We're guessing you haven't thought about Donald Duck even once today. Sure, Disney's cartoon ducks are some of the most iconic characters around -- Uncle Scrooge, his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, and of course, their half-naked uncle with anger control issues, Donald. But it's not like they're relevant to your life at all.
Oh, you couldn't be more wrong. For the last 50 years, these ducks have been busy changing the goddamn world, and it continues right to this moment. Seriously.
Inception was the biggest film release in a long time, and audiences and critics alike gushed over how original it was. It pioneered such innovative story mechanics as dream sharing, thought theft, psychological limbo and escaping the subconscious through specific triggers, or "kicks." Those are, no doubt brilliant devices. Devices that, to a one, can be traced back to Scrooge McDuck.
In a 2002 comic book, eight years before Christopher Nolan's little dream exploration film, Scrooge got his mind hijacked by the Beagle Boys. The Boys were trying out new careers as dream-thieves and went into Scrooge's mind to steal the secret combination of his vault. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because that's exactly how Inception opens up, except you have to replace DiCaprio with talking dogs. Which, incidentally, would probably improve every single one of his movies.
After they're inside Scrooge's mind, the Beagle Boys have trouble differentiating dreams from reality -- again, exactly like the characters from Inception, who need special items, or "totems" in order to tell dream from reality.
When Donald Duck enters Scrooge's dream to help, he has to figure out a way to pry the Beagle Boys out of there. In Inception they use "kicks" to make controlled exits, like how the feeling of falling usually snaps you out of the dream. In McDuck's head, they do, well, the exact same thing.
In order to escape danger, Scrooge starts jumping from dream to dream, but like Cillian Murphy's character, he can't remember the last dream once he's in the new one. Donald, however, is the invader (like DiCaprio) so he alone is able to remember the progression.
But Inception was a sci-fi thriller, and that was key to its appeal: It took metaphysical concepts, like Lucid Dreaming, and used them to fuel the action. The characters can't break the rules, but they can "imagine a bigger gun," and that's hardly something you'd see in some Disney duck carto-
Anyone who's really bad at pattern recognition might at this point be saying, but wait, there's Limbo! That, at least, is definitely the exclusive work of our favorite dark genius ... Gyro Gearloose.
These are all from the same issue of one 24-page comic book, by the way -- not some collection of random panels throughout the years that we've strung together to make a point. Then there's Mal, DiCaprio's wife who's being kept alive solely in his dreams. And yes, even that sad, emotionally complex motivation is echoed in this comic about pantsless waterfowl.
This is Goldie, Scrooge's old girlfriend. She may or may not be dead, but he certainly hasn't seen her in about 50 years. See, she's in the dreamworld because Scrooge carries a lot of guilt from the way he treated her when they were together (i.e., he kidnapped and tormented her. Yeah, Ducktales skipped over Scrooge's violent criminal phase.). Kind of like the guilt DiCaprio feels, believing that he killed his wife, whom he constantly visits in his dreams.
Nolan has never commented on the similarities between the two properties, probably because there isn't much he would be able to say besides, "Well ... fuck." He has mentioned that he isn't sure where the inspiration for the movie came from though, probably because "I owe it all to Donald Duck!" is kind of an embarrassing Oscar speech. Nolan "may not know" where he got his ideas from, but some directors sure do. Like ...
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those requisite movies that everybody has to either see or be set out on an ice floe and shunned from society forever. One of its most iconic sequences is the cold open, where Indy invades a temple, steals a treasure and outruns a giant boulder. Once again, you can thank Scrooge McDuck for that: Spielberg and Lucas were separately inspired by two different Scrooge McDuck comics to write two different parts of that scene. Spielberg has openly admitted that both the idol Indy is stealing and the boulder that chases him afterward came from the 1954 Uncle Scrooge comic The Seven Cities of Cibola, written and drawn by seminal Duck artist Carl Barks. In the comic, the ducks and the Beagle Boys find a priceless idol in an underground cavern, just like Jones.
The Beagle Boys are actually the ones who end up moving the idol off of its booby-trapped pedestal, causing the cave to collapse around them, much like Indy's world when he stole his smaller, marginally less pimpin' version.
George Lucas delivered the second half -- the hall of arrows and the hostile natives chasing Indy through the jungle afterward -- or rather, Scrooge McDuck did, in his 1959 comic, the Prize of Pizarro.
Unlike Nolan, Spielberg and Lucas have publicly admitted their love of Scrooge McDuck, and were more than willing to give all credit for their greatest creations to a cartoon duck.
Comic book inspiring movies may be understandable. Hell, 90 percent of major blockbusters in the last ten years have been based on comics. But when cartoon ducks start upstaging real life scientists -- scientists like Karl Kroyer -- you have to wonder if maybe our era's da Vinci might have had an inexplicable thing for anthropomorphic waterfowl.
In 1964, a freighter capsized off the coast of Kuwait. This caused a bit of a problem, as the ship's hold had been filled with 5,000 sheep, who were now drowned and decomposing in close proximity to Kuwait's drinking water. And really, no one wants to drink dead sheep water (well, except maybe the Scots). So Danish inventor Karl Kroyer designed a ship-raising technique that involved filling the vessel with small, buoyant balls injected through a tube. The combined buoyancy of which would float the ship to the surface. It took 27 million balls, but it worked. The Al Kuwait rose from the depths, with the furious ghosts of 5,000 dead sheep and all.
So, what does this have to do with cartoon ducks?
Well, Kroyer understandably wanted to patent his idea. He applied to the German, U.K. and Dutch patent offices, and while the first two countries said sure, the Dutch office stopped him cold. They said he was stealing. From Donald Duck
In 1949, 15 years before Kroyer, Carl Barks wrote a story called The Sunken Yacht that showed Donald Duck desperately trying to find a cheap way to raise Uncle Scrooge's sunken ship from the bottom of the ocean. His nephews' solution was to lower a hose from the surface, then pump it full of ping pong balls. So it's the same concept, but surely Kroyer's was more advanced somehow? Well, here's the illustration Kroyer submitted with his application in 1964.
If you could zoom in a sketch, you'd see tiny ping pong balls and the drowned corpses of four ducks who couldn't mind their place.
It's the exact same system, and while no one is accusing Kroyer of stealing the idea, the Dutch Patent Office considered the comic book "prior art," thus preventing any new patents on the method. It's not known who at the patent office was such a dedicated Donald Duck fan that they were able to spot a similarity between a naval patent claim and a fifteen year old Disney story, but whoever he is, he takes his job as seriously as he takes his duck comics.
Which is to say damn seriously, son. Damn seriously.