Friday, January 11, 2013

SMCS Companion Piece #22: DuckTales

DuckTales is one of the greatest cartoons ever made in the history of time! If you were to make a list of the greatest cartoons ever made and DuckTales wasn’t somewhere in the Top Ten, or even Top Five, it’d be a huge miscarriage of justice. Yes, this is the cartoon we watched this week on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show.

For those of you who either lived under a rock your whole life or are depressingly young DuckTales was a 1987 cartoon produced by Disney and based on their massively popular Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics. Now to talk about the two books, especially Uncle Scrooge, would take a while and they do deserve their own entry but to summarize both those books were, and still are, an international power houses with a fan base in just about everywhere in many different languages.  This has been the case for decades.  You may not be very familiar with it (They’re probably bigger sellers in other countries) but trust me when I say they’re a big deal.

So anyway DuckTales was based on these two comics, more or less, and features of the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, and his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. It’s something of a comedy adventure; kind of like Indiana Jones meets classic Disney shorts (Now that Indiana Jones is owned by Disney this may become more of a literal truth). Lasting for three seasons the most important thing to remember about this show is that it changed the way cartoons were made at the time. Before this show the quality of syndicated cartoons weren’t usually very good as companies were just looking to make a quick buck without spending a lot of their own money. Disney wanted to change that and made a few attempts to create higher quality animation for the syndicated market (including Adventures of the Gummi Bears). DuckTales was their first huge gambit as the budget for the show was unreasonably high for what it was. It paid off big time as the show was a huge and remained in syndication for years and even resulted in a major motion picture, DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (which weirdly starred two actors that have portrayed Uncle Fester for the Addams Family at some point; Rip Taylor and Christopher Lloyd). Afterwards many companies started increasing their syndicated cartoon budget (Including Disney, spawning the “Disney Afternoon” block) making way for a huge roster of awesome shows during the 90s (and also terrible shows too, but whatever).

More on DuckTales after the jump.

Six seconds before Scrooge steals their allowances and calls them chumps
The plot of the show focused on the exceedingly wealthy Scrooge McDuck (who of course made his fortune because he's "smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies") as he takes in his three grandnephews while their legal guardian, Donald Duck, is serving in the Navy (...really?). As all four main characters share an itch for adventure and (because Scrooge can afford to do so) they often globe trot in search of treasure and wonders. Sometimes this involved doing things like going into space and traveling through time. The show has a huge cast of memorable supporting characters as well, some from the comics and some not, including but not limited to Webby the granddaughter of Scrooge’s housekeeper, Duckworth, Scrooge’s butler who is clearly not a damn duck, Launchpad McQuack, a pilot/idiot so awesome he was imported to Darkwing Duck after this show ended, Gyro Gearloose, a local crackpot inventor, and Fenton Crackshell aka Gizmoduck, who is one part Robocop and one part Inspector Gadget…except he’s a duck. And also Bubba the Caveduck, but the writers stopped caring about him after Gizmoduck was introduced.

Also voiced by Frank Welker
Scrooge also had a bunch of enemies because, you know, he’s rich as hell and all rich people have folk who hate them. Among his Rogues Gallery included Magica De Spell, a witch who is after his fabled Number One Dime, Flintheart Glomgold, the second richest duck in the world and Scrooge’s archrival (Glomgold was South African in the comic but was changed to Scottish in the cartoon), and, of course, his most frequent adversaries the Beagle Boys, who are to Scrooge as the Daleks are to The Doctor. Hell, even Pete (Mickey Mouse’s archenemy) shows up a few times, albeit as several different characters.

This is basically an adventure/comedy show but beneath the surface it’s really a story about a close-knit family. Scrooge was toned down from his comic book counterpart and, is a fairly warm, if miserly, uncle and friend to the cast. In fact a major theme of the show is, under his bravado, truly loves his nephews more than his money and that he is the richest duck in the world both finically and emotionally. And he also hardly ever swindled them out of their money…unlike the comic when he didn’t give a f**k; gotta make that mothering loving money after all.

So the show lasted three seasons and eventually got itself a movie which was essentially a longer, more expensive version of the TV show. But I guess it didn’t do all that great, or at least below Disney’s expectations, since the wing that produced the film, MovieToons, only did one other flick (A Goofy Movie) before being shut down. Still it managed to spawn a spin-off show in Darkwing Duck, which was awesome, and a dubious spin-off in Quack Pack which I to this day argue cannot be a proper spin-off for many reasons (and also it was terrible).

F@#$ yes, Gizmoduck!
But anyway this show was awesome. It was funny, it had a great sense of adventure that simply doesn’t exist the same way these days (I love Adventure Time but it sure as hell doesn’t have the same tone DuckTales did), it had a ton of great characters and has just so many memorable aspects that it’s hard to list them all in one post. From Scrooge’s ability to swim through coins to lucky dimes this show had so many elements that we fans won’t ever forget. This show launched a generation of great cartoons but few of them every matched the quality of DuckTales. In fact I argue that the number of shows, specifically ones that were supposed to be comedic, between when DuckTales ended and today that have surpassed or even matched its quality are in the single digits. My only really problem with the show is that I wish Donald Duck showed up more. I can understand why he didn’t, as it gives lesser known and new characters a chance to shine, but even so since literally the entire concept of this show is a spin-off from his popularity it would have been neat to see him more than once in a blue moon. Or at least mentioned and referenced with more regularity. 

But hey, it still works. And you can’t beat that theme song.

I love this show; can't say enough good things about it. For more info on DuckTales click here. The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show airs every Saturday morning at 9am EST on 89.1 FM, with a live webcast and podcast available here.


  1. The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show? Are you guys still doing that thing?

    The iTunes collection hasn't been updated since July. Who do I complain to?

    1. There have been numerous issues with the various podcasts that WIDR produces; far too numerous to get into here. Long story short some episodes get uploaded, some do not. However the most recent uploads on iTunes that I can see are from this past December. When you access show's page on iTunes hit the "RSS feeds" tab.

      If you really want to complain to someone you could go to the WIDR website and try contacting the director to see what's what.