INTERVIEW WITH JYMN MAGON!


Animation writer and producer Jymn Magon concludes Ducktales Week with the following interview. I know I asked him a few questions similar to the ones I asked Tad Stones, but I felt it would be great to hear his perspective as well. Enjoy!

TMB: Let’s start from the beginning: how did you get your start in TV animation?

JM: I had been in the Disney Consumer Products Division producing children’s records “Disneyland Records.”  (Mostly story records, but also music albums like the triple-platinum MICKEY MOUSE DISCO.)  That was from 1976 to 1984.  Then Disney got into financial trouble, and the Bass Brothers bailed ’em out with the stipulation that there be new management.  That’s when Michael Eisner was brought in from Paramount as CEO.  He had previously been head of ABC Children’s Programming, so he liked TV animation.  Thus, he set up a new division called WD TV Animation.  My boss Gary Krisel dragged me along to a meeting at Eisner’s house one Sunday morning, and everyone brainstormed.  Eisner said, “My kids just got back from camp, and they’re raving about something called Gummi Bears.”  Then for some unknown reason, he turned to me and said, “Make me a show about that.”  I slowly transitioned to the new department (which early on consisted of Krisel (an exec), Michael Webster (an exec), Lenny Ripps (a sitcom writer on loan to us), and me (who’d never worked in TV before).  That  was “TV ANIMATION.”  The rest is history.

TMB: Prior to your work on Ducktales and beyond, what was some other shows you worked on? Any favorites? Any embarrassments?

Prior to Duck Tales?  That’s simple.  Development and story editor on Gummi Bears (2 seasons).  We were a young company at that point.  Naturally, Gummi Bears (being my first series) was a favorite.  And Tale Spin (later on) was a big fave. / Embarrassments?  Not ’til Tale Spin.  I was asked by the sales team at Buena Vista TV to do the pitch for Tale Spin – which was video-taped.  I discovered that I said “literally” about 8 times in the pitch.  The horror… the horror.

TMB: On to Ducktales: It’s a fantastic show based on the comics by the talented Carl Barks and Dona Rosa. How did you best determine how much of their works would be used for the cartoon? A few episodes credit Barks specifically. How much say did Barks have in the show’s creative direction? Did he enjoy working on it?

JM: As a child of the 50’s, I had been reading Barks since I was a kid.  And it was a great thrill for me to see him at lunch one day at the Studio lot.  But as far as I know, Carl was NEVER contacted to be involved with Duck Tales.  Yes, some of his comic book story lines were used, but no thanks or tribute was ever mentioned by TV animation. A great sin, say I.  The very 1st TV script I ever wrote was on Duck Tales, and I put Carl Barks in the credits, somehow. (“Based on a story by…” ???)  As far as I know, that’s the only credit Carl ever got.  /// Don Rosa was not doing the Ducks at that point (if I remember correctly).  I actually brought Don in to write two episodes of Tale Spin, years later.

TMB: Scrooge McDuck is a fascinating character. At the risk of over-analyzing, Scrooge loves his family, but loves his wealth almost as equally. It’s an interesting dichotomy. Usually when the typical wealthy miser finds out “what’s truly important,” he falls into the “family first” trap. Scrooge often has that as being a central conflict to his actions, often getting hung up in the pursuit of wealth over his family’s safety. I suppose then my question is how much of this was cognizant to the crew during production? How did you approach that balance of “love of family” vs. “love of wealth”?

JM: I didn’t join the Duck Tales team until the series was already in production with the story editor team of Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron.  So I can’t say what their philosophy was about that.  But since I was put in charge of creating the 5-parter pilot (Treasure of the Golden Suns), that gold vs. family dynamic was always at the forefront of the writing.  Episode 1, Scrooge is dumped with the nephews.  By Episode 5, Scrooge chooses the warmth of the heart over the cold hard cash.  Since that pilot was shown before all the other episodes, it set a tone that “colored” the rest of the series.

TMS: S&P is always a concern. I’ve noticed that you’ve gotten away with quite a bit though – there’s a lot of guns and shooting for example, in particular in Goldie episodes. Scrooge doesn’t necessarily always wear seat-belts, and so on. How did you manage to get away with so much? Was things more lax with S&P back then?

