Episode 68 September 28, 1991 Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc.
Megavolt uses a tron splitter to commit a bank robbery, by seperating the negative and positive trons of the bank vault. Darkwing Duck stops the villain, but is zapped by the tron splitter, creating two separate negative and positive versions of himself. Returning home, the two Drakes surprise Gosalyn and Launchpad and cause chaos when the Muddlefoots visit. The negative Darkwing takes control of the situation, tries to kill the positive Darkwing and exits into the city to cause trouble.
A sort of origin episode for character Negaduck, Darkwing’s Negative clone. This is a simple story about how we’re all composed of good and bad, and one side cannot totally dominate. What makes it so entertaining and fascinating for a children’s cartoon show is that of the Positive and negative clones, Darkwing has much more in common with the latter. Posiduck comes across as unnatural, unbearable and preachy, behaving unlike any actual living human. He’s also largely useless. Negaduck by contrast always gets ahead. It’s a wickedly mean spirited outlook, unusual for a Disney cartoon show, especially one involving the morality of a superhero.
When Launchpad and Gosalyn carelessly break Darkwing’s statue of himself, the reaction given by Posiduck seems so insincere that they know it’s an incorrect response. When the Negaduck arrives, Gosalyn is grateful that she will be suffering more severe consequences. The Negaduck is also much smarter, more manipulative and more respected, and unlike the real Darkwing Duck, without an iota of self doubt.
The most un-Disney part of the episode is when Negaduck turns up to the cinema screening of the Little Lost Bunnies Movie. The movie is a saccharine, one-dimensional cartoon about cuddly creatures lost in a pretty forest, with characters of purity and innocence, and cute little voices. It’s not unlike the heavy handed morality of Saturday morning cartoon shows that used to occupy televisions before shows like Darkwing Duck. Negaduck shouts at the screen and proceeds to shoot it with a shot gun, as the audience screams in panic.
The episode rockets along at a consistently perfect pace, shifting effortlessly from scene to scene. Disney Japan provide beautiful animation. The showdown in the centre of St. Canard, in which we see the superpowered, monochromatic Negaduck tearing up the city is simply stunning to look at. The special effects animation used to distinguish the Negaduck, wrapped in teslacoil, and Posiduck, radiating twinkling pink smoke, is a dazzling light show. The vocal talents of Jim Cummings really elevate the great visuals even further, aided by electronic sounding voice filters. The scenes of destruction are amongst the best realised in the series.
There are many fun scenarios in which we see the positive and negative Darkwings, one after the other, separately interacting with strangers. These include a visit from the Muddlefoots and, keeping with the theme of the episode, we also see a sleazy bar called The Old Haunt, located on “The bad part of town”.
Goofy and self-aware, the episode occupies a sweet spot between the best comic book science fiction and anarchic Looney Tunes humour. It also has something fresh to say about cartoon perceptions of good and bad.
12. The Haunting of Mr. Banana Brain
Episode 56 April 29, 1992 Animation: Hanho Heung-Up Co., Ltd.
Gosalyn wants a bedtime story, and Darkwing suggests the Triumphant Triumph of Darkwing Duck. Gosalyn protests, and then narrates the tale The Haunting of Mr. Banana Brain, which Darkwing and Launchpad are hesitant to revisit. It concerns a trip to the toy museum, which Quackerjack is wanting to rob. Gosalyn’s use of an Electro zapper joy buzzer on her Dad awakens a being inside a locked jack in the box. It feeds off of mean spiritedness. Quackerjack steals the toys and then opens the jack in the box, which releases a spirit that possesses his inanimate doll sidekick, Mr. Banana Brain. A genuinely creepy episode that literally unboxes the fears of its protagonist in a very creative manner. Darkwing’s biggest worries tend to be egocentric, and here it really takes advantage of this, as Gosalyn focuses on the painful memory of a tale about painful memories, humiliation and, most importantly, the danger of laughing at the expense of others. This is the theme of the episode. Gosalyn remains frank about her recollection, as Launchpad and Darkwing both look back and shudder with regret and economy of the truth. At one brief but tense moment, Launchpad deviates the story and narrates an unrelated happy outdoor picnic day.
