Saturday Morning Cartoons: DuckTales

This article originally ran on The Two-Headed Nerd Comicast site on June 22nd, 2013. Give them a clicky click. 

Nearly every weekend, I go on a 2-6 hour road trip, competing or coaching at a tournament. Not a single trip goes by, even ones I’m driving by myself, where I don’t sing the theme song to Duck Tales. That iconic song has been imbedded in me since I first heard it some 25 odd years ago. If you’ve never heard it before (shame!), remedy this, immediately. And if you have, listen to it anyway.

Uncle Scrooge was originally seen in the comic of the same name back in 1952 from legendary writer/artist Carl Barks. The first 70 issues were written and drawn by Barks, featuring the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, along with his nephew Donald Duck, and grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Dissertations could be written about the comic and the work of Barks, so I won’t go into too much depth here. The comic however, served as the basis for the amazing cartoon, Duck Tales.

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Huey, Dewey, and Louie (do you know which one is which without looking it up?) come to live with Scrooge in Duckburg when Donald joins the Navy. Scrooge, along with the boys, and his pilot, Launchpad McQuack, are either trying to help Scrooge become richer, or defend his fortune. Magica de Spell, Flintheart Glomgold, and the Beagle Boys were constant financial threats to Scrooge. Many other secondary characters were featured on the show, with a mix of some from the comic and others new creations; the butler Duckworth; the boy’s nanny Mrs. Beakley with her granddaughter Webby Vanderquack; the inventor Gyro Gearloose; cave-duck Bubba and his triceratops Tootsie; and Gizmoduck himself, Fenton Crackshell.

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TV animation was considered low budget for years. Most of it was low quality, with poor animation (see everything pre-1985). Disney’s animation had suffered for the last two decades since Walt’s passing in ’66. The company decided to take a few risks, one of which was that high quality animation could make back the money in syndication. Syndication was only successful for live-action television or other low quality animation up until this point. Disney created an animation gulag in Asia to produce the first 65 episodes (standard for syndication at the time).

The show premiered with a TV-movie, “Treasures of the Golden Suns”, which was broken up into 5 parts upon re-airing. From then the show continued airing weekdays in the fall of 1987. Many of the episodes were of the globe trotting variety where Scrooge was either trying to grow or protect his fortune or guard his Number One Dime, his source of luck. Many of the episodes from the first season were taken from Barks’ comic series.

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Season 2 aired in November of 1988, and was a bit of an oddity. It consisted of 2 movies, broken up across 10 episodes like Suns before it. The first was “Time is Money”, which involved Scrooge and co. accidentally going back in time 1 million years, introducing Bubba the Caveduck and Tootsie the Triceratops. The next movie didn’t air until March of 1989 entitled”Super Duck Tales”, introducing Gizmoduck. “Blathering blatherskite!” I love Gizmoduck.

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A third season was shown in the fall of ’89, consisting of 17 episodes. Disney Afternoon started airing in fall of ’90, with Duck Tales as part of it’s line up. Due to this, 3 episodes were held from season 3 combined with another 4 produced making a total of 7 to comprise season 4. This brought the total to 100 episodes, ending the series with the awesome two-part “The Golden Goose”. August of ’90 also saw a theatrical release with “Duck Tales the Move: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.” The movie’s screenplay was written by Alan Burnett of Batman: TAS and other DC animations fame. I remember my mom taking me to see this in theaters and loving it. Duck Tales had 2 in canon spin-offs with Darkwing Duck and Quack Pack. Trust me, I have a lot to say about both.

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I’ve said before and will continue to preach how cartoons from this era are much better than just about anything produced now. Writers at the time for this, and many other shows, followed a simple formula where they parodied famous literary and pop culture stories. “Much Ado About Scrooge” had the boys tracking down a play from William Drakespeare. “Duck in the Iron Mask” followed a similar plot to “Man in the Iron Mask.” “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. McDuck”, “Ducky Horror Picture Show”, “Duckman of Aquatraz”, there is a lot of good, educational material in here. I had a much better grasp on the world around me as I grew up because of shows like this acting as a primer. Many other shows like The Real Ghostbusters and Gargoyles did this as well, but Duck Tales did it best.

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No discussion about Duck Tales can occur without bringing up the Nintendo game. Released for the NES in ’89 from Capcom, it was essentially a Mega Man clone. That didn’t stop it from being amazing. With only 5 levels, the game is completely non-linear, allowing you to select any level, with multiple exits per stage. It’s easy to beat the game in under 20 minutes, if you know what you’re doing. I played the crap out of this game.

The game was ported to the Gameboy a year later. A sequel was released in ’93, also on the NES. Due to it’s limited print run at this late in the console’s life, few copies exist. Sadly, I haven’t played it (come on, Virtual Console). Duck Tales 2 good was said to be just as good as the original, but incredibly short. A Gameboy version was also released, but was critically panned. And there was a Amiga/Apple II/ Commodore 64/DOS game, The Quest for Gold. But lets be honest, no one played that.

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There was a remake of the original NES game released in July 2013. The update follows the first game’s structure and layout meticulously, with beautifully redone animations. They’ve even gotten the original voice cast for the characters including Alan Young (Scrooge), June Foray (Magica), and Terence McGovern (Lauchpad) to reprise their roles. Doubly impressive considering McGovern is 71, and the other two are in their 90’s.

Disney has only released the first 75 episodes on DVD, with no current plans for the last 25 (the last release was 2007). They need to get their act together and get this done.

I can’t begin to express my love for this property. It’s something I hold near and dear, and really look forward to experiencing with my currently nonexistent children. Already 25 years old, and the show still holds up. I freaking love Duck Tales!

What’s your favorite Duck Tales episode? Do you think shows in the last 10 years even compare? Comment below!

No one wants to carpool with me anymore. 

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7 responses to “Saturday Morning Cartoons: DuckTales

    • I completely agree. I love all three of them. The NES game is one of the best games on the console. The remake tries, but doesn’t quite capture the essence of the original.

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