Posts Tagged Comedy
It’s important to remember that The Simpsons’s popularity benefited from not only being genuinely funny, but also being on a burgeoning new network with some extremely interesting scheduling. The show had its origins on The Tracy Ullman Show and a wonky two seasons on FOX before it really hit its stride and purpose, becoming the hit that really kept the network churning. It was the perfect show that was literally at the right place at the right time. It pretty much grasped that perfect blend of adult humor, genuine pathos, and cartoony freedom. It understood itself. It understood its premise and characters and comedy, and especially, its heart. The Simpsons knew what it was aiming for, and for quite a while, consistently hit its mark.
It took a while, however, for creatives and executives to understand this. In the 90s, animation for adults was usually within the realm of underground artists and film-festival animators. (Most of the animators that went on to do TV shows were from that world – John K., Joe Murray, Matt Groening, Klasky-Csuepo, Mike Judge, and so on.) While Nickelodeon and MTV emphasized the weird in order to stand out in a unique way, CBS and ABC only saw animation as a “new” hit-making format (similar to all those questionable CGI movies that were released in the wake of Toy Story). Both networks rushed to produce their own adult animated shows, the former producing two of them.
In retrospect, the botched triad of Family Dog, Fish Police, and Capitol Critters is obvious and sad. The interesting thing is how and why each show failed, a lesson that paved the way (for better or worse) for the heavy-on-the-jokes type of animated comedies of Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad, and The Critic. Explicit humor was a must, de-emphasizing cartoon physics and focusing on verbal and visual quiet comic sensibilities. The jokes had to hit viewers in the gut, and Family Dog, Fish Police, and Capitol Critters certainly did not. It also doesn’t help that these three shows were generally boring, uninteresting, or blindly misguided – all in different ways. It’s fascinating to watch them again, and pin-point what doesn’t work, the few things that do work, and the aesthetics used to within that framework.
Fish Police – (1992)
Director: Rick Schneider
Starring: John Ritter, Megan Mullally, Ed Asner
Screenplay(s) by: Steve Moncuse, Jeanne Romano
Fish Police was based on a critically luke-warm comic series by Steve Moncuse that ran on-and-off from 1985 to 1991. It was an underwater noir of sorts, a semi-serious yet goofy comic starring talking fish, an idea you can get away with easily in the realm of comics and children cartoons. But taking that concept to prime-time network TV is clearly a product of desperation and insanity. It managed to do only six episodes before being unceremoniously canned.
Fish Police hosts, for some reason, a RIDICULOUSLY talented cast. John Ritter! Ed Asner! Megan Mullally! Tim Curry! Frank Welker! Buddy fucking Hackett! It’s clear all of CBS’s money went to casting, because it sure as hell didn’t go into animation or writing. Listening to such a cast half-ass their way through line-readings is heart-wrenching, knowing full well that everyone – especially Tim Curry – can do better. Hanna-Barbara’s animation is shaky and extremely unrefined; we’re talking Snorks level of wonky here. And the writing… well, it’s more like the show was ad-libbed around shitty, shitty plots.
John Ritter voices Gil, the lead detective that dresses like Dick Tracy but hardly has the balls to fit the man’s shoes. Gil is a nothing short of a whiny bitch, a flimsy excuse for what would pass as a policeman down in the brilliantly-named Fish City. Ritter is clearly in it for a paycheck. He has no enthusiasm or passion for his line-reads, and since he’s the lead, the entire show falls apart around him.
Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly called Fish Police an excuse to make fish humor. I WISH that’s what it was. In reality, Fish Police is about how everyone in the city has fucked or will have fucked the character of Angel (JoBeth Williams). This is it. Most plots and every joke is based on Angel being a slut. She loves to fuck, and boy, she will lavishly put her whore-dom on display. Everyone mentions how easy she is; yet, of course, Gil would never fuck her. They’re just friends. Wait a second – one episode implies they did fuck. No, says another episode, they did not. Who cares? Fish Police’s utter obsession on the fuckability of Angel is crass humor at its crassest. The first Angel-is-a-whore joke isn’t even kind of funny; the unrelenting running gag of it all is pure torture.
