However you feel about the overwhelming number of franchise revivals from the 80’s and 90’s, it’s a chance to dust off and update some of these old relics for the modern age. The best ones will be helm by those who have a keen understanding of it, capturing the spirit of the original while upgrading it for modern sensibilities. It is with great confidence that the DuckTales cartoon continues this fine trend and its timeless premise proves it has staying power in the current millennium.
The world’s richest duck, Scrooge McDuck was once known as the greatest adventurer of all time, but a mysterious incident forced him to retire. His life has been nothing but paperwork and business meetings until the untimely arrival of his nephew, Donald Duck, and his grand-nephews, the triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Aware of their great-uncle’s derring-do lifestyle, the triplets – along with Webby, the housekeeper’s granddaughter – set out to reignite Scrooge’s passion and all the perils that come with it.
The two-part pilot episode included in the DVD is a flexible mix of high thrills, on point humor, and engaging characters. It updates what needed to be changed and leaves the rest as is, particularly the pulp adventure genre the franchise has always been rooted in. It’s a narrative device that lasted as long as it did because it offers versatile escapism rifled with larger than life heroes, imaginative settings, and impossibly death-defying action sequences. The DVD alone has Scrooge and family do battle with a headless man-horse, a ghost pirate, a dragon, and Atlantean booby traps. Just as well, it promises an ongoing arc centered on a key figure in the McDuck family tree, itself an attempt to incorporate the deeper lore tucked inside the beloved Donald Duck comics that Carl Barks introduced decades ago. No doubt this will please fans of the source material and tie the two media closer together.
The comic book tie-in extends to its stylish animation. Shadows are angular and emphasized, background set-pieces are decorated in half tones, and characters are drawn as if they were literally inked by pen right there on the screen. Even the opening theme song gets in on this, using comic book panels as the McDuck family jumps from one action-packed sequence to the next. It’s a memorable, creative introduction that will stick with me for some time.
The biggest facelift is given to the characters, producing personalities where there once were none or upgrading them from dated concepts. The triplets, little more than identical talking heads in the past, are given individual personalities: Huey is the cautious planner, Dewey is the risky go-getter, and Louie is a lazy louse. Webby, often dismissively “The Girl” of the team, is now an enthusiastic scholar of the McDuck family and eager to lend her expertise to the team. Skillfully, DuckTales shows the Triplet boys and Webby getting along fine without any unfortunate commentary on their genders. While Scrooge remains the ornery one-percenter that he always has been, the show seems to focus on his headstrong love for adventure while downplaying his role as a trillionaire miser, possibly in response to the current recession that would garner mixed opinion of this kind of archetype nowadays. The biggest question was whether David Tennant would be able to fill the shoes left behind by Scrooge’s previous voice actor, Alan Young. While Tennant’s Scrooge is a bass tone lighter, he perfectly captures his grumpiness and thrill-seeking thirst. Mr. McDuck is in good hands.
The DVD includes six shorts as its only bonus content, each highlighting a main character. They run somewhere between thirty seconds to a minute, so you’re not getting much, though at least the shorts adequately exemplify each character’s idiosyncrasies.
DuckTales: Woo-oo! is a taste of what’s to come. Housing only the first two pilot episodes and a bunch of shorts, it’s a bare bones DVD release. Fortunately the premise is strong with entertainingly rich characters and promises of a grand adventure. It perfectly endorses action, humor, and heartfelt moments that’ll have fans and newcomers digging their heels for more and ensuring the series’ longevity. Hopefully down the line we’ll get a meatier DVD release because if this is what’s to come, then the show has more than earned its feathers.
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