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By Phil Hall | May 15, 2009

BOOTLEG FILES 283: “Scrooge McDuck and Money” (1967 Disney cartoon).

LAST SEEN: Available on YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The film was never commercially released on DVD.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is possible, although it doesn’t appear to be a Disney priority.

This week’s column is a big shout out to Laura DiMugno, a writer and copy editor who was surprised to discover that I was a fan of Scrooge McDuck. I have to admit that my admiration for the wealthy waterfowl did not come from the “DuckTales” cartoons, but from the long-running series of comic books featuring Uncle Scrooge in various misadventures.

Scrooge McDuck has a rather curious history. Unlike the other major Disney characters, he was not specifically created for animated films. His first official appearance came in a 1947 Donald Duck comic book called Christmas on Bear Mountain, where he was a fairly awful character intended as a one-shot appearance. As time progressed, however, Scrooge started to turn up with greater frequency in the Donald Duck comic books, and he was given an extensive back-story of a rags-to-riches ascension and a distinctive lifestyle (including an oversized vault where money is literally piled up). Eventually, Scrooge took over from Donald as the chief character in Disney’s ducky comic books.

Yet the Disney animators, for no clear reason, kept Scrooge off the screen for many years. An early forerunner of Scrooge, complete with Scottish brogue and kilt, was a minor character in the 1943 propaganda film “The Spirit of ‘43,” but it was not specifically identified as Scrooge McDuck. The character was briefly seen in the opening credits of “The Mickey Mouse Club” on TV during the 1950s, but he was not the focus of any of the episodes. But in 1967, the studio belatedly decided to give Scrooge his own cartoon. Donald was not included, but his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie were part of the cast.

The resulting film is “Uncle Scrooge and Money,” and it is a peculiar short. The focus is primarily educational, which dilutes much of the off-kilter humor associated with the Scrooge character. Furthermore, it makes significant changes to the personalities of the mighty ducks: Scrooge is seen as a wacky, bouncy old chap (although he has one shockingly egregious lapse of greed), while Huey, Dewey, and Louie are reconfigured as being slightly older than their previous film appearances – and they have clear speaking voices, rather than the often-unintelligible squawk that sounds like juvenile versions of Donald’s voice patterns.

Even worse, most of the short is spoken in rhyme – and that gets tiresome quickly.

“Scrooge McDuck and Money” finds the old zillionaire in his Money Bin, where he is literally playing with his riches (he swats columns of gold coins with his cane while yelling “Fore!”). Huey, Dewey, and Louie turn up with a piggy bank containing $1.95 in combined savings. They want Scrooge’s advice on what to do with their cash. Although the little ducklings initially thought about saving the funds, Scrooge offers them a history lesson on putting the money to work as part of the larger global financial environment.

Scrooge shows his grandnephews a history exhibit on the story of currency, including a display of salt that was used by the ancient Romans. The film then detours into a musical history lesson of money’s evolution, beginning with cavemen bemoaning, “We need money, some form of money!” Yes, Disney is clearly thumbing its nose at the evangelicals who believe the world began with Adam and Eve and not the Cro-Magnon crowd.

However, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are initially confused, and one of them (you cannot tell them apart, since they dress and sound alike) poses a question that may have inspired the Federal Reserve Bank’s response to the current recession: “Why don’t we print up a few billion?” Scrooge sputters, then rhymes: “That word ‘billion,’ how it’s abused / If it weren’t so frightening, I’d be amused.” Scrooge then offers illustrations of what one billion looks like: stacked up, it is about 800 times the height of the Washington Monument, or it can circle the world four times over. It is not clear which monetary offering Scrooge was referring to – one would assume such grand measurements would be somewhat smaller if $100 bills were used instead of $1 bills.

Scrooge also provides lessons regarding inflation, budgeting, and the necessity of taxes, which are defined as the funds that “governments need to run their households and keep out of debt.” (Yeah, tell that to George W. Bush!) But the fundamental lesson here from Scrooge is that money has to circulate – you just cannot sock it away. He even admits the funds in his fabled Money Bin are only a fraction of his total wealth. The duckling nephews illustrate the problems with squeezing money too tight when one chokes the other, causing eye-popping asphyxiation. (I wonder if they use that example at Wharton.)

At the end of the short, the nephews agree to invest their $1.95 in Scrooge Inc. – and Scrooge demands (and receives) a three-cent fee for his consulting. And then the film cartoon comes to an abrupt end, since it appears no one could think of anything more to say on the topic.

“Scrooge McDuck and Money” apparently had a theatrical release, though I cannot imagine it was well received since it was mostly an educational film with a few bits of whimsy thrown in. I suspect it had greater visibility in non-theatrical playdates – particularly elementary schools – and it was shown on “The Wonderful World of Disney” during the 1970s.

However, there has been no official DVD release of the short. A copy on YouTube was taken from a Disney Channel broadcast. You can tell where the print came from because text urging viewers to call a toll-free number to subscribe to the channel turns up in the middle of the film.

Scrooge did not turn up again in Disney films until the 1983 short “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” In that film, veteran comic actor Alan Young gave Scrooge his trademark Glaswegian voice (the radio actor did the banal voice performance for “Scrooge McDuck and Money”). “DuckTales” debuted in 1987, and with that series Scrooge was permanently enshrined as a bona fide star of Disney’s animation canon.

As for “Scrooge McDuck and Money” – eh, be glad you’re not paying your hard-earned money to see it.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boo st their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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