Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Childhood Memories: Count Duckula

Moving right along, it's long past time to finally take a look at one of the more bizarre cartoon favorites from my childhood...







As a kid in the mid-to-late-80s, I feel that among other things, I had the privilege of watching TV at a time when it had some of the best possible kid-centric entertainment on. I went from the early-to-mid-80s classics like the Smurfs, and Inspector Gadget, and Heathcliff, and He-Man, and Pac-Man, etc. to later 80s fare the likes of Thundercats, and  Dinosaucers, The Raccoons and The Real Ghostbusters, or even David the Gnome and The Super Bros. Super Show. And of course drifting into early 90s, I had excellent fare like Doug, Batman, Bots Master, and X-Men.


But in the 80s, as you can see above, there was another peculiar show, from Britain, known as "Danger Mouse". In the 80s, both Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, actually not only used to play cartoons and GOOD shows, but they both also used to have shows from all over the world (in part to avoid the costs of producing their own shows). In the early days of Nick, in particular, they had shows from America, Europe, Canada, and even Japan. Danger Mouse is, fundamentally, a spoof/send-up to James Bond style British spy fiction. The twist of course, being that it took place in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, as the spy hero was a mouse, his sidekick Penfold was a mole, the villain Baron Greenback was a toad, etc. On top of that, was the very uniquely British humor, which is one of the selling points of the show, and the main source of it's charm. While a "kids" show, the humor and themes in Danger Mouse were not written FOR children, and much of it certainly went over my head as a kid.



The First Ever Appearance of a certain Vampire Duck.


Now while I never did get to see (or at least don't remember seeing) the story arc where it takes place, the character we're here to talk about today, Count Duckula, originally appeared in Danger Mouse. In a story arc called "The Four Tasks of Danger Mouse", along his adventures he went to Transylvania, where he ran into a silly vampire duck, who was obsessed with the idea of fame and wanted to become a movie star. From that quirky beginning, the popular cameo eventually led to a spin-off series starring the duck himself, and while I do love Danger Mouse, as a kid I absolutely preferred Duckula, once I had seen it.



Not always "kid's" fare.




Now, one odd thing I will point out right away, before diving into the show proper, is that I was allowed to watch this cartoon at all. As I've mentioned many times in the past, growing up the way I did, the grandmother that raised me had often very inconsistent and even contradictory opinions or rules, as to what I could or couldn't watch, etc. Simply put, I never saw ANY version of Dracula growing up, not even the amazing Bela Lugosi original, because my grandmother personally didn't like vampires or vampire stories. For similar reasons, I also never saw any real kind of Frankenstein or Mummy movies, even when they were played on TV, like TNT's MonsterVision. And yet, she had no problem with me watching a VERY British cartoon about a vampire, with plenty of dry humor straight over my head, and many dark themes and images like the pentagram above. But, I'm glad she was inconsistent in this case, because I'm very glad I got to enjoy Duckula as a child, even IF I didn't get a lot of the jokes or references.



Oops.



So, getting back to business, as the (awesome) intro to the show points out, every so often when the moon is full and the stars align just right, it is possible to resurrect the vampire Lord of Castle Duckula, essentially as a totally new self (kind of like Doctor Who). As the faithful man-servant Igor is reading out the ingredients necessary in the ritual, the last key component he needs is blood, and the bumbling maid, Nanny, yells "I'll get it!" in her classic fashion, and grabs a bottle of ketchup without really looking, off of a shelf. Now, this causes a bit of a mix-up, as one might imagine, in the resurrection of a dread vampire Lord. I'd like to point out, that while Nanny is certainly a few forks short of a silverware set, you would think that Igor would have bothered to notice he was handed a ketchup bottle before just pouring away, himself.

The result? Their resurrected Lord, wound up being a goofy, fame-obsessed vampire duck...who also happens to be a VEGETARIAN vampire. That's right, instead of blood (which he thinks, I agree, is disgusting), he sucks the juice out of vegetables (and one might imagine, fruits). And that is just one part of the quirk and charm of the character, and the show!


