“Might solve a mystery / Or rewrite history…”
Most people would probably guess that my favorite time machine in fiction is the DeLorean from the Back to the Future films. That’s a pretty good guess, and I would definitely like to own one someday! Preferably one that runs on a garbage-fueled fusion reactor and can fly. But the time machine I like the most is the Millennium Shortcut.
Never heard of it? The Millennium Shortcut, likely a riff on Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, was the time machine used in the five-part DuckTales miniseries, “Time is Money.” I loved the simple yet elegant design, clearly inspired by old-style alarm clocks—a giant leap forward from the first time machine Gyro Gearloose invented, the time-tub.
If you never saw it or no longer remember the premise of the story, which first aired as a TV movie in 1988, Scrooge McDuck tries to claim prior ownership of a cave of diamonds—before Flintheart Glomgold can steal it from him—by traveling back in time and scrawling his symbol, $, all over its walls with a laser. Through a series of mishaps (after all, Launchpad McQuack is piloting the Shortcut), they accidentally go much farther back, to prehistoric times, where they pick up two stowaways: cave duck Bubba and his pet triceratops, Tootsie. Hijinks ensue, and in the end, Bubba Duck joins the main cast for a season, and Duck Tales jumps the megalodon.
Okay, so the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even for a time travel story. But it’s so unabashedly nonsensical, with plenty of sappy moments, I couldn’t help loving it. And I always enjoyed multi-part episodes of my childhood cartoons because stories spread out over two, four, or five episodes were so much bigger in scope than your usual 22-minute episode.
But my favorite thing about the Millenium Shortcut (other than its name) was the unique power source that enabled it to travel in time: bombastium. It was a rainbowy element that took the form of a popsicle, and it had to remain frozen in order to work. You didn’t even need a time machine to use it, but without a computer to control it, licking it would take you to a random time period, with no reliable way home. I had thought Gyro somehow invented bombastium, but when I just researched it, I learned it isn’t even original to DuckTales.
Like many stories and plot elements in the series, bombastium was borrowed from a Carl Barks comic. (I really need to read all of those.) According to Wikipedia:
Bombastium is stated to be the rarest element in the world. Even though it is very coveted, its usage potential is not entirely known. One characteristic is that it tastes different every time you try it, and scientists eventually discovered that one atom of bombastium dropped into a barrel of water becomes one barrel of ice cream: a different flavor of ice cream each time. To avoid evaporation, bombastium must be kept frozen.
On Duck Tales, bombastium just melts, which adds a kind of ticking clock (ha ha) to the climax of the story where Bubba is running out of time (sorry!) to get back to Duckburg. Fortunately, the computer is smart enough to locate the correct time just by fixing on his crudely drawn sketch of Uncle Scrooge and the directive, “Find Scooge!” Nonsense maybe, but the Shortcut was designed specifically for Launchpad to operate, after all.
There were some other great time machines to come out of the Disney Afternoon, which I will probably mention in later posts. But now it’s your turn: In the comments below, tell me about your favorite method of time travel in fiction.