Epitosodes: Duck Dodgers

Duck Dodgers

By Magellan

The Episode

Season: 1
Episode: 9
Title: “The Green Loontern”

The Review

If I were to compose a list of my favorite television shows, it would have a healthy mix of Mad Men-style period dramas, quirky sitcoms from the 00s, and Warner Brothers cartoons like Animaniacs and Justice League that are smarter than they have any right to be. 2003’s Duck Dodgers covers all three. It follows the zany day-to-day adventures of a deeply sardonic and manipulative protagonist who must make his way through a highly stylized world that wants to do anything but accept him for who he is (Don Draper = DuckDodgers, see the connection?). Oh, also he’s an anthropomorphic duck who flies through space with his pig sidekick.

For those who don’t know, Duck Dodgers is based on a Merry Melodies cartoon from 1953 entitled “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” (watch it here, it’s delightful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqAUiUDyFlY). Or, in a sentence, it’s Daffy Duck in space. That short film on its own is one of the more fun takes on Daffy that I’ve seen (matched perhaps by “Duck Amuck”), and Duck Dodgers runs with it. The show is wall-to-wall classic Looney Tunes-style slapstick and wordplay, along with biting science fiction parody.

The episode that I’ve chosen to focus on, “The Green Loontern,” is a bit of a special case. It deviates from the standard Duck Dodgersformula, telling a full-episode story rather than two ten-minute-long stories. It’s also much more iconic and memorable than most episodes, if only because of the DC Comics crossover. Now, I didn’t pick this episode to focus on because it’s the funniest (it isn’t) or because it’s the smartest (it isn’t) but because the way in which this episode shakes up the Dodgers status quo helps to elucidate just what makes that status quo so great.

First, let’s run down the plot. It starts off in typical Duck Dodgers fashion, with Dodgers leading the Cadet (aka Porky Pig in a space onesie) around town as he does errands. The brief minute or so that we see of this does a great job of establishing Duck Dodgers as an endearing jerk who just wants to make sure that the Cadet doesn’t put any of his things down on “the filthy sidewalk.” Eventually, Dodgers has to go pick up his dry-cleaning, which is when the story kicks into gear.

The cleaner’s seems to have had a mix-up, as Dodgers finds himself with a uniform much different and greener than his own. He tries the baggy number on, and finds that it magically fits his form when he dons the glowing ring that comes with it. Dodgers has now gained the powers of a Green Lantern, which leads to a delightful sequence as he tries out his newfound abilities around the city. Every line out his mouth in this sequence is pure gold (my favorites: “Time to mete out some sophomoric justice,” and “Whoa, check out the serious babe-age!”), and I could watch Daffy Duck fly around as a Green Lantern for hours.

“The Green Loontern” begins to lose me, however, when the crossover becomes more exaggerated. After Dodgers hangs the Cadet off a flagpole by his industrial-strength underpants, he’s whisked away to the Green Lantern base planet of Oa by a distress call. The planet is being ransacked by Sinestro (or, as Dodgers calls him, “Say-what-stro”) and an army of robots. The attack leaves three Lanterns and Dodgers to formulate a counter-attack and free the other members of the Corps. Although there are certainly some great moments of comedy thanks to how little Dodgers knows or cares about the Lanterns Corps. (take, for example, his version of the Green Lantern Oath:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfO5S1Iu_VU), the entire sequence on Oa, and the rest of the episode, smacks of tonal dissonance.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to criticize a children’s cartoon for mishandling its tone, but this particular cartoon is clever enough that I feel it’s warranted. My issue with the episode lies in the way it plays the classic straight-man/funny-man relationship. Normally, Dodgers has the Cadet or Marvin the Martian to act as his straight-men, characters who are, on some level, just as ridiculous as he is. The Cadet cleans up all of Dodger’s messes, but he does so while talking in that hilarious, stuttering, Porky Pig way. When Dodgers is forced to interact with and play off of characters that are more grounded in real-world reality and consequences, the formula begins to tear at the seams.

That’s not to say that superheroes are real, but they do care more about realism in terms of danger and consequence than cartoons. If Duck Dodgers were on any other mission, he could get blown up or disintegrated and stand up to do the next scene. In the world of the Green Lanterns, however, every threat has to be de-clawed in order for him to cope with them. The ray beams have to teleport people rather than injure them, the robots have to be given dopey personalities so that they can squabble about robot high school rivalries, and Sinestro has to be rendered no more intimidating than your corny uncle in a Sinestro costume. Mixing these two worlds has the doubly troublesome effect of cutting out the slapstick half of Dodger’s shtick, as well as neutering Sinestro and the Lantern Corps. in order for everything to mesh.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Even though it was cheesy, I thought the Dodgers-Sinestro banter was hilarious. And, like I said, everything on Dodgers’s home world with the Lantern ring was classic in its charm and rapid-fire pace. All I’m trying to say is that there’s a lesson to learn here about blending worlds together and about adding well-known and specific rules to an otherwise zany and off-the-cuff cartoon universe. When you mix two properties together, you should think of it less as a liquid concoction and more as slicing two balls in half and sewing part of each together. No matter what you do, you’re losing fifty percent of what makes each universe special and compelling, so it’s vital that you pick two worlds that end up complementary. Some mash-ups are like a tennis ball and baseball, a sort of Frankenstein that you can get away with and still play either game passably well. This episode was more like a stitched together basketball and football. It’s amusing, and you can probably still have a lot of fun with it, but first you have to spend twenty minutes figuring out how to handle the damn thing.

