Animation Trails
March 25, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Beware the Leprechauns! (Part 3)

Bejabbers! Those wee men are everywhere. Not content to continue to invade both big and small screens, they even find a way to mix their roguish pranks and shenanigans into your breakfast cereal!

Perhaps the most well-known leprechaun of all time was and is “Lucky”, the General Mills mascot for Lucky Charms since 1964. The cereal has become synonymous with comedy references to Ireland or leprechauns, and figures into the plot lines of several episodes to be discussed in these articles. Though it’s got to be the cereal, as opposed to the character, that’s kept Lucky on the screen for all these years. The commercials themselves have essentially been in a rut ever since their first season, constituting about the most formulaic cartoon ad campaign next to “Count Chocula and Frankenberry”. Always the kids try to catch Lucky for his cereal – and always they succeed, with hardly any effort whatsoever (usually, Lucky’s own charms or magic backfire and result in him getting caught). If you’ve seen one commercial, you’ve seen them all – and personally, I tried not to look after seeing the first few.


Shamrock and Roll (Warner, Merlin the Magic Mouse, 6/28/69, Robert McKimson, dir.) – Merlin decides to take his magical prowess on display in foreign lands. Only where? Spinning a globe, he blindfolds his sidekick, Second Banana, asking him to throw a dart at their destination. The dart’s only destination is Merlin’s rear end. Merlin asks Banana to just point at the globe instead. All Merlin gets is a finger in the eye. Removing the blindfold, Banana asks where they’re going. “You’re going to the moon!”, Merlin shouts, chasing Banana away. Doing things himself, the selected globe destination is Ireland.

Traveling by magic carpet, Merlin sights land. “Anything that green must be Ireland”, he observes. A thread of the carpet catches on a passing tree branch, unraveling the fabric out from under them. They land in a green forest patch – but a wee man smacks them with a sign they’ve knocked over, reading “Keep off the shamrocks”. The little man is the chief leprechaun. “Oh, really?” asks Second Banana. “No. O’Reilly”, answers the leprechaun. The leprechaun threatens to play a tune on their noggins with his shillelagh if any more shamrocks are trampled. Banana presumes the leprechaun doesn’t know who he’s addressing, and introduces Merlin, who attempts to impress with a lame “rabbit out of a hat” trick using a sock puppet. The leprechaun boasts he can show real leprechaun magic, and asks to borrow Merlin’s gold watch for his trick. Not only does he make the watch disappear – but he disappears, too. Reappearing again, the leprechaun challenges that if they want the watch back, they’ll have to catch him. He ducks into a hollow log, and is already safely astride its other end as Merlin and Second Banana emerge, running off a cliff.

Merlin pulls a fast trick of his own and folds a large sheet of paper into a paper airplane to soar them to safety. The two rig a bag in a snare trap, and Second Banana stands behind it making ticking sounds like a watch. The leprechaun looks inside the bag and is snared – but when Merlin opens the bag, Second Banana has been magically substituted as the captive. About to concede defeat, our heroes suddenly spot a cozy home built ito a tree, where the leprechaun reclines in a room full of stolen watches. When Merlin knocks on the door, the leprechaun allows himself to be grabbed by the collar without a struggle. “You’re too smart for me”, he says, and offers to give Merlin a whole bag of watches. Flying home on their carpet with a bag of ticking freebies, Merlin says he can parlay the watches into a small fortune back home. But with a magical flash, the bag is suddenly empty. Merlin curses the little cheater, but Second Banana observes the sound of ticking again. “I hear it – getting louder”, says Merlin. Their carpet crashes headfirst into the face of Big Ben. The leprechaun reappears on the ledge and asks them would they be having “the time of day” – then flies off laughing. The camera iris closes on Merlin, who briefly stretches the iris long enough to say “Drat!” before we close to black (a gag borrowed from McKimson’s earlier A Fractured Leghorn (1950)).


