Who would have expected that DuckTales would be spending so much time developing Webby? The first three episodes after the “Woo-oo” pilot has placed a significant amount on time showcasing and developing the ward, whose action-oriented, information-filled character has been braced quite nicely with a sense of loneliness, aloofness, and disconnect from other kids her age. My concerns that Webby would be an “boy-coded” character that mostly functioned as a historical exposition has gone largely unfounded, to the point that maybe, sort of, the writers are overusing her? Or, more accurately, I’m starting to get concerned about the lack of material provided for Donald and Scrooge and the nephews. I like the boldness in placing so much emphasis on this new iteration of Webby, but it is starting to come off like the writers are doubling down on “justifying” their version of her, all at the expense of pushing the rest of the characters (and the show) forward.
It’s a concern, but it helps that this take on Webby is great. And that greatness is the strongest part of “The Beagle Birthday Massacre,” a weirdly bland episode that holds itself together by the thinnest of margins. When the boys head off on a boating adventure, Webby follows a trail of messages in bottles to Lena (Kimiko Glenn), a punk loner girl who befriends the nervous Webby after seeing her skills. There clearly is something exploitative about the early meeting–Lena manipulates Webby into breaking into the junkyard to crash a party–but the two bond over British accents and seesaws as they work to avoid the wrath of the Beagle Boys once their caught, via a pastiche of a certain iconic 70s film.
In theory, a send-up of The Warriors using an assortment of Beagle Boys is a great idea, but the specific groups of brothers left much to be desired. Many we easily dispatched, and some weren’t even used; the only group that made an impression were the Tumblebums, mainly because of their inherent creepiness. Beyond them, the Beagle Boys aren’t remotely a threat, and, to be honest, I found a lot of the framing and pacing of the overall chase fairly discordant. Bursts of action or intrigue are immediately followed by long, dialogue-driven scenes pairing Webby and Lena together; they’re quite sweet and honest, but feel so off, mainly because the Webby and Lena scenes lack any tension or concern over the situation their in.
It doesn’t help also that Lena is so ill-defined, despite being likable enough. I get why - and I’ll get into the big reveal a bit later - but even by the rhythms of this episode her motivations are nonexistent. I have no idea what the end game was in having Lena bringing Webby to Ma Beagle’s birthday smash. Did she know about it beforehand? How did she hear about it? Was she trying to get Webby captured by them or was she testing her in some way? I think the idea was that, by placing herself and Webby in a dangerous situation, the two would bond in their struggle through it, therefore allowing her an “in” within Webby’s circle of trust. I spent a lot of time wondering when the other shoe would drop - that Lena would reveal that she was hired by, or working with, the Beagle Boys to lure Webby there. But when the other shoe did drop, it had nothing to do with the Beagle Boys, which made the set up even more baffling.
Much of the episode had to do with themes of family and connections, but even here, the themes fall flat. There’s a very specific reason why Webby doesn’t go along with the nephews on the boat trip, and while I understand Lena playing up their abandonment of her in order to get Webby on her side, you can’t help but have that basic fact–the boat literally could not fit her–stuck in your head. Fortunately, Webby doesn’t take the bait; her concerns is lacking distinct, real connections with someone, which the adventure itself takes care of. If anything, Lena’s dismissal of the importance and value of family says more about her than it says about Webby. At the very end, we find out that Lena is Magica De Spell’s niece, and she’s summoning up that classic witch character from... somewhere. I have the vaguest sense that she’s not too enthused with being related to such an evil force (hence all her anti-family comments), but in that moment, we don’t really see that sentiment.
“The Beagle Birthday Massacre” is mostly saved by Webby’s general awesomeness, and Kate Micucci’s VO work propping up the character in all the correct ways. Outside of one genuinely creepy sequence, it’s a fairly textbook offering with else; it has that broad sense of fun that we expect from the show, but at the expense of narrative logic, consistent tension/pacing, and solid humor. I’m completely okay with this version of DuckTales coming up with new characters, and Lena works well enough, but she was debuted in an episode that gave her and the rest of the characters little else to work with–save a birthday cake, I guess.
- I tend not to harp on this detail a lot because it’s so obvious and disrupts the flow of a good episode when it’s thought about too much, but… no cellphones? Really? There’s isn’t even a cliched scene of a character breaking or losing it.
- I did like the one beagle who got his fingers stuck in the bottles. Simple joke, but it works.
- One of the things I loved about the original DuckTales show was its willingness to thrust both its younger and older characters into danger; at its best, it forced both age groups into working together to overcome even the most supernatural and extreme of obstacles. Mid-90s “kids first” sensibilities began pushing this theme of adults being morons or cowards, as opposed to the kids themselves being brave or heroic or powerful (except when asking a girl out or some other generic kid problem). I don’t think DuckTales will fall into that trap–the overall mystery itself implies that it’ll definitely be a group dilemma–I am concerned that these overall conflicts so far really just focused on the young cast members.