scrooge actually seems to buy the explanation, but remarks in the final panel he thought Donald might actually be scared.

Like basically every Donald Duck story I’ve ever read, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is a charming little tale. The humor is not explosive, but will probably produce a smile for most readers. Seeing Donald in such a cowardly role is a little different, not that Donald is ever a model for bravery, but often he’s too stubborn to be truly scared. There’s no real build-up for Scrooge, but it’s fine that he’s ushered in so conveniently and quickly since the story unfolds rather briskly. It’s interesting to see this early Scrooge, which is basically a magnified version of the character that focuses on his less admirable traits while also introducing a playful side. That playful side is seldom explored, so it’s an interesting way to see the character introduced.

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Fantagraphics has re-released a vast assortment of duck comics and they’re the easiest way to acquire them today.

Also like most Donald Duck stories, the artwork of Carl Barks is expressive and detailed. I love the shape of his ducks which are more rounded than the film counterparts. The pages are consistently laid out in a 2×4 format which helps to move the story along quickly in the 20 pages present though I do wish there was a splash page or two. In particular one that revealed more of Scrooge’s mansion or that captured the presents and Christmas setting of the cabin. It’s a minor quibble though. The backgrounds are actually quite populated without appearing busy and the action shots utilize minimal effects. Just the occasional dash line or sweat drops. It gives the comic a very clean, professional, look.

If you’re interested in reading this story yourself then it’s actually rather easy these days. Fantagraphics has republished several Scrooge and Donald Duck comics in large, hardbound, full-colored trades. A lot of bonus content is included and even some panels that were rejected by Barks’ editor at the time which were preserved and restored. The trades total about 200 pages and retail with an MSRP of $28.99 but usually are sold for less. Some are even sold in two-packs with a nice, hard, box holding the books in place. I highly recommend them if you’re a fan of these classic characters. Alternatively, you could also seek out older prints or even an original comic, but that might set you back a bit more depending on the condition and rarity of the edition.

And I also must take a minute to point out that this is post number 500 for this blog. Whether you’re reading your first or if yo’ve read the other 499: Thank you. As an unabashed fan of Donald Duck, I am happy the 500th post ended up relating to him.


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!


Dec. 3 – Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special

Duck_the_Halls_-_TitleBy the time 2016 drew to a close I got the sense that people were ready to say goodbye to the year. It may have brought some bad times, but lets at least remember it for one of the good things it contributed to society:  a brand new Mickey Mouse Christmas special! Not since 2004’s Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas had television been blessed with a new holiday special starring Disney’s world renowned mascot, and best of all, it was a Donald Duck special!

“Duck the Halls:  A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” is a roughly 21 minute Mickey Mouse cartoon set in the new Mickey Mouse cartoon universe which launched in 2013. Most of those cartoons are around 4 minutes in length making “Duck the Halls” by far the longest of the bunch. The series has a distinctive look that’s well animated using modern techniques and features the voice cast you know and love. And for basically the first time ever, Mickey himself is actually very funny and the series is reliant on visual gags more so than jokes to induce laughter. It feels like an animator’s show which naturally draws comparisons to 90’s animated shows like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Animaniacs.

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Donald is looking forward to celebrating his first Christmas with his friends.

The cartoon opens with an intentionally classic Christmas vibe. There’s shots of the various characters welcoming Christmas set to song which is being sung in a crooner style meant to evoke memories of Bing Crosby. We see Goofy (Bill Farmer) sloppily wrapping gifts, Pluto pulling Donald (Tony Anselmo) around in a make-shift sleigh, and Minnie (Russi Taylor) baking fruit cake. The sequence ends on Mickey (Chris Diamontopoulis) trimming the tree with the reveal that he’s the one singing with his voice suddenly shifting from the Crosby-esq voice to a more traditionally high-pitched Mickey. Daisy (Tress MacNeille) then shows up to spoil all of the fun as she reminds Donald they need to get the hell out of there and migrate, despite Donald’s protesting to stay and enjoy Christmas just once.

