My favorite animated show tropes of all time are “it’s all in your head” stories, where the setting is either a dream or mental-excursion of sorts, where everything is malleable and changing, and evil forces come across as amorphous and every-present, creepily manifesting in imaginative ways. One of DuckTales strongest elements is when all the children are working together as a group, allowing all the disparate personalities and skillsets to work off each other. So you pretty much won me over by putting both those of those elements together. Add to it the very specific, very unique “makeup” of Lena’s existence, and the result is a very weird, but very enjoyable, dramatically-rich episode.
Truth be told, Lena’s anomalous existence is tricky to wrap one’s head around. She’s real, but she’s a magical manifestation of shadows conjured up by Magica that earned her free will due to the power of friendship. It’s a lot, and the show more or less asks its audience to just roll with it. There’s a certain amount of details this episode also adds into our lap–apparently Lena has stolen all of Magica’s powers now?–but like the previous well-done Lena episode, it never bogs itself down on those details, keeping the story moving and lively with hilarious, terrifying, and meaningful scenes. Lena herself works as a character moreso now than before because her sarcastic, snarky demeanor is used to mask a lot of deep-seated, emotional, traumatic issues (the episode lampshades this a few times), and, more importantly, the show is putting in the work to explore them, not just through the story, but through the use of the animated medium as well. Tanner Johnson’s direction and Emmy Cicierega’s script work extremely well to complement each other.
The entire youthful crew of Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, Lena, and Violet all gather for an epic sleepover, an opportunity for the kids to be kids, which is the cast at its best. Lena, however, is pegged with nightmares, and it’s understandable. She is literally, physically, not like the others. Webby assures her that everything is okay, and often invokes pleas to refrain from secrets. But everyone knows how difficult it is to be open and honest about one’s fears and insecurities, and Lena is plagued with the general fear that deep down, the other kids will never truly accept her as one of the gang–that they will see her as a monster. As the episode plays out across the dream landscapes of each character, Lena indeed starts to exhibit visions and characteristics that haunt her psyche: she grows demon wings, she becomes a wolf, she sees a mascot at grotesque, discomforting angles, she transforms into a monster, etc.
The episode evokes these bursts of visual terror among the idealistic dreams of the other children, which are delightful, strange, and nonsensical all at once. Webby dreams of surviving on a desert island. Dewey sees himself as a perfect student: athletic, popular, smart, and handsome. Louie sees himself as a cat–pampered, lazy, and irresponsible, while Huey, lacking a strong imagination, only sees himself as tall (and not even correctly tall–just rocking elongated legs). One detail I liked his how the triplets were more or less disgusted or annoyed by each others’ dreams: it subtly showed how specifically different they are from another but also how, as brothers, they could freely express their opinions and still function as siblings. Violet’s dream is just a library for reading, which, sure, fits her character, but it’s not much to work with, and it leaves her mostly as an exposition machine to elude over the more... questionable elements of the plot details.
The important thing is though is that Lena is suffering from an anxiety so corrupting and destructive that it threatens to bring back Magica into her life. Again, like the previous outing, Magica as an ever-present toxic force will always weigh on her, pulling at her self-confidence and self-worth, nagging at her about her worthlessness to her new friends, to her very sense of being. It’s Magica that tries to break Lena down again so she can use her, and she comes dangerously close to succeeding. That the power of friendship succeeds again could have come off hokey, but the visuals of that tug-of-war, with Magica on one side, and all of Lena’s friends on the other, is tense and powerful enough to overcome that. And then seeing Magica in real life, sad and pathetic, using a helmet gizmo to invade Lena’s dreams, confirms that she, and toxic, controlling figures like her, are really sad, broken people. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to remove from one’s life. Lena, with the support of her friends, are able to easily dispatch Magica and her helmet, but there’s just... something in how she continues to cling to those bars and spout her self-righteous, evil-incarnate spiel to the heavens. There’s no way we’ve seen the last of her. Monsters like that double-down.
- Is Phooey–the dream-conjured, yellow-clad triplet–from something? It’s a 50/50 split that he’s a reference to a comic, or a made-up idea that only seems like it’s a reference to a comic.
- The montage sequence was really cool, although personally I wish the episode spent a little more time with the characters’ individual dreams, if only to see more inventive, unnerving ways Magica could invade those dreams.
- Between this episode and Steven Universe: The Movie, characters with stretchy noodle-limbs are all the rage!