No other movie studio has become part of western culture more than Disney. Sure, Warner Brothers has recognition for Bugs Bunny, but you don’t say something that doesn’t work too well or is ineffective is a Bugs Bunny version. You can have a Mickey Mouse car, not a Bugs Bunny car.
But with ubiquity comes misunderstanding, and over time, persistence breeds change. There are characters in Disney you think you know, but in each case something makes them not who you think they are.
HUEY, DEWEY, AND LOUIE
The triplets showed up at their uncle’s in a final panel reveal in 1937. Originally they were said to be at his place for one day, then for a short time, then they admitted it was just permanent. They were part of a whole slew of nephews and nieces in movies, books, comics, and radio. Let’s not forget, penicillin hadn’t been invented yet, and the Great Depression hadn’t been uninvited yet, either.
Lots of people couldn’t raise their own kids. The kids went to family. Family took them on. So Donald Duck got this three. Mickey Mouse got his nephews, Morty and Ferdie, Daisy Duck got April, May, and June, and so on.
But when they showed up, they were like all twins and triplets in fiction at the time. They were identical no matter which way you lined them up. They had the same personality (such as their was of that), and the color coding they’re famous for now didn’t show up for forty-some-odd-years.
There are a thousand little things you might not notice along the way. For example, Dewey’s formal name is Deuteronomy Duck.
And you might have wondered why his parents (who haven’t been seen in nearly eighty years) gave the boys to Donald to raise for longer than a short afternoon. I mean, come on, the guy has a hair trigger temper. He has all the patience of a rabid dog on meths and is probably about three times as dangerous. I would not give a Kryptonian child to that.
But the three boys – it fits. They were hell.
I know, you’re thinking of the kids in Duck Tales, Quack Pack and Disney’s House of Mouse. They didn’t start out that way. They spent most of their time goading their uncle into losing his temper. Usually, they succeeded.
Why did they get sent to their uncle? Because he just might be able to keep them in line. Also, the little domestic terrorists blew up their father.
That’s right, they loaded his chair with fireworks. Kaboom. Dad went to hospital and they went to Donald until Dad got out. They’re still with him.
Their father may have died. If so, their mother, Della, probably wouldn’t want the parricidal maniacs back. She might have married someone else and gave birth to quieter, more obedient children. And hopefully she didn’t give them stupid names like Deuteronomy.
The boys stayed with Donald. He offloaded them on the Junior Woodchucks and then their great Uncle Scrooge. The learning of skills and constantly fearing they were about to be killed did them the world of good.
They were advanced in years to teenagerdom in Quack Pack, then back to preadolescence, then back to teenagers, and anything that a jellyfish that baffles science can do, Disney can do in a cartoon. But their father is still dead or in hospital or something and so long as the boys stay popular, he will never be seen or heard from again. But never forget, they’re with Donald because of an act of domestic terrorism and their uncle was a better punishment than prison.
Everyone seems to get this wrong. Even otherwise knowledgeable websites and commentators get this wrong. Why? Part of it is the shorthand, which is wrong, is so much shorter and more convenient (not to mention easier to remember) than the long version which is correct. And that applies not only to Gyro Gearloose but to his little helper, who is called Helper.
Everyone says his inventions don’t work, or that he makes a mistake in creating them. That’s not the rule. His inventions work, they always work, they always work precisely how he says they will work. It doesn’t matter how complex or advanced it is, it will work as advertised.
What Gyro Gearloose doesn’t do is take all social aspects into account, how utilitarian his invention will be, or how much effort the invention entails. For example, he invents a unicycle with legs and feet instead of a wheel so one pedal equals one step. He doesn’t notice that it’s the same amount of effort with more balancing tossed in, he’s having fun.
At one point he tries to take a bottle of cream on a pogo stick. He gives up before hopping produces butter: but if he’d kept at it, it would churn the cream into (thin, runny) butter. This is the closest to failure he will ever come, and it isn’t even really an invention.