Mickey and the gang are borderline cruel in talking up Christmas as Donald struggles with his reality. Mickey recounts the Christmases of his youth when he strangely spoke with an old english accent. We get to see images of Mickey’s family, which I don’t recall any other short ever doing before. It’s probably not considered canon, but it is pretty neat. Goofy chimes in to talk-up Christmas too and his toes even turn into “missile-toes” and explode. None of this stops Daisy from dragging Donald out of there, but not before Mickey can give Donald his Christmas present:  a snowglobe that says “Wish You Were Here.”

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Mickey wants Donald to experience everything Christmas has to offer.

Donald has a crisis of conscious as they head down the highway, the present from Mickey and a billboard proclaiming X-Mas is Awesome!! being the last straw to cause him to jump out of Daisy’s SUV and send him running back to Mickey’s house. The gang is delighted to have Donald for the holidays, while down south Uncle Scrooge (John Kassir), Professor Ludwig Von Drake (Corey Burton), and the nephews (Taylor) are all bummed that Donald isn’t there for them to pull pranks on, experiment on, and do other activities Donald likely won’t miss. Back north, we get a montage set to song sung by Mickey all about his enthusiasm for sharing Christmas with Donald. Throughout the song they’re doing “Christmasy” things while Donald gets progressively sicker and sicker, due to the cold, culminating in his beak falling off while singing carols.

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The southern gang, all wondering when Donald is going to give up on Christmas and show up.

Following the musical number, Donald is in rough shape. His feathers are falling off and he had to tape his beak back on. Goofy makes the obvious observation that he looks like death, before giving him some hot coco that is much too hot. Meanwhile, Daisy and the gang miss their duck and all have begun to worry about Donald’s well-being. They had expected him to give up on Christmas by now. Mickey is worried about Donald too as he’s getting really bad, and when Daisy calls it’s decided that Donald needs to get south pronto, the only problem is Donald is so close to Christmas morning at this point that he’s not giving up. He snaps, and runs out of Mickey’s house featherless wearing a tree skirt as a cape and other trimmings as an outfit. They chase after him and Donald eventually crashes through a barn and ends up in a manger in a scene that might border on sacrilege for some, but not me as Donald is bigger than Jesus.

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Donald’s finally lost it.

They get Donald back to Mickey’s house where things look dire. Mickey makes a Christmas wish to save his friend’s life, and on cue, Santa arrives. He promptly gets stuck in the chimney, so Mickey and the gang steal his sleigh resolved to get Donald south. It’s at this point that “Duck the Halls” passes my personal reindeer test as the sleigh has all eight reindeer, plus Pluto for good measure (so many specials are too lazy to animate all eight reindeer, nine if you include the one with the shiny nose). They get south, and it includes a pretty good “warp speed” gag that I appreciate (since a warp speed button as exhibited in other specials makes no sense, even for flying reindeer), just as Daisy and the others were getting ready to head north to rescue Donald. They crash into the resort and it appears for a minute that Donald is dead, but he rises from a hot tub reborn! Santa even shows up to use some Christmas magic to clean up the mess and even turn Pluto into an actual reindeer. He explains to Donald that Christmas doesn’t have to be celebrated exclusively in cold climates, Christmas is in your heart and is to be shared with the people you love! After these wise words, everyone has a wonderful Christmas celebration.

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Pluto living his dream.

“Duck the Halls” is a lot of fun. It has laughs, music, Santa, a wholesome Christmas message, and the production values to wrap it all up in a nice package. Tony Anselmo shines bright in his familiar role as Donald Duck as he’s able to capture Donald’s enthusiasm and joy for the holiday as well as his deteriorating physical condition throughout the show.  John Kassir debuts as Scrooge, and is notable as this was basically the first performance of Scrooge by someone not named Alan Young, who was one of 2016’s many victims. Interestingly, they could have given the role to David Tennant who is now voicing Scrooge in the DuckTales reboot, but perhaps they wanted to save his debut for that show’s premiere. Also, Young had voiced Scrooge previously in some shorts for this series and they may have wanted to cast someone who sounded like Young’s Scrooge as opposed to Tennant who is basically doing his own thing. Russi Taylor also gets to voice Donald’s nephews again, as they were also recast for the new DuckTales. They don’t really say or do much in this special, but it’s cool to hear Taylor’s version of the nephews once more. I also really like the look of Santa Claus in this one, as he basically looks like the old Santa from the Silly Symphony short, red nose and all.