From the opening, as it reverses from the title card The Triumphant Triumph of Darkwing Duck to The Haunting of Mr. Banana Brain, we can see the style of storytelling and narration is as important as the story itself. At certain moments, it is paused, and we cut to Darkwing and Launchpad anxiously shaking at Gosalyn’s recollection. While Darkwing battles with Quackerjack in the museum, Gosalyn speeds up her narration during Darkwing’s physical victories, dismissing them as boring. She is then asked to slow down, so our hero can savour his less pain filled moments. This momentarily takes the action down to slow motion, with hilarious results.
Paddywhack, the centuries old, long limbed, demonic entity in the Jack in the Box, alludes to Pandora’s Box like horror folklore. This was in vogue with movies of the time such as the Hellraiser series and Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. The Jack in the Box landscape of the finale, accessible only by an abstract white door, resembles the desert world of the latter. The Paddywhack creature, rendered in stark black and white, is particularly Beetlejuice like. The idea of an angry, possessed toy doll is also reminiscent of the Child’s Play franchise. Ironically, despite being named in the title, the Mr. Banana Brain doll is only possessed for six of the twenty three minute runtime.
The settings seem consistently claustrophobic too, with very few exterior shots, ranging from a Chuck E Cheese style restaurant to the museum and the Audubon Bay Bridge tower hideout . The characters are constantly surrounded by walls, even outside, giving the feel of being trapped in a box, where you must face your fears. It also allows for the stark shadow of Paddywhack to be projected across them. For extra creepiness, there are oversized old museum toys with faces, Chuck E Cheese mascot heads hanging above the restaurant and smiling clown heads growing from trees in the Jack in the Box world.
Phil Hartman gives a highly memorable turn as the villainous ghoul Paddywhack. It's a breathy performance, in which he sounds much closer to the microphone than his other voice actors, speaking almost in whispers at times. At others, he unexpectedly giggles and shouts with a booming echo. We also get suitably chilling scenes of levitation, in which Darkwing is manipulated like a puppet.
The parasitic Paddywhack feeds on the misery of mean spirited practical jokes, many of which here are big, circus like and painful. At one moment, Darkwing receives a dollop of putty to his head, which removes his moving face. The insidious villain eventually gets a taste of his own medicine, when Darkwing and Quackerjack team up together in a finale full of surreal humour.
Quackerjack’s toys here seem a lot more dangerous this time: a doll that turns into an evil monster, a fire breathing rocking horse and a throwaway atom bomb!
13. Comic Book Capers
Episode 9 September 17, 1991 Animation: Walt Disney Television Animation (Australia) Pty, Limited
Displeased with the adaptation being written by the Awesome Comic Books Corporation of his own adventures, Drake decides to rewrite it himself. It involves accidents involving electrical products, pointing towards Megavolt as the villain. Gosalyn distracts Drake, and helps herself to the typewriter, followed by Launchpad, and others…
John Behnke, Rob Humphrey and Jim Peterson wrote this episode. It’s another great, meta companion classic to compliment their writing on Twitching Channels. On the surface, these episodes appear structureless and random, but they are meticulously worked out, like a Swiss watch, with biting observational humour and hilarious pay offs.
This is an episode all about perspective and interpretation, and how we all see the world differently but believe that our own viewpoint is the most important. It’s not really about truth, but rather what an audience wants to see and what the storyteller thinks an audience wants them to see, and how this leans into satisfying their own egos and tastes. We get to enjoy the multiple perspectives of the various characters who give their own uninvited interpretations of Darkwing’s heroics to his typewriter. It creates a nonsensical story that is an irresistible patchwork of logic and tone.