Fish humor and aquatic puns would at least be a welcome wink-and-a-nod to the show’s ridiculousness. Instead, it takes everything as serious as a show about aquatic animals as policemen and mobsters can possibly be, making it practically uncanny. Did people really watch The Simpsons and not understand its satirical, comic edge? Apparently. Fish Police rambles and shuffles its way through stories like a man on death row. It plays out like a show that was DOA since the beginning. When an episode portrays a local beauty pageant as the BIGGEST THING TO HIT A CITY, then there’s something seriously wrong here.
The worse thing is that Fish Police is just boring, and it’s boring in that lazy way Hanna-Barbara cartoons started to be before their Turner/Cartoon Network run of cartoons revived its energy. It’s kids humor masqueraded as adult humor. In Captain Caveman, a stupid pun is followed up with a facepalm, or an eye-roll, or a group of characters saying, in unison, the punchline. In Fish Police, a stupid sex or divorce joke is followed up with a facepalm, or an eye-roll, or a group of people saying, in unison, the punchline. Fish Police does little, content wise, to separate itself from its Saturday morning origins. I guarantee many of you probably would have swore watching this Saturday morning cartoon instead of airing in prime-time. Fish Police even has the audacity to include a cute creature as a sidekick; in this show’s case, it’s Gil’s badge – which is also a starfish.
Fish Police limps through its short 6-episode run with predictable, hackneyed writing, bad animation, grating voice-over work, and insulting humor. In other words, it ran 6-episodes too many, a sad, sad blot in the realm of animated TV. It was as bad as I’d imagine the world of Fish City to smell, just a boring, tedious maritime take on the hoariest of Law & Order plots. Thank god they put this out of its misery before they went and tackled something like fish rape.
Next week, I’ll be tackling Capitol Critters, so stay tuned.
The cold opening of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has Twilight singing optimistically about how everything is going to be fine. She trots through the town as people join her in song and dance, reflecting the wonderful day that greets Ponyville. As she builds up to the final note, water is dumped on her head. Twilight admonishes Rainbow Dash for the act, only to see Rarity as the culprit, who for some reason now possesses Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark. Twilight says, “Something tells me everything is not going to be fine,” and for a moment I expected to hear this sound. In a season that had me growing more and more uncomfortable, that intro does very little to help matters.
Let’s be direct: Hasbro is no longer interested in courting bronies and MLP’s adult fanbase. Why they decided this a matter up for debate, and a question I explore later in the post, but the more interesting question right now is how. Usually, even as a show goes through its trials and tribulations during its more questionable period (Community, Up All Night, Heroes, The Killing), its more fervent fanbase sticks with it until the end. And I certainly can’t deny that MLP will indeed maintain a sizable brony community as it continues through the next couple of seasons.
Unlike those shows, however, executives and creators try their damnedest to keep the dwindling fanbase alive and active. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Hasbro seem to have no such agency, putting together a series of problematic yet calculated decisions that seem more and more likely designed to put off the bronies. The thriving communities, obsessed with fan parodies and homages – many of which I am a fan and supporter of – have been given the cold shoulder after years of productivity. The writing, with its emphasis on more mature relationships and complexity in an tricky and confusing world, has given way to simpler, straight-forward stories with predictable endings and one-note characterization. MLP, ironically, has reverted to the cute and simple show that it inherently is, instead of the unique show that it started out to be.
The title of this episode is “Magical Mystery Cure,” a play on the Beatles’s album “Magical Mystery Tour,” which is cute but rather meaningless. It isn’t as if the episode makes any references to the Beatles, which is odd since one of the many cool things about the show was that it enjoyed its references quite a bit. Other than the obvious pun, there’s really no reason to call it this. I suppose the fact that the episode is a musical might have been the inspiration, but that’s tenuous at best, and it might have been a bit more creatively constructive to make a pun based on an actual musical than an album. This is nit-picking, but I nit-pick only when a piece of entertainment does little else to engage me.
