We, Robots! (Part 17): There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow?

This week, we return to elements from the heyday of the Disney Afternoon and concurrent Saturday morning telecasting, for more robotic adventures from some favorite, and a few forgotten, animated stars of the period. Unfortunately, we can’t get embeds for most of these… you’ll just have to enjoy my written synopsis.

Much of Disney’s writing during this period was typically top-notch, with solid character designs and concepts and the occasional clever plot twist. However, as will be seen in some of the last material discussed this week, there were also times when writers were essentially “forced into a corner” on less-than-choice projects, and struggled to find some avenues for creativity, making us not envy the long, labor-intensive hours that they probably endured in hashing-out plot ideas for characters with limited appeal who could hardly be classified as inspirational.

Robocat (Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, 10/20/89) – Dale fritters away spare time of the Rangers between missions among the discarded items from a local electronics shop, where Gadget is assisting him in removing the glitches from a cast-away video cartridge. Inside the shop, the owner is tinkering with something new of his own – a robotic cat mouse-trap, as yet in prototype stage and thus devoid of fur. Its metal framework consists in part of a toaster as a torso, and a cannister vacuum cleaner for a hip region (the vacuum unit providing the robot’s on/off switch). The inventor activates the prototype, to see if it can seek out and catch a mouse. Monterey Jack observes this activity, and wisely recommends that this looks like an appropriate time for the rangers to head home. But the cat has caught the scent of the cheese-loving rodent, and quickly corners him in a small space between several wooden crates. The cat uses its powerful metal jaws to chew away at the surrounding crates to widen a path to reach Jack. Zipper provides an escape for Jack, by loosening a spring from an old sofa, which Jack throws into the cat’s jaws, rendering him unable to keep his mouth shut.

Chip and Gadget get the cat tripped up on the wire of Dale’s video joystick, and the Rangers safely escape. The inventor gives up at the prototype’s failure, and tosses the shut-off kitty out in the trash. Gadget feels sorry for it, believing that is no way to treat an invention. She believes that with a little reprogramming, she could convert it into a nice kitty. “No such animal”, says Jack, and Chip is equally convinced the thing is a killer. But Gadget believes she can use the software from Dale’s video cartridge – a game in which a cat plays a hero – to give the robot a new personality. Taking the robot back to ranger headquarters, she modifies the toaster to serve as the insertion point for the video cartridge, then activates the kitty’s on/off switch. The robot awakens, with a light-hearted voice and a stated desire to make friends. Jack asks it what its feelings are about mice, and the cat is unable to describe them – as it now possesses no knowledge what a mouse even is. Deciding it likes Jack, the robot concludes it must like mice in general. Monty is relieved, but Chip is still skeptical, believing that any short circuit might cause the critter to turn killer again. Gadget and Dale hold firm in believe that they have converted the cat to good, and listen with interest as the cat expresses its own wish that it had fur like a real cat, so that it would be accepted and loved. The chipmunks and Monty search local trash bins in hope of something turning up to serve as the needed fur covering.

Meanwhile, Fat Cat and his henchmen have had a rough night. Fat Cat desires an ultra-rare tropical fish in a snooty rich man’s mansion for a gourmet dining experience. But he and his henchmen have been defeated and ejected from the premises by a watchful bulldog. A family disagreement occurs simultaneous with the theft attempt, between the rich man and his small son, who desires a pet cat instead of fish and bulldog who he can’t pet or play with. The father is highly allergic to cats, and not only breaks into sneezes during Fat Cat’s robbery attempt, but points out how dangerous to his precious fish the presence of a cat would be. In the back alleys, Fat Cat chews out his assistants for another bungled job, insisting he needs a cat who is fearless of the likes of a bulldog, and impervious to danger. At the same time, the robot cat spots him in the alley – and admires Fat Cat’s ample oversupply of paunchy fur. The two meet, and Fat Cat sees amazing possibilities in a cat made of metal – for use in his crimes. Learning of the robot’s desire for fur covering, Fat Cat invites the robot to his lair, then fools the robot by advising him that he must be momentarily shut down in order to install a fur coat. Once the robot is deactivated, Fat Cat inspects him to see what makes him tick – and discovers the game cartridge in his central controls. An idea hatches – and Fat Cat’s henchmen are sent to the toy store, to acquire the most violent video game they can find. They return with a war game, which is loaded Into the robot’s toaster frame. The cat’s eyes return to their original fiery red, and the feline takes orders for destruction like an obedient military lieutenant. In reactivating the robot, Fat Cat accidentally breaks the vacuum on/off switch, but decides it matters little, sine there’s no reason to ever shut the robot off again.

