The announcement that Disney was bringing DuckTales back to television in 2017 no doubt re-ignited interest in the 1987-90 animated series of the same name, just as Capcom’s DuckTales Remastered game did back in 2013. Yes, it glorified greed, but it also had heart and some impressive storytelling. I’ve re-watched many classic DuckTales episodes on DVD and compiled a list of 20 outstanding adventures with plots and messages that still resonate today.
Of course, there are more than 20 great DuckTales episodes — it’s hard to find a truly bad one with no redeeming qualities. But these are the ones I find myself watching again and again with my son when I pull out the old DVDs, except for the last three on the list — only, now, finally available for home viewing via Disney+ (with a few glitches).
Treasure of the Golden Suns
I’m cheating a bit right out of the gate. This is actually five episodes that served as the series premiere event, setting things up with a terrific adventure tale that sees Donald Duck (in one of his rare appearances in the show) joining the Navy and leaving nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie to live with tight-fisted Uncle Scrooge. At first the arrangement is not a harmonious one, but the rambunctious boys bring out the lonely miser’s better qualities when they show him their cool-headed wits in one adventure after another. The plot, involving a model ship that’s really a treasure map, shares some elements with Steven Spielberg’s 2011 big-screen Adventures of Tintin, which makes sense when you know that Carl Barks, upon whose comics many DuckTales episodes are based, was a contemporary of Tintin cartoonist Georges Remi. If you love old Scrooge McDuck’s adventures, you’ll also find much to love in Tintin’s many exploits.
Catch as Cash Can
This four-part serial pits Scrooge against rival Flintheart Glomgold in a contest of riches to determine which duck controls a new natural resource: firefly fruit. Donald returns when Scrooge’s fortune, concealed as ice cream cargo, gets hijacked by Glomgold’s agents, then gets dumped into the ocean’s deepest trench where Scrooge finds the lost continent of Atlantis — they key to winning the contest and coming out ahead, naturally. By now, DuckTales had become the master of the animated serial.
The Curse of Castle McDuck
Revisiting his roots in bonnie Scotland, Scrooge and the boys and young Webby uncover a Druid conspiracy that draws elements from Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sweet Duck of Youth
I learned more about Ponce de Leon from this episode than from any history class. I also learned that getting old sucks, and that even great adventurers weren’t immune — and that in the end, you’re only as old as you feel. The story’s twist on the Fountain of Youth legend is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.
Scrooge acquires the haunted castle of a mad scientist and tries to turn a profit as a high-class hotelier. This episode has some of the series’ most memorable guest characters, jokes and motivations.
Memorable action scenes highlight this story of a subterranean civilization that’s directly based on one of Barks’ own.
Bermuda Triangle Tangle
Like many DuckTales episodes, this survival story is richly layered for a children’s show, and rewatching it recently made me think of Battlestar Galactica.
Spies in their Eyes
Military-industrial intrigue, spy jokes by the speedboat-load and Donald Duck. What more do you need?
Sphinx for the Memories
Donald returns again and gets mixed up in an ancient Egyptian spirit cult. Yes, there’s a mummy — no, it’s not the one in the show’s opening credits. (Strangely, this episode is absent from the Disney+ lineup.)
Send in the Clones
Sorceress Magica De Spell in what I believe is her first appearance in the TV series, as always trying to get her hands on Scrooge’s lucky “Number One Dime.” And the Beagle Boys, magically transformed into doppelgangers of Huey, Dewey and Louie! And one Webra Walters, interviewing Scrooge McDuck at the worst possible time.
Inventor Gyro Gearloose invents an omnipotent robot that’s the answer to everyone’s problems — until, of course, it takes control of everything, a la Skynet, before the Internet was really a thing we knew about.
Gyro, having (sort of) learned his lesson from the previous episode “Armstrong,” invents four human-powered, giant robotic construction machines for Glomgold — but the Beagle Boys steal them and cause havoc.
Magica’s Shadow War
A great story that sees Scrooge and Magica team up when one of her schemes to snag his lucky charm gets out of hand.
Pearl of Wisdom
A great morality play that had me calling every large marble I had “The Great Masher.” You had to be there. Actions have consequences, and primitive doesn’t mean stupid.
Gyro’s time-pausing raygun gets stolen by the Beagle Boys after being more innocently abused by Huey, Dewey and Louie. Say it with me now: “It gets wildly out of control!”
Back Out in the Outback
Teamwork is the lesson underlying this Australian mystery adventure when Scrooge’s sheep ranch is besieged by “willy-wisps” who shave off all the wool under cover of night.
Raiders of the Lost Harp
A great adventure with Magica, a talking mystical artifact and Scrooge learning the value of fair play, yet again. And a rampaging giant minotaur statue that crosses the ocean floor on foot to follow the stolen artifact to Duckburg.
I fondly remember this episode: Huey, Dewey and Louie try to fool Scrooge into thinking it’s Saturday so they can get their allowance early — but the gag spirals out of hand (imagine that!) and “goes viral” before going viral was a thing. The result is global chaos. Unfortunately, this episode isn’t among the three volumes released on DVD so far, but can be watched on Disney+
My Mother the Psychic
Gizmoduck’s (think: Iron Man meets Inspector Gadget) mother gains prescient abilities, but it’s not all it’s quacked up to be. Also not available on DVD, but available on Disney+.
Dough Ray Me
I first learned about inflation from this episode, in which a musical note causes duplicated coins to keep duplicating. Not yet available on DVD but available on Disney+.