donald-scrooge opus

Because of Scrooge's success in the comics, Ken Peterson, then head of the story department at the Disney Studio, decided to make a cartoon featuring the character. In an October 24, 1984 letter to Geoffrey Blum, Ken Peterson told: "When we were doing shorts, there was always a need for story ideas, and since Scrooge McDuck had really been developed fully in comics, it was natural that I would contact Carl Barks for help." Peterson had known Barks since 1936, when they worked in the same room as in-betweeners on the Disney cartoons.

Following a phone call, Peterson sent a letter to Barks on January 4, 1955, inquiring if the Duck Man was at liberty to do outside work under the terms of his contract with Whitman and requesting "a story idea for Scrooge McDuck, which would be suitable for an animated short." (Whitman was the division of Western Publishing that produced the comic books.)

Six days later, on January 10, 1955, Barks responded with a nine-page synopsis, for which he provided a condensed version in an accompanying letter: "I enclose a "synopsis" of the Donald-Scrooge opus we discussed the other day. It started out to be a short, simple draft of a plot, but ended looking more like a shooting script, as I kept building the scenes. I type out a condensed version below, so you can get a quick idea of what all those nine pages are about. [...] I hope you like the yarn. But if it isn't what you guys think would be a good animation story, I can always use it in the comics. So, don't feel that you have to be shy about sending it back."

The underlying theme of Barks's synopsis is about the modern working man (Donald) and the easy, unworried life he leads as contrasted to that of his boss (Scrooge). Donald is surrounded by every modern convenience, while Scrooge is besieged by a rat, which threatens to destroy a ten-thousand dollar bill.

Barks's synopsis included a gag about Donald operating a money-sorting machine that runs by power. In the January 10, 1955 letter, he explained: "The idea for the money-sorting machine is adapted from a cover I drew for the UNCLE SCROOGE magazine [US 10]. It will appear on the stands in early summer. The original idea was mine, and it now belongs to Disney, anyway."

Peterson wrote again to Barks on February 14, 1955; Barks had visited the Studio in the interim and had seen the storyboards for a cartoon with Scrooge and Donald. It is obvious, from Peterson's letter, that Barks's synopsis had not been followed: "We are still working on the Scrooge McDuck and Donald idea we had on the board at the time you were [here.] We hope to shape this story up for a first effort. We may still be interested in using your story idea at a later date...." Peterson told Barks that the Studio wanted to keep the script for a month or so, unless Barks wanted to use it for a comic book.

Peterson kept the script/synopsis until May 6, 1955. Then he returned it, with a letter explaining that the Studio was heavily involved in television production, and that the chance of producing a Scrooge cartoon was remote. The nine-page script/synopsis has since been lost, but the letter with the two-page condensed version survives.

In an October 24, 1984 letter to Geoffrey Blum, Peterson elaborated: "We went on television with a regular program in the fall of 1954, and Disneyland opened July 17, 1955. It was a period of great change at the Studio. Shorts were breathing their last, and television programs were on the way in." The Disney Studio virtually ceased making short subjects of any kind in 1955, and as the shorts units were shut down, their personnel - such as Jack Hannah, director of most of the Donald Duck cartoons - were moved into work for the television show.

In an 1977-1983 interview by Jim Korkis, Hannah recalled an additional reason why Scrooge was never used: "We did consider using Scrooge for a short, while I was a director, but the idea was shot down because someone voiced strong feelings that a character who went wild over money wasn't funny. Scrooge's greed was the reason we didn't use him. Of course, this all happened at a time when we were stopping production on the shorts, so that ended any further discussion. I understand that a short was made later using the character, but I was not at the Studio at the time." (Hannah refers to the 1967 double-length short titled «Scrooge McDuck and Money».)

Hannah's comment reveals that the animators did not really understand Uncle Scrooge. Perhaps they abandoned Barks' synopsis because they felt it necessary first get a feel for McDuck and to give their audience a basic introduction to Donald's uncle. The twenty-one storyboard drawings that survive in the Disney Archives show one artist's attempts to come to terms with an unfamiliar character and explore its potential for humor.

The drawings fall into three types. First comes an opening sequence in which the camera pans in through the window of Scrooge's mansion to watch him rise in the morning and take his money swim. The intention seems to be to capture a typical day in the old duck's life.

A second group of storyboard sketches consists of unrelated gags showing Scrooge having fun with his money, as if it were simply a toy. He plays checkers with coins, tosses money sacks instead of bean bags, and makes hand towels and Dixie cups from dollar bills. All jokes depend for their humor on Scrooge being so rich that he can perform mundane activities with money props. It is as if the artist had only looked at Barks' gags on the covers of Uncle Scrooge, ignoring the adventures inside.

The third group might be called model drawings. These are capsule character studies, sketches of Scrooge pacing, shouting, running, and smiling that seem to be based on drawings by Barks. In each pose, the artist has managed to capture an emotion - worry, anger, eagerness, greed - but without providing an occasion for it. In one drawing, the artist has tried to use Scrooge's tag phrase "I'm just a poor old man!" The phrase is interpreted as a ludicrous dodge, without the emotional burden that Barks would have added to it.

Judging from his surviving "condensed version", Barks' synopsis also had problems. There seems to have been little or no interaction between Scrooge and Donald. (The condensed version doesn't contain any interaction at all.) Huey, Dewey, and Louie seem to have been fully absent. Interaction with (allready animated and introduced) family members would have helped to create humor and sympathy for Scrooge.
Barks contrasted Donald's and Scrooge's respective situations as employee and boss. Within this contrast, the hardness of Scrooge's life is stressed by Donald's "easy, unworried life". This is a departure from the style in Barks' comics, which usually (also) stress the difficulties faced by the modern worker.

Barks never used his synopsis as basis for a comic book. When Barrier asked him why, in 1974, he said: "I just didn't have quite enough action. I would need to have jazzed it up and introduced some clouds of rats, or something. In other words, it would have been a story that starred Uncle Scrooge, and the kids and Donald wouldn't have had enough to do with it. I would have had to have used them in there."

As a matter of fact, Barks had tried out two of the story's devices a year before writing the script for Peterson. In the impervi-wax money case story (WDC 171), Donald is hired to work in the money bin, and a mouse gets inside. After a few pages of gags, however, the rodent business is dropped, and the story takes off in a new direction, about an invention by Gyro Gearloose.

In 2001 or 2002, Daan Jippes has created a ten-page story, which uses a segment of Barks' idea, the part about Scrooge battle with the blackmailing rat. (D/D 2001-021

Scrooge McDuck has been used in the titles for the Mickey Mouse Club on television in the 1950s, but only for a few seconds, popping out of the Big Bad Wolf's hat. In 1967, the Studio released a double-length short titled «Scrooge McDuck and Money», which was Scrooge's first appearance in a theatrical film.

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