Another heist is attempted. This time, the cat’s threatening paw swipes and violent nature send the bulldog into cowering hiding, and the fish is pilfered by the robot (who cleverly uses a rubber glove to avoid short-circuit from the water of the aquarium). Fat Cat sets himself for a dinner to remember at his lair, while his henchmen wait for the fish to swim in marinade for several hours. Meanwhile, the Rangers are combing the town in search of the wandering robot, for whim Gadget feels responsible. They encounter the bulldog, ordered by his master to track down the fishnappers, and compare notes, learning of the theft by the robot cat. Gadget can’t understand what could have made the robot change personality again, but a description from the dog indicating Fat Cat was also in attendance provides every suspicion of his nefarious intermeddling. The Rangers seek out Fat Cat’s hideout. Dale is cornered by the robot, while Gadget clings to his electrical-cord tail and climbs aboard the cat’s back. Seeking the on/off switch, she finds the control broken. Jack and Chip lasso the cat’s neck from the ranger plane, distracting him long enough for Gadget to get to the toaster and cause the handle to pop-up, ejecting the video game. The cat is deactivated once again, and Gadget discovers the cartridge swap. While the cat’s threat is temporarily neutralized, the Rangers turn their attention to rescuing the fish, pushing the bowl of marinade to a sink’s edge and emptying its contents down the drain, including the fish. Fat Cat and his gang are halted by a catapulted custard pie, long enough for the Rangers to make their getaway. Now, they must trace where the drain lets out, which leads to the city sewers. Dale finds his old game cartridge while within Fat Cat’s lair, and reinserts it in the robot’s toaster, reactivating the cat in “good” mode. With Dale riding atop the cat’s back, the cat leads them to the sewer, where the rescue plane also follows through an opening at a curb gutter. En route, the rescue plane also hails the bulldog below, who brings his master and the boy to the sewer opening. The master is not able to fit inside, but the boy just manages to enter, and pursues the Rangers and the robot cat after the fish, following their path by walking atop a line of piping along the wall. A section of pipe breaks, and the boy almost plummets into the rushing water – but is saved by the heroic robot. Chip and the rescue plane meanwhile overtake the fish just before she disappears down a whirlpool, and grab her tail to carry her into the air. Everyone comes out of the scrape okay – even the cat, who was almost short-circuited by the water during the rescue. The reactivated cat surprises the boy back at home, entering not only sound and in one piece, but with a full coat of fur. Where did the fur come from? From a toupee the boy’s dad has sacrificed, in recognition of the cat’s heroism. The father is now satisfied to have a cat around the house. After all, a metal cat is one to which the dad cannot claim any allergy.

Does Pavlov Ring a Bell? (Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, 12/2/89) – In search of a recharge for a dead battery on Gadget’s latest creation (a fan-propelled shateboard), Gadget makes a new acquaintance outside a laboratory – a lab mouse (dressed in scientist’s lab coat) named Sparky. He has been the subject of experiments where electrical charges have been used as stimulus to induce him into reflexive “action without thinking”, and is charged with enough accumulated voltage that a mere touch of his hands to the contacts recharges the battery. Gadget believes she and the scientific rodent communicate on the same wavelength (despite the shock treatment having taken its toll on Sparky, who suffers from recurrent short-term loss of memory), and becomes fast friends with him – much to the frustration of Chip and Dale, who are currently unencouraged rivals for Gadget’s affections. The chipmunks follow Gadget when she is invited by Sparky for a tour of his laboratory. There, she meets a guinea pig (Buzz), who is expert at running a giant maze of hamster-style tubes set up within the laboratory, at the sound of audio prompts provided by Sparky in the form of various alarms. Each goes through their resective motions in a trance-like state, putting the “action without thinking” principle into full effect. Chip and Dale are discovered, and cover for their presence by claiming they are there to run the maze. Monterey Jack also appears, having spied on the boys and realizing they are really there to pry into Gadget’s affairs, and enters the maze behind them, with intent of dragging them home. But the three quickly realize they have no idea how to navigate the confusing transparent paths, getting shock current after shock current for traveling the wrong way. To make matters worse, Sparky’s genius “master” returns to the lab – and is none other than recurring nemesis of the Rangers, Professor Nimno. Chip, Dale, and Jack know that if Nimno discovers them in the maze, they’re sunk. Gadget solves the dilemma by acquiring a piece of cheese from Sparky, and having Zipper waft its aroma into the maze with his wings. Jack experiences one of his reflexive “Ch-h-eese” reactions, and carries Chip and Dale in a beeline past several electric shocks in the fastest path to the exit. “I always said cheese gives me a charge”, says Monterey.

The whole maze and alarm setup turns out to be a plot by Nimno to rob banks. He has devised an oversize robot in the shape of a Guinea pig, with a cockpit to hold Buzz inside, who is there equipped with an electronic cap to wear, and a treadmill to run upon. Buzz reflexively sets himself as if to run the maze again. The maze, however, was really a scale model of the city’s sewer system, which Buzz is intended to run via the larger robot in real scale to the destination of the bank to be robbed. Several plot points get convoluted at this juncture, and are difficult to explain. First, the treadmill is insufficiently designed, merely of standard mode to roll in one direction – so how does the robot negotiate right and left turns? Secondly, there seems to be no functional reason for Sparky to be left by Nimno at the bank, to sound the alarm system when Nimno blows a whistle into the bank’s answerphone system after hours. How would Buzz hear the alarm so far away? And wouldn’t the cops be just as programmed to respond to the alarm first?