Duck_the_Halls_Mickey_Mouse_final_shotBeing a relatively new addition to the Christmas television landscape, “Duck the Halls” is likely airing multiple times this year on television, which is why I wanted to feature it early in this year’s countdown so you had a chance to find it on TV for yourself if you missed it in 2016. It’s also available on DVD as part of a collection that includes a Halloween special and some other shorts from the Mickey Mouse series. The set was released in August in limited numbers before receiving a wide release in September. I assume it will be well-stocked throughout the holidays should you desire to add this one to your collection. And why wouldn’t you? Mickey Mouse and Christmas go together like egg nog and bourbon. Actually, even better, because you can never have too much Mickey around the holidays where as too much egg nog can go south real fast. As for where it ranks among other Mickey/Donald Christmas cartoons? That’s hard to say as the old shorts are among my all-time favorites and I also adore Mickey’s Christmas Carol. This one is so decidedly different in its brand of humor that it really stands on its own, making comparisons difficult. Just the fact that it stands among those without feeling inferior is a good enough endorsement.


DuckTales Premiere “Woo-oo”

ducktales_2017_by_xeternalflamebryx-db1zb8bWhen Disney set out to reintroduce DuckTales to a new generation of youngsters they clearly decided the most enduring legacy of the late 1980s cartoon series was its catchy theme song. Penned by Mark Mueller and covered in exhausting detail in a new Vanity Fair piece, the DuckTales theme has remained a unifying force of nostalgia for those who heard and watched cartoons during its run. It’s upbeat, poppy, and entrancingly catchy qualities are essentially the one aspect of the old cartoon preserved almost exactly for this new edition of DuckTales. Sure, it’s now sung by Felicia Barton and that final verse is altered ever so slightly, but it’s relatively unchanged from its origins and it still rocks.

The theme has been a central part to the advertising blitz laid out by Disney which seems to know it has something in DuckTales. So confident is the sense coming from the company that it’s a wonder this wasn’t attempted sooner. Is there something magical about waiting for the 30th anniversary of the original program as opposed to the 10th or 20th? Or have we just arrived at a moment in time technologically speaking where this show can be done at a reasonable cost without resorting to the 3D computer-generated imagery of many of Disney’s modern cartoons? Whatever the reason, the song appeared in a quick teaser for the show last year along with the unmistakable “Yeah!” of Donald Duck. The new cast was introduced via a YouTube video where they all sing the song with great exuberance and some pretty impressive timing. And why not? The song is perhaps the best cartoon theme ever concocted and should be leaned upon heavily to bring this franchise back.

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The money bin is still a thing, and looks to be harder to penetrate this time around.

And DuckTales is indeed back. Saturday August 12th marked the debut for the new series, and much like its predecessor, it debuted with an hour long special. Disney XD was the chosen landing spot and the entire day’s programming has been dedicated to airing the new episode of DuckTales, titled “Woo-oo”, for the entire duration of the day. It’s a bold way to announce a new show and it will also be streaming on Disney’s websites and apps presumably until the show’s re-debut in September.

Resurrecting a beloved franchise isn’t easy and often thankless. Fanbases seem to become increasingly protective of that which they love as time marches forward and the slightest change can cause the biggest disruptions. Perhaps that’s why the show has felt so secretive with Disney waiting what felt like an eternity before showing off even a still image from the show. In general, it seems most took the show’s new look with enthusiasm. Scrooge now sports his traditional red coat from the comics from which he first made his name. The show is presented in 2D as opposed to 3D, and all of the familiar faces are still there. The children have received a makeover, as expected, but they don’t feel as forced as the ones the nephews got for the short-lived Quack Pack program in which Disney seemed to be forcing teenaged culture into the show in a mostly unauthentic fashion. The show also promised to send its cast on more timeless adventures, seeking treasure and uncovering all manners fantastic all while maintaining not just the spirit of the original toon, but those Carl Barks stories as well.