Every character here prefers to dismiss any continuity of the other writers and start afresh, from Launchpad and Gosalyn to Binkie Muddlefoot and also Megavolt. It is fascinating how the other characters see Darkwing’s world and what they would prioritise when writing an adventure of their own about him. Darkwing is often ignored completely in their versions! It’s refreshing to see that it is not only Darkwing who has the arrogance to demonstrate an overinflated viewpoint. Ironically, this time it is Darkwing who tells the most truthful depiction of his own adventures.
The use of the medium is exciting and effortless, from on screen text and transitions to comic panel storytelling. All of these interpretations and bits of their authors activity mash up together in the excitingly bizarre climax. Megavolt doesn’t have a motivation and is only present as a villain within the comic book; in the real world he’s completely innocent and commits no crimes. He’s merely another guest writer. However, his meeting with Darkwing in his lighthouse lair is completely organic and blends invisibly with the comic strip. There’s also a recurring character, from Launchpad’s segment, perfectly named Little Running Gag, who gets a great pay off at the episodes close.
Comic Book Capers mixes storytelling genres, styles and even dialects at times, from a cowboy Western to a child’s storybook. The various asides within the typewriter framework meld perfectly too, as Darkwing becomes more and more distracted by each uninvited guest writer. A lot of their character is revealed throughout, in a way that is more satisfying than through standard dialogue interactions.
Wonderfully expressive animation by Disney Australia. There is a striking chiaroscuro ambience too, with a lot of red and yellow in the image. Darkwing is even rendered in red and black, to mimic the stark look of the limited four colour palette one gets with comic books. There is a beautiful visual of Darkwing’s airborne script swirling up and around Megavolt’s lighthouse hideout.
Weirdly, Darkwing uses a typewriter to compose his comic book story, but aside from a few occassions, what we see on the page are completed comic panels. This grammar that the episode has created for itself really works, and as an audience you just accept it. The use of music, particularly a Wild Western section for Launchpad’s scene, is elaborately done.
Megavolt’s plot within the comic, to take over electrical products with the power company electrical output using a remote control device which make electrical products into members of his army and makes him giant sized (!), all because he couldn’t pay an electrical bill, is complicated and inconsistent. And that’s the point!
14. Twin Beaks
Episode 44 February 10, 1992 Animation: Sunwoo Animation
Bushroot sees a blinding light from his prison cell. Darkwing is called in two weeks later to find Bushroot’s corpse. Launchpad, now obsessed with auras and psychic senses he’s read about in a coffee table book, finds a vine leading out of the prison. Back at home, Honker reports that his family have disappeared, and shows them that cabbages are being grown in his family living room. They find a ‘How To Garden’ VHS with Bushroot on it. The VHS box identifies the filming location as the town of Twin Beaks, which they visit.
The episode that famously parodied the iconic TV show Twin Peaks. However, this is not a watered down David Lynch spoof for children. It’s much broader, encapsulating Lynch by way of the comic strips of Gary Larson and a plot similar to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Oddly, these are all pop cultural references intended for adults, but here made accessible to anyone of any age unfamiliar with that material. It takes something so weird and takes the least straight forward direction to get there.The overall effect is an episode soaked in Lynchian atmosphere, absurdist cartoon humour and kitsch science fiction, but with something to say.
Similarly to episode Stressed to Kill, the primary target of ridicule here is fashionable new age spirituality. The message here is, unironically, to open one’s own mind to find answers. Of course, it does this with a maximum amount of irony. Darkwing starts off confused and skeptical, surrounded by nonsense, but eventually becomes a psychic believer himself. To a point.
