There’s two main ways an episode of DuckTales can get a high grade. The first way is to establish a significant development in an ongoing arc, hitting its dramatic/aesthetics beats with honest fervor, strong pacing, and a satisfying catharsis, positive or negative. The second way is to do a one-off episode that’s running on all creative cylinders, per se: even if the overall story doesn’t advance, the dramatic, comedic, action, and narrative momentum all run smoothly and seamlessly together, with well-executed sound cues, sharp animation, and a great score to tie it all together. But sometimes we get something like “Timephoon!”–an episode that manages to do both those things at once. If last Friday’s episode struggled with some moments because everything seemed off, this episode absolutely made sure everything was on.
“Timephoon!” has what might be Louie’s best idea yet for Louie, Inc.–at least theoretically: use Gyro’s time tub to travel back in time to “take” ancient artifacts before the traps/obstacles are built around them, or to bypass them completely. (Launchpad mentions that this could be misconstrued as stealing, but but the bottom line is that it’s all stealing, traps or no, but let’s not think too much about that). He returns on one particular trip and accidentally brings along Bubba, the infamous caveman from the original DuckTales. And Bubba is fine! He’s a fun, ridiculous character, and they didn’t change him too much from his original version. He’s still weirdly amendable to modern conveniences: skateboards, sunglasses, keytars. But the episode isn’t really about him, save for Huey’s crazed frustration that Bubba’s behavior doesn’t match the research he gathered on caveducks. Instead, this episode is about the time travel fallout of Louie’s scheme: the disruptions in the timeline combined with a dangerous storm are causing characters to randomly jump back and forth into the past/present.
As a regular, typical adventure, it works. It has Louie running a scam that goes out of control, but in a way that he couldn’t really predict, so it doesn’t come off as Louie being a greedy clod. It has the funny B-story of Huey losing his mind over Bubba’s comfort with contemporary bric-a-brac while Dewey and Webby gleefully accept it. It has a natural progression of escalating dangers and problems as more past figures appear in the present and, more horrifyingly, members of the Duck family (and Gyro) start zapping into the past. It has a comfortable degree of self-awareness about the whole thing without getting bogged down in smarminess–both Scrooge and Ms. Beakley recognize immediately the time/space disruptions and jump to figure out how to fix things. And it has the background runner in which Della and Beakley argue over proper parenting, over how to best “discipline” the children, before the small problems they ostensibly cause grow into unwieldy, unmanageable bigger ones.
And that final point ends up being the real kicker to the entire episode. Look, I will be very honest and say that I had some real doubts that the creative team were actually aware of the understated discomfort/hostility that is present between Louie and Della. Or, more accurately, I figured they were treating it as a fleeting side reference that would easily somehow resolve itself by the end of the season with minimal commentary. But “Timephoon!” shows I was wrong. This episode pushes that element a bit more to the forefront: Della, after watching the chaos unfold around her, and watching her other children disappear in a shot of time-electricity, puts her foot down and ends Louie’s pursuits, including Louie Inc. This occurs, mind you, after an episode of watching Della’s lenient responses to the kids’ earlier behavior, and the generalized forgiveness that the rest of the Duck clan bestows on Louie’s actions. In that light, it’s stark and sudden, indicative of perhaps a significant change in Della’s character–but that it’s directly at Louie is telling. So his response, “I wonder who I got that from,” after Della’s accusation that he did what he did without considering the consequences or who he could hurt, absolutely hits hard, because it is, in so many ways, true. It even shocks the rest of the group.
“Timephoon!” works on essentially every level, from its slick and stylish animation (the animators are have so much fun with the facial expressions), to its exciting sequences (the Beakley/Della vs. ninja fight was so damn fun), to the growing tension that’s burgeoning between two rich characters. There’s three more episodes to go in the season–here’s hoping they can end strong!
- One thing that strikes me odd about Bubba is that he very much acts like his original version, but the creators have been vocal about avoiding or tampering down the “lamer” aspects of the original show, like revamping Webby or Doofus, or “mine cart chases.” But by all accounts though, Bubba was/is kind of lame, but for here they kept his original characteristics around. My point is, the kinds of things the creators are changing wholesale versus the things they’re keeping, are feeling more and more arbitrary.
- One really tricky thing DuckTales tries to do is allow its characters to be the bold, endearing, crazed adventurers they are, but at the same time, form narratives around regulating/controlling them (the concept of “a proper adventure” is meaningless if you think about it). Specifically, Louie doesn’t do anything egregiously worse than what Huey or Dewey has done in the past–or Della or Scrooge for that matter. That’s sort of why Louie’s backtalk to Della stings so much. Still, it’s hard to parse the line that DuckTales is trying to place between the kind of adventures that are worthwhile to go on versus the kind that require restrictions of some kind. I think the show is trying to narrow that through the specific opinions and stances of individual characters, but it has yet to commit to it.
- Beakley says a little tough love makes them better people later. When Della asks if that’s true, Beakley responds that it worked on her. But I think the tone of that scene suggests that that’s not true. Is Della a better person? What does it even mean to be “a better person” within a family that’s defined by its embrace of dangerous, crazy adventures? She took Dewey on a death-defying question in the Arctic just a few weeks ago. It’s kind of clunky but admittedly I’m very intrigued where this goes.
- Apologies for the lateness of this review, the internet’s been on and off all day for some reason.