A Christmas Carol, adventure, animated, animation, cartoon review, Christmas, christmas carol, Christmas cartoon, christmas episode, Christmas review, christmas story, classic disney, david tennant, Della, Della Duck, Dewey, Disney, disney animation, disney review, Donald Duck, Duck Tales, ducktales, Fantasy, ghost, ghost of christmas future, ghost of christmas past, ghost of christmas present, ghost of christmas yet to come, holiday special, Huey, huey dewey and louie, jack mcbrayer, Launchpad, Louie, magic, Mrs. Beakley, quest, review, scrooge, Scrooge McDuck, tony anselmo, traditional animation, tv review, tv special, Uncle Scrooge, Webby, wendigo
I don’t think it’s a big secret that Gravity Falls is my favorite series from Disney. Not just animated series, I mean out of everything the channel ever churned out. It was mysterious, funny and occasionally frightening, with deep themes of family and growing up and some of the most well-written television characters to come from the 2010s. When it bowed out after two near-perfect seasons, it left some enormous shoes to fill. What show could possibly live up to the standards it set?
Well, it turns out the answer was one no one asked for, but we’re sure as hell thankful we got anyway.
Hot take for y’all, especially from someone who grew up in the 90’s and enjoyed the hell out of the original DuckTales: the 2017 reboot blows its predecessor out of the water. It takes the fun, creative adventures from the first series, adds a much-needed measure of character arcs and development (Huey, Dewey and Louie have actual distinct personalities now!) and amps it up with a huge dose of heart and enough lore borrowed from the Carl Barks and Don Rosa comics to win over even the most jaded fans. Also, as opposed to his unceremonious draft into the navy in the first series, Donald Duck finally has a part to play in the new adventures! (Well, in 13 out of the 65 of them anyway…way to get my hopes up, Disney.) By the time I was halfway through the first season I thought to myself, “Yes, this is it. This is the successor to Gravity Falls,” (though The Owl House definitely ties with that sentiment as well, and Amphibia isn’t too far behind).
I’m woefully behind on Season 3, but am well aware that they’re bringing in more characters and plots from the other classic Disney Afternoon series that were hinted at since the very start, and I can’t wait to see how they’re re-interpreted. On a similar note, since this episode deals with some major revelations from the tail end of Season One that have ramifications for the rest of the series, I must warn you that this review will have spoilers.
It’s Christmas Eve and everyone in the McDuck mansion is caught up in the festive spirit – well, almost everyone.
Yes, Scrooge (now played by David Tennant) is grumpier than ever on this night of nights: he shouts at everyone, refuses to join the party, and even tells the unusually jovial Donald to take down all the outdoor decorations (though he has a good reason for that last one; his pilot Launchpad can’t tell the difference between landing lights and Christmas lights). Most of all, he flies into a rage at the mere mention of Santa Claus (I assumed it was because Scrooge is an old-fashioned capitalist and he sees anyone who dares give away good things for free as allies of his sworn enemy, socialism, but apparently another Christmas episode came out last month that goes into detail about his grudge).
Scrooge isn’t the only one who’s in a less than merry mood. Middle nephew Dewey (Ben Schwartz) doesn’t feel like celebrating with everyone else because he misses his long-lost mother Della. Ah yes, after all these years we’ve finally learned what happened to at least one of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s parents and why they were raised by their temperamental uncles. Shortly before the triplets were due to be hatched, Scrooge built Della a rocket with the intention of taking the family into space once the boys were grown. Della discovered it first and took it for a joyride, which resulted in her vanishing into a cosmic storm. At the time this episode takes place in the series, no one has been able to find where she’s disappeared to, but I’ll give you a hint:
Donald tries to lure Dewey out of his room with some music, but to no avail. Then Dewey notices a green glow flickering into Scrooge’s chambers. He barges in to save his uncle from whatever monster is after him this week but instead finds him playing host to some unlikely party animals.
Now this is where things get interesting. The show could have easily gone the traditional Christmas Carol route, but instead it turns the story on its head while also paying tribute to it, specifically the beloved Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Just look at the ghosts’ designs: The Ghost of Christmas Present shares Willie the Giant’s wardrobe while getting around the show’s non-human rule by making him a pig (he’s also voiced by Bill Faggerbake, who happens to have plenty of experience playing pink doofuses in green); and of course there’s the fact that the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jack McBrayer) is a cricket, albeit one who more closely resembles a real cricket. They even share a similar mode of transportation with their umbrella. Scrooge reveals to Dewey that he does love Christmas; his grinchiness is just an act so he can get some time away from his responsibilities and overbearing family (his stance on Santa, however, is genuine). As for the ghosts, they were looking for a completely different Scrooge to haunt years ago, but they found ours and liked him so much that they come visit him each Christmas instead. It’s their annual tradition to crash the greatest Christmas parties throughout history with help from Past and his magic umbrella. Dewey empathizes with Scrooge wanting to be left alone tonight and promises not to tell anyone. The time travelers take flight with some choice words.