Killarney Blarney (DePatie-Freleng/UA, 5/16/73 – Gerry Chiniquy, dir.), a late effort from the studio’s series “The Blue Racer” (a snake, in case you’re not aware of the species, who spun off from the “Tijuana Toads” series of an earlier season), actually is based on a sound and original plot idea. The blue racer is somehow the victim of a shipwreck – or should I say, boardwreck – having stowed away on the back end of a surfboard whose owner “abandoned board” at the first sign of a squall. A wave washes the snake onto the shores of the Emerald Isle. The serpent bounces off the board, curling into the shape of a wheel, and rolls into a cave, where he clunks headfirst into a pot of gold. What a stupid place to put a pot, thinks the snake, paying no mind to the fortune before him. He climbs a flight of stairs in the back of the cave, and discovers a castle above. Entering, he is suddenly greeted by the materialization of a pair of leprechauns, who threaten to offer him “the back of their hand” if he continues to disturb the peace of good Irishmen. One of them inquires what he is. “What do I look like?”, the racer replies. “I’m a snake.” A loud thumping is heard offscreen. “Now ya done it”, say the leprechauns. “You’ve wakened up the Great Shillelagh.” From a door bearing its name emerges a huge wooden club, bashing away under its own power, who chases the racer to a cliff edge, then smashes the rock ledge out from under the racer, dumping him into the sea below.

As the racer tries to return to dry land, the leprechauns fill him in on a history lesson – that St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland over 1500 years ago, and left behind his Great Shillelagh to continue as guardian of the island. “Of course, he might be smuggled in”, suggests one of the leprechauns, “for a price.” The leprechauns insist on gold for their fee. Unbeknownst to the leprechauns, the racer remembers the crock he stumbled on in the seaside cave. He disappears momentarily, and returns with a gold coin. “We’re in luck”, whispers one leprechaun to the other – “He’s a rich American tourist.” The leprechauns magically whip up a fake snail shell for the snake to wear as a disguise, then take the coin for safekeeping – back to the same crock of gold from which the snake just stole it. “You know, it’s a shame to let a paying customer off so cheap”, notes one leprechaun. “Then what are we waitin’ for?”, replies the other, and they both transform themselves into birds. As the racer attempts to cross through the castle, the birds fly overhead, revealing his disguise with calls of “Snake! Snake!” Out comes the Shillelagh again, landing a blow that cracks the snail shell, then chasing the racer up a flagpole, out of which it knocks large chunks of the pole, then bats the pole’s tip and the racer into the sea. Soaking wet again, the racer remarks, “It’s a good thing we blue racers are drip dry.”

Returning to the leprechauns, another deal is made, for the leprechauns to do their part to prevent the shillelagh from exiting his door, in return for “all the gold you can gather up”. The racer agrees. Returning to the castle, the leprechauns conjure up a brick wall in front of the shillelagh’s door. They return to the beach to wait for their pidgeon – but find a stray gold coin in the sand which they assume the racer dropped. The leprechauns go to their pot and toss the coin in – but the coin clinks into the bottom of the pot, which is now empty of coins! Here, though, things happen “conveniently” for the writers, who seem to have reached a point where they’re out of time. The pot is not entirely empty, as a note has been inexplicably left inside by the racer. “I’ve decided to ‘join the club’ – so I’ve bribed the Great Shillelagh.” In the rear of the cave stand the racer and the Shillelagh, with the gold now encased in the Shillelagh’s own pot. “You’re not gonna let those two con men bandy your name about, are ya, pallee?”, says racer to the club. The club responds, chasing the leprechauns off the island and out to sea, still swatting at them as they disappear over the waves. The cartoon would have been near perfect, if the writers could just have explained how the blue racer suddenly wised up, and how the Shillelagh got out from behind the brick wall. Still, it was fun while it lasted.


