Updated on December 10, 2021
Money’s a fundamental driving point of many cartoons, from supervillains robbing banks to characters worrying about their livelihoods. However, some educational fare over the years has been used to tutor and inform the public about economics. This has ranged from the importance of paying taxes to entire countries’ currency undergoing a fundamental change.
Here’s a look at some educational or public service announcement cartoons about money.
In the 1950s, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation commissioned with Warner Bros. several Looney Tunes shorts that taught some economic principles. The shorts were all directed by Friz Freleng, and include:
- Yankee Dood It: The story of the elves and the shoemaker gets an update, with Head Elf Elmer Fudd going to the shoemaker to teach him how to modernize his production. (The shoemaker was so pleased with the elves’ work he never bothered modernizing his 19th century-era workshop.) Sylvester meanwhile tries to eat one of the elves (who’d turned into a mouse).
- By Word of Mouse: A vacationing mouse from an eastern European country shows up in New York City, where his big-city American cousin teaches him how capitalism works. Meanwhile both mice dodge a persistent Sylvester.
- Heir-Conditioned: Sylvester inherits money from a wealthy heiress (not Granny), and is lectured by accountant Elmer Fudd on the importance of investing the money. Meanwhile, Sylvester’s deadbeat alley cat friends try to swindle the money from Elmer and Sylvester. Tweety makes a brief cameo.
All three shorts are still part of the usual Looney Tunes TV packages to this day. “Heir-Conditioned” is probably the best of the trio (the gags involving the cats trying to swindle the money are amusing), though none seem to be fan favorites; their educational/Cold War-era tone makes them differ from the usual mid-50s Looney Tunes shorts.
Today, the Sloan Foundation still contributes funds to non-commercial media production efforts, and are often a sponsor of various PBS programs.
“Uncle Scrooge and Money”
In 1967, Scrooge McDuck made his first true appearance in animation. Before this point, Scrooge had only appeared in animation as a silent brief cameo in the opening credits of “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
In this educational short (much of it in rhyme), Huey, Dewey, and Louie visit their great-uncle, hoping to invest their piggy bank savings. (The boys here have quite clear speaking voices, versus the earlier theatrical shorts’ Donald-like voices.) Scrooge teaches them a few facts about the history of money, as well as about taxes, budgeting, and inflation. At the end, the boys buy a share of stock (for $1.95) in Scrooge’s company, and pay him a 3¢ “time and consulting fee” for his advice. (“Nothing good is ever free!”)
One dated aspect of the short is a line in one of the songs featuring a trio of wives (wearing furs) “need money” (to support their “spending habits”). Interestingly, the following decade would see a dramatic rise in the number of American women in the workplace.
Another aspect brought up is the boys claiming Scrooge “sits on his money,” presumably referencing his money bin. Scrooge notes it’s his “petty cash,” and stresses the importance of also investing money. Later comics, including those by Don Rosa, keep with this idea, pointing out Scrooge’s money bin is what he’s earned himself/particularly values, but that he also has investments in various businesses, which is what truly brings him his vast wealth.
To date, the cartoon isn’t on DVD or digital video, which is a shame. A few copies (recorded off of the Disney Channel years ago) turn up on YouTube, however.
Australia and New Zealand currency decimalization
Currency has changed over time for every country; Australia and New Zealand are no exception. Until the 1960s, both countries for decades, reflecting their United Kingdom ties, had used currency in pounds, shillings, and pence. However, also like the British pound, the currencies were broken up into less-than-logical units: £1 in Australia and New Zealand was worth 20 shillings, and each shilling was worth 12 pence. Comic Book Resources has a few Australian comic covers from the 1950s (reprinting what looks like “Adventure Comics” and “World’s Finest”), reflecting the old currencies’ pricing on the covers.
In 1966, Australia formally switched from pounds to dollars, and with it decimalized their currency: $1 is worth 100 cents, just like here in the US. Similarly, New Zealand switched to dollars/decimalization in 1967. If curious, the United Kingdom decimalized in 1971, with £1 worth 100 pence.
As such, both countries produced some animated films to educate the public on the currency switchover. Australia used an animated character named “Dollar Bill” to explain (to the tune of the old Australian folk song “Click Goes the Shears“) why decimalization’s a good thing.
Below are links to the shorts, one with Dollar Bill, and two featuring a grandmother and her grandchildren. Note “Gran” and her grandson must have relatives in New Zealand, as both shorts are similar!
- Dollar Bill on decimalized currency.
- Gran and her grandchildren on decimalization.
- Australia and New Zealand decimalization featuring Gran and her grandson.
Schoolhouse Rock: Money Rock
Schoolhouse Rock during its 90s revival introduced “Money Rock,” a series of educational shorts about money. The most memorable one is “Tyrannosaurus Debt,” about the US national debt and deficits. Even Bill (from “I’m Just a Bill”) makes a cameo!
If curious, as of April 14, 2016, the US national debt totals $19.2 trillion.
- Money Rock’s Tyrannosaurus Debt short (on Disney’s YouTube page).
CGP Grey’s series of YouTube videos have covered economic issues, including the useless nature of the penny in a video titled “Death to Pennies.” The videos note Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have gotten rid of their pennies without any problems.
Pixabay photo by Brett Hondow (CC0 public domain)
Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.