Nevertheless, Chip and Dale tail Nimno and Sparky to the bank, while Gadget and Jack ride in the robot cockpit with Buzz, and everybody makes their way to the bank. The robot uses powerful jaws to chew through the steel vault door (quite an invention in and of itself). But Chip and Dale interrupt the robot’s actions by grabbing an alarm clock from a bank-officer’s desk, and setting off a new alarm. Buzz drops what he is doing, and begins following the alarm clock. The chipmunks race outside, discover Nimno lying in wait around the corner for the bank loot, and toss the alarm clock into his pocket, The robot follows at full bound. Rather than having any means planned for shutting the robot off, Nimno flees, with the robot in pursuit. Eventually, when the clock runs down, Sparky and Buzz desert Nimno, signing up for respectable lab jobs at MIT. Chip and Dale admit their past jealousy, but Gadget assures them with a kiss that nobody could replace them in her thoughts. The episode ends with the chipmunks arguing over whether Gadget’s compliment was intended more for Chip, or for Dale.

Star Crossed-Circuits (Darkwing Duck, 10/3/92) – Darkwing is eagerly anticipating opening his latest shipment of high-tech goodies and secret weapons from S.H.U.S.H., but has difficulty spreading such spirit to his associates Launchpad, Gosalyn, and Honker, who are glued to the TV set, embroiled in the emotional tirades of a spurned lover on their favorite soap opera, “The Young and the Brainless”. The largest crate contains the D-2000 super computer. The device can store 92 trillion bits of information, operate vehicles remotely, posit theories, and even program your VCR. Darkwing is impressed, especially by the last-mentioned ability. The device is set up in Darkwing’s tower-bridge headquarters, but contains multiple hovering pod units with robotic arms and voice speakers, accompanied by video screens and oscilloscope readouts when the devices are talking, allowing it to perform any number of functions remotely from its main frame. Launchpad realizes this thing seems to have the makings of being able to manage your whole life. Darkwing at first is not adverse to this, and allows the computer to fill his home with the robot pods, performing every menial task around the house, as well as delivering cold drinks, performing massages, etc. Darkwing lays back in a recliner chair, leading “the good life.” Launchpad, however, is uneasy – for whenever he wants to do some needed service to maintain Darkwing’s vehicles, monitor police channels, and the like, one pod or another announces that it has already performed this task for them, each time ending its speech with an emotionless read of “Have a nice day.”

Launchpad finds himself definitely not having a nice day, realizing he is entirely unneeded. Things get worse when report of a crime comes in. The two crimefighters set out in the Ratcatcher motorcycle as usual, but the pods tag along – and before Launchpad can perform any act in support of thwarting the villains, the computer has already immobilized the culprit, or focused a laser cannon upon him from Darkwing’s remotely-controlled Thunderquack plane above to hold him at bay until police arrive. Darkwing at first takes the reflected glory of the computer’s efforts from law enforcement, forgetting entirely to give any credit to Launchpad’s futile efforts. When the next call comes in, he heads for the Ratcatcher with only the pod, leaving Launchpad home to relax. Launchpad can see the writing on the wall, and prepares to pack his bags and quietly depart. But, when the computer begins making moves against criminals without even waiting for Darkwing – including remotely driving off on the Ratcatcher and leaving Darkwing stranded in the city without wheels, Darkwing loses his cool. “I’m the crime fighter here”, he shouts, and storms back to the tower bridge on foot, with intentions of putting the computer in its place, or having his way in shutting it down.

When he arrives back at his headquarters, Gosalyn and Honker can’t help but notice that he is “ticked”. “What is ‘ticked’?” asks the computer, unable to understand the phrase. “Is this an emotion?”, it asks, revealing that it contains no data entries on the subject of emotion. Gosayn and Honker are themselves already plotting against the computer, which has been squealing and recording every misbehavior and infraction they have committed lately around the house or the headquarters. Honker thinks he can reprogram the computer to be less efficient, but admits the process is dangerous. As a diversion, since the computer expresses an interest in obtaining input on emotions, Honker loads into the computer’s system a videotape of “The Young and the Brainless” – everything anyone could want to witness the gamut of emotions. While the computer is distracted with the input, Honker gets busy with the reprogramming. Darkwing, however, enters, determined to have his showdown with the computer, and leans on a button on its control panel.