It probably began with the Derpy incident – a clusterfuck of proportions that made the “dickwolves controversy” look like a joke, although it may have truly started with Lauren Faust’s departure, a moment that in retrospect seems odd, since Faust (according to Tara Strong on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast) excitedly ran to Strong with a whole heap of ideas for the show’s reboot. To depart from the show and its success so suddenly seemed bizarre, but we all chalked it up to Faust simply wanted to pursue different things. Which is fine, but very strange, given everything that was going on.
MLP’s fanbase, truth be told, was not established authentically (although it became authentic over time and grew genuinely). It was an ironic response from 4chan’s /co/ board, which itself was a response to a bizarre screed from Amid from CartoonBrew. People jumped on board mainly to prove him wrong, but were delighted to find a smart, hilariously fun and engaging show that just happened to star cartoon ponies. So many great things came from this – charities were born, communities were made, friendships were established – and I really hope that all that will continue.
To Hasbro original ultimate goal, money was spent on the toys, too. The overall stock of the new network seemed strong, and the MLP fanbase fostered a tiny but growing supplement with its other shows: Pound Puppies, Transformers Prime, GI Joe: Renegades. But what happened? Pound Puppies lost members of its own staff, Transformers Prime’s schedule became scattered, and Renegades was cancelled. Kaijudo’s ratings were a cruel joke. Besides Dan Vs. – an anomaly in so many ways that it kinda needs its own blog post – MLP grew way beyond the very network itself, via a demo that advertisers did not care for. MLP’s stock, in actuality, was simply not strong enough to carry the entire Hub.
With that worrisome issue in the air, the Derpy incident most likely sealed the deal. MLP was getting out of control and proving to be too much of a headache, a point of fact that the Hub could probably have dealt with if it meant anything to its other shows – which it didn’t. In some ways, the Hub had no choice but to double down on its original and intended 6-11 young girls demo, pushing the writing and aesthetics of the show to more cuter, simpler directions. Interesting badguys like Luna and Discord were made good. Continuity and clever callbacks were all but diminished. Complex characters with aspirational endeavors were moved aside for those one-note characterizations, emphasizing the stereotypes within the main cast instead of exploring the interesting backdrops of those characterizations. More music was added – and not the fun, comical tunes of season 1, but the JEM-esque onslaught of tunes throughout season 2 and 3. The finale all but doubled down on all this, with a very oddly told story that ended in ten minutes, then spending the rest of the episode turning Twilight into a princess, the epitome of 6-11 young girl fantasies.
Contrary to popular belief, “Magical Mystery Tour” does not use in media res to tell its story. It uses a straight-forward flashback/voice-over cutaway, which is structurally lazy in so many ways, where in Twilight mentions receiving a spell and reading it, trying to figure it out, the result of which causes her friends’ cutie marks to be switched. I’m not sure why this brief cutaway wasn’t the cold opening. I bet they felt showing Rarity with Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark was more interesting, the TWIST that turned Twilight’s song on its head. I posit that the mysterious spell and the switching of the marks on the Elements of Harmony would have been just as strong of an opening, probably stronger, because at least they wouldn’t have to force the flashback. Besides, even if they did use in media res, that would be just as problematic, since most TV shows poorly use in media res anyway. I doubt that MLP would have used it effectively.
Watching the season 3 finale of MLP, a pit grew in my stomach, that same pit that one gets when watching a cartoon clearly not for them. I never quite felt that before with MLP; it was only during the times I viewed shows like Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake that I felt that awkwardness, that growing knowledge of bearing witness to a show created for a demo completely younger than they are. There’s nothing wrong with this, although it was difficult to understand at the time. Something like Powerpuff Girls or Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends had a youthful, feminine-geared demo, but contained a cleverness and comic sensibility to be broad enough for everyone to enjoy.