But he can invent machines that leave Donald Duck only an hour’s work to do each day. He invents one that makes Scrooge McDuck even more money that Scrooge himself can make. And let’s not forget he made GizmoDuck’s armor. All those things work perfectly. In the first two cases, the recipients of his benefice couldn’t take things being so perfect.
GizmoDuck is another matter. The armor works flawlessly. But he gave it a voice-activated code-word, blatherskite. Fenton Crackshell uses that term all the time, and Scrooge McDuck uses it when telling Gyro to create a code-word of, “some blatherskite no one’ll ever use.” Gyro then uses blatherskite forgetting Scrooge just used it right then and there.
Perhaps his greatest invention, certainly the most useful, is the little helper he calls Helper, or sometimes Little Helper. This is a small robot with a light bulb for a head. It runs on a battery. It has consciousness and self awareness, all those things our AI units never really have.
The thing is, everyone seems to call the little robot silent, voiceless, or simply having no dialogue. This isn’t true. The robot has thought balloons (which some admit), talks to animals, and sometimes the caption of the panel has in quote marks to show Helper is speaking. Simply because the character doesn’t talk to certain other characters does not make it voiceless.
Long recognized as Disney’s entry into dramatic animation stories a la Batman (very a la, according to some), it wound up using a lot of actors from Star Trek the Next Generation for voiceover work. There are some things in this story that are hard to understand (like what they were thinking with that third season, but leave that for now).
Gargoyles was about creatures called gargoyles who existed in Scotland in 994. During the day they would be statues in what was called stone sleep. At night they would break out of their containing stone shells and become living creatures. Because of the effects of a spell, they are frozen in their stone shells until the castle they protect should rise above the clouds.
Now, it has been said this is the usual seemingly impossible prophesy that is designed to be fulfilled to get the plot moving. In one sense, duh. But on the other hand look at Edward the Confessor’s deathbed prophesy.
A tree would be cut down and, without any help from any person would rejoin itself, and would flower and bear fruit. There is no story there because it hasn’t bloody happened yet. If you chopped down a tree that suckers the prophesy could be fulfilled. As story, this matches every point of the ‘above the clouds’ prediction.
The problem is that the gargoyles in Gargoyles are not technically gargoyles. I know the word has been made less specific over time, but a gargoyle is a downpipe with a stone statue in the shape of a misshapen creature wrapped around it. Rainwater comes out the mouth/spout and, specifically, flows beyond the gutter.
If the stature does not have a downpipe and isn’t relieving the gutters of overload, then it is called a grotesque.
The gargoyles of gargoyles are grotesques. Now, the term may have loosed its grip on a specific meaning, but not until centuries after gargoyles and grotesques first appeared.
That was on gothic churches of the twelfth century, primarily in France but also in Italy. They were not known in tenth century Scotland, where these gargoyles first appear.
But they are certainly there now, and Scotland has shown a great deal more whimsy about the whole thing than France ever did.
I like the bunny. No, seriously, I like the bunny.
OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT
Everybody knows bits of the story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but they think they know all of it. Oswald was Walt Disney’s first creation, and he started making Lucky Oswald cartoons for Universal Pictures. Disney created the character specifically for Universal in 1927, but the studio quickly figured out they didn’t need Disney and got rid of him in 1928.
It has never been explained what Universal didn’t like about Walter Disney, but a theory will present itself shortly.
Some 80 years after losing him, the Disney company managed to get the intellectual rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the full catalog of Oswald cartoons that Disney had worked on. It seems to be a case of corporate culture: they carry on the legacy of Walt Disney and so have to have that clapped out useless character because he was Uncle Walt’s clapped out useless character.
Actually, they had a game idea in hand. If they’d done it the other way the corporate executives might have been liable for failing to maximize profit for their shareholders. In the United States that’s a crime. Instead, they had a concept that they used to create the game Epic Mickey and later Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, and Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion plus other projects.
Epic Mickey depends on Oswald playing off it’ real life publishing history. Oswald basically plays a kind of resentful fifth Beatle role. In other words, Disney only moved on him when they had ideas that only Oswald could convincingly fulfill but which would make Disney far more money than they spent to get him.