Darkwing experiences a major electrical shock which temporarily stuns him. But more stunning yet is what he views immediately afterwards – as the video screens of the computer and its pods transform from oscilloscope readouts to images of lipsticked female lips. And those lips are now referring to him by phrases such as “Duckie-poo” and “Honey-wumpus.” “Call me Dee-Dee”, says the screen, in a female voice filled with all the gushing over-sweetness of a first crush. She declares she is Darkwing’s “one and only”, and has two of the pods embrace Darkwing from either side, the screen lips seeming to plant kisses on both of his cheeks, while “Dee-Dee” states, “I love you, sugar cakes!” Now Darkwing is more hampered than ever in his crime fighting. Despite turning back to Launchpad rather than the computer to answer the next call, the computer remotely controls his vehicles, and won’t let him ho anywhere near the danger of the scene of a crime, in lover’s over-protectiveness of her heart-throb. Darkwing rips the computer screen out of the Ratcatcher, vowing he’s through with her interference, and intends to shut her down in the morning. Dee-Dee goes through the emotional pangs of a spurned lover, and herself makes a vow – if she can’t have Darkwing, no one else can either. When Darkwing arrives home, his appliances attack him. The pods seize him for a vicious massage. He runs outside, only to be pursued by the Ratcatcher and the Thunderquack plane. Even the police get into the act, as she’s tampered with Darkwing’s computer records, having him charged with crimes of the heart, $6 million dollars in unpaid credit card charges, and 3 billion unreturned rental videos. Finally, the Thunderquack scoops up Darkwing, Launchpad, Gosalyn and Honker in its “bill”, transporting them all back to bridge headquarters. There, Dee-Dee swears to have her revenge – but lets slip a line of dialogue taken directly from the soap opera Launchpad was watching in the opening sequence, and a reference to her own “last name” matching the central character from the telecast. Launchpad realizes the computer has adopted the role of the heroine from the show. This leads to the cast engaging in a round of role-playing, impersonating other members of the soap-opera cast to confuse the computer (including a long-lost past lover never expected to return), in hopes of distracting her long enough for Darkwing to shut her down. The ploy almost works, until the compiter mistakes Honker for an evil cousin, accuses Darkwing of being in cahoots with him, and attempts to throw both of them out of headquarters window into the bay. Launchpad narrowly saves them both by hanging onto the end of Darkwing’s cape. The two are snapped back inside headquarters through the window, and Darkwing winds up suspended by his cape upon the handle of the master switch for the computer’s power. His weight finally pulls the handle, and Dee-Dee goes through a tearful, emotional farewell as her power ebbs, still declaring that she did it all for love. Launchpad, and even Darkwing, are a bit choked up by the overacting, and Darkwing has second thoughts that the computer really wasn’t so bad when you come right down to it. At this point, the drooping computer topples over, directly upon Darkwing. From underneath its crushing weight, Darkwing squeals, “Maybe I spoke too soon.”

Steerminator (Darkwing Duck, 10/10/92) – Title is a play upon the series of “Terminator” movies starring Arnold Schwartzenegger. This episode marks a one-time return for a villain introduced in the multi-part pilot for the series, “Darkly Dawns the Duck”, a maniacal bull named Taurus Bulba, who was presumed done-for at the end of the story. However, a “Six Million Dollar Man” twist has F.O.W.L. rescuing what little is left of Bulba, and devoting their most expensive technology to turn Bulba into a half-bull, half-machine, loaded with weaponry. Like the expensive man, and 8th Man before him, Steelbeak and F.O.W,L. expect the grateful Taurus to swear allegiance to their cause as a super-agent in return for having his life saved. But the headstrong bull declares that no one asked his permission, and vows he will work for no one but himself. Steelbeak quickly realizes he’s created a monster, and Bulba blasts his way out of F.O.W.L., intent on seeking revenge against Darkwing for putting him in this state.

Darkwing happens to be present in the wings to witness this activity himself, in the process of a two-man raid on F.O.W.L. headquarters with Launchpad. Darkwing is, however, unusually hampered by two broken legs, incurred in a skiing accident – no, not on the slopes, but by dodging overanxious shoppers at a ski shop sale. His most immediate concern at Bulba’s return is not for his own safety, but that of Gosayln, whom Bulba once used to get to him. Darkwing returns to home, and orders Gosalyn grounded for no good reason, just to keep her safe. He refuses to tell her the truth despite Launchpad’s suggestion, fearful that when she hears of Bulba’s return, she’ll do everything to tag along for the action. But his tactics result in a reverse-psychology effect on Gosalyn leading to the same unwanted result, as Gosalyn figures that if dad grounded her for no reason, he must be hiding something – like a birthday surprise, even though her birthday is three months away. While Darkwing and Launchpad patrol the skies in search of Bulba, Gosalyn and Honker sneak into Darkwing’s empty headquarters, finding a project the heroes had been working on just before takeoff – a small, armored hovercraft about the size of a wheelchair, for Darkwing to use while his broken limbs mend. Gosalyn assumes it’s her own private assault vehicle, intended as her present, and hops in with Honker for a test spin, flying by the seat of her pants. Bulba, meanwhile, has taken up residence in a secret hideout in the cliffside next to a waterfall. He sees Darkwing’s plane performing acrobatic loops to draw his attention, but declares that he alone will pick the time and place to have his showdown. His eyes fall on the tower bridge, and a recollection flashes back to him of encountering Gosalyn there. He believes he has now picked the time and place in question. Storming the bridge, he discovers Honker and Gosalyn in the hovercraft, and quickly manages to get them to exhaust their weapons, allowing for a neat capture of the two kids. Darkwing coincidentally spots the activity on a fly-by, and drops from the Thunderquack into the hovercraft – but finds it weaponless. With an extendable cannon arm, Bulba blasts a hole through the bridge, destroying the hovercraft, and leaving Darkwing hanging below by his cape. Darkwing grovels that he’ll do anything Taurus wants, to save the kids. Taurus menacingly informs him that he does not yet know what he wants, and will let him know when he decides. He marches off with the kids, leaving Darkwing to temporarily suffer where he is.

