DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

In 2015, Disney announced one of the most startling plans it could have ever conceived: a reboot of the 1987 series DuckTales. The revolutionary show about a globe-trotting one-percenter Scottish waterfowl and his grand-nephews was instrumental in turning shows from being toy-driven (Transformers, My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.) into more character-driven stories. The rebooted show takes it even further by adding season-long arcs and epic mysteries, whereas the original show lacked the scope to accomplish all the derring-do bad and goodtales. Except once. Sorta.

DuckTales was the first show Disney had that reached 100 episodes, since it really was just that popular, and they had plans to make a bunch of DuckTales movies. But after the release of DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp in 1990, such plans never came to be. Hopefully with the new show, we might actually get something just as cool, exciting and grand as…um, well…

Let’s quit quacking and crack down on the questing canards, their courageous companions, and their questionably-conscienced competitors!

The plot: Scrooge McDuck and company land somewhere in Arabia where the local archeological team has dug up a map leading to the treasure of Collie Baba. They venture out into the arid wasteland, but their guide, Dijon, is a snitch for a diabolical and powerful wizard named Merlock, who wants the genie’s lamp in the fabled lost treasure, so he tails the group. Scrooge is only too happy to find the treasure, but doesn’t think much of the oil lamp that lies among the shiny baubles, so he passes it on to Webby. Merlock steals the gold and tries to axe off the group, but they escape with little else but Webby’s lamp.

Back in Duckburg, Scrooge continues to nurse his wounded pride while the kids soon discover the genie inside the lamp, a joyful spirit who’s more than happy to be out and have friends, but only obligated to grant wishes. He does so, causing all sorts playful shenanigans until Scrooge finally sees the potential of having a wish-granter in his possession.

Unfortunately, Merlock hasn’t given up, and he and Dijon are stalking McDuck to retrieve the lamp. Once he infuses his talisman with the lamp, The ruthless wizard will have unlimited wishes. So the race is on to keep Genie safe from the clutches of the bad guys! What a duckblur!

How’s the writing? It’s…okay.

The writing in late eighties, early nineties animated kids’ shows were never the stuff of Shakespeare. In fact, a good chunk of the jokes fall flat. In perhaps the laziest joke ever, one of the first jokes we hear is that Launchpad never went to flight school, but he “took a crash course”.

The most distracting element is Rip Taylor’s genie, who seems like a defunct prototype of some other animated Disney genie by shouting, chatting a lot, riffing on anachronisms, and yelling super-awkward catchphrases like “shabooie!” My least favorite line is him talking about doing things that boys do, but for some reason, throws in, “roll over…wait, that’s a dog.” in a delivery that feels as flat as it is confusing.

Otherwise, they keep the spirit of the characters in check: the kids are impulsive and self-interested in their wishes, but not bratty or stupid. Scrooge gets his moments in the sun, highlighting his cleverness and stick-to-it-ivity. And while all are fine, that’s part of the problem. They’re just fine. For a big screen adventure, we should have deeper character moments, funnier punchlines, and grander landscapes, but considering we’ve seen Scrooge lose his fortune and get thrown in jail in other episodes, magic spells thwart his success in other episodes, in fact, we’ve even seen a genie of a lamp in an older episode of the show, so what’s the point?

Who made it worth it? Launchpad was always my favorite DuckTales character, but after the first act, he disappears from the story after only a few jokes that are definitely not his A material. Today, Scrooge remains my favorite character due to his courage, tenacity, even compassion, given that he has been shown to love the kids more than he loves his fortune. It’s close, but he does.

For the newcomers, Dijon is a thinly-veiled racist caricature who isn’t funny enough to redeem himself, and Genie just continually fails at being engaging, so points have to go to Merlock, played by Christopher Lloyd. While there’s not much to say about him other than being a typical shouting, snarling bad guy, Merlock’s design, voice, and skill set as a shapeshifter are pretty cool. I keep hoping he’ll appear in the new series sometime, but it’s still early in the show’s life.

