How ‘DuckTales’ Inspired One First-Generation American’s Tale of Success

Jacquelyn Villena
Comics Disney
Comics Disney TV

For Walt, it started with a mouse. For me, it started with a comic book and a duck. Nope, not the angry one but the richest duck in Duckburg – Scrooge McDuck.

My earliest memories involve reading. I was an early reader and my mother, who was an immigrant from the Philippines and an avid comic book reader, gave me the only English comic books she had — her Uncle Scrooge collection. Throughout preschool and kindergarten, I recall stories of Uncle Scrooge and his nephews going on grand, epic adventures. They met tribes in far-off places, traveled in a time machine, and protected his riches from the Beagle Boys.

Finding My Role Model Through Hardship

One of the many Disney related elementary school books -- Duck-centric, natch!

Once I started school, I felt the true impact of what it meant to be an Uncle Scrooge fan. Growing up in an area where we were among the first Filipinos and in a home where English was a second language, I spoke with a thick accent. I was mercilessly teased for being different. My parents reminded me that Uncle Scrooge wore glasses (like me!) and had an accent in a town where no one else was Scottish. What was most important was that hard work and diligence made him the most important duck of all.

So, I emulated Scrooge, making it a habit to attach a story to the coins I used when I went on vacation or attended a special event, all kept in a special Sanrio satchel. I had found my role model.

My first Mickey Mouse Club record.

From that point forward, my intense relationship with all things Disney began. I memorized and sang Mickey Mouse Club records every day. I scoured the newspaper for anything Disney and soon discovered they made movies. My grandfather, and real-life Scrooge McDuck, ensured that I went to every single Disney film I found advertised in the paper.

When I got my library card, VHS tapes were available to borrow and I could watch live-action Disney movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Love Bug, and Flubber; Disneyland became our preferred family vacation spot.

Finding My Courage

The Great Mouse Detective
'The Great Mouse Detective' wasn't exactly the coolest thing to be watching

Although it wasn’t very popular to be a Disney fan in the mid to late ’80s, I stayed loyal throughout their releases of Tron, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver and Company. In other words – I was a Disney fan when it was beyond uncool to be a Disney fan.

I continued to turn to the library where I learned about Disney’s Nine Old Men, the Sherman Brothers, Ub Iwerks, and the history of Disneyland. I connected actors from live-action Disney films – like Fred McMurray in The Happiest Millionaire or Bette Davis in Return from Witch Mountain – to their non-Disney works, such as Double Indemnity or All About Eve.

When I started college, I knew about the long-history between Walt Disney’s family and the ABC network, Michael Eisner and his relationship to Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the creation of Touchstone Pictures – a silkscreen for Disney to release more adult-oriented content, like their first feature film Splash.

Disney's 'DuckTales' gave me the courage to pursue my dreams.

However, the best part of the decade had to be the introduction of the Disney channel and the premiere of DuckTales. Seeing my comic book heroes come to life on the small screen reminded me to be courageous and appreciate my individuality. The show gave me permission to move forward after the death of my grandfather and to be brave enough to step on stage and audition for a musical.

Following My Dreams

ducktales scrooge mcduck diving in money
Diving into my dreams like...

Before long, I had my first job performing at an amusement park, and then college, summer stock and eventually auditioning for National Tours. A few years ago, I decided to follow my dreams of going to graduate school to get my MFA in Musical Theatre Performance at the Royal Academy in Glasgow, hometown of Scrooge McDuck.

Glasgow’s Royal Academy held auditions in Chicago, but as luck would have it, attending school in Scotland wasn’t meant to be. On the plane ride back home, a young passenger asked if I had interviewed as a directing student. He noted that as a performing student, he would have remembered if I had been there to audition – to him, I looked like a director.

The seed was planted. It took a couple of years to grow into reality but I took my first steps toward becoming a theatre director. My varied theatrical experiences made me a better storyteller. No one knew my history, but like Scrooge, everyone trusted me. Being different made me a strong director, but staying true to myself and being loyal to my family, theatrical or otherwise, made me a better human being.

My Riches

When DuckTales first premiered, I made my stage debut and was on the eve of my first performing job. As we approach the premiere of the DuckTales reboot, I’ve directed two Disney musicals and am preparing to direct another this spring. I direct my shows the same way I read comic books – watching one scene morph into the next like panels in a comic strip. When the going gets tough, I just trust that somewhere in my adventures is a solution that will help solve any problem on stage or in life.

scrooge mcduck drinking from money cup

Although I don’t have a money-bin filled to the brim with coins that I can swim through, what I do have is a life filled with experiences and people I call family, who take me on adventures beyond my imagination. These are my riches.

Perhaps someday I will meet my hero at Disneyland but until then I’ll continue living out my Duck Tales. Woo-hoo!

Jacquelyn Villena
Creative, Brave and Adventurous
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