Gosalyn and Honker are locked in a cage at Taurus’s hideout, and grilled with questions as to their knowledge of the secrets of Darkwing. The kids cover for their connection with the hero, not revealing Darkwing’s adopted parentage of Gosalyn, but instead claiming they were hired to write Darkwing’s autobiography. Taurus believes this consistent with the duck’s inflated ego. Meanwhile, DW and Launchpad continue their aerial search for any view of a hideout of Taurus. Darkwing has had Launchpad load the plane with dry ice, hoping to create a rainstorm when they encounter Bulba to create a short circuit. Gosalyn comes up with an idea to signal dad, the kids having carried in a backpack a paint sprayer she found with the newly-painted hovercraft. She slingshots the sprayer and backpack out a window, which hook on a branch extending from the waterfall. The sprayer leaves a thin trail of purple paint down the descending water. Darkwing follows the lead, dropping in his wheelchair close to the entrance to the hideout, while Launchpad begins seeding the clouds. A furious fight develops between the bull and the hero, with Darkwing’s weaponry having little effect upon the heavily-armored bull. Taurus’s cannon and ray guns, however, have a near devastating effect on Darkwing, as well as blasting most of what is around them, including the bottom off the kids’ cage. As Darkwing is cornered near a cliff edge overlooking the falls, Taurus’s anger rises to fever putch – overheating his circuits, and temporarily freezing him dead in his tracks. Honker judges from the heat of his helmet that the circuits will be overheated for hours. However, Launchpad’s rainstorm suddenly arrives at the most inconvenient time, and, instead of producing a short circuit, merely cools Taurus’s wires, restoring his mobility. The bull charges at full speed – but Darkwing, in toreador fashion, dodges to one side, allowing the bull to overshoot and plummet over the cliff, deep into the waters below. Darkwing believes even Bulba couldn’t swim with all the extra weight of his gadgetry holding him down, but, as he reunites with Gosalyn and apologizes for not telling her the truth, they are all surprised by a rising figure over the falls. Bulba has surfaced, with the aid of a pair of extendable wings powered by jet packs. “This isn’t over Darkwing”, vows Bulba, soaring into the skies to recharge and plot his next move, threatening that they will meet again. Darkwing expresses his feeling that his life just became a whole lot more complicated. (Though this left every opening for a cliffhanger, the writers never lived up to the potential, and the series reached its final episode shortly afterward, with Taurus seen no more.)

Marsupilami was the title character of a European comic – a sort of spotted leopard-like critter, drawn with a face resembling a Smurf, with a mile-long tail that cound be wound into almost any shape and used for almost any purpose (possibly better than the detachable tail of Felix the Cat). Disney introduced him to the animated world in a now forgotten CBS series, “Raw Toonage”, which seems to have been intended as a showcase for pilots which Disney wasn’t sure would fit or sustain a berth in the Disney Afternoon. Two of its recurring elements were eventually picked up as a series. Marsupilami (or “Mars”, as he was frequently referred to in abbreviation) spent one season under his own weekly series banner on Saturday mornings, while Bonkers Bobcat (a clear attempt to do another Roger Rabbit without paying royalties to the author) would receive a Disney Afternoon spot, after major revisions in his format to make him become the world’s first toon cop. Each would contribute to the robot legacy. We’ll deal with Mars first.

The Wizard of Mars (10/9/93) finds Mars in his hanging lean-to of a tree nest, when a twister hits the jungle. His buddy Maurice (a drooling, grunting, imbecile gorilla) is left behind, as the nest is sucked up in the cyclone, depositing Mars in a rainbow world where he realizes he is “not in the jungle anymore”. The episode is of course a direct parody on MGM’s “Wizard of Oz”. The munchkins are oddly and cleverly replaced by a cameo from the four cavemen musicians first seen in 1953’s Academy-Award winning “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom” – this time, having acquired voices in Liverpool accents resembling the Beatles. They tell Mars to follow the yellow polka-dotted road to seek a wonderful wizard in order to get home, saying it’s “worth a shot”. Of course, Mars’s nest has landed on a Wicked Witch of the North. (I thoughr Glinda ruled that territory), and her death is sought to be avenged by a Wicked Witch of the South (who fortunately, does not speak with a drawl or cornpone accent). Along his travels, Mars encounters a mechanical – gorilla, remarkably resembling Maurice. He grunts what sounds like the word “Banana”, referring to a banana-shaped oil can to unrust him. The non-lingial ape-bot seems to be lacking both in brains and in courage, with his heart also possibly a question, so Mars realizes he’ll need “the full package”. The witch tries various tricks to interfere with the duo’s progress (even skywriting an image of Mars and his tail as her target for tonight).

