Disney (1991), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (August 7, 2007), 3 discs, 650 mins, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Not Rated, Retail: $34.99
The terror who flaps in the night returns for 27 more action-packed but light-hearted episodes.
The Sweatbox Review:
The Disney Afternoon’s Darkwing Duck flew onto the airwaves in the fall of 1991. Coming out of the terrific success of DuckTales and Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Disney decided to add a superhero flavor to their latest adventure program. To help ensure the show’s acceptance, they also added DuckTales’ Launchpad McQuack as Darkwing’s sidekick, in addition to the requisite child character for the audience to identify with, Darkwing’s adopted daughter Gosalyn. As for Darkwing himself, he was portrayed as a well-meaning everyman named Drake Mallard (Jim Cummings) who fancied himself as the city’s mysterious but valiant protector, with his slouch hat and earnestness making him a cross between The Shadow and a boy scout. The series balanced supervillain fights with family-oriented comedy to become a fairly unique Disney property— and a middling classic to a half-generation’s worth of school kids who enjoyed Darkwing’s exploits every day after school.
The first DVD set included the first 27 episodes by airdate order, and this second volume continues in the same vein. 27 more episodes are evenly spaced between three discs, meaning that most of the original Disney Afternoon episodes are now on DVD. A total of 65 episodes were included in the Disney Afternoon block, the standard number for syndication, comprising a type of “first season” for the show. In fact, though, another thirteen episodes were shown exclusively the same year on ABC before joining their brethren in syndication. The ABC episodes are sometimes referred to as Darkwing Duck’s “second season,” even though the production order was all over the place with both sets of episodes, and there were a number of continuity glitches that show that the “second season” did not truly follow the “first”—such as a different version of Darkwing’s evil self Negaduck being introduced in the ABC episodes despite appearing in different form in numerous Disney Afternoon episodes. Another thirteen episodes aired the following season on ABC, with this “third season” bringing the total number of episodes of Darkwing Duck to 91. That leaves 47 episodes left to go on DVD.
With the episodes in this second volume of Darkwing Duck coming from the same batch as the first, the quality and tone of the series remains fairly consistent. Do not expect too much continuity even within these Disney Afternoon shows, however, as the airdate order has very little in common with the production order. If you look at the first ten episodes on this set, which were episodes 28-37 by airdate order, the production numbers run 27, 23, 41, 46, 43, 55, 42, 49, 26, and 20. To make things more confusing, even the production order leaves little indication of continuity. For example, the character of The Liquidator is introduced with his origin in the episode Dry Hard, which was aired as number 36, with production number of 26; but he had already appeared way back in Just Us Justice Ducks (20/47), and more recently in Life, The Negaverse, and Everything (35/49). So feel free to pick and choose whichever episodes you would like to watch, based on your mood and which characters you like. Don’t worry about what the proper order is, unless you want to do a whole lot of charting.
Uptight continuity considerations aside, this set has a number of interesting stories. The Secret Origins Of Darkwing Duck actually sounds more promising than it turns out to be, with a future story of a familiar-looking museum janitor spinning a wild yarn about the extraterrestrial origins of Darkwing Duck and Negaduck. Life, The Negaverse, And Everything pays off much better, as we see Negaduck ditch the rest of the Fearsome Five before they unwittingly lead Darkwing to Negaduck’s hideout, where Darkwing gets sucked into Negaduck’s home of the Negaverse— an “opposite world” where St. Canard is ruled by Negaduck, and Gosalyn is a sweet, innocent girl. Negaduck appears to meet his ultimate fate at the end of this episode, but don’t fret— he shows up a few episodes later, in Disguise The Limit (where he impersonates Darkwing), without explanation. This latter episode features Dr. Sarah Bellum of S.H.U.S.H. subjecting Darkwing to one of her dangerous inventions (here a shape-changer), and she does so again in Heavy Mental (where she gives Darkwing mental powers).
