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DuckTales wants to say something about the struggle of making connections, but it feels like a con

Screenshot: Disney (DisneyNOW)
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At the very end of “Happy Birthday, Doofus Drake!”, Scrooge says to a distraught Louie, “When you spend all your time looking for an angle, it’s hard to see what’s in front of your face.” It’s an appropriate summary for an episode that seems to spend a lot of time looking for comedic, forced angles within its plot–in which Goldie teams up with Louie to con their way into Doofus’ birthday party and make off with all the gold-and-jewels-filled gift bags–but never bothers to ask or explore the question that’s staring them right in the face: why does Louie feel he needs to find a connection with Goldie when his actual mother is finally back in their lives? This is particularly baffling since the B-story involves Della and Huey forging a (sort of) connection within a videogame.

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There’s a very specific disconnect that’s palpable between Louie and Della; it’s almost as if the green triplet doesn’t believe she’s real and can’t accept she’s really back. That he would reach out to Goldie instead of his mom for mentorship feels like something this episode should have, at the very least, noted. But it doesn’t. Instead, the episode jumps right into pairing off Goldie and Louie, and sending them on their way, which, on paper, is a fine idea. Two characters known for cons and manipulations working together/against each other is rich with potential. Placing them in the midst of Doofus’s myopic, sociopathic orbit, however, is a misstep. OG Doofus was far from a great character, sure, but this version of Doofus is too much, an absolute broken child that both Louie and Goldie should have recognized was too deranged to even bother to try and fleece.

“Happy Birthday, Doofus Drake!” is structured primarily to ring laughs at the sheer strangeness of Doofus and his behavior, which, personally, I could take or leave. The triplets teaming up to take him down in his first appearance at least allowed the three nephews to enjoyably work together; here, it’s an assortment of mediocre villains (Mark Beaks, Glomgold, the Beagle Boys for a hot second) also trying to run off with the riches. Goldie and Louie manipulate Glomgold and Beaks easily, so there’s no pleasure in watching those cons unfold. The jokes are fine, but they never escalate to wring out maximum comic potential. It’s the same kind of jokes we got from Doofus before. There’s a disturbing moment where Beaks’ fake robot son gains sentience and self-destructs in front of everyone, which then gets co-opted into a murderous robot when Doofus starts to figure things out. Goldie and Louie almost screw each other over, but they do save each other, and while Goldie ultimately ends up with all the gift bags, despite Louie’s pain, there’s hints of a certain layer of respect between the two that lingers. Goldie is the kind of person that breaks your heart but not your spirit, which Scrooge is all but used to. Seeing Louie lose that connection is sad, but Goldie just doesn’t have the history with Louie that she does with Scrooge, and, as mentioned before, what about Della?

Screenshot: Disney (DisneyNOW)

Well, back at the mansion, Della and Huey forge their own connection when playing Legends of LegendQuest: Dereznaroth, an Elders Scrolls-like game where all Huey wants to do is farm (valid, honestly). Della wants Huey to be more adventurous within the game, but the sweet part is that she doesn’t force him to. Seeing all her cool adventures outside the dome inspires the red triplet to venture forth, and while that leaves his farm vulnerable and eventually destroyed, seeing his mom in danger compels him to level up all his experience points. He becomes superpowered (cue the cringy “his power level is over 9000!” bit) and saves his mom, but he goes overboard, leaving Della desperately dragging his son away from the game itself. It’s a cute, low-stakes story, providing a few subtle degrees of sweetness to elevate it: the game was something Della played herself, and the encouragement of trying something outside of one’s comfort zone in the safety of a game allows the episode to dabble in its adventurous spirit without pushing Huey too far.

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“Happy Birthday, Doofus Drake!” wants to explore the unique, off-kilter ways connections can be forged, whether through the “don’t get too close” nature of grifting, the digital space of videogames, or even the baffling implementation of a robot brother for someone like Doofus. The fact that these connections don’t work out is part of the point: connections are hard to solidify, to pin down, to make work the way we want. Still, the episode struggles to explore something deeper about these points. For Doofus, sure, there’s nothing there, and it’s good to see him lose half is wealth, but maybe there is something worthwhile in giving him a mechanical sibling/playmate? Huey and Della is certainly a relationship worth looking at, but is gaming the platform through which these two can forge something deeper? And, primarily, the episode seeks to a place Louie and Goldie on the same level of mutual understanding, but it’s difficult to tell if they’re condemning or condoning this (although I don’t think this really matters). But the bigger question is why is Louie choosing Goldie as opposed to his actual mom that has been missing all his life?


Stray observation

  • I didn’t find many of the gags all that funny, which also contributed to the low grade. DuckTales can be hilarious when it wants to be, but the humor here didn’t really click. I think that Doofus is too far gone as a character, so a lot of the jokes are based on how specifically weird he is, which doesn’t have a lot of legs. But if you found this episode funny, I’m genuinely glad you did!
  • Louie and Scrooge wonder why Goldie would bother to save him. Scrooge thinks its because she indeed managed to forge some kind of connection with the triplet (which is indicated by her placing Louie’s photo in her wallet). I personally think it’s because she didn’t want to see a child bashed to death with a baseball bat.
  • Even though using the game to push Huey into more adventurous things is very wholesome, it’s not as if Huey is completely adverse to adventure in general. He usually gets too caught up in rules/details/preparation. That doesn’t mean he’s afraid of danger or taking risks. DuckTales is still struggling with this character. (I did kind of like the line-less arts tyle for the game.)
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About the author

Kevin Johnson

Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.