If there is one drum I’ll continue to beat in this god-forsaken hellhole of a year, it’s that Disney’s rebooted DuckTales might just be the cleverest and most joyful show on television. I’m not saying it’s my only ray of light, but… I mean, it’s probably the brightest. But just because I, a 35-year-old woman, consistently clap my hands and squee and giggle and grin and — yes — even cry at a kid’s cartoon, it doesn’t mean it’s something I should yammer on about during my day gig. I mean, I do, and I have, but I try to keep it to a reasonable minimum. Like when the show does something newsworthy, or when Lin-Manuel Miranda’s on (which is kinda the same thing). That’s the flavor of my professionalism: waiting for the opportune moment to justify writing about freakin’ DuckTales for the Nth time.
Well, folks, welcome to the Nth+1 time I’m going to talk about DuckTales, because it turns out that the show finally did that thing that we all wanted it to do, somewhere in the back of our minds, since the moment we heard David Tennant would be voicing Scrooge McDuck:
DuckTales just went full Doctor Who!
Sure, there has always been a hint of the timeless, ageless adventurer present in Tennant’s version of Scrooge. A subtext that doesn’t need to be read, but is there to delight avid Whovians nonetheless. But this weekend the series aired a rollicking Christmas adventure that seems to harken directly back to Tennant’s Time Lord roots — and even to a few variations of the Doctor other than the Tenth. It’s not just because this is a Christmas-themed episode and Doctor Who has made a bit of a thing out of doing those, starting with Tennant’s very first episode as the Doctor (2005’s “The Christmas Invasion”). The plot of the episode rips a page straight out of the Timey Wimey Who Playbook, with Scrooge time traveling to great Christmas parties of the past — itself a move that would make Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor proud. Possible paradoxes abound as Scrooge’s hapless companion (Dewey) gets lost in time and encounters his own mother. Even the episode’s title, “Last Christmas!”, is a possible Who-clue, since Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas episode as the Twelfth Doctor was also called Last Christmas (only without the exclamation mark at the end).
Oddly, the fact that both DuckTales and Doctor Who have put their own unique spin on the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” is probably the one area in which “Last Christmas!” isn’t actually referencing Doctor Who at all. Instead, this episode serves as a long-delayed backdoor sequel to Disney’s own past — specifically, 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol. You know the one: Scrooge is Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who is visited by a series of life-lesson bearing ghosts (including Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past!), while Mickey plays his loyal underling, Bob Cratchit. The premise of “Last Christmas!” brings those ghosts back, and reveals that while they may have mistakenly met Scrooge McDuck all those years ago while trying to haunt a different Scrooge, it turns out they’ve been getting together every year since — to party-hop through time!
Scrooge pretends to be all “Bah Humbug” about the holiday, but it’s merely a cover. He doesn’t hate Christmas at all (though he does have some choice words to share about Old Saint Nick… and a good point about the fact that Launchpad can’t tell the difference between Christmas lights and landing lights). Instead, Scrooge uses his faux-miserly theatrics to cover up for his yearly trips out with the ghosts — trips that represent the one time all year that he shirks his responsibilities and really cuts loose. Jiminy (voiced by Jack McBrayer) leads the charge with his time traveling umbrella — which he calls a “time-brella” (which, again, falls squarely within the Doctor Who playbook, under “take any normal thing and just stick ‘Time’ in front of it”).
(It’s also worth noting that shortly after that clip ends, Jiminy makes a joke about how the question isn’t where the party is, but “when” it is, causing Scrooge, and thus David Tennant, to utter a delightfully disdainful “Ugh, time travelers…”)
So, Scrooge sets off to the past with his spectral wingmen… and Dewey hitches a ride, because he needs his own Christmas escape. You see, while Scrooge was busy pretending to be grumpy, Dewey was holed up in his room looking at a picture of his mother, Della Duck, and feeling sad. Because duh, holidays are hard when you’re missing loved ones. Donald, dressed in a fantastically festive jumper, sees his nephew… and doesn’t really know what to do about it. Or maybe he secretly knows that there’s nothing for him to do… yet. More on that in a bit.
So when Dewey catches Scrooge and co. about to fly off to the past, he seizes his chance to go along for the ride… by seizing Christmas Future’s robes. And then he falls off mid-journey. Which is why it’s a good thing that this year Jiminy decided to give Scrooge a tour of his OWN past parties, because it means Dewey crashes down into the McDuck Manor of yesteryear. From here the episode splits its time following both ducks, as Scrooge contends with a Christmas Past gone mad and Dewey meets a guitar-playing, grungetastic teenage Uncle Donald… and a tough-as-nails teenage Della, who is on the hunt for Santa Claus but instead finds herself hunted by a wendigo! Which I’m also going to call a sly Supernatural shoutout, because DuckTales is basically playing Me-BINGO at this point.
