Friday, October 3, 2014

The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck, Part 3

In this installment, I recall Donald and His Friends, which sounds like a serviceable title for a Disney coloring book marked $1.49 at a 99 cent store, but is actually the title of an oversize, fully-illustrated storybook from 1988. I suspect this book is a reprint and the original title was "Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!" or "Donald's Amazing Birthday Party" to coincide with the character's 50th birthday a few years prior. I still own a copy of "Happy Birthday, Bugs!", an oversize storybook published to coincide with Bugs Bunny's 50th birthday, but I don't know if that was ever reprinted as "Bugs and His Friends", which would be darkly ironic, since the "surprise party" depicted in that book devolved into a revenge plot after all the guests (all made up of Bugs' antagonists) recalled the many times the Wabbit had made fools of them. didn't click on this article to read about Bugs Bunny - you want to know what makes Donald and His Friends count as an "apocryphal" Scrooge McDuck duck-tale. Okay. This book was special because it featured an all-star cast of Disney characters from the films and comic books, including an unnamed character who resembles Ellsworth the crow, who is virtually unknown to audiences in the USA, but audiences overseas might've recognized him, which led me to believe this book was indeed a reprint,  yet I wasn't able to prove that when I did an online search.

The plot could've been adapted as an episode of Disney's House of Mouse. It begins with Donald alone in his house,  dozing off on the couch after completing household chores,  when a knock on the door wakes him up. The guests begin to arrive. First Daisy shows up. Huey, Dewey and Louie show up. Goofy shows up (dressed as Donald's present - less messy than jumping out of a cake, I presume), then Pluto, Mickey and Minnie Mouse arrive. Mickey's "gift" is a magic show featuring a magic top hat that functions like a backwards nesting doll - characters from the Disney films appear from inside and begin to pop out: Alice, Peter Pan, then Merlin the wizard, who magically makes an enormous gift box appear, which has a massive birthday cake inside, from which two of the Disney Princesses appear - Snow White and Cinderella. Cinderelly's gift is a pumpkin that turns into a roadster that resembles Donald's Belchfire Runabout car that Carl Barks created for the comics, but with the color scheme resembling the "flying" version used by Donald in the Paperinik/Duck Avenger stories. I particularly liked the interesting, surreal, Dr. Seuss-ian escalation in the presentation of the characters and gifts - this wouldn't have been impressive as a teensy Little Golden Book, but works better with this format, which resembles the size presented for Seuss's longer stories, like Happy Birthday To You! and And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, but it's inspiration most likely came from the Disney film The Three Caballeros, which also featured a birthday celebration for Donald Duck with a similar display of flamboyant character entrances.

The tone shifts when Scrooge arrives, unfashionably late, claiming to have been mugged, his "gift" for Donald stolen. Once it appears everyone present at the party would rather believe McDuck came to wolf down some free birthday cake...the most unforgettable moment in the book happens: Scrooge throws a fit.

Actually, the book describes him flying into "a rage", but I'm inclined to believe this was Scrooge's aria: he starts to trash Donald's house! Throwing gifts and anything not nailed down! The unfortunate thing about this book is that the destructive rampage is illustrated sparingly within the space of a few pages, offering ONE tantalizing image of the destruction capturing my imagination and staying in my head from the moment I first read it...A group of party crashers wind up bearing the brunt of McDuck's quack attack...and this group is made up of a sampling of the finest representatives of evil in the Disney films: Maleficent, Mad Madam Mim, Cruella de Vil, Medusa and the queen from Snow White, who was unnamed,  but because of the Disney-owned TV series Once Upon A Time is now known as Regina Mills or Queen Regina. It is truly a beautiful illustration, which brings up the sad point that the artist and writer of this book were uncredited and are unknown.

After the crones flee, the seven dwarves entertain rhe partygoers with music. Donald dances with Snow White.  Goofy and Clarabelle Cow dance the tango. Huey, Dewey and Louie follow up on the entertainment by showing a short cartoon  about Pluto chasing Ellsworth, who leads him to a surprise party held for the dog.

Then Gladstone Gander shows up. I think this is the first of only two appearances Gladstone has made in any of the Disney storybooks - the other appearance was in Donald Duck: Some Ducks Have All The Luck, a Little Golden Book. After presenting Donald with a gift that resembles an enormous perfume bottle (with an assist from an unnamed valet bearing a canny resemblance to Timothy Mouse from "Dumbo"), Gladstone recalls the bizarre gift he received from Scrooge on his birthday: a tiny, malfunctioning hourglass.  Gladstone gets revenge by claiming the hourglass was a lucky talisman, which makes Scrooge insist on buying it back, only to learn the hard way that he'd been had by his nephew. Then Chip & Dale show up at Donald's house with a surprise: they found Scrooge's gift for Donald - the hourglass he had bought back from Gladstone!  It's not implied in the text that Scrooge might have thought twice about his re-gifting strategy while on his way to Donald's house, decided it was a bad idea and ditched the hourglass while offering the story about being mugged as a cover for showing up empty-handed, but the artist's rendition of his face immediately after the denouement could imply that was what happened.

After that punchline, Donald offers his surprise for the guests: a fireworks show in his backyard, which becomes calamitous after Goify's pants catch fire from some stray sparks and is left standing in his boxers, but otherwise the party ends with everyone enjoying the festivities and Donald looking forward to next year's birthday party.

This book stood out because it was the only original story among a series of books that featured storybook adaptations of classic Disney animated films. The endpapers of the book show Scrooge in character as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol amongst a large display of Disney characters, so a book adaptation of that film was also offered at some point. I remember they were displayed on a large table at Barnes & Noble - not unlike the way books featuring Disney characters are often displayed at bookstores,  though I've never seen this book offered again, which is sad, because it was very good. The uncredited illustrator didn't take advantage of the format to do anything ambitious (perhaps there was a plan to keep this book in print on various size formats at one point), which hints this was something cranked out, albeit well done, since the uncredited writer was clearly having fun dreaming up a surreal experience. Both contributors rose to the occasion with that cameo by the Disney villains.  It's definitely worth looking out for.

Here's a clue about the next installment of The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck:

When is a "cameo guest star" not guest-starring at all? :)

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