At this point, we’re just going to have to accept that DuckTales just doesn’t really do great cold opens. The sequence before the opening credits (and really, a good portion of the first act) tend to be too enamored with dropping as many jokes, references, and clumsy exposition as possible, and it just kind of comes off awkward. It opens with Donald and Lena just... sitting there. Scrooge and the nephews then burst in carrying treasure from what looks to be a Jack and the Beanstalk-type adventure, and it feels like another one of the show’s metagags about adventuring–a whole lot of talk about the adventure they went on instead of, you know, actually watching and experiencing it. There’s talk on how Scrooge’s adventures causes so much damage and destruction, part of the show’s critical lens on the idea of adventuring as a whole, but also, there’s the the sudden introduction of Webby and Lena’s sleepover, which comes off odd since we haven’t seen Lena in weeks (part of that may be the erratic airing of the episodes, but still). Also, Donald just disappears. Beginnings still are a weak point of this show.
Luckily though, the action gets going relatively quickly within that first act, versus the show’s typical third act twist, and honestly, it makes the show so much stronger . It’s the kind of narrative improvement that allows you to accept the long exposition between Lena and Magica, which explains the set-up (a weird gem melts into a homing beacon inside Scrooge’s money bin while it looks for his number one dime, and then becomes a money shark). You can also accept the random decision for the nephews to swim in the money bin. It’s just to get the boys there and trigger the action, even though the show established that they can’t physically swim in the coins (Louie lampshades this when “announcing” Dewey’s dive). But in getting to the action and the story sooner than later, the stakes immediately rise, the audience is drawn into the episode, and is more willing to laugh at the jokes and allow for narrative shortcuts.
Colleen Evanson’s script moves at a brisk pace once Dewey gets swallowed up, and the excuses to not to go for help work better here than in “McMystery at McDuck McManor” (the kids being scared of Scrooge’s reaction more than their missing brother sort of works, coupled with Lena’s manipulations to stay undercover). With Launchpad’s help, they steal Donald’s boat and set sail in Scrooge’s ocean of money, and the Jaws’ parody is underway. The specific parody is only about one-third of the episode, and it’s more tense than jokey, especially as more and more of the characters are swallowed whole AND the fact that the shark grows bigger. The Jaws template allows for solid jokes and rising action (you have to go out of your way to screw up such a well-trodden story), and, again, Evanson smartly moves away from it once the shark breaks out of the bin and grows... legs.
The script also brings that A-story and Scrooge’s B-story together much more smoothly than episodes past. Scrooge is forced to sit down with a reporter after the board of directors get tired of the bazillionaire’s antics causing so much damage (that is, bad PR) to the town. This part of the story feels like a follow-up to the reveal that Scrooge owns the land that Duckburg sits on, and while that fact isn’t explicitly brought up here, the broad tensions that exist between Scrooge and the citizens of the city is. Scrooge comes off somewhat like a villain here–the episode tries to mitigate this by bringing in Glomgold as a point of comparison, but at this point Glomgold is just too overplayed. Scrooge’s adventures are a scourge on the city, a tension made more tenuous over the fact that he all but owns it. At some level McDuck clearly believes he’s entitled to do what he wants because of this, and because he ultimately funnels his financial victories back to the city, even if his actions, say, almost destroys an orphanage (I’ll leave it up to you if you suspect there’s more to read from this). Scrooge’s PR blunders are salvaged when the money shark appears and the citizens arrive to snag all that falling money for themselves, the reporter playing it off as a charitable contribution to the people. Like in the last episode, there’s a lot going on here, and I’m not sure if the writers are aware of it, but “Jaw$!” implies that, maybe they are.
And I wrote a lot about everything but the story’s main focus–the developing friendship between Lena and Webby, and the dark secrets that Lena is hiding. “Jaw$!” does a solid job establishing Lena’s internal conflict: her desire to be “a typical kid” and hang out with Webby, and perform the manipulative ugly work foisted upon her by her Aunt Magica to earn her freedom from her. There’s a lot of backstory here that most likely will be revealed later–How did Magica get trapped to Lena in the first place? What is Lena’s relationship to magic, as it seems to respond pretty powerfully to even lame ideas like “friendship is the most powerful magic of all?” What is the nature of the centuries-old feud between the McDucks and the de Spells? Also, centuries?–but for now, it’s the old story about trust, friendship, and integrity, with Lena trying to “play” both sides. It’s all fairly tragic and dark, the show pushing back against the trope of a moody teen to show someone who really wants to be free from an overbearing and dangerous parental figure and have fun and true friends for once. But “Jaw$!” ends with Lena removing her friendship bracelet and letting it magically burn up in the water, still trapped under her aunt’s shadow, which not only leaves the burgeoning friendship between those young duck girls up in the air, but also raises the question–who is trapped with whom?
- No screeners for this episode, which is why the review dropped late, apologies! Not sure if I’ll be getting them in the future but I’ll be looking into it.
- I don’t say as much about the animation as I should but I definitely have to give props to director Matthew Humphreys and the visuals in this episode. The shadow-movements of Magica are creepy and fluid without being off-putting. The money shark is a really gorgeously rendered beast, and I especially love the red shading that flows over a panicking Dewey before he finds himself engulfed in the shark’s mouth. That last point is a powerful and great visual shift in the momentum of the episode.
- Props to the episode also avoiding a variation of “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” Instead it opts to play off the specific moment that comes before that catchphrase (warning, there’s cursing in that link).
- Catherine Tate, arguably one of the strongest nu-Who companions, voices Magica. A pretty large change of pace from June Foray’s iconic portrayal, Tate does fine but we don’t really get a sense of Magica’s character quite yet.
- Not since “Woo-oo” have we seen Huey, Dewey, and Louie act like a weird but warmly familiar group of triplets; the little play-acting they have with each other before Dewey dives into the money was so sweet and perfect. There’s a sense that these boys have done similar things like this before, establishing odd songs and playful stories about each other over the years. More of that please. We don’t get a lot of scenes of the boys just being together.
- Also, I’m not sure why the show established Launchpad and Dewey as a “team” but it works, as it gets the crash-happy pilot on board to rescue his friend.
- Not bringing Donald into this episode? Bummer. But I just really like Donald.