A bottom-line Scrooge

Not the McDuck that inspired Lucas

Published: Nov 19 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, August 3, 1990.
DUCKTALES THE MOVIE: TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP. Written by Alan Burnett, based on characters created by Carl Barks. Music by David Newman. Produced and directed by Bob Hathcock. Running time: 74 minutes. General entertainment.
  GEORGE LUCAS HAS CLASS. In 1981, the Star Wars creator acknowledged his debt to The Duck Man.
    "I grew up at a time when television was just beginning to present itself in the American living room," Lucas says in his preface to Uncle Scrooge - His Life and Times, a sumptuous tribute to comic book artist Carl Barks published in 1987.
    "Prior to that," Lucas wrote, "comics were my main form of entertainment. Some of the first comics I obtained were written by Carl Barks."
    Barks. The Duck Man. The former Disney Studios cartoonist whose original comic book creations include Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys, the Junior Woodchucks and virtually all of the denizens of Duckburg, U.S.A.
    "I had a subscription to Walt Disney Comics and Stories and liked the Scrooge character so much that I immediately went out and bought all the Uncle Scrooge comics I could find on the newsstand. My greatest source of enjoyment in Carl Barks's comics is the imagination . . ." Lucas tells us. "The stories are also very cinematic."
    The collection of commodities traders currently in charge of the Disney organization lack Lucas's class. DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp gives no screen credit to The Duck Man.
    Between 1943 and 1965, Barks wrote and illustrated the best of the published duck tales. I expected to see his name on the first feature film starring his best-known creation.
    In it, Scrooge (voiced by Alan Young) is in pursuit of the legendary treasure of Collie Baba. Accompanying him are his pelican-billed pilot Launchpad McQuack (Terence McGovern), nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie and niece Webbigail "Webby" Vanderquack (all voiced by Russi Taylor).
    I must admit to some confusion. When did Scrooge gain custody of Donald Duck's three nephews? Who is this Webby person?
    Were these new familial arrangements explained during the four seasons of DuckTales (1987-1990), the syndicated television series? Actually, the very existence of a Disney TV Animation division explains a lot.
    Until recently, Disney didn't do TV cartoons. Though Disney had a reputation for quality, the less artful Hanna-Barbera was making a fortune producing junk animation for the kidvid market.
    Disney's new bottom-line management is more pragmatic. Designed for the small screen, Ducktales duplicates the financially successful H-B production formula.
    To keep costs down, most of the work was done offshore. DuckTales: The Movie is a production of the Paris-based Walt Disney Animation (France) S.A., assisted by Walt Disney Animation, U.K. The tedious task of individual cel painting was farmed out to Pacific Rim Productions of Schen Zen, China.
    Veteran Hanna-Barbera producer Bob Hathcock produced and directed it from a screenplay by long-time H-B writer Alan Burnett, a script that owes much to George Lucas's own Indiana Jones adventures. It opens with our digger ducks in Egypt where they come into conflict with Merlock (Christopher Lloyd), an evil Arabian genie, and his ratlike minion Dijon (Richard Libertini).
    The results, predictably, are no improvement over an episode of The Smurfs. An H-B sensibility — bland obviousness generating physical movement rather than emotional involvement — dominates the movie.
    Though 345 names flash by in the DuckTales credits roll, Duck Man Barks is not among them. Given the absence of his wit and imagination, maybe it's just as well.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1990. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In his 1990 review of DuckTales the Movie, Washington Post critic Richard Harrington also noted a George Lucas connection. "Scrooge's burry voice is supplied by Alan 'Mr. Ed' Young, sounding very much like Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones," he wrote. As it happened, Young came by his Scots accent as a wee bairn. His English parents moved to Edinburgh shortly after his birth. When he was six, the family relocated to West Vancouver, B.C., where he was raised. He honed his broadcasting skills as a CBC-radio comedian in the 1940s, then answered the call to the U.S., where he starred in The Alan Young Show on radio (1946-1949) and television (1950-1953). In 1951, Young became the first TV performer to receive a Primetime Emmy Award for best actor. Although he's best remembered today for his six seasons as Wilbur Post, confidant of the talking horse Mr. Ed (1961-1966), he counts among his feature film starring roles the human title character in Androcles and the Lion, the 1952 screen adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Roman comedy. Young was in his mid-50s when he conceived An Adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol, a vinyl LP released by Disneyland Records in 1974. It was Young's first performance as Scrooge McDuck, a part he reprised in 1983 when the record inspired the animated film featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol. By this time, he had made the transition into his career as a voice performer, and was starring in such features as The Great Mouse Detective (1986). Of course he provided "Scrooge's burry voice" for all four seasons of DuckTales on TV (1987-1990). His most recent Scrooge performance was on the January 9, 2015, episode of the Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse series, in a cartoon called Goofy's First Love. Alan Young is celebrating his 96th birthday today (November 19) in Woodland Hills, California.
    In the above review I admitted to my own personal confusion over the familial relationships in the movie. I asked "When did Scrooge gain custody of Donald Duck's three nephews?" and "Who is this Webby person?" Had I been a fan of the DuckTales TV show, I would have known that nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie were left in the care of their uncle Donald's uncle Scrooge when Donald up and joined the U.S. Navy (presumably to justify that sailor suit he always wore). Webby is the granddaughter of Mrs. Beakley, the nanny Scrooge employs to watch over the ducklings.