Does it give the feels? It tries. It fails, but it does try.

If you were a kid back in 1990 when this movie came out, you probably hadn’t seen all the episodes that were released by that point. So maybe it’s forgiven to close on the third act by having Scrooge broke, incarcerated, and destitute. It’s textbook screenwriting. But something is lost when Scrooge sits in his cell, and the nephews, Webby, Mrs. Beakley, Duckworth, and Launchpad come to bail him out. Part of it’s Launchpad standing there silent with a grin, partly it’s Mrs. Beakley wailing an apologies, but mostly it’s the TV-style writing. Allow me to elucidate.

Movies can take as long as needed to do what they need to. A TV show like DuckTales has 22 minutes to establish the conflict, stakes, and solution, while mixing in jokes and gags to keep viewers’ interest. As great as a show the 1987 series was, rarely was it intended to be heartfelt. It was made with gags, adventure, and a little action to keep it going. And when you have less than half an hour to move the plot forward and tell jokes, those grand, eloquent, flowery soliloquies are going to have to wind up on the editing room floor.

When Scrooge is in jail, he’s already shell-shocked from losing his money bin. His demeanor crumbles when he finds out he’s lost all of his assets. After a moment of self-pity, the nephews realize the alarms he’d set up for his bin are still the same, so he can still sneak in and take the fight to the top. Throw in some symbolism of birds flying when the rain stops, stick a fork in it, ya done. This would have been a great scene to really slow down, get to feel for Scrooge’s plight, and feel the moment rise naturally. But it didn’t. Between the scene moving too fast just to advance plot points, Beakley’s over-the-top crying, and Duckworth even reminding Scrooge that his spat collection is gone, it robs the scene of whatever sentiment it could have really had.

The best quality provided: If you’re looking for a DuckTales movie that feels made for the big screen, the first five minutes are probably exactly what you’re looking for. As soon as we see the characters in the plane, the colors are deep and saturated. Shadows are pronounced. The animation speed is fluid and the characters look solid. Merlock looks massive and dangerous. When they travel out in the desert, that sun looks and feels hot. It looks great!

What could have been improved: …For the first five minutes.

As soon as the characters enter the temple, the animation quality plunges. Gone are the shadows and smooth animation. In fact, I daresay the quality of the animation is actually worse than the TV show!

In most scenes, the character lines are not unlike the 1961 – 1988 era of “sketchy” animation style Disney Feature Animation used when they were using Xerox to copy mostly-erased pencil sketches onto cels. It is exceptionally jarring, considering how beautiful the movie looked when it began. Just thinking about how incredible the whole thing would have looked had they retained the budget they clearly had in those opening five minutes would have been amazing, especially the scene where Scrooge’s money bin gets transformed into Casa de Cuckoo.

Rip Taylor’s genie is not a great character, and considering who would show up in another animated Disney movie two years later almost makes it feel unfair. But it’s less about comparing him to Robin Williams than about looking at him as a fully realized personality. And it’s all over the map. He tries to be funny, like asking if a globe is Cinderella’s ball, and his delivery just continually flounders. They try so hard to give him a tragic aspect that he’d been abused by Merlock before and wanting to be a real boy, but it rarely feels sincere. Part of it is the animation quality, and the other part is Rip and the lines he was given.

Verdict: if you’re a fan of DuckTales, this might be a must have. There’s something cool about the novelty of owning or seeing a DuckTales movie, but it feels little more than an extended episode. Aside from Christopher Lloyd as Merlock, this movie brings very little to the table.

It’s sad that they never made any more DuckTales movies. I would have loved to see what else they came up with. But c’est la vie. But it might be interesting to see if they do make some movie-length expeditions in the rebooted show, especially with added mystery and drama.

DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp is “neat”. The kind of thing that you’d nod your head in acknowledgement with maybe a touch of appreciation, but even for this nostalgic guy, it’s almost not worth it. I give it three Scrooge McDuck top hats out of ten.


Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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