Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Donald and the Wheel"

This is a story in the same vein as "Donald Duck in Mathmagicland" before it and "Uncle Scrooge and Money" after--a putatively "educational" comic based on a short animated feature. I had never heard of it until I stumbled on a listing for a copy of the comic book on ebay whilst browsing duck comics in general. The cartoon isn't as well-known as "Mathmagicland" (which has some degree of prominence due to class-room showings) or "Money" (which has a certain cachet as Scrooge's first animated appearance); the comic is more obscure since, unlike the other two, it's never been reprinted in the US. There's probably good reason for that, though--"Mathmagicland" is rather obviously the best of the three, and while I may find "Money" ideologically troubling, it's at least somewhat competently constructed. "Wheel"--less so, and the subject matter is kind of inexplicable--math and money both make sense as things that are generally important to people, but did someone really think there was a tragic wheel-appreciation deficit in the world? Regardless, the cartoon's actually pretty entertaining, with most of the dialogue in song form, some of it quite loopily infectious. It was not converted well, however.

There's a little framing sequence in which HDL lose a wagon wheel and ask Donald to build a replacement. "Mathmagicland" also adds a frame that wasn't in the cartoon; these are in acknowledgment of the fact that comic-ducks are much different than cartoon-ducks and therefore it is necessary to include a bit more context and structure when dealing with the former.

I get the impression that Strobl's art is a bit shaky in this one compared to the others, though that could have something to do with the fact that we're dealing with poorly-colored, fifty-year-old scans. It could also have something to do with the knowledge that he was working on a lackluster story, however!

Donald REFUSES to help! Stupid wheels! They're strictly for squares! (ho ho ho!)

And so--you've probably had this happen on occasion--these two spirit dudes appear out of nowhere 'cause fuck you, wheels are awesome! They speak in horrible, horrible rhymes that only get worse as the story proceeds (or maybe they just start to grate more).

Naturally, they recoil in horror at Donald's anti-wheel apostasy. There follows a sequence in which Donald proposes various "better" inventions (not sure why we have to have this hierarchy of invention-goodness, but there you go); in the comic, Donald isn't involved in this part--it's "Junior" who has to be convinced that the wheel kicks seven kinds of ass.

The spirits are really quite obnoxious about this whole thing, it must be said. "But wait," you say. "What's the point of literally re-inventing the wheel?"* Well you might ask...

*Leela: Wouldn't it work better if the wheels were round?
Fry: It's my invention, we do it my way!

See, in the cartoon, there's no "present-day" segment; the spirits just go straight back here to fuck around with Caveman Donald. But there had to be a framing sequence for the comic version, so it was inevitable that present-day Donald would have to play a starring role. So--recognizing that the idea of present-day Donald re-inventing the wheel made no sense--they wedged in this doubtful bit about how, having gone back in time, he's reverted to caveman form. But if that's the case, he's not going to remember all the anti-wheel propaganda he was spouting earlier, making this entire exercise pointless, one would think. Very awkwardly executed, for sure.

So, we get various wheel-inventing hijinx, none of them all that riveting. There's a montage of wheel-development through the ages.

Anyway, once we've gotten to more or less modern times, Donald smacks his car into a truck and thereby becomes disillusioned with this whole "wheel" business. So the spirits insist that he learn more about wheels. As you do.

This time, he learns about all the non-transportation-related things that wheels can do.

Thing is, this has nothing to do with the question of automotive safety that was his initial complaint. Clumsy plotting, I'd say! Nonetheless, he is ultimately browbeaten into accepting the wonder and majesty of the common wheel.

Man, the pulley and inclined plane don't even get a word in edgewise, pauvres petites. In the cartoon, amusingly, having been returned to prehistory after his whirlwind wheel tour, Caveman Donald refuses to go on and invent the thing, on the basis that he's "not going to be responsible for that." In other words, the spirits get pwned. I appreciate that. Here we just get a generic positivity thing--I do, however, note that the wheel Donald's made doesn't even remotely match the wagon wheels (and not just due to substandard coloring). My hope is that they'll try to attach it and either they'll fail or they'll succeed but it'll make wagon rides all bumpy; either way, it will cause the entire duck clan to become entirely disillusioned with the stupid wheel, and the spirits' cajolery will be for naught! Ha!

Watch the cartoon: part one and part two.



Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Man… Where’s the love for “Fire” or the “Lever and Fulcrum”?

What I’d like to know is: Why the out-of-place, typeset dialogue for the “Spirit Dudes”?

If we had to somehow differentiate their dialogue from Don’s, why not just employ an alternate, more easy-on-the-eyes lettering style?

February 22, 2011 at 4:33 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

"Mathmagicland" does a similar thing, albeit inconsistently. I get the impression that it's meant to somehow accentuate the "educational" aspect of the comic, though this doesn't really work.

February 22, 2011 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and did I mention that any Duck comic review that includes a quote from Futurama gets 100 Bonus Points?

Roll my shiny metal wheel!

February 23, 2011 at 8:47 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

All right! With those hundred bonus points, I am this close to winning the toaster! Sweet!

February 25, 2011 at 4:27 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Johnson said...

I've... I've SEEN this cartoon, but I barely remember it. It is an odd thing to focus on, cartoon wise. Why not simple machines in general? Probably because the nature of PSAs got ahead of the writers before actually thinking about PSAs on issues that matter.

February 25, 2011 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

The Spirits's weird lettering -> I think that it's because they exclusively speak in song in the cartoon.

December 2, 2015 at 11:50 AM  

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