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Expect to see some old foes pop-up eventually.

Naturally, some voices had to change as well and Disney kept its casting decisions under wraps for some time. Alan Young was basically the only Scrooge my generation knew, but Father Time made sure it wouldn’t be possible for him to continue the role for the new series (RIP). David Tennant has brought his Scottish charm to the new series. His Scrooge is a lot more youthful sounding, but comes across as authentic and dashing and I think it’s a voice that will suit him. Terry McGovern, who voiced Launchpad McQuack in the original series as well as in Darkwing Duck, lobbied hard for the role here but was passed over in favor of Beck Bennet. Bennett is fine, and I understand the feeling in the building that this should be a new show for a new generation, but Bennett basically sounds like he’s doing his best McGovern impression which makes me wonder what’s the point in re-casting him? The nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie have unique voice actors for really the first time in their existence in Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan. I’ll miss the adorable duck voice of Russi Taylor, but I can’t argue against the decision to make the nephews feel like distinguishable characters from one another. It used to be that only the color of their shirt differentiated one from the other, but in this series all three have their own unique personality. It seems like Huey will be the boy scout, Dewey the crafty trouble-maker, and Louie more of a laid back sort. Kate Micucci is Webby, who too seems like she’ll have a more pronounced character other than girl duck. Mrs. Beakly has perhaps received the most pronounced makeover as she’s gone from grandma-like in appearance to a hulking behemoth. She’s voiced by Toks Olagundoye and I’m curious to see what kind of backstory has been crafted for her to explain this brawny physique. Last, but certainly not least, is Donald Duck voiced by the irreplaceable Tony Anselmo. Donald was reduced to a cameo role for the original DuckTales due in part to Disney being sensitive about using its classic characters for TV and over concerns of his sometimes unintelligible speech pattern. Thankfully Donald has been restored to full-time cast member as he was in the comics and DuckTales 2017 already has a huge leg-up over the original.

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Donald and his nephews have a very hum-drum sort of existence when the show opens.

The premiere opens with Donald and his nephews aboard a houseboat that they apparently live on. It’s seen better days, and Donald is preparing for a job interview. When he realizes he can’t leave his nephews home alone, he decides to ask his estranged uncle for a favor. We find Scrooge in a state of depression as his life has become rather mundane and unexciting. He’s still fabulously wealthy, but doesn’t appear to be living a truly rich life. He and Donald had an unexplained falling out and their first encounter in many years is hardly warm and fuzzy. Still, Scrooge agrees to help out his nephew by watching his grand-nephews, who before today had no idea they were related to the famous Scrooge McDuck. They think they’re meeting a great adventurer, but are pretty disappointed in what is presented to them. They soon meet Webby, the grand daughter of Mrs. Beakly who lives with Scrooge and takes care of the household. Webby is starved for adventure and her sheltered life in the mansion appears to be driving her a little crazy. The boys and Webby make some fun discoveries while poking around the mansion, which helps to bring out Scrooge’s adventurous side. Meanwhile, Donald gets his job, but his new employer is going to cause some problems for his uncle. Everyone ends up on a collision course for Atlantis, the adventure is appropriately grand.

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Scrooge will have no shortage of enemies and challengers to his title of World’s Wealthiest Duck.

