Rewatching DuckTales! It’s the holiday season, so let’s go back to Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which many consider to be a proto-DuckTales.
It’s generally believed that 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol eventually led to 1987’s DuckTales. But then we remember that the Scrooge McDuck character has been in Disney comics since the ‘40s. The question, then, is how is it that Scrooge McDuck has been around that long, but not used as Charles Dickens’ Scrooge since 1983? Let’s do the deep dive and see that’s not quite the case:
1947: Scrooge McDuck’s first appearance in the Donald Duck comic book story “Christmas on Bear Mountain,” which is not a Dickens adaptation, but a slapstick story about Donald Duck being menaced by a bear.
1951: Scrooge gets his own comic series, Uncle Scrooge. This establishes his backstory as a treasure hunter, and it contains many elements later used in DuckTales. Also in 1951, the story “A Christmas for Shacktown” runs in Uncle Scrooge. The basic arc is that Scrooge dislikes Christmas at first, but later comes around and gives to the poor.
1955: Scrooge appears in animation for the first time as a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in the opening credits of The Mickey Mouse Club.
1960: Little Golden Books publishes Donald Duck and the Christmas Carol, in which Donald and his nephews prank Uncle Scrooge by disguising themselves as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Future, and Present. More a parody of the Dickens story than an adaptation.
1967: Scrooge has his official animation debut in the short cartoon Scrooge McDuck and Money. It’s an educational film about Scrooge teaching Huey, Dewey, and Louie about basic economics. It does, however, establish a relationship between Scrooge and the nephews with Donald being around.
1974: Disneyland Records produces an album, An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, with Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, and Goofy as Jacob Marley. This, more than anything else, is believed to be the inspiration for Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
1983: Mickey’s Christmas Carol debuts as a theatrical short attached to The Rescuers. It’s the first new Mickey Mouse animation in almost 30 years. The short then later runs as a holiday TV special throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s on ABC and the Disney Channel.
1985: The half-hour TV special A Magic Kingdom Yuletide Special airs. This live action (!) special has Scrooge hating Christmas at first, but Santa Claus (who is actually Goofy disguised as Santa) changes his mind.
1987: DuckTales debuts in syndication. The premise is a modernized take on the Uncle Scrooge comics, with the Indiana Jones films as additional inspiration. The original series had no Christmas episodes, while the 2017 Disney XD revival series has done two Christmas specials.
You all know the story of A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is grumpy rich miser who’s a jerk to everyone. He’s visited by ghosts throughout the night on Christmas Eve who show him his past, present and future. Scrooge’s heart melts, and he becomes a loving, charitable altruist. The question for us is how does Disney interpret it, and how (if at all) does it relate to DuckTales?
The big deal for DuckTales fans is that this is the first time that Alan Young voiced Scrooge. Young would go on to be Scrooge in DuckTales and various other animations until his death in 2016. Mickey Mouse plays Scrooge’s put-upon employee Bob Cratchit and Donald Duck as Scrooge’s optimistic nephew Fred.
Goofy plays the ghost of Jacob Marley, doing some comedy shtick so that younger viewers don’t get too scared. Jiminy Cricket is the ghost of Christmas Past, showing Scrooge as a romantic youth turned greedy miser. The ghost of Christmas Present is Willie the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstick, lightening up the story by doing some more comedy. We meet Crachit’s family, including the heartbreaking Tiny Tim.
We skip Fred and go straight to the ghost of Christmas Future, and this is where Disney makes the most liberties to the original. Tiny Tim is freakin’ dead, as is Scrooge himself. Scrooge’s lonely, abandoned grave opens up the doorway to Hell (!) and the ghost is revealed to be go-to Disney villain Pete. Christmas Future speaks in this version, another huge divergence from Dickens’ story. It’s a lot of death and sadness, but of course we get the big happy ending. Scrooge donates to the poor, agrees to have Christmas dinner with Fred, and gives Cratchit a promotion along with toys for Cratchit’s kids.
DuckTales is often criticized for making a hero out of rich jerk Scrooge McDuck, but my hypothesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning that his family and friends are more important than his money. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is obviously the purest expression of this, and that is its biggest connection to DuckTales.
Next: Cry no more, duck ladies.
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