In preparation for the new DuckTales relaunch, I decided to go back to some earlier Scrooge McDuck content, starting with 1990’s DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.
DuckTales was the first film under Disney’s new MovieToons Studios, and was done by Disney Animation France. While this studio was set to launch a series of movies based off Disney Afternoon properties (Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers was once slated to be next in line), the poor box office performance of this film delegated most of the studio’s offerings direct to video.
The opening of DuckTales feels very much like the opening of an Indiana Jones movie, complete with Scrooge and company landing at an archeological dig. This is a fitting opener, as many of the more memorable scenes from Indiana Jones were influenced by the Uncle Scrooge comics (George Lucas himself confirmed that the opening boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark was an intended homage to The Seven Cities of Cibola‘s rock trap from Uncle Scrooge #7). The similarities don’t end there, as Scrooge, Launchpad, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby face booby traps, a traitorous guide, and an extreme trap that leads them to a daring escape. Scrooge feels dejected from the experience, having lost his treasure, but Webby had kept one piece of it: A dingy, ordinary looking lamp.
What results is a larger story where an evil sorcerer is on a desperate hunt for the lamp, as it contains a comically wacky, quip spewing genie capable of granting wishes to anyone who is in possession of the powerful item. Eventually, the sorcerer does indeed capture the lamp, destroys the hero’s home, but is eventually defeated with the final wish being used to buy the genie’s freedom.
Sounds familiar to another Disney film, doesn’t it?
It would be easy to dismiss the DuckTales film as cribbing its central plot and character archetypes from Aladdin, but that’s not the case here. Aladdin didn’t make its theatrical debut until two years later in 1992. The main difference is that the DuckTales movie lacked the off the wall eccentricities of Robin Williams along with the Academy Award winning songs. Regardless, DuckTales does it first.
The film’s “genie in a lamp” premise is solid enough for Scrooge McDuck’s cinematic outing, but it can’t compare to the refined story elements of Aladdin. DuckTales the Movie feels like a feature length episode of the show, just with somewhat better animation. I say “somewhat” as the upgrades are sporadic. In some scenes, there are added shadows and highlights to characters and backgrounds. In other scenes, the film looks like a regular episode of the TV show (which still had better animation than the majority of animated television of the time).
The voice cast is directly from the show as well. Alan Young’s portrayal of Scrooge McDuck has always been a personal favorite of mine, and it never fails to generate a smile from me when the elderly duck breaks into his Scottish brouge. Added to the cast are Christopher Lloyd as the sorcerer Merlock, Rip Taylor as the Genie, and Richard Libertini as the cowardly thief Dijon, Interestingly enough, Dijon did appear in later episodes of the DuckTales series.
It’s a decent film, but its unusual middle range of television and theatrical quality animation doesn’t carry itself as strongly as the other theatrical releases of the time (the film was released between The Little Mermaid and Rescuers Down Under).
To date, the film has remained on a fairly hard to find DVD, and like other cult films that don’t resonate with the majority audience (see Black Hole and Black Cauldron), Disney literally released this “quick and dirty” with plenty of film grain, artifacts and lack of restorative care that one would find in their “Diamond” level releases.
DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp may feel like it’s treading Aladdin‘s familiar ground, but Scrooge proves to be an originator once more in creating Disney’s ‘wacky genie” character type. Still, even if it did come first, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been here before, and it isn’t one of Scrooge’s strongest story outings.
I’m still holding out hope for a cinematic adaptation of Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.