Right off the bat I find myself in love with the visual style of DuckTales. There’s a very Barksian quality to the look of the show with some of the images appearing very influenced by Barks’ later works of art. The animation is undoubtedly done on a computer, whether it’s done South Park style by creating 2D models that are animated or if they’re hand-drawn onto computer tablets I do not know, but it does work. It’s not stiff and it’s not lazy and it doesn’t really look like anything else on television right now. Scrooge warms up to his adventuring lifestyle pretty fast, but it’s fun so I’m not going to quibble with a fast-moving plot. The adolescents are convincing and there is room for exploration with all of them. Mostly, of course, I really am fascinated by this Donald Duck. He possesses his trademarked short temper, but it also appears he’ll be the voice of reason in the group who at least tries to keep everyone in check. It’s a role Donald has really never served on film and it will be a lot of fun exploring this rarely seen side of an 80 year old character. The easter eggs and callbacks are also handled as well as fan-service can be with only one line spoken by a reporter sounding forced, but I won’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy it. And I really loved the reveal at the very end of the episode, which I won’t spoil here, as it seems to suggest this version of DuckTales will have something very new to explore.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on this new version of DuckTales. I may have done things a little differently if given the chance, but I can’t deny the finished product looks and feels great. This show has a lot of potential and something about the way it’s being marketed just exudes an infectious amount of confidence in the material that’s very reassuring. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun stuff to look forward to on the horizon, with other Disney Afternoon properties even rumored to resurface. Whether you loved the original series or never watched it, I encourage you to check out DuckTales as this looks like it’s going to be a really fun ride.


The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

Mickey Mouse is the character that launched an empire.  When Walt’s darling little mouse took to the screen he captured the hearts of millions of movie-goers in the 1930’s, adult and children alike.  And even though he’s no longer a big part of Disney’s animation output, the theme parks and other merchandising have made sure that Mickey has never faded far from the spotlight. His earliest exploits though are thematically different from what is presented as Mickey Mouse today.  Sure the obvious distinction of Mickey no longer appearing in black and white is clear, but it’s his character traits that are most notable.  In his earliest days, Mickey was more like Bugs Bunny in that he was a bit of a trouble-maker.  He was never on Bugs’ level in that regard, but he did partake in things some parents were not overly fond with.  The cartoon that famously introduced the character Pluto, “The Chain Gang,” begins with Mickey in prison, of all places.  He smoked, he drank, and he could be a bit of a jerk in those old cartoons.  Walt Disney, after hearing the complaints from some parents, decided he needed Mickey to be the face of his company, and as a result, he needed to clean him up just a bit.  His cartoons still needed the characteristics he was about to excise from Mickey, so he took them (and then some) and applied them to a new character, an anthropomorphic duck he named Donald.

Donald took off like a rocket.  His easily irritable and temperamental nature made him a hit with fans who either rooted for him or against him.  His tendency to exhibit wild mood swings added a charge of electricity to his cartoons; fans knew the tantrum was coming, they just didn’t know when.  At first, Donald appeared alongside Mickey for the most part, but soon his popularity earned him his own series allowing him to surpass Mickey himself in terms of popularity.  To date, no other Disney character has appeared in more cartoons than Donald and he’s appeared in more comic strips than any character who doesn’t wear tights and fight crime.  Donald Duck is recognized all over the world and has become an institution, so it should come as no surprise that he has several DVD releases in the Walt Disney Treasures line as well.

I love Donald and always have.  I liked Mickey too when I was a kid, and I always had a fondness for Pluto, but Donald was my favorite.  He’s just an inherently funny character and a lot of that comes from the performance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash, Donald’s voice actor from the 1930’s thru to the early 80’s concluding with Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  That semi-intelligible voice is perfect for the character.  It sounds like something that would come from a duck, if a duck could speak.  Of course, that impression may only exist because Donald has been around for over 70 years but that certainly must have been the sentiment when Nash was awarded the role.  Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to figure out what Donald is saying, but that adds to the humor.  Early on, other duck characters that would appear in Donald cartoons, including Daisy, would speak like Donald but overtime that was dropped.  Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, exhibited a lesser but similar speech pattern until DuckTales when they were basically made to speak somewhat normal.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

The Chronological Donald was released in four parts from 2005-2008.  As the name implies, the shorts appear in chronological order beginning with Donald’s debut from the Silly Symphonies series “The Wise Little Hen.”  This makes Donald the rare character to debut in color before black and white.  His first appearance with Mickey came in the short “Orphan’s Benefit” which can be found on the set Mickey Mouse in Black and White.  It would have been nice to have it here too to mark the occasion as several other sets contain overlapping cartoons, but oh well.  After “The Wise Little Hen,” the rest of the shorts are Donald cartoons though he wasn’t officially given his own series until 1937 with the first short being “Don Donald.”  Mickey doesn’t appear in any of these cartoons (with the exception of one brief cameo), but Pluto and Goofy make appearances as Disney seemed to enjoy pairing Donald with those two.  This set also contains the debut of Donald’s nephews in the cartoon appropriately titled “Donald’s Nephews.”  We’re also introduced to Donald’s cousin Gus in one short who never made another appearance that I’m aware of.