The various references to Twin Peaks include the similarly named town of Twin Beaks, Honker’s Aunt Trudi, who seems to be a hybrid of characters Nadine Hurley and Norma Jennings, Bushroot’s corpse wrapped in plastic ala Laura Palmer, and a dream sequence involving a version of the famous red room (reinterpreted as a restaurant in which cows as waiters serve cabbage). The most ingenious of these references however, is Launchpad’s psychic connection to a log, recalling the Log Lady from Twin Peaks. The twist? The log also turns out to be the villain! The other twist? The villain is innocent!
The alien invasion plot, which has the Twin Beaks towns folk replaced by evil cabbage counterparts, is one of several great alien themed stories in the series. Darkwing Duck and space invaders are always a natural fit. These cabbage beings are being pursued by the unsubtley named Cows of the Planet Larson, on the Far Side of the Galaxy.
The surreal dream montage, which builds to an endless row of line-dancing Muddlefoots, as Launchpad rides a cow over the moon, is masterfully silly on an artful level.
Darkwing himself is the audience surrogate in this episode, and his cold investigative approach allows for unusually dry and sarcastic humour. This is especially effective when he is describing, rather frankly, Bushroot’s horrifically dried out carcass. We see it stood in his prison cell, and disposed of in the Twin Beaks river. In both instances the villain has sunken, empty cavities for eyes. Although implied to be a plant husk, the latter adds so much torture in the way the body is wrapped in plastic, to resemble the body bagged Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks. Gosalyn cleverly observes “How else do you keep vegetables fresh?”
The music by Philip Giffin is magnificent, conjuring the essence of the Angelo Badalamenti themes of Twin Peaks but taking these to its own unique world of cartoon jazz.
The art direction is spectacular. The tone is set by a dramatic stormy sky above a prison, and later shows the town of Twin Beaks in all of its creepy magnificence. The showdown between harvest vegetables and the aliens has Twin Beaks captured in the style of a Wild West town. There are also some great sight gags, including the labels for diner restrooms.
15. A Star Is Scorned
Episode 60 May 1992 Animation: Sunwoo Animation Darkwing has a meeting at Dizzy Studios (in the human world) with his TV producer, Thaddeus Rockwell. Concerned with ratings, Rockwell has decided to bring in Bushroot as the star of Darkwing’s show, to cash in on the popular “mutant” angle. Rockwell, who has aspirations for working in live action and dumping Darkwing Duck, then skips through several VHS taster tapes with different interpretations of a new show, featuring the Muddlefoots as eco villains.
A madcap, meta episode about abusing fashionable gimmicks, set in the human world of episode Twitching Channels. More specifically, it’s a clever satire about TV second guessing itself and also the insincere use of eco messages in children’s entertainment. Rockwell tells Darkwing that plant based villain Bushroot is the ‘gimmick' to save his TV show. At the time, there was a rise in cartoons with environmental themes, such as Captain Planet, Widget The World Watcher and The Toxic Crusader, which were received with cynicism from adult critics. Rockwell also tells Darkwing to rethink Bushroot with the emphasis on the ‘mutant’ part of his identity. He then asks Bushroot if he can do chopsocky, a clear reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, hugely popular at the time and also with an eco subtext.
Bushroot and The Muddlefoots are playing themselves as actors, the latter are forced to play acting roles they don’t suit, under a strict contract. Their performances are very wooden and self conscious, making it clear that they are not invested in their characters. Bushroot is reconfigured as an environment protecting hero throughout (under different guises), with Darkwing and/or the Muddlefoots as villains. The Muddlefoots play one dimensional, evil eco villains; greedy property developers bent on building condos on Bushroot’s nature land. It is reiterated with a straight face how they have “absolutely no redeeming values whatsoever”. They justify their actions, siding with authority. At one point, the TV creators give Bushroot guns with bullets as weapons, to which he questions his own principles in this reimagining of the show.