Past surprises everyone by taking them to the first Christmas party Scrooge threw as a young quadzillionaire. It’s an adrenaline shot of nostalgia for our Scrooge as he’s surrounded by familiar faces, from old flame Goldie O’Gilt (definitely the Belle in this scenario, called it) to Mrs. Beakley, who, by the way, is a badass former secret agent in this reboot (a change from the original which I wholeheartedly approve of). Before Scrooge can fully enjoy himself, however, he’s mistaken for his younger self and forced to network with a real pack of vultures, his board of directors.
Scrooge is blocked at every opportunity to have some fun by investors eager for his time and money. Even the Beagle Boys show up to literally steal the party from him. Scrooge has had enough and asks to go back to his family, but Past begs him for one more chance. He claims to know the perfect party free of business or families that they can fly to. Taking Scrooge’s demur for a yes, he whisks the two of them to Scrooge’s very first Christmas in Duckburg before he struck it rich: a simple camp in the wintry woods on a beautiful silent night. Scrooge enjoys the peace and quiet with Past…but quickly gets bored. He realizes the lesson that Past was trying to impart on him all along, that family and friends are what make the present worth living in and are the true meaning of Christmas, except…
Past never intended to teach Scrooge something – or ever let him go home, for that matter. Every “ingrate” he’s haunted has learned their lesson well enough that they were too busy to spend time with him the following year. Scrooge was the exception because, until his family returned into his life, he was constantly living in the past. Now Past is horrified that he’ll abandon him too, and sees the only solution is to trap Scrooge alone with him and relive the same Christmas together for all eternity.
With the exception of some portrayals of The Ghost of Christmas Future, the spirits aren’t usually malicious. This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of the ghosts portrayed as a villain – and with the story they’re going for, it’s kind of perfect. It ingeniously subverts the heartwarming holiday lesson for a joke, and who better to hold someone back from appreciating the present than a manifestation of the past? The second thing that sells it is Jack McBrayer. He’s got the right voice for squeaky-clean ultra-nice if occasionally hyper characters, but to my knowledge he’s never played an outright antagonist. He nails the desperate mania and frustration that drives him to break from the norm and be less than merry and generous this Christmas. Too bad for him his would-be hostage is tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties.
The two duel, cane vs. umbrella, brilliantly silhouetted by the fire’s blaze and Past’s green flashes as he dodges Scrooge’s blows. Soon Scrooge is down, but not out. He congratulates Past on a good fight and tricks him into rewinding it to the very beginning so they could experience it again. Past takes the bait, and Scrooge takes his umbrella and strands Past in, well, the past. And that’s the end of the story.
…Or it would be if Dewey didn’t discreetly tag along eleven minutes ago and fall off partway through the first time jump.
Dewey lands back where he started…but not when he started, as he quickly realizes. Elated that he finally has a chance to spend Christmas with his mom, Dewey breaks into the mansion for some long-awaited mother-son bonding. Instead, he meets his teenage uncle Donald, who’s going through an emo-loner-punk-rock phase.
By the way, young Donald is portrayed by the late great Russi Taylor, who previously played Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby in the original Ducktales. She even gives him the same quacky voice she used for the triplets. It feels so good to hear her cheer “Quackaroonie!” again. Her casting proves how much Frank Angones and the crew really loved the series and their fans. Sadly, this was also one of Russi’s last roles she played before she passed away, yet it’s a fitting send-off to one of the finest voice actresses of the age.
Dewey, pretending to be a distant cousin, asks where Della is. Donald tells him she’s gone camping in the hopes of capturing Santa for Uncle Scrooge. He refuses to help Dewey look for her because he’s too “mature” for Christmas fun and wants to establish himself as the soulful loner type that’s big with the current rock scene (which, based on the fashion and spoof posters in his room, would make this the 90s, and makes me feel frigging old). Dewey responds by snatching his guitar and forcing him to follow along.