For the most part, these shorts try to put Donald in a new role in each one.  That role is either an official one like “Officer Duck” or making him a golfer or a celebrity chaser.  Some of the ideas repeat, such as “Donald’s Ostrich” and “Donald’s Penguin.”  There’s repeating gags too, of course the most famous being Donald’s tantrum where he thrusts out one arm and swings the other while hopping up and down.  If he doesn’t assume this pose in every cartoon, well then he does in almost every one.  It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, as several shorts here are ones I’m familiar with from my childhood so they have a nostalgic quality for me.  “Sea Scouts” is one where Donald and his nephews are sailors and have to contend with a shark.  It’s a mostly slapstick affair with a great sequence of Donald trying to keep from getting swallowed by the shark.  “Beach Picnic” is another where Donald finds his water float to be uncooperative and Pluto finds himself victimized by the irascible duck.  This cartoon also contains the Pluto fly paper gag, one that shows up in several other cartoons.

This set was created before the vault concept was created for this series.  For those unaware, the vaulted cartoons are ones that contain offensive material.  Leonard Maltin is the host for the set and he does comment on some of the shorts.  The most common bit of offensive material is stereotypical portrayals of native americans.  Anyone around the age of thirty who grew up watching old Warner Bros. shorts or Disney cartoons (including feature-length films such as Peter Pan) should be familiar with this kind of material.  I don’t tell people how to raise their kids so if you’re not familiar with this kind of stuff and are weary about showing it to your kids do some research.  In the case of Donald Duck shorts, a great many can be viewed on video sites for free making it easy to preview the material first.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Of course, if you want to purchase such a set for your kids know that it isn’t easy.  Disney only released a limited amount figuring only collectors and Disney diehards would be interested so walking into a store and simply buying a set of Donald Duck cartoons is basically impossible.  Volume One was produced in larger numbers than others but still can command a hefty price.  Amazon has it currently priced at $65 and volume two at $54 with volumes three and four jumping over $100.  I don’t know if they’re worth it, but if you do love Donald and want some of his cartoons you will find this to be a quality set.  The DVDs came housed in a plastic DVD case which in turn is packaged in a silver tin.  The only negative to the packaging is that the tin can be prone to denting in the shipping process.  The cartoons look great for the most part, especially when one considers how old they are.  Some have survived better than others and it shows on some with the usual white Donald being a little dingy or sometimes yellowed.  The quality of the animation can’t be dulled by age though, and if anything, it only looks more impressive in today’s age where a lot of animation is low-budget or computer generated.  Hand drawn animation is practically dead and this set certainly helps to bring the viewer back to the golden age for animation.  Animation fans and Disney fans would do well to track these sets down.  I own three of the four, and the completest in me likely demands that I eventually get the fourth.  I’ve watched them all and on a lazy Sunday morning it’s not uncommon to find me on my couch with a cup of coffee and Donald Duck playing on my TV.

The shorts:

  • 1934
    • The Wise Little Hen
  • 1936
    • Donald and Pluto
  • 1937
    • Don Donald
    • Modern Inventions
    • Donald’s Ostrich
  • 1938
    • Self Control
    • Donald’s Better Self
    • Donald’s Nephews
    • Polar Trappers (with Goofy)
    • Good Scouts
    • The Fox Hunt (with Goofy)
    • Donald’s Golf Game
  • 1939
    • Donald’s Lucky Day
    • The Hockey Champ
    • Donald’s Cousin Gus
    • Beach Picnic
    • Sea Scouts
    • Donald’s Penguin
    • The Autograph Hound
    • Officer Duck

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