The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold (Rankin-Bass, 12/23/81) is another in a myriad of the studio’s failed attempts to mass-produce holiday specials regardless of season or subject. Instead of staying faithful to the nature of its subject matter and attempting to market a special for St. Patrick’s Day, someone gets the crossed-up idea to do a special about leprechauns – for Christmas! Presumably, some executive thought that cashing in on the Christmas season would be more lucrative than using the ethnic holiday – and thus fell victim to the same “gold fever” that the film’s plot warns against. While the show is not without its “charms”, and features some lush and well-executed stop-motion animation of leprechauns in their gold mines and/or making shoes, plus some excellent voice work by Art Carney, it is something of a half-hour in search of a plot, and is certainly a more atmospheric viewing if readying oneself for the March holiday rather than if searching for any true Christmas spirit. The decision to cut this item down to a half-hour rather than committing for the hour-long slot usually reserved by the studio for stop-motion projects, while superficially merciful, betrays the trouble of the writers in developing a plot line for the episode. By opting for the shorter format, the writers paint themselves into a corner, in that once they show a glimmer of developing a setup with exposition – the show is already about to end, and just resolves itself in the most sudden and unlikely manner, leaving the viewer with an anticlimactic downer instead of adventurous exhilaration.

A young sailor is sent by his captain to an uncharted island to dig up a pine tree on the shore for use as a Christmas tree for the ship. The tree turns out to have been under an enchantment as a means of imprisonment below of a banshee, who is freed by the sailor’s excavation. For writer’s convenience sake, the banshee whips up a storm to celebrate, chasing away the sailor’s ship – but at the storm’s end, a rainbow appears, pointing the sailor to a patch of shamrocks concealing crocks of gold. There he meets one of Ireland’s oldest leprechauns guarding the treasure. He tells a long tale of having been separated from his wife and family for a hundred years – a schism originally caused by the tricks of the banshee in attempting to obtain “Christmas gold”. Lore has it that the banshee must obtain a gift (not by thievery) of gold from someone before Christmas each year, or wither away to the tears from which all banshees are made. Learning from the sailor that the banshee has accidentally been set free, the leprechaun warns of the banshee’s tricks, and ability to impersonate anyone – but with the telltale sign that they’re always crying tears. From above, the banshee outside has followed the same rainbow, and pours into the cracks of the rocky barriers beneath the clover where the leprechaun is hidden a potion “of generosity”, which the leprechaun consumes in his tea. Somehow able to open the barrier herself, the banshee barges in and demands to be given the gold.

Under the effects of the potion, the leprechaun cannot say no to generosity – but averts the forces of evil by giving the gold to the sailor instead. But here is where the writers essentially give up the ghost. After all the warnings the leprechaun has given us for 15 minutes about banshee tears, the sailor falls right away for a young girl he finds on the shore, crying as she claims to be from a shipwreck. In nothing flat, he’s spilled the whole story to her, and been fast-talked into giving the gold to the girl to use to talk the leprechauns into building them a boat. (How does this stranger to the island claim to have influence over leprechauns anyway?) Of course, the girl is really the banshee, who is no sooner told she can take the gold than she curses the sailor to “the sleep of 100 Christmases”. Never fear, my friends – we’re only five minutes away from the show’s ending!. Within that brief five minutes, the banshee returns to the gold’s hiding place, but before she can touch it with her hand, is hit by the light of dawn of Christmas morning. “Too late!” she cries, and melts to a puddle of tears like the Wicked Witch of the West. And what of the sailor? A rainbow appears and inexplicably awakens him without a scratch. And his ship follows the rainbow and finds them. And the leprechaun is reunited and reconciled with his wife and family. And everyone gets on board the ship and takes the gold too for a voyage back to Ireland. All this in five minutes!. No wonder I – and I assume every other viewer – came away with the reaction, “Huh? That’s it?” And no wonder the studio never quite found its own crock o’ gold for its efforts – instead, it was just crock.


Luck o’ the Ducks (11/26/87) is not one of the stronger episodes of the original Ducktales, and in fact turns out to be decidedly derivative. Scrooge and family find a leprechaun mixed in a crate of Irish linens from Scrooge’s latest business deal. The leprechaun is quite the deceiver, and, finding the entrance to Scrooge’s money bin open, helps himself to a hatful of Scrooge’s gold. With the old “what’s that over your shoulder” lie, the leprechaun escapes, while Scrooge realizes “I’ve been robbed of my favorite two hundred dollars and twenty-six cents!”. But the perils of city life prove too much for the leprechaun to make his escape, and between dodging traffic, falling off girders, and nearly drowning in a cement mixer, the leprechaun has to be saved by Scrooge – for the police to book. But the leprechaun finds pity in Webbigail, who listens to his sob story of sharing a hovel with 25 other leprechauns and sharing a single potato a day – and they’re all sick of french fries! Scrooge doesn’t turn the wee one over to the cops, but hears him big talk about how great the Emerald Isle is, and the cavern of gold the leprechauns have there – and gets an idea. He acts like a disbeliever, insisting there’s nothing to tales of leprechauns granting wishes. The leprechaun boasts that if one saved his life, he’d have to grant a wish – then covers his big mouth as scrooge boasts, “And I saved yours.” Scrooge has Launchpad rev up a plane, and announces he’ll make his wish once they get to Ireland.