MLP once had that in spades, but in an instant it was gone. Well, it was diminishing with every episode truth be told, but the finale sealed it, and it sealed it in such a direct way that it seemed offensive. Of course, it wasn’t – it’s just that I never seen a show directly push away one audience to curtail another. It’s through that ironic lens that I laughed, cheered, and applauded the finale, watching in astonishment its disregard for not only the bronies, but for the very nature of straight-forward storytelling. The first season would have taken the idea of mix-and-match cutie marks to insanely hilarious levels; instead, they opted to solve them via simple, bland songs (songs that were musically inferior to episodes before it). By the 13-minute mark, the conflict was solved. We then watched Twilight get her wings and become a princess, which, well, wasn’t really her goal in the first place. But she was cheered on by her friends via another song, and for some reason it lasted several more minutes until the end. Nary an attempt at a joke in all that time.
And so we find ourselves back to the very core issue of insulting a valuable, smart demographic (6-11 girls) with the assumption that they like the simple, pretty things, indirectly caused by the bronies themselves. Networks and executives fall so often for this trap, forcing “mediocre magical royalty” related stories within a spell of pink and purple and singing to appeal to that specific demo with little concern for logic, reason, character or wit (see: Winx Club, Strawberry Shortcake). This in turn causes more people to claim that shows like this are too girly for them – and who can blame them? – and we repeat the cycle of providing half-assed, bland cartoons for young girls.
During the flashback sequence, after Twilight reads the spell that leads to the switched cutie marks, Twilight’s narrative voice says, “I cast the spell to find out what it was, but nothing seem to happen. But now I know that something DID happen!” What a cringe-worthy line. I’m reminded of a REALLY awkward moment in part 2 of “The Crystal Empire” premiere. In it, Twilight and Rainbow Dash race down a huge flight of stairs, and Twilight unloads a barrage of exposition to her blue flying friend. I have enjoyed DHX’s animation so far, but there’s some real laziness to this scene. Tara Strong reads that exposition flatly and doesn’t even bother to incorporate heavy breathing, the kind of breathing one might do when talking and sprinting at the same time. The sound effects are repetitive and the shots are uninteresting, with a staircase that seems endless. The episode kind of gets worse from there, and it’s a microcosm of the season as a whole.
I can’t really fault Hasbro for moving the show in this direction. Their hand was forced. Bronies had little to no interest to exploring the other content on the Hub, despite the network’s hope. Bronies more often than not got their fix on Youtube and via other means; sure, some watched them on their DVRs but certainly not enough to satisfy the Hub’s advertisers, who pay millions of dollars for a specific 6-11 demographic.
Here’s the important thing: running a network is not running a toy company. In the past, Hasbro could offset costs between other networks and advertisers and studios to produce a generic toy-based cartoon. Hasbro would put up the money as it kickstarted a toy line, while networks negotiated with advertisers for commercials of cereals and toys, while hiring the cheapest animation studios around to produce mediocre content, simple in every aspect to keep S&P off their backs. It was a win-win all around. But now that Hasbro is running their own network, a toy line isn’t enough. I cringe when people say they buy MLP toys because it’s a moot point; advertisers foot the bill for the show’s production, and not enough bronies watch the Hub to return advertisers’ investments, who WANT 6-11 year-old girls – not 20+ year-old guys – focused on one show.
When someone watches The Simpson, there’s a fairly good chance they’ll watch Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and American Dad. FOX can maximize the Animation Domination shows via crossover appeal and keep a relatively steady audience for a solid two hours, which makes advertisers happy. Bronies had no such crossover appeal, focusing on one show and ignoring the rest. For a while, the Hub tried to cultivate that audience, but I can’t imagine advertisers were happy. Very few members of that adult fanbase delved into the other shows the Hub had to offer, while most of them aggressively courted MLP to more and more extreme directions with their parodies, fan fiction, shipping ideas, mash-ups, and the like. Hasbro had no choice. Bronies were a wonderful ride, but it was time to get serious about making money.