There are several scenarios that are variations of this theme, in different TV formats, including a courtroom/medical drama hybrid (imagine if L.A. Law and Doogie Howser, M.D. collided), as well as a live children’s show featuring puppet theatre, which births a running gag involving custard pies and the word aardvark. There’s even a game show called Earth of Consequences, which ends with an apt phone in from Honker, in which he takes a nuanced, moderate view of environmental concerns. This is a grown up contrast to the simplification of these issues as seen in Rockwell’s TV shows. It finishes with an impossible, absurdist visual solution that cleverly holds to account the idea of exploiting eco concerns for TV ratings.
As with Twitching Channels and Comic Book Capers, this is another example of an episode that feels deceptively random and without structure or consequence, but is meticulously written. At one point the episode fades out from a cliffhanger and fades up to Darkwing and Gosalyn riding through the street, with the previous event forgotten. It’s a move into the third act, but purposefully feels like it’s without motivation. We then see Darkwing roll the previously edited conclusion in front of studio head Mr. Dizzy, which is a mega-mix of all the show formats combined. Darkwing’s entrance, swinging atop a church bell for no reason, is laugh out loud funny.
Rockwell is heard over the telephone to Mr. Dizzy, mentioning about his aspirations to make live action, referring to the Disney characters as “a bunch of barnyard refugees”. It says a lot about the attitudes towards animation at the time, especially Disney, which was heading from strength to strength as a major film studio. Mr. Dizzy, seen in a screening room during the climax, speaks and talks like a cartoon version of Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney at the time.
There are other great moments, such as a Mushroom zombies conjured by Gosalyn and a returning joke where Darkwing is mistaken for Donald Duck. This pays off wonderfully.
Episode 62 May 17, 1992 Animation: Hanho Heung-Up Co., Ltd.
The mystic eye of Quackzalcoatl, a jewel which can steal the strength of any living being, is on display at the St. Canard museum. Darkwing decides to guard it without Launchpad’s offered help, and the fearsome five turn up to steal the jewel. Quackerjack, Megavolt, Liquidator and Bushroot are caught and go to the new maximum security supervillain prison, but Negaduck escapes with the mystic eye. Darkwing, again by himself, then pretends to be a criminal in order to get into prison and find out where Negaduck is.
In episode Just Us Justice Ducks, the title characters and The Fearsome Five were used to emphasise the benefits and challenges of teamwork. This was in particular relation to the egos of Darkwing and Negaduck. Jailbird bookends a very loose message about Darkwing learning to accept help from Launchpad and later the Fearsome Four, with an abrupt deus ex machina ending. However, this is not a thematic retread of Just Us Justice Ducks. It focuses more interestingly on being aware of the strengths (and weaknesses) that are unique to us as individuals. These transfer brilliantly into a superhero tale, as they are a big part of the genre, but particularly one featuring multiple supervillains.
The plot, involving the Mystic Eye of Quackzalcoatl (a play on the name Quetzalcoatl) is set up very early on, and its theft of strengths compliments Darkwing’s attempts to be arrested, dressed as various criminals. His lousy disguise as Demolition Duck - a 1980s punk with a leather jacket and a pink mohawk - isn’t remotely convincing to anyone. It only emphasises Darkwing’s distinct strengths of character that he is trying to cover up. Darkwing is unable to become arrested, trying to be someone he’s not, and is only caught out for unintentionally jaywalking. Once in prison, the Fearsome Five deduce that he is Darkwing Duck. His ego is so characteristic, they can see through his facade, until they recognise that he hasn’t insulted them.
The episode has a large scale to it, starting with a museum robbery, then becoming an undercover prison adventure before expanding into gorgeously expansive, silver age comic book spectacle. When Negaduck combines all of the supervillain powers via the mystic eye, he becomes the giant sized MegaNegaDuck, who parts the waters of St. Canard in biblical fashion. Whilst Darkwing does team up with the betrayed Fearsome Four, it is ‘Operation Achilles Heel’ that eventually defeats Mega Negaduck. Each of the four villains confide their weaknesses with one another and Darkwing, knowing that the super antagonist has them as well as their strengths.