Anyway, the ghosts take Scrooge to the first annual McDuck Enterprises Christmas party, which proves to be more fun for the viewers than for Scrooge himself. While we get to enjoy a hard-partying Mrs. Beakley hitting it off with Christmas Future, Scrooge gets mistaken for his past-self and is forced to network with a buncha business buzzards (and even if it’s only for one line, Marc Evan Jackson’s voice is unmistakable). This turns out to not be quite the break that Scrooge was looking for, so Jiminy tries again, whisking Scrooge off to his very first Christmas in Duckburg. Nothing but a campfire, a tent, and some gently falling snow. How utterly peaceful… and utterly boring. Scrooge thinks he’s learned his lesson — that the irritations of responsibility are outweighed by the fulfillment those ties to home and family bring us — but it turns out that Jiminy/Christmas Past wasn’t even TRYING to teach him a lesson. In fact, he’s sick of teaching lessons! Every year he spends his Christmas showing poor souls the error of their ways, only for them to ditch him the following year after they’ve learned the meaning of Christmas. Scrooge was the exception to that pattern, delighting in spending his Christmas Eve with Jiminy and the other ghosts every year. But now that Scrooge has a house full of family, how long will it be before Scrooge decides to spend his holiday with them instead?
That’s right: DuckTales made the Ghost of Christmas Past, Jiminy freakin’ Cricket, the bad guy in this episode. After some Doctor-level, quick-witted timey wimeyness lands Scrooge in possession of that time-brella, he returns to the future and leaves Jiminy all alone in the past, to dwell on what he did wrong.
Meanwhile, Dewey (pretending to be a far-removed cousin) drags emo teen Donald out to find his sister Della (Paget Brewster), who has been camping out in hopes of finding Santa. And precisely because Donald was being all emo, he let her do it alone (just like Dewey had holed himself up in his room, away from his own family’s festivities). When they find her tent abandoned and see some monstrously large tracks, they naturally get concerned… and then they’re chased by a wendigo straight into one of Della’s Santa Trap (Della is basically Webby, FYI). Della and Donald snap into action and fight him (and Donald flies into his signature red-faced rage when his precious guitar is broken during the fight). The kids get the monster all tied up and drag him back to the manor, where we realize that Della and Donald have both already figured out that Dewey is a relative from the future (so much for that paradox!), and are unimpressed. “This is only like the fourth weirdest thing that’s happened to us on Christmas,” Della says — in a line that may as well have come out of a Doctor Who special itself. And when Dewey offers to warn them about their future, they stop him because, duh, he’ll disrupt the time stream!
The siblings go into the manor to find their Uncle Scrooge, leaving Dewey outside with a wendigo that’s just broken free of its restraints. And then OUR Scrooge arrives and hits him in the head with his cane. Turns out, after leaving Jiminy in the past, Scrooge returned to the first holiday party to pick up the other two ghosts, and then spotted Dewey’s predicament as he flew toward the present. And here’s where everything comes full circle, because legend has it that the green-eyed wendigo is actually a lost soul that was transformed into a beast by its obsession and desperation. Sound familiar? He even yelled “WHEN’D HE GO? SCROOOOOGE!” during the earlier fight…
Yep, the wendigo is actually a transformed Jiminy Cricket, mutated after living alone in the woods of McDuck Manor for so many years and bitterly searching for the duck that abandoned him. The Ghost of Christmas Past emerges from the body of the wendigo, and Scrooge offers him a token of forgiveness: He returns the time-brella to his old friend, because “no one gets left behind on Christmas.” And together they all return to the present!
But it wouldn’t be a take on “A Christmas Carol” if people didn’t learn some lessons, and that’s just what happened. Scrooge, Dewey, and young Donald all learn to spend their holidays with the family that they have while they still have them. We even discover that present-Donald’s jumper is one that Della gave him all those years ago, meaning he still treasures it… just before he hugs Dewey and says “Welcome back” (SO WAIT, DOES HE REMEMBER DEWEY FROM THE PAST? IS THAT WHY HE LEFT DEWEY ALONE JUST A FEW MINS AGO IN THE PRESENT? Ugh, time travelers…). Jiminy presumably learns not to hog other people’s Christmases with his abandonment issues. And Launchpad…
Well, Launchpad DOES NOT learn the lyrics to “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” but honestly — I like his version better anyway.
Header Image Source: Disney Channel