A Fascinating Day In Animation History: Disney’s ‘DuckTales’ (1987 – 1990)

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…woo -ooh

Premiered: September 18th, 1987

As though my childhood was not awesome enough thanks to the annual mind-blowing feature-length films Disney released, a little thing called the Disney Afternoon came out in 1990 that seriously rocked my after-school world. Featuring four half-hour blocks of cartoons, the Disney Afternoon ran on network television in select markets across the country for seven years and DuckTales, a ground-breaking series for future Disney spinoffs, starring Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck’s nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, ran during the first two seasons. The series enjoyed considerable success and continues to be considered a classic cartoon among animation fans.

DuckTales originally premiered in 1987 and then ran in 1989 as part of a one-hour TV block with Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. It was Disney’s first cartoon produced for syndication and its success opened up the money vault for more (and more and more!) shows like TaleSpin, Chip n’ Dale, Gummi Bears, and The Goof Troop. DuckTales is based on the Carl Barks comics that were very popular in the 1940’s and beyond. Carl Barks, know as the “Good Duck Artist,” created Duckburg and Scrooge McDuck and the show borrowed heavily from lots of Barks’ material. One key difference is that Donald is hardly present in the show because the studio executives thought he would take away from Scrooge and be difficult to understand.

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The premise of the show is pretty simple: Donald Duck is being deployed with the Navy and his nephews need to stay with his uncle, Scrooge, while he’s away. Most episodes center around Scrooge’s fortune and how he can protect it (and his “number one dime”) from villains like the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell. Recurring characters include Launchpad McQuack, Webby, and Mrs. Beakley, the nanny. What I love about the themes running through these episodes is that they promote selflessness without dispelling Capitalism. Even though money isn’t as important as his family, Scrooge is never expected to give up all his fortune and businesses to save the environment or anything I’d expect if the show were produced today.

Having watched several episodes in the last few days preparing for this article, I have realized that this is a cartoon that holds up to scrutiny over time. I am impressed with the plot devices, recurring themes and character choices. This is definitely not something I say about every cartoon from my childhood (TMNT) but the Disney Afternoon era toons were well-developed and produced (for the most part.) The animation isn’t always the best, but for a 67 episode series made for television, it’s pretty awesome.

Some interesting factoids about DuckTales include that it spun a spinoff (woo-ooh) in Darkwing Duck and that TaleSpin was originally set to be a spinoff as well. Also, Donald Duck didn’t leave to join the Navy in the comics, but instead accompanies the boys and Scrooge on their adventures. In January 2009, IGN listed DuckTales as the 18th best show in the Top 100 Best Animated TV Shows. Mark Mueller wrote the catchy, memorable theme song for DuckTales as well as my personal favorite, ch-ch-ch Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. The feature film DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was also a hit for the company and still ranks as one of my favorite animated films.

So, life is like a hurricane here is Duckburg, but I enjoyed every bit of that wild ride growing up.

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