Rewatching DuckTales! My thesis is that the series-long character arc of DuckTales is not about Scrooge McDuck being a rich jerk, but about him learning that his family is more important than his money. There’s no better example of this than in episode 61, “Once Upon a Dime.”
Here’s what happens: It’s July 1, which is somehow both “Kilt Day” and “Dime Polishing Day.” Dressed in a classic Scottish kilt, Scrooge is ready to polish his lucky Number One Dime, only to find it replaced with an ordinary quarter. Huey reveals that he’s the one who took the dime, and he gives it back to Scrooge. He and his brothers replaced it with what they believe is their lucky quarter. They boys question how one dime could possibly be responsible for all of Scrooge’s wealth and good fortune, so he promises to tell them the tale.
Flashback to old-timey Scotland, where young Scrooge aspires to greatness, but must start at the bottom as a lowly shoeshine boy. His first tip is the one and only Number One Dime. Scrooge’s parents think ten cents is worthless, but Scrooge sees the dime as a symbol for greatness. After whipping a homemade shoe-shining machine, Scrooge makes enough money to start a new life in America. He’s arrested for wearing a kilt in public (!) and he meets the Beagle Boys for the first time when in jail. He’s reunited with his long-lost uncle Catfish McDuck, who is not rich but in huge debt.
At this point, the episode becomes a series of repetitive skits, in which Scrooge comes up with whimsical money-making solutions to his problems:
- Scrooge saves his uncle’s business by entering the two of them in a riverboat race.
- Scrooge travels to the Klondike, making a fortune in the Gold Rush. (These scenes take place just before the flashback seen in episode 23, “Back to the Klondike.”)
- Scrooge buys timberland in Oklahoma, only to find it treeless. When he buries his Number One Dime for safe-keeping, he accidentally strikes oil.
- Scrooge buys a worthless coal field in Africa. He gets a bunch of elephants to stampede over the coal, crushing it all into valuable diamonds.
Scrooge then builds the famous Money Bin and lives in Duckburg. But without a family, he felt lonely, not rich. He says that he did not truly feel rich until the day that his three nephews, Webby, and Mrs. Beakley came to live him, so he had a family to share his wealth with. But he’s still not going to give the boys a raise in their allowance.
Humbug: A running gag in this episode is Scrooge’s failed attempts at being a bagpipe musician. He gives up on this dream pretty quick in favor getting a “real job,” although he keeps the bagpipes with him. Are the bagpipes his Rosebud?
Junior woodchucks: Huey believes his quarter is lucky, because at the arcade, he got a high score on “Ducky Kong” and the machine gave him the quarter back. Somebody at Disney needs to make a real-life Ducky Kong game right away.
Foul fowls: The Beagle Boys in the flashback are Old West-themed, Wild Bill Beagle, Butch Beagle, and third unnamed one that the Disney Wiki just called “frontier Beagle Boy.”
Down in Duckburg: In this episode, Scrooge keeps his Number One Dime’s glass case on a fireplace mantle. In past ones, it’s been in a room of its own, in a hallway, and inside the Money Bin. I guess he just likes moving it from place to place.
Reference row: This one digs in deep adapting stories from the classic Uncle Scrooge comics by legendary artist Carl Barks. Some have theorized this episode inspired Don Rosa’s graphic novel The Complete Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, which attempts to connect the classic Duck comics into a single continuity.
Thoughts on this viewing: Subtext becomes text. Scrooge’s money doesn’t bring him joy, his family does. That’s a nice sentiment for this episode, but does the series as a whole reflect this? That’s the question. In a smaller-picture view, this is a bunch of short stories that aren’t that great. The riverboat race is a Southern plantation setting, which is problematic at best, monstrous at worst. Scrooge making his fortune on comedic schemes really stretches the cartoon logic. And where’s all the Indiana Jones-style treasure hunting? Isn’t that where he got his fortune? So, this is a mess of an episode with its heart in the right place.
Next: The hunt for duck October.
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