Tuesday, December 25, 2018

"Merry Christmas"

Merry Christmas, with this appropriately-titled story from 1961's Donald Duck Merry Christmas! Although, again, this is, like the last one, really more just the name of the book it appeared in than the title of the story per se. Who cares! Because, yes, a real Christmas miracle, behold: a genuinely good story! Seriously! The sort of thing you hope to find when reading these old Western things but rarely do.  I mean, no, not perfect, perhaps not likely to change your life, but one about which I can say that, with very few qualifications, I like it. It's well-written and executed and it very much deserves to be reprinted. So there! I have the feeling that, as so often with stories that I actually like, I'll have less to say about this than some others. But that's okay, hopefully! Silence is golden.  Well, obviously not "silence," as such.  But...oh, come ON.  Let's just GO.

Donald can't sing: it's a fairly normal-looking kind of thing to start with; it's fine, but it probably doesn't make you think it's going to be anything special.

Really, it seems like an extremely normal sort of plot, and I guess it is, really. But bide a while. I do like the glee club's interest in Christmas music.

Say what you will, but "like a rusty gate echoing through a drainpipe" is a more colorful simile than you'd typically find in a story like this.

Timbuktu is an ancient city with a lot of history, and I do think it would be an interesting place to visit.  But...would it really ever have been such a hot tourist destination?  Couldn't these guys have found somewhere more enticing to offer?

I really like Donald's emotional reaction in this story. They're atypical yet real-feeling, to me. Look how he decorates the tree with a fatalistic attitude that nonetheless doesn't involve lashing out at anyone. Why would we think Scrooge could help, exactly? Is it just because, being old, he's presumed to have greater perspective? Difficult to say.

But the story doesn't really pick up until these guys appear. Sure, the demon-and-angel-on-your-shoulders thing is a hoary old cliche, but it's handled with a lot of panache and vigor here, making for some genuinely entertaining stuff. This story has a kind of energy that, for my money, we really haven't seen elsewhere.

You probably don't have to think too hard to realize what the result of this shock was. The nagging question I have is: have I seen this plot device in another duck story? I mean, I'm sure I haven't seen it in a plot that's anything like this, but "Donald is bad at singing, becomes good at singing" seems familiar. Or, I suppose, I could just be thinking of a more generic "Donald is bad at X, becomes good at X." Whatever!

If you have a criticism of this story, it could be that Donald is portrayed as too nice. But once again, this doesn't bother me. I think it's within normal parameters for the character, albeit a bit of an outlier, and it's just appealingly, well, nice.

I like to picture the devil with a thick New York accent. It's really a lot of fun.

And now, this: for my money, "Do you think the big stars work for peanuts, Gertrude?" is the best line in any of these things, even if I'm not sure why "Gertrude" specifically.  Great stuff.

But who wrote it? you wonder. Well, maybe you don't. BUT I'LL TELL YOU ANYWAY. Inducks is silent as to the authorship, but it's definitely Bob Gregory. The man was inconsistent, sure, but when he was on, he was able to write stories of a caliber that his fellow non-Barkses simply couldn't, and this totally feels like his style. The only other possible answer is Don Christensen, but he actually did very few duck stories. Anyway, Gregory had written the Barks-drawn "Christmas in Duckburg" and "Christmas Cha Cha" in 1958 and 59 respectively, so it makes sense that he'd've been given another one to do (having been passed over with 1960's "Tick Tripe Tip." And a good job he does, too. My only regret is that I missed this when I was doing A VERY BOB GREGORY CHRISTMAS a few years ago.  Or maybe not, since now I can go out on a high point this year.  It's all good.

Scrooge is fine here. Of course, he's not being asked for money, so he doesn't have any reason to freak out, but he still idly muses about creating this prize.

I just love everyone spontaneously bursting into song 'cause why the hell NOT? It's just HELLA festive.

Awww. Of course, we are compelled to note that, if we take this logic seriously, he's gonna foreclose on them as soon as the holiday's over, but let's not think that far. Here, have Maddy Prior singing "I Saw Three Ships." One of my Christmas favorites.

Well...the angel kind of has a point, and yet it's a thorny philosophical question: some people are just naturally better at some things than others. Does that mean...what does that mean? Of course, the question is kind of short-circuited by cartoonish situations like this one. This story handles the question better than The Incredibles, I'll say that for it.

I mean, it's still a non-Barks Western story, and it's still gonna have some nonsensical stuff in it, so I'm forced to point out that there's nothing illegal or unethical about the Beagles entering this contest. As far as I'm able to infer, the idea has to be that they're wanted fugitives and therefore can't be doing law-abiding things like entering singing contests. But it's kind of dumb however you slice it.

Once again, you could easily think that Donald is too good here, and behaving like kind of a tool. And once again, I would reply that I just. Don't. Care.

Donald teaching Scrooge to sing is fun.  Note that in "The Christmas Cha Cha," he likewise wants to learn a skill at the last minute so he can compete in a performing arts contest.