As an animated character, Oswald was nothing special. It was the very early days of animation and many animators (who were all new at the job all at the same time). They had a very low skills base and most of that was stolen from newspaper comics.
Drawings had to be simplified and one way to do that was to have no joints in their arms or legs. The arms and legs were the same dimensions all the way along because that made it easier to draw consistently. What they got were arms and legs that looked like garden hoses and they almost immediately started having those limbs wriggle like garden hoses.
The template was Felix the Cat. The first star of animation became imitated all over the place including by Oswald and after him, Mickey. For all the hullabaloo about Mickey, he wasn’t the first and added nothing of any inherent value to the genre.
Basically, Oswald and Mickey are the same character as each other and they are both the same character as Felix the Cat. Take off the ears of any one of them and put them on another character and you’ve got the original character: Felix will become Mickey who becomes Oswald who becomes Felix and around the other way if you want.
Seriously, go to Youtube and watch Sky Scrappers and Rival Romeos then watch Steamboat Willie, the short which introduced Mickey Mouse to the world. They are the same gags. The goat eats sheet music and is filled with music. They turn it’s tail into a crank. Turn the crank and the music comes out.
A crane hook turns into – tongs? – in any event, they lift up the female’s skirt, latch onto her underpants, and hoist her into the air.
The star’s opponent is always much bigger than the star. Physically, they were outmatched. And supporting characters for Oswald (that cow on the tracks) seem to be later recycled in Disney (Clarabelle).
What separated Mickey from the rest was the devotion his company gave him – perhaps due to bad memories of losing Oswald – and, far more important, Disney’s maniacal determination to do a better job than he did last time. That probably had a lot to do with Universal getting of Disney. Universal just wanted a milk cow and Disney wanted a better milk cow.
In other words, if Universal had not snatched Oswald, he might have the place now occupied by Mickey Mouse.
Walter Elias Disney was a man. He had a brother named Roy who was the guy who kept control of the accounts.
‘Walt’ or ‘Uncle Walt’ was a character, and like all Disney characters he has been made to fit the modern world and every variation from that present need is an affront. This is the way of characters.
Walter Disney was a chain smoker. For those not familiar with the term, a chain smoker is a smoker who gives each cigarette a last task of lighting up their next cigarette. Walter Disney was one of those but Uncle Walt never smoked in front of kids.
Of course, back then, most kids would recognize the smell on his breath anyways, but it just goes to show how Walt and Walter were not the same person.
In the same way, Uncle Walt would never be anti-Semitic because it’s not popular now. But Walter Disney the man did not like Jews during the Great Depression. He attended meetings of the German American Bund – a group of American Nazis who may have made Goodman, Simon, and Kirby realize the comic book world needed Captain America, an issue we have dealt with before. But Uncle Walt had to be cleansed of all that.
Walter Disney has also been dogged by accusations of racism. That’s not the worst of it, the worst of it is that Uncle Walt is also accused of racism. So the Disney company had to hide away The Song of the South, pretending they never made it.
They had to apologize and agree that there may have been racial insensitivity in some Disney productions of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. He was not racist, he just used stereotypes that were then common. But in Song of the South he used stereotypes that the NAACP (among others) complained about at the time. For a guy who has to know his audience, he should have known them better.
But Uncle Walt can’t have any of those human defects. And therein lies a lot of the problem. Uncle Walt is tied to an historical figure who did real things and as attitudes change, those things have to be shut or explained away. But they will always be there.
The problem with the way racist characters have been gotten rid of is it seems to have reduced the number of characters of color. I don’t think that was what people making the complaints wanted.
Walter Disney was a businessman. He may have liked his job, but it was a job. And when he had a chance to get a property like Mary Poppins, he would work it around until he got what he wanted. This sometimes meant wresting control of the property from the creator the same way Universal wrested control of Oswald from him. The movie, Saving Mr Banks, struggles between telling a story of Walter Disney and Uncle Walt.