Is it possible to argue that Disney’s first DVD volume of the ‘80s cartoon DuckTales gives the series the short shrift without sounding like an obsessive or, worse, a nostalgia hound?
After all, DuckTales is not exactly Batman: The Animated Series. Rewatching the episodes, it’s clear that this is a children’s program through and through, though patient adults won’t cringe too much and might even enjoy themselves. The series (1987-1991) is a loose adaptation of the Uncle Scrooge comics, created by revered cartoonist Carl Barks, following the adventures of rich Scrooge McDuck and his triplet great-nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, with occasional appearances by Donald Duck (Scrooge’s nephew and the boys’ uncle, though the triplets’ parentage isn’t fully explored).
Perhaps appropriate for his time (1987), Scrooge is wealthy beyond imagination, keeping his vast fortune in a building-sized money bin. Many of the show’s jokes involve his cheapness (he’s reluctant to pay for movie tickets and popcorn for his nephews, unless it’s to get them out of the house, as in “Send in the Clones”), and many of the plots revolve around the attempts of the Beagle Boys (also from the comics) to steal Scrooge’s fortune. Of course, given that it is a children’s show, and in keeping with the comics, the show includes repeated references to how the fortune was hard won and completely earned.
Despite (or because of) its merry capitalism, DuckTales is reasonably imaginative and adventurous, taking the characters from their home base of Duckburg to Egypt (“Sphinx for the Memories”), Scotland (“The Curse of Castle McDuck”), the open seas (“Bermuda Triangle Tangle”), and elsewhere. The stories, while they seem slow-moving compared to my nigh-two-decade-old memories, are true to the outlandish and good-humored Barks comics, though without his old-timey charm. At the very least, a cartoon with 40 years of comics history behind it should produce an informative making-of documentary.
No such luck. Before the lack of extras is even considered, the set has a slapdash feel to it. One of its basic shortcomings: the episodes are slightly at odds with their proper chronological order, a strangely common mistake for some TV-to-DVD transitions. Judging from online episode guides, the major mistake here is the omission of the five-part pilot, “Treasure of the Golden Suns,” which sets up the entire series, showing how Huey, Dewey, and Louie came to stay with their “Unca” Scrooge, and the makeshift family’s first adventure together.
Though those five episodes are nowhere to be found, Disney has packed this three-disc set with cartoons—27 out of the show’s 100 episodes are included here. But if DuckTales doesn’t beg for commentary on every single episode, a select few audio tracks could give voice to the semi-anonymous writers and animators behind the show. There are also enough incidental characters, some from Barks and others created for the series, that a guide to the world of DuckTales would be welcome (perhaps it could explain why most of the characters are ducks and others are dogs, but, say, squirrels are left alone. It’s like an entire universe mutated around the classic conundrum that Goofy walks upright and wears clothes, but Pluto is a traditional, non-speaking dog). But the package doesn’t even throw a bone to curious fans.
Maybe it’s not so surprising. This stinginess is consistent with both Disney, whose earliest DVDs of the company’s animated classics were expensive but bare-bones releases, later replaced by deluxe treatments, and Scrooge, whom you can imagine cramming discs full of episodes to save pennies on manufacturing costs. But DuckTales, idiosyncratic for a children’s cartoon, deserves a DVD that offers at least minor encouragement to its cult.