setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

What's so peculiarly appealing about watching ducks go on adventures? Audiences and readers have been into it for over seventy years now and Disney's just released the newest iteration, a reboot of Duck Tales which premièred recently. I finally got around to watching the pilot because Disney, a surprisingly YouTube friendly company, has uploaded it for free. And I liked it.

I was a big fan of Duck Tales when I was a kid though even then I became frustrated when the show conspicuously leaned on the typical stock plots, especially ones that didn't really fit the basic concept of the series. My favourites were the ones where Scrooge and the ducklings would go off treasure hunting in foreign lands so I was pleased the new pilot had them looking for a treasure in Atlantis.

I do wish the new show had a little less ironic humour. The original series was partly influenced in tone by the Indiana Jones films so it would spare a moment for the score to evoke a sense of wonder when the adventurers uncovered a treasure. It's fitting since the Uncle Scrooge comics were an influence on George Lucas--so seen through a duck lens, it's very fitting that Disney owns Lucasfilm now. At the same time, one could point to Jar Jar Binks as a sign of how what may have worked in Duckburg does not work in a galaxy far, far away, which brings me back to my first question of why Uncle Scrooge/DuckTales can get us invested in ducks running from booby traps but cartoonish antics are such a bad fit in Star Wars.

One of the ways in which both this and the 80s Duck Tales fall flat is in their depiction of Donald Duck, which simultaneously tries to meet audience expectations for the famous, incomprehensible bird of anger from the great shorts while also representing the more intelligent version of Donald whom Carl Barks developed in his comics. The result on both shows is a character who doesn't quite fit--maybe not so much for a clash in tone, as there are plenty of other goofy characters, but because the instinct for writing any of Disney's classic characters has been absent from the company for at least forty years.

One thing the 80s series got right but the new series inexplicably gets wrong--you'd have thought Disney would have learned from Quack Attack--is in the portrayal of Huey, Dewey, and Louie. At some point, Disney completely lost touch with the essential nature of the triplets' distinctive appeal, which is that they are almost indistinguishable. The wrong-headed theory in current stock storytelling dogma demands that every lead character be distinct and "relatable", nevermind no-one was complaining about the interchangeability of the three nephews.

I'm less bothered by Webby's (Kate Micucci) new nerdy personality. But where the new series really shines is with David Tennant's new take as the voice of Scrooge McDuck.

Everyone knows Tennant as the Tenth Doctor Who but you might also want to check out his Hamlet which is fantastic. In any case, he is probably way overqualified for Scrooge McDuck but he clearly respects the role, bringing an enthusiasm to the character and delightfully creative line readings while imbuing him with enough of the familiar crotchetiness. When he gets the drop on Glomgold, when he wacks anyone with his cane, I get some real, genuine, vicarious satisfaction.

By the way, David Tennant recently appeared on Stephen Colbert's show to promote Duck Tales and Colbert jokingly pointed out the similarities between Scrooge and Donald Trump--having his name on a lot of products, taking pride in his own wealth, etc. I'd just like to point out that it's been well established that, unlike Trump and his "small loan" of a million dollars from his father, McDuck really did work his way up from nothing, albeit with a lucky dime. Also, McDuck is an example of an immigrant bringing vitality to the American economy and in his archaeological pursuits and patronage of Gyro Gearloose it's clear McDuck has tremendous respect and love for science. We should be so lucky to have Scrooge McDuck for president.

Twitter Sonnet #1026

In crowns of curving grass the past embarked.
In tracing trails of dusty coats we go.
The missing page returned and newly marked.
It's strange, it seems, what shades already know.
In forests shaped by starless roofs they watch.
In ready glass the fractured stone was sold.
Alone, the spear acrues another notch.
The ancient roots'll drink what can't grow old.
Received below the lowered clouds, the grain.
The flattened seas of tinder take the warm.
The wind diverts the corn to sheer the lane.
The howling heard subsumes a deathless swarm.
The winter trees become a scattered fence.
A foggy map dissolves the dream of sense.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

When it was announced that George Lucas was selling Star Wars to Disney, I was optimistic. I liked the idea that Disney wanted to put out a lot more Star Wars film and television than Lucas tended to--I figured, sure, Disney would make mistakes but more material means more chances to learn from mistakes. But it's hard to imagine how some mistakes weren't easy to avoid, like the new Forces of Destiny animated shorts Disney has put on YouTube over the past few days.

Three episodes have been uploaded as I'm writing this--two starring Daisy Ridley as Rey and one starring Shelby Jones as Leia. Jones doesn't sound remotely like Carrie Fisher, which is to be expected, but it would have been nice if they'd at least found someone whose performance isn't as flat as stale root beer. Anyway, that's not the biggest problem in her two and a half minute short, called "Ewok Escape", which is set between scenes of Return of the Jedi. Keep in mind, Disney says this stuff is canon:

You would think if there was one thing Disney would be sure to get right it was animation. Why would they release something that looks like this? The animation quality is of a parody video and it looks even worse considering these shorts were obviously influenced by Gendy Tartakovsky's hand drawn, 2003 animated Clone Wars shorts. Tartakovsky's style is simple so maybe that's why Disney thought it could be easily replicated. But there's more too what Tartakovsky does than stylistic simplicity. In his Clone Wars shorts as in his Samurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan, Tartakovsky uses simple designs to emphasise action, easily setting up contrasts between layers of foreground, background, and character. Tartakovsky's a master at composing sequences of images to tell a story. Forces of Destiny just looks like someone was trying to cut costs.

Another difference is that Tartakovsky had the advantage of being focused on telling a story while Forces of Destiny seems to be first and foremost about branding. Each episode focuses on a female character, part of an initiative at Disney to focus more on women in the Star Wars universe, which I think is great except for the fact that there's little effort put into these beyond this idea. It makes me wonder if this is going to end up like the Marvel exec, Dave Gabriel, blaming their sales slump on the increased racial and gender diversity in their comics. When people are eventually turned off by the lazy shit Disney's trying to push, I can imagine someone similarly saying, "Well, I guess it must be the female characters."

And part of the bad writing here actually has to do with some conservative themes. The first two shorts featuring Rey are about how she's protecting her little BB from a monster who turns out to be friendly anyway. And there's no way I'm considering "Ewok Escape" canon.

You can sense the checklist of appropriate messaging that must have gone through making the entire story, beginning with establishing the Ewoks as an indigenous people the evil Empire is subjugating--which is a fine starting point for a story outline but, for gods' sakes, you really want to do this with the infamous talking teddy bears? Then we have to establish the Ewoks as smart so we're given another of their goofy gags, a rope trip that actually makes the Ewok slapstick in the film look reasonable--and then we need to explain to the audience that Leia's costume change was totally consensual. The episode ends with one of the most weirdly flat footed scenes I've seen in anything. The Ewoks give her a dress, she likes it, she puts it on, and she thanks them. Nevermind the dress is actually kind of plain. But this was apparently so crucial that the story establishes Wicket can translate Basic for the other Ewoks, calling into question what the point was of having 3PO translate later on. Things might've been improved a little bit if the episode ended with the card, ". . . and then Leia watched them devour the stormtroopers."

Fuck, Disney, make an effort.


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