DuckTales’ supporting cast member GizmoDuck guest-stars in Up, Up, And Awry, where he comes to St. Canard to stop Megavolt but outshines Darkwing in the process. Planet Of The Capes is pretty neat, telling the story of a planet of superheroes looking for one normal guy to protect— that’d be Darkwing. Darkwing Doubloon offers a new twist, a pirate story set in the past with historical versions of Darkwing and Negaduck. Twitching Channels sees Darkwing and Megavolt come to Human World, where Darkwing is only (gasp!) a cartoon show character. Time And Punishment offers a Dark Knight version of a Darkwing who became a whole lot more serious after Gosalyn was lost in time thanks to a time travel device piloted by Megavolt and Quackerjack.
Those unique plots are naturally mixed in with more standard stories of Darkwing challenging more basic enemy schemes. These generally more average shows barely rate individual mentioning, but I did enjoy the episodes that featured Darkwing’s intermittent association with spy agency S.H.U.S.H. In particular, there is In Like Blunt, where Darkwing uncomfortably teams up with S.H.U.S.H.’s greatest agent, Derek Blunt. The final episode on the set is The Darkwing Squad, which tells the story of Agent Grizzlikof’s final stage of disgust with Darkwing Duck. When S.H.U.S.H. leader J. Gander Hooter asks Darkwing Duck to train a group of agents, Grizlikof quits and joins the evil agency F.O.W.L. when he is recruited by Steelbeak.
So, this volume of Darkwing Duck does contain some interesting plotlines, but how’s the execution? To be honest, it could have been better. The main problem is the scripting, which shows a certain rushed quality. Many of the episodes could have benefited from another script polish, as the stories tend to jump around at times and fail to flow smoothly. Of course, this is a matter of direction, too, although I do have to credit the directors with usually good staging of individual scenes. The animation, though obviously television quality in terms of fluidity, is generally quite good, with strong posing and imaginative action, although the characters sometimes seem to move in an overly busy way when they could just be standing and talking. The humor in the show is pretty mild, but amusing. I do have some affection for the show, given its playful take on superheroics, and its fun cast of supervillains; but like other animated series created for syndication, the massive number of episodes being produced in a short period of time does mean the shows come out a little too quickly for their own good.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Disney, in keeping with their other Disney Afternoon sets, has included absolutely no show-based extras on this set. Even the menus are your basic, static jobs. You do get the Sneak Peeks of the month, naturally, but that’s it.
At first glance, the packaging of this set looks pretty nice, in the same format of the other Disney syndicated shows. But once you get past the glossy slipcase and take a closer look at the three slimcases, you do see the same blandness that has hampered the other sets. Artwork looks to be reused promotional images, and the screen captures on the backs of the cases look fuzzy, more in keeping with a bootleg version of the episodes. Episode listings appear on the back cover without any synopses, and the insides of the slimcases are bare. A Disney Movie Rewards insert may be found inside the slipcase.
Ink And Paint:
The video quality is reasonably good, though not wonderful. The prints are clean, and the compression work is solid. However, this is an interlaced transfer with all the usual instability that causes. The colors don’t especially impress, either, having a washed-out look, and the picture could certainly be sharper. Given the colourful palette of the show, it’s too bad the video doesn’t work harder to draw one into the stories.
The audio is good if mediocre. If there is a common theme to the presentation of Darkwing Duck on DVD, it is “average.” Both the video and audio come off a little better than in the DuckTales sets, but neither will set your heart afire. Music and dialog is well reproduced, and there is a small sense of spaciousness in the sound field, but nothing you can’t get from watching cartoons on TV.
There is also a French track, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
You have got to like a show that has this diversity of stories and such a strong cast of super bad guys, and I usually enjoy myself when watching Darkwing Duck. While even the best episodes fail to reach the heights of the best that is out there in cartoonland, the show was good enough to nominated for an Emmy, so you know there is a certain amount of quality present. The scripts could be tighter, but generally the good-natured fun of the show wins me over. Video and audio quality are mediocre, along with the packaging, but fans of the show at least get a large selection of episodes to enjoy.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?