The episode divides it’s time between the unique attributes of all of the Fearsome Five personalities. There’s sufficient screen time for all five villains, and none feels restrained. Here more than ever their individuality radiates. They also integrate very well too, especially in a prison yard sequence, where Megavolt poses as a scarecrow as Quackerjack trims grass, while Bushroot pours Liquidator from a watering can. However, as with all of the Fearsome Five episodes, Negaduck dominates the screen with his anarchic activity.
The maximum security supervillain prison is visually incorporated into the design of the existing St. Canard Map. It’s Alcatraz like proximity to the city helps the climax to feel organic. Even Negaduck’s hideout, the unfinished, empty shell of an apartment building, plays well into the theme of the episode.
Countless great gags include the drained supervillains drinking weak tea, a Negaduck branded Hot air balloon wearing his read hat and the The Mystic Eye of Quackzalcoatl being sold with entertainer Winky the Clown. Darkwing’s various guises, such as Jumping Quack Flash and Roller Duck are endearingly goofy.
Hanho Heung-Co’s does a great job with animating the ensemble cast, especially during the climax with MegaNegaduck.
17. A Duck By Any Other Name
Episode 48 February 18, 1992 Animation: Walt Disney Animation (France) S.A. & Sunwoo Animation
Darkwing and Launchpad, dressed as Darkwing Decoy, pursue Tuskernini’s theft of the Diamond Duck of St. Canard. A news camera captures Launchpad removing his mask, and airs the footage on television. With Darkwing’s identity fully revealed, Launchpad becomes a local celebrity, and Gosalyn sees him ripe for exploiting, much to Drake’s annoyance. Meanwhile, Tuskernini wishes to take revenge. Themes of identity are present in many tales of masked superheroes. The best of these, including similar episodes of Darkwing Duck, emphasise these with antagonists and subplots that mirror them. Tuskernini, a big screen thespian of another era turned criminal, really helps maximise the role-playing aspect of superheroes. His laughable, barely convincing movie charades really compliment this story of mistaken identity.
This episode specifically looks at the moral consequences of taking credit for the work and reputation of other people. The surprise here is how quickly Gosalyn goes from playing innocently with her father before bedtime to talking like a ruthless Hollywood talent agent the next morning. There’s much fun to be had with her selling branded T Shirts at a Darkwing McQuack market stall in Drake’s garden, and later tossing the directors card of filmmaker Steven Spectacle (Tuskernini in disguise) into a mountainous pile of competitors cards.
Tuskernini’s Penguins are a mute, silent movie troupe by way of the The Three Stooges. As with all characters in this episode, they are never stationary on screen. A great moment has the cinema-obsessed Tuskernini criticising his three man Penguin army as “Idiots, amateurs… Extras!”
The balance of expert visual storytelling and quick fire dialogue is effortless. A stand out visual gag has Drake Mallard’s home address mistaken by Tuskernini because of donut jelly. There’s a fantastic montage in which Darkwing scowers the city from a skyscraper above a mall, confronting some punk children, a delivery firm and a littering pensioner.
There is also a moment where Darkwing is faced with his own mini identity crisis, and looks to rebrand himself. Sifting through his attic he finds a Batman cowl and a ballet dress. Eventually he suggests the identity of Double O Duck, incidentally the original name of the Darkwing Duck TV series.
The moviehouse climax also taps into the thematic theatrics. Darkwing faces against Tuskerini and his goons before a cinema screen. Buttered popcorn has never looked and sounded so threatening. An inventive piece of physical comedy has the three Penguins rowing Tuskernini’s belly as a boat, through a sea of popcorn.
Additionally, the episode brims with confidence in balancing a tone of both silliness and awe. The various entrances of Darkwing feature booming voice work and striking hero poses. This is also true of the ending, in which we see Darkwing before a searchlight above the cinema. The closing scene has the media attention of Darkwing’s identity eclipsed by a pair of Baby Pandas. It paints an accurate picture of media fickleness.