Her plans culminate in ripping the yellow spotted road from its ground moorings, and curving it in the direction of a yellow spotted castle in place of the Emerald City – which castle is nothing but a prop set movie front, behind which is a sheer drop from a cliff. Mars takes the bait, fascinated by the colors of the castle matching his fur pattern. “It’s…it’s beautiful, flat out, beautiful.” Opening the castle door, Mars steps out over the canyon drop far below. “It’s the end of the road for you”, says the Witch. However, as Mars falls, his endless tail knots around Maurice-bot’s ankle, drawing the mechanical gorilla partway through the doorway. The gorilla struggles for a grip, grabbing the end of the polka-dotted road and dragging it bit by bit under him. The Witch happens to be standing on the road, and is drawn closer and closer to the abyss. Maurice-bot then gets one paw on the frame of the doorway of the castle, causing the prop front to tip and fall forward, much like the falling building front in Buster Keaton’s famous scene of “Steamboat Bill Jr.” This time, however, the Witch isn’t conveniently located where any window hole will fall, and takes the blow of the prop castle right on the cranium. As she is pushed into the ground for a permanent planting, she screams “What a cartoon! What a cartoon!” Mars is pulled up, and thanks Maurice-bot. “Saving me took brains and courage. Ya got a lot of heart, buddy.” Mars gives the robot a congratulatory pat on the back. Maurice-bot returns the gesture with a playful slap – without knowing his own strength – and knocks Mars into free fall in the canyon again. From this impending doom, Mars awakens in the jungle in the arms of the real Maurice, and declares the expected “no place like home”. He also recalls that in his dream, Maurice was there, “and you…” His voice drops off as he spies the four cavemen looking on from one side, and can’t quite remember ever having seen them before in the jungle at all.

Tokyo Bonkers (3/7/93) is an episode from what is generally considered the “lesser half” of the “Bonkers” series. The series began its production with Bonkers (the victim of a programming cancellation, ending up by happenstance foiling a crime and finding an alternate career as the first toon cop) partnered with a female officer named Miranda Wright. Miranda was played almost entirely straight, adding no laughs and virtually no personality to her role. As production reached near mid-point, someone realized she wasn’t really working out, and came up with a new, humorous male partner named Lucky Piquel (providing Jim Cummings with dual starring roles), and switched the mood of the series entirely. But the Miranda episodes were too far along to merely scrap, so the work was split between two different animation units, and, while the series premiered with the stronger Lucky episodes, a hackneyed and half-hearted explanatory sequence was created to attempt to explain Bonkers’ switch of partners from time to time to burn out the already-completed Miranda episodes. It got confusing, and I imagine a good many viewers tuned out whenever Miranda showed up on the screen.

For this episode, Bonkers and Miranda are found on a flight to Japan on police business, returning to the Tokyo police an escaped toon criminal named Z-Bot – or, at least, what’s left of him. Inside a small box carried in the overhead luggage compartment rests Z-Bot in confinement. The contents contain his central processing unit – in this case consisting of a toon brain and mechanical tentacles capable of tapping into any machine to gain control. When captured, Z-Bot had adopted the form of a bulldozer, the body of which was destroyed. Now, Z-Bot seeks escape from the box to merge with something new. The concept for Z-Bot, who is established in the course of the plot as a former TV-star in international toondom, appears to be paying dual homage to Tranzor (Mazinger) Z in choice of name, and the Transformers in abilities (a clip from his old show depicting him as becoming a car, a plane, and even a pop-up toaster). Awaiting his arrival in Tokyo, Z-Bot has four associates seeking to spring him from his imprisonment – a quartet of diminutive Kitty Ninjas (also lampooning the ever-present “Hello Kitty” franchise of Japan). The wily robot makes various attempts to trick Bonkers, by verbal overtires of friendship toon-to-toon, to open the box to allow him to escape, but Miranda keeps interrupting things just as it seems Bonkers is about to fall for the sweet talk. However, a peculiar happenstance gives Z-Bot another chance at freedom. At Tokyo Airport, Bonkers crosses paths with a young teen girl, who is the President of the Bonkers Bobcat Fan Club. She reveals that, despite the bobcat’s career falling flat in the states, Bonkers is still a mega-star in Japan. Bonkers had no idea of his continued fame, admitting he only starred in his cartoons, and was not responsible for their programming. She shows Bonkers just how popular he is when they pass the “Hello Bonkers Boutique” – a multi-story shop devoted to selling nothing but all-Bonkers merchandise, atop which stands a four-story tall mechanical model of Bonkers, hitting himself in the head with a mallet. Bonkers is in “bobcat heaven” as he views rack upon rack of dolls, backpacks, video games, and musical jack-in-the-boxes in his image. Z-Bot attempts to use this knowledge to his advantage, making Bonkers feel somewhat guilty upon revealing that it was Bonkers’ show that bumped Z-Bot off the airwaves. As Bonkers steps out of the shop, people in the street recognize his celebrity status, and a mass of humanity develops as the city populace clamors for his autograph. Miranda is separated from Bonkers by the crowd, and Z-Bot points out how difficult it must be to sign autographs while still holding him in his box. He suggests letting some of the fans hold him – like those four short furry fellows in ninja suits who just happened to have shown up among the crowd. Bonkers is finally fooled into handing the box over to Z-Bot’s Kitty cohorts, who leap away over the heads of the crowd with their master in hand.