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Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Wayne’s World is Lackadaisical

Wayne's WorldBy Magellan

About the Film

Year: 1992
Cast: Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

About the Word

Definition: lack·a·dai·si·cal  [lak-uh-dey-zi-kuhl] adj. – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic

The Review

I tend to skew fairly positive with this column, to the point where I annoy myself at times at how easily I fall into the trap of blindly praising a film for its obvious merits. In a way, I think that’s because it’s simply more fun to be positive, to find things to love in the world rather than critique.

The word “lackadaisical,” then, could portend a sea-change for Silver Screen, Silver Tongue, given its neutral-to-negative connotation. One could use the word as an indictment against Wayne’s World, a movie which glorifies the slacker mentality to an unhealthy degree. And, certainly, there were times watching this movie (revisiting it after several years) when I was underwhelmed by it, to the point that I could have easily scoffed and called the whole effort “lazy.” Many of the jokes are meaningless sight gags or references (the random room full of training men in the donut shop and the Terminator cop who pulls Wayne over, to name only two of many) that do nothing to advance the plot or investigate the characters. What few female characters presented here are either “Babraham Lincoln”s or “psycho hose beast”s. Rob Lowe’s character from the first scene of the movie to the last is nothing but pure, snake-oil evil.

And yet, I love Wayne’s World, so I’m going to steer this review towards a Mega Happy Ending (or a Scooby Doo Ending, depending on how things go). After all, this is an SNL spin-off from 1992. If I wanted meaningful storytelling or nuance, I came to the wrong place. So really, to call this film lackadaisical would seem to miss the point: that it’s just a comedy movie meant to tide you over for an hour and a half and squeeze out a couple of laughs. Then, why do I insist on using that word? Why do I insist on condensing this film down to one word that roughly translates to “lazy?”

It goes beyond the fact that Wayne and Garth are slacker supermen, the likes of which hadn’t been seen to such dazzling effect since Bill & Ted had their excellent adventure. It goes beyond the fact that the “Fight the Man” message is so overwrought and cheesy. It goes beyond the fact that our protagonists can just speak into camera or learn Cantonese whenever they need to in order to drive the plot. The beauty of Wayne’s World is that it makes no effort to put on airs; it makes no effort to be something that it’s not. It does so little to separate itself from the slang, the music, and the social mindsets of its time that in so doing it becomes timeless. It becomes a loving, immaculate capsule of everything that was suburban 1992.

From the very first scene, Wayne’s World takes a firm stance (or whatever you call the opposite of firm stance that still makes a point) in its timeliness. We open on a couple lying in bed, watching TV, flipping through commercials. They pass by everything you would expect: an ad for an arcade with Sonic the Hedgehog playing in the background, an ad for Chia Pets, and an ad for the ubiquitous Clapper. Immediately after these, the woman on the bed flips to Wayne’s World, the show within the movie, with a look of utter glee. Here the film is planting itself firmly in the canon of early-90s culture. Hell, they even make a reference to a Grey Poupon mustard commercial within the first act.

Perhaps it isn’t much of a stretch or even much of a headstrong move, since by this time people were well-aware of the SNL sketches and were quoting them left and right. The catchphrases that cycle throughout Wayne’s World (“Chyeah,” “No Way! Way!”, and of course “Schwing!”) had already permeated the parlance of the time. This movie is nothing but an affirmation of that.

I feel like I still haven’t communicated what I’m trying to get at here: this movie is “lackadaisical” in that it opens with a pre-existing reputation for its characters. It has brought in an audience which is already familiar with who they will be dealing with, and then proceeds to give the audience those exact characters, unchanged, throughout the movie. It doesn’t expect the audience to criticize it for this move, or even care. It’s a hell of a triumph, to string people along through a largely pointless joke-fest like this and still be regarded as a time-honored classic. That’s the subversive beauty of Wayne’s World: decrying, on its surface, artistic bankruptcy and corporate monotony, while itself being nothing more than a repackaging of old jokes and an extension of the entertainment juggernaut that is SNL.

Am I giving Wayne’s World too much credit? Of course I am. Like I said, it’s more fun to see the beauty and the positive in things. Some people may view this film as lazy and trite, but I view it as lackadaisical. It’s possessed of a sort of laziness that belies mental acuity. It’s the kind of laziness that isn’t these performers’ (at least, not Dana Carvey’s) ground state. If you still don’t buy what I’m selling here, let me sum it up in two quotes from Garth and two from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I’ll start with Garth. He offers two great moments of wisdom in this film, the first being at the beginning when Wayne is looking in on a guitar he wants to buy. Garth proclaims “Stop torturing yourself, man, you’ll never afford it! Live in the now!” That may seem vapid on paper, but it’s the emotional heart of the movie. It’s the reason everything is so stuck in its time. That quote epitomizes how Wayne’s World manages to turn the tragic flaw of many great films (looking dated) into its cardinal virtue.