The cinematic direction and shot construction is constantly dynamic, as is the constantly moving camera work. It’s perfectly paced without a sagging moment. The sound work impresses too. Even a couple of split screen transitions really help the overall energy.
This is the best animated of all the Darkwing Duck episodes. Disney France had animated Ducktales the movie and the later A Goofy Movie. Character animation is rhythmic and full of gestures and expression. Every movement has been thought about. The backgrounds have a graphic look, with noirish shadow work, particularly a scene set in a jail cell. Sunwoo are also credited for Animation Production.
18. Battle of the Brainteasers
Episode 74 November 9, 1991 Animation: Walt Disney Television Animation (Australia) Pty, Limited
Honker witnesses a meteor crash land outside his bedroom window. He races to tell his uninterested parents, but is bullied by his brother Tank. Neither his parents or Drake Mallard believe him, so he goes with Gosalyn and Launchpad to the sight of the crash. Here they come into contact with a group of parasitic aliens who look like hats, and wear themselves on the heads of their hosts, whom they communicate through. A great episode about standing up to bullies, filled with wonder and awe, and from the plot to the set dressing it expresses obvious love for William Cameron Menzies 1953 film Invaders From Mars. The conflict between Honker and his brother Tank is mirrored brilliantly by the parasitic hat aliens and their evil influence. The Brainteaser characters appear very similar to hats seen in Disney’s Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. Their sneery voiced snobbery make their victims appear out of character to an entertaining degree.
There are many great puns and examples of word play, used to undermine Honker explaining his anxieties to the other characters, especially the mix up of words iron/metal and meteor/meatier. The aliens have a taste for metal and are undone by pepper, which makes them sneeze off from their hosts. Both of these factors are cleverly woven into their defeat.
The episode builds to the tense launch of nuclear weapons onto the cities of Earth. This is very dark territory for Disney TV animation and completely unexpected. The following deus ex machina ending is exciting and satisfying. The subsequent debrief sequence is oddly moving, in which we meet the revolutionaries mentioned quickly through dialogue earlier in the episode.
The nocturnal, rural settings are brimming with authentic Invaders From Mars style genre atmosphere, and no expense is spared. There is even a tribute to the iconic fence from that film in an opening view of St. Canard as well as a bedroom window telescope. The locations are expansive and suitably empty, from the suburban interiors of St. Canard to the military corridors and canteen of Cape Canard, lending a constantly unsettling feeling. Disney Australia’s expressive animation adds another level to the visuals. This is aided immeasurably by Philip Giffin’s twinkly, ambient score. The sequence in which Gosalyn locks herself in a room is timed exactly to the music.
Some of the hat characters are named after the phrase Klaatu barada nikto from film The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Drake, Launchpad and Gosalyn are driving through a desert, on vacation. A UFO flies by and blinds them. At a motel, Gosalyn and Darkwing review her home movies which reveal Launchpad being abducted by aliens. Darkwing and Gosalyn remember being zapped by a memory eraser, and head to the desert where they make contact with the aliens, and discover that Launchpad had a childhood romance with their queen, Tia. A perfect UFO abduction episode, which begins with the disappearance of Launchpad. More importantly, it’s not merely about his abduction, but about the void Launchpad could leave in Darkwing and Gosalyn’s life. It’s about how our loved ones cannot be replaced. At one point Gosalyn cries over nobody being able to take Launchpad’s spot.
The flashback to Launchpad’s short-lived childhood romance with Tia really makes sense of the character, as a pilot’s son who is terrified of flying. We see how Tia saved his life, ended his fears and taught him to crash land. It’s also a visually beautiful sequence, especially when young Tia and Launchpad fly above the clouds, only to be eclipsed by the UFO. During this sequence, we also see Launchpad’s father, whose likeness is identical to that from TV show Ducktales.