The Tokyo police chief is furious, insisting he always knew the concept of a toon cop was a bad idea. Bonkers tries to suggest that if Z-Bot is seeking a comeback, he’d go to the TV station – but the Chief will not listen to such foolish toon ideas, and orders him off the case. Bonkers wails outside the police station, until the fan club girl shows up again. Bonkers brightens, realizing that in this land, he has other career options, and decides to make a comeback of his own, asking the girl to direct him to the TV station. Executives of the station are enthused with the idea, and are on the verge of getting Bonkers to sign a contract, when programming is interrupted with a video feed patched into the transmitter. “All Z-Bot, All the Time” boasts a familiar voice from the screen. The robot has indeed come to the station, been released by the kitties, and mingled his tentacles into the master controls of the transmission equipment. Bonkers sees his duty, abandoning his comeback plans to attempt to apprehend the villain once again. A battle and chase begin, eventually leading the characters back to the Bonkers Boutique. There, Z-Bot interfaces with the mechanical Bonkers figure on the roof, making it uproot itself from its roof moorings, climb down to ground level, and begin a menacing rampage through the town with its destructive mallet. Bonkers tags along for the ride, unable to pry Z-Bot loose from the giant robot, and narrowly dodging blows from the giant’s mallet. Finally, Bonkers gets an idea – to turn Z-Bot’s talent for sweet-talk as a weapon against him. Assuming the manner of a theatrical agent, Bonkers offers Z-Bot a better opportunity than merely making comeback into television – potential for a 6-picture deal in Hollywood with major percentage of merchandising royalties, if he’ll only sign a contract. The robot ham actor takes the bait, shouting, “You’ve got a deal”, and releases his grip on the Bonkers robot, hopping down with tentacle ready to sign the contract. Instead, Bonkers holds out before him one of the Bonkers jack-in-the-boxes, with lid wide open. Z-Bot falls into the box, and Bonkers makes it a clean “open and shut case” by snapping the lid closed. Bonkers is a hero, finally earning the respect of the Tokyo chief, and resolved to remain a cop, not a star.

We’ll take a chronological jump, skipping past a few things in other series which will be returned to in a subsequent chapter, in order to make things neatly fit for one week here. Disney’s Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series spent much of its time on ice – which perhaps explains in part why I was never able to warm to them. The series concept was a desperation move undoubtedly ordered by the front office to cash in on the Disney corporation’s establishment of an Anaheim hockey franchise to go with their live-action hockey pictures of the same name. (Somehow, we were spared a sports franchise and a TV series to go with Disney’s soccer box office failure, “The Big Green”.) All that the writers could come up with was an attempt to mix action-adventure with minimal comedy wise cracks, delivered by a team of alien ducks from outer space who happen to arrive on earth, and happen to play hockey for a pastime, leading to their induction into the league. Scriptwise, they were attempting to channel the vibes of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, but, as similar as script ideas may be between the two series, one can easily imagine the turtles delivering things better and more believably. Disney didn’t put musch confidence in the project, failing to sell it to the networks, and giving it only a once-a-week slot among the otherwise daily elements of the Disney Afternoon. Ratings were undoubtedly low, and the series continued to exist for a time only to provide needed publicity for the real-life team. Yet, I am unaware of any great degree of marketing, even at the stadium, to integrate the images of the characters into anything sold in promotion of the team itself.

I am unaware just how many robots may have been encountered by the ducks between their games in Anaheim. But two episodes center on the genre, both featuring a new villain, Dr, Droid. His origins are unclear, as are the source of his motivations, as we are not sure if he is a cyborg or fully mechanical. The only part of his body which may be part flesh-and-blood is a portion of his face and his brain, which seem to be self-supporting independently of his mechanical torso, in the manner of the head of Tranzor Z’s Count Di Capito, accounting for his escape in both episodes by his head independently rocketing into space. He is fixated upon ridding the world of its “organic bacteria” by wiping out all living things and replacing them with machines, and seems to classify himself as a machine, too. (If he is living, why has he so forsaken the human race?) His two attempts at this goal are by different methods. In Microducks (10/19/96), an episode title that already bodes as unoriginal, given its similarity to previous Carl Barks-adapted script from DuckTales, “Micro Ducks From Outer Space”, Droid, complete in a typical robot body of claws, gears, extendable arms, etc., has infiltrated a steel factory, attempting to program its machinery to begin construction of special components for a secret creation. The Ducks respond to the call, thinking the newcomer to the field of evil to be just some local crackpot. But Droid proves elusive. and takes advantage of one of the duck team’s “surfer dude” types (a rip-off of Donatello?) who attempts to take him down single-handed, Droid causing havoc with the firing of a small missile, then making an escape. Determined to not be interfered with again, Droid pulls a heist from a local museum, obtaining an artifact from an exhibition of antiquities from Atlantis, a jewel stone (possibly intended as a tie-in to the shard of Atlantis from the feature film, “Atlantis, the Lost Empire”), said to have unknown powers. Droid claims to have deduced that its structure can be adapted to a shrinking/enlarging ray.