In Ireland, the leprechaun shows him the castle of his “best friend” – the King of the Leprechauns (bearing a rough resemblance to some “Darby O’Gill” designs, complete with lilliputian horses). The leprechaun is actually considered a liar and a ne’er do well even among his own kind, and the ducks almost get thrown into a snake pit (yes, snakes are okay in Ireland as long as you keep them below ground), until the king realizes the leprechaun brought them there to satisfy a wish, and is honor bound to treat the ducks as guests. At dinner, while the king boasts of his wealth, Scrooge claims he’s wealthier, and the king mentions his gold cavern. “You mean, my gold cavern”, says Scrooge, announcing that his wish is for the cavern and all its contents. The king conspires with the leprechaun to scare the ducks out before they can be led to the treasure, and the ducks are visited during the night by the equivalents of the banshee and the death coachman from “Darby O’Gill”. The creatures are more scared of the ducks than the ducks are of them, and the plot fails. Scrooge is ultimately led to the cavern, and takes great pleasure swimming in a money-lake bigger than that in his own money bin. But he can hardly carry anything out of the cavern under his own strength, so knows he’ll need to bring reinforcements. At the top of the cavern, the leprechaun (who’s been instructed by the King to never let the stranger out of the cavern) miscalculates and loses his footing, and is saved from a fall by Scrooge. Now Scrooge is entitled to another wish. But here, the Disney writers give up on an ending, and borrow one from the cartoon that nearly established the genre to begin with – Paramount’s “The Wee Men”, discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Scrooge ties a handkerchief on the bush serving as hinged cover for the cavern entrance, and wishes that the leprechaun be honor bound not to remove it. The leprechaun’s first idea as Scrooge departs for help is to booby trap the entrance with a rope tied to a boulder on a cliff to slam down on Scrooge and the entrance. But Webbigail turns up, following them, and still believes the leprechaun is her friend. The leprechaun relents at the booby trap he’s set, and decides to atone after a sort by talking Webby into doing something to keep her uncle from “having a bad day” – tying matching handkerchiefs to all the bushes in the forest (identical to “The Wee Men”’s ending). Scrooge is flabbergasted, and insists the leprechaun tricked her one again. But the leprechaun confesses as to the “bad day” that Scrooge was just saved from, triggering the boulder to fall and block the cavern entrance. Despite the fact that the leprechaun set the trap to begin with, Scrooge is forced to concede that now the leprechaun and Webbigail saved his life. His nephews say he should grant a wish – and Webbigail insists the leprechaun should be their house guest for the whole summer. Scrooge reluctantly agrees, and joins in a celebratory jig, while the leprechaun king and other leprechauns look on approvingly from a nearby ridge.