Another one from Garth, which requires you to hear his tone, is when he and Wayne are lying on the hood of the car at the airport and he says “Sometimes I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” Mind you, there isn’t a lick of sadness or defeat in that statement. Instead, it’s a pitch-perfect representation of suburban contentedness, the kind of blissful ignorance that petrifies song upstart intellectuals and drives them to the metropolis. Here, though, that fatalist fear of being stuck in a rut is humanized in the form of our protagonists. We’re shown that knowing who you are and not bothering to change can be a beautiful thing.

I promised a little Queen, and I’ll deliver. Now, most people may just think of the headbanging “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene as a fun moment that doesn’t have much substance. For me, though, that moment is the true introduction of the film’s thesis. By invoking the innocence and enthusiasm of its main characters, Wayne’s World takes the tragedy of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and reinterprets it, turning it into a ballad for the slacker, a glorification of being of the time and in the moment, and refusing to go above and beyond for any reason. Much like this article, it is a moment that pushes aside the negative in an almost comical search for positivity. The two lines that stuck out to me the most were when Mercury sings “Easy come, easy go,” and “Nothing really matters to me.” In the song proper, both of these moments are profoundly sad and defeatist, but when Wayne and Garth sing them with bright eyes and wide smiles, you can’t help but feel happy to just not give a damn about anything.

As the credits roll, Wayne and Garth reappear on screen, and Wayne says “Well, that’s all the time we had for our movie. We hope you found it entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that belied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter,” to which Garth responds “I just hoped you didn’t think it sucked.” There’s really no better way to say it than that. Wayne’s World is lackadaisical.

Diaries from the Multiverse: Super Crate Box

Super Crate BoxThis installment’s trans-dimensional transmission comes from a troubled individual, a Sisyphean figure trapped eternally in a wartime purgatory, sandwiched between the fires below and the hordes of murderous enemies above. Join us, won’t you, as we step into the world of Vlambeer’s 2010 freeware platformer, Super Crate Box…

By Magellan

(Diary of Salvador Crowley, Year Unknown)

I woke up on the girder again. You know the one, propped up on beams and straddling that inexplicable, bottomless furnace. This makes…well, to be honest, I lost count a long time ago. As far as I know, it’s been years since I’ve woken up on anything that wasn’t that girder, on anything warm, or soft, or safe.

The fire is still warm, I can tell you that. I jumped into it again yesterday morning (of course, it’s always light out, so who knows what that word means anymore), to see if it would kill me. No such luck, as usual, only another morning with my face on cold metal. There was that nice moment of empty blackness in between jumping in and waking up where I forgot how to think, but that was mostly the unimaginable pain of burning alive that helped clear my mind. It’s therapeutic, I guess, but it’s not enjoyable.

Today I think I’ll fight for a while, stay sharp, y’know? I’m itching for a good scuffle, besides, and this time I think I can beat my record. Plus, when you fight back, you don’t know when the pain’s gonna come. I still haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not.

What am I fighting for, anyway? Is it pride? Is it entertainment? Do I still think I can escape? Do I just want to avoid the pain? What is existence without an end?

And for God’s sake, what are they building here?! Seriously, I’ve been jumping around all over these platforms like a drunk monkey for years now and I’ve seen thousands of monsters, but never a single construction worker. This must be quite a blemish on this city, to have towering skyscrapers for blocks and blocks, and then some half-finished framework of a building crawling with beasts and heavy weaponry. If I lived in this city, I’d write a letter to my councilman or something. Lord knows these bazookas aren’t free, and I’m throwing them away left and right like Kodak disposable cameras. If that’s not a misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, I don’t know what is.

And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the questions I have about this place. Like, where are all of these monsters coming from? Obviously, I know they’re dropping down from the opening in the sky, but how are there so many of them? Is there some kind of green beast assembly line feeding them down to me from a breeding farm upstate? And why is it that they can pass through the fire unscathed (empowered by it, in fact) and I can’t even touch the stuff without surrendering to ungodly agony?

What if they’re conscripted infantry? What if, like me, these poor creatures are being bound by forces beyond their control to relive the same inscrutable torment, day after day, year after year, facing inevitable death at the hands of a gun-toting lunatic? What if I, after all of this, I am the monster, the beast that serves as the engine of their eternal Hell?

What if – oh crap, I just shot myself with my own disc gun. That…that’s pretty embarrassing. I uh…you forget how much it hurts to be bisected by a razor-sharp metal disc until it happens to you. It’s really quite a shameful way to go. And…yup, I woke up on the girder again.

If you enjoy Super Crate Box stay tuned to the Pop Modern YouTube channel, where this week I’ll be starting a series of streams of my run-throughs with miscellaneous commentary, called “Super Crate Talks.”