And so the Hub’s crackdown was swift. Hasbro issued Cease & Desists to two of the most promising fan productions – Friendship is Warcraft and Fighting is Magic, both of which run counter to the demographic. The writing was forced into a softer, quieter direction. Rumors abound of a human-based MLP spin-off. I know M.A. Larson, Amy Keating Rogers, Cindy Morrow, Dan Polsky and the rest are capable of better, but with a network breathing down your neck, forcing Crystal Empires and alicorns and princesses and nary an explanation for any of this, I suppose you have to work with what you got.
“Magical Mystery Cure” spends its final six minutes evolving Twilight into an alicorn – a unicorn/pegasus hybrid, and the cast marvel and sing her praises, and I’m not sure where this development comes from. Rainbow Dash happily accepts her as a “flying buddy,” and off-camera, Fluttershy sheds a tear. Rarity walks over and literally says, “Why, you’ve become an alicorn! I didn’t even know that was possible!”, a moment so brilliantly meta that it puts all of Pinkie-Pie’s fourth-wall shenanigans to shame. “Wow, you look just like a princess!” Fluttershy intones, swallowing the pain of Rainbow Dash’s cold neglect of her flying ability. Princess Celestia floats down and confirms it. “That’s because she IS a princess,” she says. She lists off a whole lot of qualities, but they really aren’t “princess” qualities, just qualities that awesome people have. Also, the other characters exhibited those qualities, but don’t expect their coronations any time soon. So I’m not quite sure why they made Twilight, specifically, a princess. Someone suggested that she “deserved it.” Well, sure. Just like every princess in every Disney movie? And we are aware how problematic that is for young girls, right? That idealistic goal of endearing royalty may be based on very strong and powerful lessons and qualities important to young girls, but children should learn these traits because they are simply right – not because they will lead to being a princess.
The ultimate irony is that MLP’s biggest fans led indirectly to this decision. And so we have Princess Twilight “Alicorn” Sparkle, who is essentially “done” with her studies but may have more to learn, or something. A long coronation-singing sequence follows, and everything is perfect. Say, remember season 1’s finale, that ended on a somber but hopeful tone? There’s none of that here, and every moment watching this episode my heart sank lower and lower, knowing full well what Hasbro was doing – pushing people like me away for its intended demo. I give credit to DHX, who animated a visually stunning episode, but I’m saddened by the creators and executives, forced to make such a flat episode as they go in a brand new direction.
I don’t blame the bronies. I don’t blame Hasbro, either. It was, in some ways, fated to happen, a brewing conflict of interest and demographics that forced the Hub’s hand. I truly hope that the brony fanbase finds comfort and excitement in future seasons with Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie-Pie. I’m upset that I won’t be part of this, because the show is no longer interested in courting my demo, even in the broadest attempt. I truly want to like this show, but I just fundamentally disagree with where it’s going. I want to happily recommend this show in all earnestness to other people – I sang its praises happily when the brony phenomenon took off – but I can’t in good conscience make that recommendation knowing that the show is egregiously girly again, with no hint of comic or narrative agency.
Twilight and the cast sing that “Everything Will Be Alright” during the reprieve, a pointed verse that signals a changing of the aesthetic guard while maintaining an air of comfort and familiarity. Everything will be okay, they soothingly sing as pieces are moved into place to make cuter, softer stories for younger and younger audiences. Everything will be just fine, they coo as this past season tools itself to alienate bronies and even causal fans to make way for girls who might stay tuned for that Strawberry Shortcake show or maybe that adorable looking My Littlest Pet Shop. And you know what? They’re right. In the end, everything will be alright, but it’s with a heavy heart that I announce I will not be there in the end with any of them, where Twilight might become, I don’t know, a double Princess or something. Twilight, the geek, the nerd, the adorable, intelligent-but slightly-clumsy pony, who studied hard because she loved magic and her friends and just simply wanted to be better at both, let her hair down and her wings out and got a pretty outfit, and became a princess. Congratulations, my dear, I suppose you did indeed earn it. I just won’t be there for the after-party.
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.