The Last Leprechaun (11/21/89), from Disney’s “Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers”, finds the rangers and their balloon plane navigating through thick fog after leaving London. A crash into a tree sends them sprawling on the ground – and landing in Ireland. Local animals flee with tales of a banshee on the loose, and also mention to look out for the wee people. Slightly insulted, Dale asks, “Did she mean us?”, but is told by Monterey Jack that the wee people mean leprechauns – little men who if captured have to give a pot of gold. Dale’s child-like sense of greed is intrigued, and while the other rangers work to rebuild their plane, Dale spends his time looking under every leaf and stone for leprechauns. As luck would have it, a real leprechaun, who has been lonely for over a hundred years, hears Dale and invites the thought of company and the thrill of the chase. He introduces himself as Darby (again a direct reference to Darby o’Gill), king of the leprechauns. He demonstrates how to catch a leprechaun by catching Dale instead – but almost by accident winds up captured by Dale before the other amazed rangers. Dale claims the pot of gold, but the leprechaun lures them to his home caverns on the pretense that the gold is there. The cavern is nearly an exact animated replica of the throne cavern in the famous Darby O’Gill leprechaun dance scene, but in this instance is entirely empty of other leprechauns. Darby enchants some musical instruments to play Irish jigs, while Dale grows impatient for his gold. As in Darby O’Gill, the leprechaun reveals that now that they’ve seen the leprechaun kingdom, they’ll not be permitted to escape. The door is magically sealed. However, the leprechaun suddenly feels a massive weakness, and his powers begin to weaken too. He senses that someone is really at his gold, and places a ring of magical enchantment around the rangers to squeeze the truth out of them as to their involvement in the plot. In reality, the banshee (who can alternate between her natural flying form and the guise of an old woman) has found the true hiding place of the gold in a tree stump, and taken the pot to her castle. The loss of the gold further weakens the leprechaun, who can no longer maintain the squeezing ring around the rangers, nor keep the door to the cavern closed. The rangers escape, but Darby attracts the greed of Dale again, with the claim that he knows where the gold’s been taken – and Dale is off with the leprechaun on another wild goose chase to rescue the pot.

At the banshee’s castle, we discover that all the other leprechauns have been previously captured by her, and made to work as slaves for her in a subterranean gold mine. She waits expectantly for King Darby to come for his pot, with her sights set on capturing him too. Darby sends Dale in first, who finds the pot easily enough – but is too little to move it. In fact, the combined efforts of the rangers and the powerless Darby can’t budge it more than a few inches. The banshee appears, transforms into her flying beast mode, and attempts to do the intruders in with her ultrasonic banshee wail. She also announces her intent to be done with King Darby as the last obstacle to her complete power and wealth. Cornered with Dale near the pot, Darby looks at Dale, and gets a cowardly idea. “You wanted the gold”, he says to Dale, then with a zap of his last magic, exchanges outfits with Dale, leaving Dale dressed as a leprechaun. “Well, now y’ can guard it!” shouts Darby. The banshee gladly seizes the new “king”, and tosses Dale through a trap door into the mines. Chip and the other rangers corner Darby, shaming him for luring Dale into this mess and leaving him a prisoner. Gadget finally gets Darby to come clean as to the source of his power – the leprechaun gold. Darby states he’ll lose his powers for good unless the pot of gold is returned to the forest and hidden before the next sunrise. Determined to get Darby’s powers back to defeat the banshee and rescue Dale, Gadget and the gang set to work devising a plan to move the pot, happening on an old workshed with a few implements they can use to fashion a carrier for the pot, and a cache of holiday fireworks. Planning to use the fireworks as jet propulsion, the group carry their contraption back to the castle. Meanwhile, Dale has met te enslaved leprechaun workers below, and is told how they are kept prisoner from fear of being hit by the echo of the banshee wail. “The echo”, ponders Dale – and hatches an idea of his own.

Having the leprechauns hammer gold nuggets into thin sheets, Dale and the leprechauns fashion a metal curved horn. They give a signal at a dumb-waiter elevator normally designed to send up gold to the banshee – but ride to the surface themselves instead of the gold nuggets. Finding leprechauns inside instead of riches, the banshee prepares to dole out some appropriate punishment, transforming into beast mode again. But when she hits the group with a wail, Dale aims the horn to catch the sonic blast and reverse it to reverberate right back at the banshee. Caught in her own blast, the banshee is momentarily stunned. This gives the other rangers the chance to light the fireworks, and blast the pot, Monterey and Zipper back into the forest. King Darby rallies the leprechauns, waiting for Monterey to complete the task of hiding the gold. The banshee rises, and prepares to blast again. The leprechauns are still without power – but Monterey and Zipper land the pot in a hiding place in the nick of time – and the combined powers of the leprechauns capture and prevent the banshee from attacking, finally dumping her through the trapdoor and sealing her in her own mines. The leprechauns rebuild the ranger plane as a parting gesture, and the gang takes off for home. Dale appears cured of his gold fever, until he changes the subject to “Silver. That’s where the money is.” Chip has had enough, and with a green ribbon used in the rebuilding of the plane, ties a bowknot around Dale’s jaws resembling the shape of a four-leaf clover, for the iris out.

