DuckTales wastes no time in getting into telling more adventurous, thrilling stories–literally, as “The Outlaw Scrooge McDuck” is framed around Scrooge regaling his gold-prospecting days to a bored, disinterested Louie. The green triplet has given up on his business drive after a seeing a long line of five whole people at the patent office, so Scrooge tries to inspire him with a tale of battle of wits and fists over a giant golden nugget back in the Old West. The frame story format is as old as storytelling itself, but cartoons usually have a bit more fun with them, with the kind of jokes in which Louie can call out things like how Scrooge can possibly know what Sheriff Cabrera and time-traveling Gyro were up to several hundred feet away. But other than a few nifty set pieces, the episode more or less just goes through the motions.
Not to say it isn’t a fun episode. It is! The stories of Scrooge prospecting days are an integral part of the character’s history, partly cause it’s a formative part of the character, partly because of it’s where the bulk of his interactions with Goldie have occurred. Yes, Goldie is back, and her rapport with Scrooge works better here than it did in “The Golden Lagoon Of White Agony Plains!” Many people disagreed with me, but I still think that in that episode, Goldie spent too much time praising some ideal of Scrooge. Here, the two are on a more even level, with their sporadic flirtations matching their mutual putdowns, their aggressive, compatible work ethic drawing out their competitive spirits, their manipulations being used for and against each other. It’s grounded (as grounded as animated show can be), so when their dual-digging for the gold nugget transforms into a scheme to get it back from John D. Rockerduck, it all works.
John Hodgman guest stars as Rockerduck, and normally I love Hodgman (he was perfectly cast in the second season of The Tick), but something seems off with his performance here. The comedic timing was perfect, as was the tough talk and the (obvious) conman vibe, but I think the issue is he never really felt like a real threat. The deed issue becomes irrelevant once they decide to rob the train, and other than his treatment of people on board that train, he doesn’t do much of anything else. Lin-Manuel Miranda returns as a sheriff ancestor to Fenton, and I suppose police work runs in his family? Still, he’s a fun addition, especially when Gyro arrives after some typical time-traveling shenanigans of his own. This and yesterday’s episode suggest the show is going to have a lot of causal, nutty fun with bringing in a random grab bag of established characters into its stories and letting them fly. Honestly, I am down for that.
That being said, “The Outlaw Scrooge McDuck!” is ultimately light on laughs and light on narrative tension. Seeing Scrooge and Goldie “together” is enjoyable, and I guffawed when Scrooge straight-up took Rockerduck out in two seconds flat. Beyond that, the episode just does what it needs to do: Scrooge and Goldie compete, then team up to take back the gold nugget from Rockerduck. The stakes never quite reach too high and the obstacles never become seemingly insurmountable–the train robbery goes smoothly all things considered, and even Jeeves makes for an unfortunately weak end boss (more on that in the Stray Observations). Gyro’s appearance is convenient, if somehow plausible; Sheriff Cabrera’s willingness to let them out of jail is less so (he may have realized he was conned by Rockerduck, but nothing really suggests he ought to trust these other two/three ducks: one started a fight, one manipulated everyone, the third appeared out of nowhere.) Still, it’s a rootin-and-tootin fun time, a solid window into Scrooge’s past, and it’s approached with a low-key sincerity that’s absolutely gold.
- The battle with Jeeves in the train car housing the nugget looked so great, with the red highlights and shadows providing a dark, sinister edge to it. I was less enamored by how Scrooge escaped–by appealing to his salt-of-the-earth, workman respectability in regards to being exploited by Rockerduck, only to then give him a minuscule piece of gold. Somehow, this works out, despite the fact there’s a giant nugget of gold involved. I don’t know, this felt kind of lazy.
- Gyro bathtub time machine makes an appearance, which he used many times in the original show.
- The episode ends with the gold nugget shattering, a disappointment to Scrooge at first, but who ends up making a whole panning business from it. It’s meant to inspire Louie, but he ends up calling Goldie to get some coaching on how to operate his company “more shiftily.” I don’t know how much mileage the show can get out of “Louie wants to build a company but is lazy about it” in the long run, but I guess we’ll see!
- As always, drop your comic knowledge about the comics, especially any good tidbits about about Rockerduck!