Friday, December 17, 2010

Four Color Tinkering with Toy Tinkers

It is neither heartfelt nor sentimental, and it does not convey its holiday theme in gentle, subtle strokes.  The 1949 Donald Duck cartoon Toy Tinkers is Christmas mayhem of the highest order, pitting our favorite mallard against Chip and Dale, who invade the duck's otherwise calm and bright, holiday-trimmed home.  That setting is quickly transformed into something analogous to a world war battlefield.  The antics drew heavily on guns and armaments; so much so that the short was heavily edited when broadcast on the Disney Channel throughout the 1990s.  Likely the most over-the-top sequence in this regard showed a Santa-clad Donald threatening the two chipmunks with a revolver.  Veteran duck director Jack Hannah was known for pushing at the boundaries in Disney cartoons and he certainly did not pull his punches with Toy Tinkers.

And lest you think that it was modern era political-correctness that first put the damper on Toy Tinkers, its premise was actually tinkered with just one year after its initial release when it was adapted into a comic book story that appeared in Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #2, published by Dell.  The story's writing was uncredited but the art was done by well-known Disney comics artist Paul Murray.  The story appeared without a title, providing some distance from its cartoon counterpart.  A 1991 reprint by Disney Comics gave it the title "Christmas Fray;" Gemstone Comics named it "Such a Clatter" when they republished it in 2003.

Though the comics adaptation retains much of the mayhem of Toy Tinkers, the cartoon's "war-esque" tone and set pieces were distinctly minimized or altered, likely at the direction Dell's editorial staff.  The implementation of the comics code may still have been a few years away, but even so, many comic book publishers worked to keep their content suitable for the smaller tykes.  Among the elements not migrated from cartoon to comic:
  • A music box featuring two pistol-dueling gentlemen, albeit with cork-pop revolvers.
  • Dale donning battlefield gear including a World War I-era gas mask.
  • Donald fighting Chip and Dale with a toy Tommy gun during the penultimate artillery battle; in fact Donald does not take up arms whatsoever during that particular sequence in the comic.
  • Donald uses a stick of dynamite against the chipmunks in the cartoon; in the comic it is clearly identified as a "giant firecracker."

The aforementioned cartoon sequence in which Donald holds the two at gunpoint is softened considerably in the comic story.  The gun itself is of a wholly different and less threatening design, and is ultimately revealed to be a water pistol.  The comic also adds a sequence not found in the cartoon:  Chip drops tree ornaments on Donald while flying a model airplane intended as a gift for Huey, Dewey and Louie.

It all very much speaks to the dynamic that cartoon shorts were originally produced for the broadest audience possible and were not always subservient to kid-friendly sensibilities.  But the vast majority of comic books of that era did cater almost exclusively to the younger demographics.