Rewatching DuckTales! Every long-running TV cartoon eventually does a “the dumb character becomes a genius” episode, and now it’s DuckTales’ turn in episode 83, “Bubba’s Big Brainstorm.”
Here’s what happens: Scrooge is puzzled with an incomprehensible treasure map. He learns his nephews all got straight As, but prehistoric caveduck Bubba got straight Zs (not Fs). The kids take Bubba to Gyro for tutoring, but Gyro says Bubba wouldn’t keep up. Instead, Gyro affixes Bubba with a high-tech “thinking cap,” which enhances his intelligence to a great degree. Not only can he speak in full sentences, but he’s a bona fide genius.
Bubba goes overboard on the genius thing. He leaves his cave for the mansion, reading all the books and coming up with new inventions. He takes over the kids’ school, becoming their new teacher. His ideas help Scrooge’s business concerns, making Scrooge even richer, and becoming a local celebrity. He then deciphers Scrooge’s treasure map, leading him and the nephews to a place called the Thinca Ruins.
The Thinca’s islands are inhabited by people who act like savages but are armed with high-tech laser weapons. Bubba explains that the ancient Thincans were brilliant inventors, who left their tech behind. The chief locks everyone up, only for their jail to contain the door to the ancient Thincan computer.
From there, the episode is a dungeon crawl. Bubba uses his genius to figure his way past deathtraps while the Thincans pursue everyone. In the final chamber, the group is attacked by a weird-looking monster who knocks of Bubba’s thinking cap. He reverts back to a caveduck, and fights off the monster with raw strength. The treasure of the Thincans in revealed to be a book. It’s a history of the Thincan civilization. They got so smart that they became lost in their own heads and forgot basic survival skills. Scrooge gives the book the Thincans. Back home, Bubba is happy back to being his old self.
Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning that his newfound family relationships are more important than his money. In this episode, he leaves the treasure with its people rather than bring it home for profit. Is this because it’s not gold so he doesn’t care, or has he learned a valuable lesson?
Junior woodchucks: After seeing the kids in their new modern-looking a school a few episodes ago, in this one they’re back to the old-timey one-room schoolhouse. Maybe it’s one of the situations where they have some classes in the old building and some in the new building.
Everybody walk the dinosaur: Genius Bubba is pretty much an entirely different character from regular Bubba. The only connecting thread I can see is Bubba’s curiosity about the world around him. It’s why he wanted to stay in the present and not return to prehistoric times, and it’s why he’s such a voracious reader as a genius.
Foul fowls: Because the Thincans are merely misunderstood, the only villain is the monster, a bizarre bird/dinosaur/dragon combo.
Down in Duckburg: The kids’ teacher, Mrs. Quackenbush, quits her job after failing to outthink genius Bubba. Her leaving is apparently permanent, because the Disney Wiki alleges that she never returns after this.
Reference row: Bubba compares himself to “Duckimedes.” This is a reference to classic Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes. He predicted the development of geometry, calculus, and the calculation of pi, much to the chagrin of many high school students.
Thoughts on this viewing: I’m not sure I follow the moral of “book smarts mean you lose your survival skills.” That might not be the best message for young viewers. Also, in stories like this, there’s usually a moment when a transformed character when the transformation makes the character unhappy, prompting the change back. In this one, Bubba enjoys his genius throughout and everything goes great for him. He only changes back out of necessity, but the episode wants us to think it’s a happy ending. It just doesn’t work.
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