JM: Remember, Duck Tales (plus Darkwing, Tale Spin, Rescue Rangers, etc.) were all syndicated shows, meaning there was no network BS&P to answer to.  [Gummies was on NBC, so we arm wrestled them all the time.]  We functioned as our own Standards & Practices.  Naturally, things slipped through, but we were pretty good at catching stuff.  (Wow, just remembered another embarrassment.  In the Treasure of the Golden Suns, I had Huey, Dewey & Louie swing on a rope and crash through a window.  I didn’t catch that until I saw the final animation.  “Holy crap, they went through that glass face first!”)

TMS: I love how the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie (and even Webby) feel organic to Scrooge’s adventures. They aren’t kids that constantly get into trouble; in fact, Scrooge relies and depends on them in even the most dangerous of his quests. What do you think was the key in keeping them out of ‘annoyance’ territory?

JM: Well, the boys (as established by Barks) were always pretty self-sustaining.  They were Junior Woodchucks, after all, and with their trusty Guide book could handle just about any situation.  Plus the three of them kind of added up to one adult, no?  So the trio was fairly smart and mature.  (Also, I think Scrooge is probably one of those old time business guys: “Surround yourself with family.  Blood is thicker than water.”)

TMS: You managed to get 100 episodes, which is fairly rare for a TV show, let alone a cartoon. How do you feel you best managed such a lofty goal? What do you think was key to such a development?

JM: I’m not sure “lofty” ever entered into it.  Remember, everything gets done because of money.   Duck Tales was the first syndicated show we ever produced, and the magic number for syndication is 65.  (That’s 5 days a week times 13 weeks.)  DT was so popular that the Buena Vista TV asked for more episodes (cuz they could sell ’em).  So that’s how we climbed to 100.  All the other syndicated series went to 65 and stopped.

TMS: What’s your favorite episode? Who’s your favorite character?

JM: To tell the truth, I’ve never seen all 100 episodes, so I can’t fully answer that.  I do like our “Treasure of the Golden Suns” mini-series, however.  (After it was shown as a 2-hour TV movie, it should have been released as a 2-hour theatrical, IMHO.  Or at least as a DVD movie.)  Some of the animation in Part 5 was stellar!  //  I’m a Launchpad fan – he was so much fun to write for.  Plus, I’ll always be a Scrooge fan.  The actor who voiced him, Alan Young, is a delightful, talented man – who, coincidentally, was the head of a Film & Broadcast department when I worked on a documentary in 1970.  So we took turns being each other’s boss!  I tell a story in my Animation Writing class about how actors can plus a script.  I once wrote for Scrooge about Webby, “Ah, what a sweet little girl.”  Alan got hold of the dialogue and changed it without a blink to, “Och, what a wee bonnie lassie.”

TMS: I’m not sure how much of this you might be able to answer, but… the music in Ducktales works so well, and that goes beyond the catchy theme song. There’s musical plays on pop, rock, jazz, and classical, along with the typical themes that are signals with setting, action, drama, and tension. How much work was put into all these music cues? What were some of the inspirations to it?

JM: Naturally, a composer (Ron Jones) was chosen to write those cues.  That decision was made independently of me, so I can’t really clue you in on anything relating to DT.  I can talk about the theme song briefly.  As I mentioned, I was a record producer before I did animation.  So I knew a thing or two about producing music for kids.  One of the executives went to the mix of the Duck Tales theme, and he brought the finished tracks back for me to hear.  Lo and behold, he had taken out the “Ooo-oooh’s”!!!  I said, “No, you’ve got to put them back!  Every kid will sing that!”  And of course, the Ooo-oooh’s were put back – and every kid sang that.  (“Duck Tales.  Ooo-ooo!”) ///  Also, when I was producing Tale Spin I was actively involved with choosing the series composer (Chris Stone) and many of the songs (like from Patty and Michael Silversher, who I had worked with in my record producing days).  So the style of the music was definitely something that the producer and the composers discussed up front.

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  1. #1 by Pig Iron Maiden on February 17, 2013 - 11:55 pm

    I came over from the AV Club and I have to say, great job on these articles about Duck Tales! I’m an 80’s kid and the Disney Afternoon was appointment television almost until it went off the air. I enjoyed the insights, and I still own a copy of Mickey Mouse Disco!

  2. #2 by kjohnson1585 on February 19, 2013 - 10:51 am

    Thanks, Pig!

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