Launchpad brought laughter to Tia, and it’s something she feels is missing in her own cold world. Throughout the series, Launchpad is so often seen as vacant minded, but here we see his immense value as a person and also fully appreciate why he has his head in the clouds.
Villain Bleeb’s plot, to replace Launchpad’s brain with a computerised one he can control in order to rule the galaxy, fits perfectly with the theme of the episode, and how we can't replace people. Finding it to be too smart, Bleeb smashes the artificial brain with a hammer. It also allows for a very darkly humorous scene in which Darkwing’s body is used as a test host for the fake brain. His actual brain and eyes watch on from a jar, and then must physically escape the situation by bouncing around with squishy sound effects.
The ending provides a science fiction solution to replacing those most valuable to us. Cloning, of course!
There is some very witty dialogue, in which the fears and desires of marriage are centred on home ownership and having a mortgage. Marriage to this race of aliens is known as “Oompah” too, which Launchpad himself highlights as being “not what you think”. This is very risqué humour for a children’s TV show. The synergy between dialogue and visuals is also inventive, as at one point Tia speaks of simple pleasures as Darkwing is devolved to an amoeba. A motel owner, Cowboy Doug, gets a good call back later on in the episode as a brainwashed servant.
The mixing of footage is really creative, making use of Gosalyn’s black and white home videos. Gosalyn’s home movie antics evolve from found footage filmed from the back of the car, to her mounting a Western with aliens. She claims at one point to have photographed better shots than Orson Welles. This builds to her exposing the villain at the end.
Hanho Heung-Up’s animation is bouncy and colourful looking. The various desert and UFO backgrounds match the genre perfectly.
20. Whiffle While You Work
Episode 29 October 23, 1991 Animation: Kennedy Cartoons, Inc. Drake and Gosalyn both partake as competitors in a video game competition. The game in question is Whiffle Boy. Toy-centric supervillain Quackerjack, who blames the video game for putting his toy company out of business, gatecrashes the event.
Thematically very tight Quackerjack origin episode. A bitter, out of business toymaker bemoans video games, while parent Drake and daughter Gosalyn go on a duel. A great illustration of how the old and new must work together, and not fight. It mirrors the feelings of the time concerning the electronic medium and it’s threat towards analogue interactions, but finds a not obvious way to explore it by engaging parent Drake as a fellow game player. The structure of the story is so well mounted that it builds and builds with momentum towards a great climax.
Quackerjack’s introduction, from a life-sized jack in a box, in which he bitterly complains about Whiffle Boys success eclipsing his business to a pair of security guards, is manic. Michael Bell’s performance is full of range and tone, straddling a thin line between crazy clown and disgruntled, failed businessman. He’s both mischievously impish and whiney at the same time, but never irritating.
Two thirds of the way into the episode, the molecular digitiser transfers Darkwing and Quackerjack into the video game world. Before this we get to explore an interesting purpose built home for the Whiffle Boy game phenomena, called Whiffle Town. There is a brilliantly absurd set piece with a giant crying Chrissy doll stomping through Whiffle Town, as Gosalyn and Darkwing ride a tour bus. A battle with giant chattering toy teeth is also well done.
The realisation of the video game is very effective. A side scrolling Nintendo style platform game with bleeping sound effects and monotonous music is on the mark, and weirdly didn’t look too removed from the official Nintendo game release of Darkwing Duck from the following year. Gosalyn and Darkwing use a game control device called Power Gloves, directly referencing the items of the same name that Nintendo manufactured at the time.
There are some great characters, such as the Mega-Man like hero Whiffle Boy, Pat and Pat, the savvy female and male representatives of Whiffle Boy and Whiffle Boy’s adversary, Weasel Kid.
The episode is a visual treat, full of invention. Kennedy’s rubbery animation is appropriately wacky and gels especially well with Michael Bell’s voice acting. The abstract game world is a maze of floating squares, piping and scaffold, all popular choices for video game design of the time.