Quite the colorful cast.


So the core characters of the show, as seen above, are Count Duckula himself, who wishes to travel the world, and find ways to amass great fame and super-stardom. He is ever served by his two retainers, Igor, who constantly tries to encourage his master to be "more evil", and Nanny, who while having a good heart, is a bit of an idiot, and a major clutz. Nanny alone, is often the cause of the team's woes, though Duckula has a penchant for getting himself into trouble as well, both because he is arrogant, but also quite careless. One of the show's funniest recurring gags, is the fact that Nanny is enormous, and strong as an ox, and as such, she doesn't seem to really "get" how doors work...so instead, she often just enters or exits a room by smashing straight through the wall.

Last but not least, is Doctor Von Goosewing (an obvious spoof on Dr. Van Helsing from the Dracula novel), who is a bit of a mad scientist, and an obsessed vampire hunter. He is absolutely fixated on trying to slay the "evil" Duckula (quite possibly having been responsible for killing the last incarnation, or at the very least, his ancestor was). The thing he doesn't know, or perhaps doesn't care about, is that while a bit of a greedy fool, Duckula is fairly harmless, both because he's a vegetarian, but also because he's not really particularly violent. Duckula is self-centered, but he has no real desire to harm anyone else on his way to fame. Nonetheless, Goosewing is determined, and while he doesn't show up in every episode, he is the show's main recurring villain, though he is often outwitted not by prowess, but by sheer dumb luck, or silly circumstances.


Castle Duckula



Count Duckula's home, Castle Duckula, is a suitably complex, creepy, and dusty old thing. But it also comes with one singularly unique feature: the fact that it can travel. As the basis for almost every episode of the show, Duckula's latest scheme or whim usually takes the group to some far-off location around the world, and the castle possesses magic that allows it to teleport wherever they wish. The catch being, that when dawn comes (Eastern Transylvanian Time, naturally), the castle instantly returns to it's original foundation. I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a traveling castle, as a kid. And honestly, it's still a neat idea now, though an entire, enormous CASTLE might not be so convenient.




Not your average Vampire.



The show only ran for four seasons, and for whatever reason I did not see all of them. But what I did see I always loved, even if I didn't always get the humor. More of my childhood obsession with monsters, I would imagine, as well as the fact that I just really loved Duckula himself. It was because of Nickelodeon directly, that I got to see such shows as "You Can't Do That On Television", as well as Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, David the Gnome, Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, etc.

When I was younger, I actually thought that Mel Blanc, of Bugs Bunny and Heathcliff fame, also voiced Count Duckula. But it was actually British actor David Jason, who also voiced Danger Mouse, among others.The funny thing about it though, especially knowing that, is that I've always felt that Duckula had a distinctively American sounding accent, at times.



An example of the show's unique humor.




One good example of the show's off-kilter wit, would be the first episode, "No Sax Please, We're Egyptian" (a riff on a British play, "No Sex Please, We're British"). In it, Duckula learns of a mystic saxophone, that he thinks could help make him a star, so off the go, teleporting Castle Duckula to Egypt, in search of the artifact. Searching the pyramids, the group gets separated, and Duckula winds up running into a couple of acolytes, Whomite and Yoube.  They are the servants of the great "Upshe", whom they are waiting to rise. You can probably see where the writers go with material like that, and it's some rather humorous wordplay, worthy of Abbott & Costello.




The castle, teleporting.




Overall, it's a really great show, with a total of about 65 episodes. If you can find this cartoon, I would highly recommend you get it, both for it's monster goodness, as well as it's one-of-a-kind sense of humor and style. I've really never seen or even heard of another show quite like it, and it's a shame that it isn't better remembered for younger generations. But then again, that's what I'm here for, isn't it?


See you next time, for more Halloween Countdown!








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