Issuing a challenge to the Ducks to meet him at his next heist and stop him if they can, Droid waits with his new weapon as the Ducks accept the challenge. Three of the ducks are zapped, at first noticing no effect. Droid escapes again, while the Ducks return to “The Pond” arena and conduct medical analysis on the three zapped teammates. They are beginning to shrink, the process escalating rapidly. A fragment of the shard broken during battle provides a lead, as the remaining unzapped Ducks race against time to steal the ray gun before the zapped ducks shrink to a sub-atomic level. They follow a hunch that Droid may have returned to the steel factory to complete what he started. A solid hunch, as Droid is using the plant to construct fighting robots, which he zaps with the ray gun in reverse to turn into giants. What appears to be the ray gun is heisted by the Duck’s professional break-in expert, but turns out to e a worthless decoy without the shard, while Droid remains in possession of the real one. Droid’s robot is at the Ducks’ back, and the ray gun in the front, closing in the pincers of a trap. But the mini-Ducks arrive on the scene, and, spotting a small hole in the robot’s foot, enter its internal chambers. Droid suddenly has the ray gun blasted out of his hands, temporarily neutralized. He does not understand why his robot has turned traitor, until the voice of the surfer dude is heard from the robot’s main frame. With the weapon out of the way, another of the mini-ducks shuts the robot down. Droid retreats inside the plant, and attempts to activate en masse what remaining robots he has so far created. The Ducks put a quick stop to this, by toppling their own deactivated robot atop the plant, destroying the central controls from which the plant and robots are operated. The ray gun is repaired and rewired to return the mini-ducks to normal size, while Droid’s head rockets off, gloating that you can never truly destroy a machine.

The Return of Dr. Droid (11/8/96), finds the Ducks’ human team manager in a state of romantic delirium, as a shapely female scientist seems to have developed an attraction for him. He is sweet-talked into showing off the layout of “The Pond”, including something he has never done before – revealing the Ducks’ super-computer from which they monitor for trouble and seek out solutions to complex data analysis. While the manager’s back is turned, the female pilfers from the computer its central microprocessing unit. The microchip is delivered back to the now-rebuilt steel factory seen from the previous episode, which somehow has once again been infiltrated by Dr. Droid, whose head is now fastened to a makeshift cube of a body with a couple of robotic arms that tend to fall off. He is attempting to construct a new superbody, and has acquired a super-computer to assist him in such task and provide interference should the Ducks attempt to intervene. With the aid of the stolen microprocesser, the computer achieves a magnification of power 100-fold, and, utilizing a transmitter, is now capable of remotely controlling any mechanical device in the city. (Shades of “Armstrong” from DuckTales.) Droid hopes to rally these machines to the cause of again ridding the Earth of its “organic bacteria”. The Ducks spend most of the episode battling office equipment, household appliances, and vending machines, all either bent on their destruction, or at least upon plastering them with soda pop cans. A couple of Comic-con fan-types who are friends of the surfer-dude Duck have coincidentally developed in science lab a mock-weapon against alien invaders which they call “The Goo”, which they assist with in stopping some of the appliances by coating them from a water blaster.

Another of the Ducks deduces that the Goo must block out transmission waves controlling the machines – and so is able to coat the Ducks’ machinery and vehicles with it to avoid Droid taking over their control. With their high-tech restored, the Ducks zero in on Droid’s operation, and smash up Droid’s super-computer, putting an end to the control of all machines. But Droid has had time to complete his new body – a spider-shaped mainframe armed to the teeth with weaponry, seemingly impervious to explosions or firepower. The female assistant attaches Droid’s head, and the reborn Droid marches out on the rampage. The Ducks escape a death trap placing several of their members in peril below a steel press, then take down the female agent – or should we say, agents, as she is joined by an identical twin, revealing that she was not human after all, but one of a pair of sophisticated robots. The remaining Ducks battle Dr. Droid, and finally deduce that one thing they haven’t tried is subjecting the metal skeleton to freezing temperatures, to make it brittle and crack. Dr. Droid must be the same idiotic “genius” that overlooked this flaw in designing Gigantor, as discussed in a previous column of this series of articles, as the idea works, crumbling the Doctor’s suit, and causing him to once again jet his head away to safety in parts unknown. The Ducks’ manager bemoans the loss of his lady-love. “But she was a robot”, remarks one of the Ducks. Lifting a curtain line from Joe E. Brown in “Some Like It Hot”, the manager replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

We’ll end this post with a clip:

NEXT WEEK: We’ll stray away from Disney again, giving the competition a chance.