The two stumble upon a trail of clues in the woods: a half-finished tent for two, a sticky red mess which turns out to be spilled jelly and extra rations, and Della’s scarf (which she never leaves behind, according to Donald). They also find a set of disturbingly large footprints next to her own. They soon find out just who those prints belong to:
This is a mythical creature called a wendigo, as they learn from it shouting what it is (emphasis on the “wen” part, which is clever foreshadowing in hindsight). I find its depiction here, as well as in other media, fascinating. Wendigoes originate from Native American folklore, specifically the Algonquin tribes; tradition depicts them as spirits resembling emaciated zombies who possess people and drive them to commit acts of extreme violence and greed, specifically cannibalism. While I understand the need to tone down the creature’s more gruesome aspects for younger audiences, I can’t say I’m a fan of how non-Indigenous works of pop culture have appropriated it into just another ravenous monster. DuckTales, however, comes the closest to their origins in spirit, if not in execution. Here, wendigoes are lost souls whose obsession and desperation turns them into monsters. This particular wendigo is on the hunt for Scrooge, which surprises nobody. That duck’s got a list of enemies a mile wide.
While on the run from the wendigo, Donald and Dewey trigger one of Della’s Santa traps. Luckily, she’s on hand to rescue them.
Della proves that she’s quick and capable in a fix, but not above petty sibling bickering as she stops when Donald calls her by her hated nickname “Dumbella” (the original name she was given in the Donald shorts; last trivia tangent, I swear). She demands an apology even as the wendigo closes in on them. Donald says he’s sorry for teasing her, but that’s not enough. Donald doesn’t have a clue what she’s referring to since he hasn’t even seen her all night – and that’s when it hits him and Dewey. She was trying to lure Donald out of his self-pitying funk and spend some time together on Christmas but he was too self-absorbed to care, which makes both boys feel like quite the heels.
Della and Dewey work together to trap the wendigo, and Donald delivers the final blow once his temper meter reaches full bars. Together they drag it back to the mansion. Donald apologizes to Della, and Dewey breaks character to hug his mom for the very first time (d’awww). Della and Donald admit they’ve already figured out that he’s really a relative from the future so he can drop the charade. Apparently life with Uncle Scrooge has already acclimated them to daily bizarre shenanigans, even during the holidays. They still force Dewey to not divulge what will happen in the future because every single time-travel movie dictates that would horrifically alter the timestream.
Della and Donald leave to fetch their Uncle Scrooge but the wendigo breaks loose. Luckily, our Scrooge notices Dewey while on his way back to the present and drops in to save him. The two have an emotional reunion as Dewey makes it clear that he’s ready to return to his family. As for the wendigo, its true spirit is revealed:
All this time, Past has been wandering the woods waiting for Scrooge every Christmas until his obsession and despair turned him into a wendigo. Scrooge makes amends with the errant specter and returns his umbrella, promising that he’ll never be left behind again. Touched, Past transports everyone home. Scrooge, Dewey and the ghosts join the celebration, and not only do we get a brief Christmas sing-along with the cast and a heartwarming teaser for Della’s story in the next episode, but the Mickey’s Christmas Carol homage comes full-circle with the credits: they’re done in the style of the short’s opening titles, and by the very same artist, Michael Peraza!
Despite being only two years old at this point, “Last Christmas!” has all the makings of a modern holiday classic. It’s a fantastic spin on a story we’re very familiar with by this point. Scrooge and Dewey’s adventures through time perfectly parallel each other as they learn the same lesson in different ways; that being said, I appreciate how Scrooge’s story ix-nays the emotional tipping point in favor of a humorous subversion so it hits harder when it’s Dewey’s turn. By then, it’s more than earned. The holiday setting works wonders with the show’s comic book aesthetic. Every second is filled with snow or festive colors. And of course, there’s plenty of hilarious moments from Louie starting a letter to Santa with “I can explain…” to Mrs. Beakley and the otherwise grim Ghost of Christmas Future shamelessly flirting with each other. All in all, give this episode a watch, and the rest of the series too while you’re at it.
Hey all, sorry this was posted a little late. I got caught up trying to complete my Christmas shopping on time among other last-minute things. Anyways, if you enjoyed this, be sure to check out my Patreon for early looks at future reviews and extra votes for what you want to see as well as other perks. Special thanks to my patrons Amelia Jones, Gordhan Rajani and Sam Minden; your contributions mean a lot during this busy holiday season.
Well that’s three down, one more to go. I should have it ready by Christmas…which is less than a week away?!