The only actually criminal activity the Beagles engage in the whole thing. If they hadn't made this ill-advised move, they'd totally be able to maintain the moral high ground when they get dragged away from the contest. But their inner natures just can't help coming out. Gotta love Scrooge's acquiescence: "they insist that we do nothing! Hurry! Let's do nothing!"

Yeah, the nerve of them, thinking they can enter the singing contest just because they can sing. I feel like Gregory ought to have thought of a way to fill the story out that didn't involve this dopey subplot.

Good lord, man, he's been thrashing around for the better part of a full day? That's...probably a bit more unpleasant that the story wanted to get, really.

GO AHEAD and tell me this isn't great! JUST TRY IT! I need a good contemptuous laugh! Rargh!

Anyway, they fall down the stairs so, yeah. Hurrah. One might think they'd know their own safehouse(?) better than that, but apparently not, to their detriment.

Again, I love Donald running in singing. But then the inevitable happens. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted...

But even so, everyone's basically cool with it; not the sort of sour ending you might expect from "character loses special ability." I like it. Hurrah!

SO ANYWAY. This entry turned out to be long enough, but I won't claim it's the most insightful; a li'l too "I liked this, I liked that"-heavy. Nonetheless! I hope you have enjoyed this crash course in Western Christmas! Try to keep the spirit of Western alive in your heart the whole year 'round! Or something.



Blogger Achille Talon said...

I mean, I'm sure I haven't seen it in a plot that's anything like this, but "Donald is bad at singing, becomes good at singing" seems familiar.

Possibly the cartoon Donald's Dream Voice? There's also The Call of C'rrruso, of course, which would actually make a good Halloween review, come to think of it.

December 25, 2018 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

This story handles the question better than “The Incredibles”, I'll say that for it.

In what way do you mean? (Note: I have only seen the first one, and am discussing that one on its own merit. Don't know if the sequel committed any great sin that area that I'm unaware of.)

December 25, 2018 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I really liked The Incredibles (and haven't seen the sequel either), but the end--where apparently it's bad for the kid to use his super-speed to win races but A-okay if he only uses it to come in second--was pretty badly botched, I felt.

December 25, 2018 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Ah, I'd forgotten that scene.

To be generous, we could say that it's a "baby steps" kind of thing — the kid wouldn't take it well to have to suppress his powers altogether/be excluded from the race because of his powers, and might lash out in the other direction as in every other superhero story ever where an unstable superpowered youth is told to rein in their abilities. But getting him to agree that using the powers to win altogether wouldn't be fair play is something.

But yeah, it's still pretty dumb.

December 25, 2018 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

As for the ending of "The Incredibles" : I never seen it as some moral, as much a joke of them being affraid that Dash will blow their cover if people will realise he's to fast.

Dash was happy he can show of his skills to people and not hide it (like his mother wanted at the start of the film) but obviously was still trying to make it look natural and I don't think he cared about winning since there is no challange for him in out-running every kid in school.

"Incredibles 2" is good, aside for "Toy Story" sequels the only Pixar Sequel that felt natural. I think it captured most of elements that made the first one great, with mixing action with character having conversations and daily life stuff, got some great bits of comedy, and character moments, and Violet went from the character I cared for the least in the first movie to my favorite one.

The only downside is the villian ("The ScreenSlaver"). Aside from the twist "Aha! It's THIS character the whole time" Disney is obssesed with doing since "Frozen" (which to be fair match better with a super hero story, even if it was super predictible here) but the character's motivation makes little sence and just comes of as Meh, compering to Syndrome. For that flaw and few more nitpicks it's not as good as the oryginal, but it's stil strong and gave me what I wanted - just watch these characters interact more :)

December 25, 2018 at 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I have always loved the "I'm just an imaginary being" panel sequence in this story. Fallberg's is still my favorite of the lot, though, as a Christmassy story. Not because it has Santa, but because of the way Scrooge has to play Santa at the end. Your alternative title for that one did make me laugh out loud.

Happy Third Day of Christmas, everybody!

December 27, 2018 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I wish there was a Guy Fawkes day Duck story. Like Duckbrug is having their anual Guy Fawkes day parade but Scrooge can't get into the spirit cose he thinks it's all superstitious nonsence but THEN something happens, like he has to save the kids or some type of adventure or maybe he will stop The Beagle Boys who are planing rob the Carnival or something and at the end he [Scrooge] get's visited by the spirit of Guy Fawkes and he learns the true meaning of the holidayt and they go to Grandma Duck for their anual warm beer and biscuits!

Any way

December 31, 2018 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger ramses said...

Regarding the Timbuktu thing: In the Netherlands, Timbuktu is used as a generic reference to a faraway place. It's possible that whoever wrote this story had some Dutch roots, or maybe this usage used to be more widespread. There is a similar usage of Timbuktu in one of your previous posts, 'Trick-type trip', so perhaps they had the same writer?

October 2, 2020 at 12:14 PM  

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