NEXT WEEK: One last week of blarney coming up!

3 Comments

  • There really is a kind of snake called the Blue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii), a subspecies of the Eastern racer. Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a Pink Panther; however, there is a colour phase of black bear called the Cinnamon bear — and why no one has ever seen fit to make it into a cereal mascot, I’ll never know.

    I remember when General Mills changed the design of Lucky the Leprechaun in the eighties and got rid of the points on his ears. This was around the time that Procter & Gamble removed the stars-and-crescent-moon logo from its products because of a campaign by evangelical Christians accusing the company of secretly supporting the church of Satan. Even the Smurfs got lambasted by TV evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart for supposedly encouraging children to practise witchcraft. I don’t know for certain if Lucky’s ears were rounded off to make him appear less Satanic, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There was a lot of that kind of nonsense going around in the eighties.

    By coincidence, just the other day I was walking past an imported sweets shop when I saw a display of Lucky Charms cereal. (Ordinary grocery stores in Australia don’t carry General Mills cereals. In this country, Trix is a brand of dishwashing detergent, and Cheerios are those little hot dogs that come in cans.) I was amazed that there were four different varieties: Fruity, Chocolate, Lucky Charms Flakes, and so-called Original, which not only had the original stars, moons, hearts, and clovers, but a weird panoply of additional marshmallows: rainbows, unicorns, boomerangs, ankhs, moebius strips, and who knows what else. I did not buy any, because (1) they were $13 a box; (2) even the putative Original variety was too far removed from the Lucky Charms of my childhood to have any nostalgia value; and (3) my last blood test was borderline, and I’m trying to stave off the onset of diabetes for as long as possible. “You can have your pot of gold, Lucky; but can you use your powers of darkness to fix it so I can keep my foot?”

  • As I’ve said, Merlin and Second Banana destroying Big Ben always reminded me of the “Inspector Gadget” episode “The Coo-Coo Clock Caper” which also involves the destruction of a clock tower, except THAT one is much better-animated (thanks to Tokyo Movie Shinsha doing the animation, of course!)
    But WHY does O’Reilly fly off flapping his arms like a bird at the end?! I’ve never heard of leprechauns doing that!

    And on the same topic, “Inspector Gadget” also had a good instance of this, in the Season 1 episode “Luck of the Irish” (1983), where Gadget, Penny and Brain go to Ireland to save the Blarney Stone from Dr. Claw and the two little M.A.D. Agents he hired that are dressed like leprechauns. But eventually it turns out there may be real leprechauns lurking about, helping our heroes…

  • Before “The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold”, there was the Rankin-Bass Festival of Family Classics (1972-73), a syndicated series retelling, as the theme song put it, “all of those stories you know so well”, most of which had been done before (and better) by Disney. A leprechaun is featured in the Halloween (!) episode, “Jack O’Lantern” (29/10/72).

    Siblings Michael and Colleen, living on a poor hardscrabble farm, think they might lose less of their crop to the crows if they build a better scarecrow with a pumpkin head. But when Michael carves a face onto the pumpkin, he and his sister are shocked when it begins to glow and talk to them in an Irish accent. Turns out that Jack O’Lantern (“of the Donegal O’Lanterns, dontcha know”) is a leprechaun who turned himself into a pumpkin seed so that he could hibernate in the ground during the winter — another thing I bet you never knew leprechauns could do. Jack, now presenting the horrifying spectacle of a living pumpkin-headed scarecrow, somehow knows that the crows are not to blame for the meagre crops. Rather, it is the ghosts, ghouls and goblins of Zelda the Witch and her husband Sir Archibald the Warlock, who want to drive all the farmers off their land so they can have it for themselves. (Zelda and Sir Archibald don’t actually wear Orange, but the Fenian symbolism could not be more painfully obvious here.) But with a strong dose of leprechaun magic, and a bit o’ the luck o’ the Irish, Jack helps the children defeat the forces of evil and turns the farm into a prosperous and happy home for their family.

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