From our life is stranger than fiction -- or just about as strange -- files, Mark Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is back in the mix. At least, the species thought to have inspired the yarn has resurfaced in the California county, nearly 35 years after one was last spotted in the area (and that, reportedly hopping into a French bistro).

Apparently, some kids came upon the little guy while out playing "around watering holes." The proprietor on the scene was unmoved "We don't serve food," he said, "or kids."

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Disney's Movie Magic

A cursed swashbuckler here, a desperate clownfish there, and Disney(NYSE: DIS) lands a surprisingly buoyant year at the box office. How buoyant? It's the first to top $3 billion in annual global box office receipts. Pirates of the Caribbean and Finding Nemo each bested $300 million -- another first. No studio ever released such popular bookends.

But box-office records are made to be broken. With ticket prices inching higher, it's really just a matter of time until we're writing about the $4 billion year. The previous record was Sony's(NYSE: SNE), just last year as Spider-man helped the studio sling some celluloid magic.

But take nothing away from Disney. When the company announced that it would be making live-action movies themed loosely to its park's original attractions, it raised more than a few eyebrows. When the first release -- The Country Bears -- tanked last year, few figured that Pirates would emerge as the summer blockbuster.

After all, can you name a popular pirate movie without naming Errol Flynn? Cursed buccaneers? Isn't that what Tampa Bay has been on the football field this season? And the stakes are high; movies are big business as monsters like Time-Warner(NYSE: TWX), Viacom(NYSE: VIA) and Vivendi(NYSE: V) lay out big budgets in hopes of landing a big picture.

Beyond the run at the multiplex, a successful release continues to rake in the buried treasure in home video and DVD release, as well as future network broadcasts. Done right, a hit flick can also become a franchise with no-brainer sequels.

Fittingly, Disney hit the $3 billion mark the day after Pirates sailed into the home video and DVD market. The movie is presently the top seller at Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN). So , what's the second fastest mover at the popular online store? You guessed it. More than a month after its release, Nemo is hooking the silver.

Discussion Board of the Day: Disney

What did you think of Pirates of the Caribbean and Finding Nemo? Is Disney going to remain out front, or will this be a catch and release? Will Haunted Mansion pad those results? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on

Oil Stocks Get Cheap

By W.D. Crotty

Reuters is reporting that Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi wants OPEC to cut oil production as early as February. The Saudis want oil at $28 a barrel to cushion the loss of purchasing power caused by the dollar's drop against other currencies.

What lies ahead for the international oil stocks? One month ago, I wrote, "If OPEC is able to keep oil at its target price, the earnings downside at ExxonMobil(NYSE: XOM) will be limited." Now that the oil target is set at the high end, Exxon's future looks very sweet -- as in sweet crude.

Investors who purchased Exxon a few years ago, properly anticipating fantastic earnings, look at today's $36.32 opening price and realize it is approximately $1 above the 2000 and 2001 lows -- and far from the mid- to upper-$40s highs.

The story is the same for BP(NYSE: BP), Royal Dutch(NYSE: RD), Shell(NYSE: SC), and ChevronTexaco(NYSE: CVX). All are gushing cash, yet the stocks are just above 2000-2001 lows. These are the Rodney Dangerfields of stocks: They get no respect.

International oil companies trade at 12 to 15 times trailing earnings and are improving their balance sheets by reducing debt, buying their own stocks, and building up cash. For those looking for energy innovation outside of oil, consider BP and Shell. These companies are among the top five solar-cell manufacturers.

These companies interesting at today's prices. Their potential total returns, including rich dividends, can meet or beat market averages with minimal risk.

Quote of Note

"Was wondering where you'd got off to." -- kid who spotted the jumping frog in Calaveras County

A Mixed Bag in the Malls

November begins most retailers' fourth quarter, setting themselves up for what they hope will be a bountiful holiday shopping season. Today, a slew of retailers from discounters to specialty shops to department stores announced their November same-store sales results. Continued strength from some of the largest firms, coupled with more uneven results from others, left any particular trend hard to uncover.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) recorded a 3.9% increase, which was lower than expected from the powerhouse. Chic rival Target(NYSE: TGT) fared better with a 6.2% gain. Perhaps all those Isaac Mizrahi fashions are enticing shoppers to return to Tar-jay and shell out the green. Warehouse wholesaler Costco(Nasdaq: COST) performed best here, with its big honking 14% comps gain. Higher gasoline sales and the ongoing supermarket strikes in California are helping Costco's sales.

Both Sears(NYSE: S) and J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP) had a disappointing November, with Sears' comps down 3.2% and Penney's off 0.8%. Somewhat paradoxically, high-end department stores like Saks (NYSE SKS) and Nordstrom(NYSE: JWN) performed well, with Nordstrom's same-store sales up 7.4% and Saks' up 6.7%.

Among the specialty retailers, results were mixed, as usual. Gap(NYSE: GPS) continued its climb back to respectability with a comps gain of 6%. Teen surf fave Pacific Sunwear(Nasdaq: PSUN) shone brightly, with comps up 11.7%. Gadzooks(Nasdaq: GADZ), on the other hand, disintegrated, with comps down a stunning 28.1%.

Preppy competitors American Eagle Outfitters(Nasdaq: AEOS) and Abercrombie & Fitch(NYSE: ANF) continued to feel the pain together. American Eagle's comps dove 6.2%, while Abercrombie's were off a whopping 13%. That drop for Abercrombie was awful enough to send shares reeling 11% today.

Looking ahead to the rest of December, shareholders in these companies can try to gauge customer response by checking out their companies' stores at the local mall. Are they packed, or are their competitors doing brisker business? For retailers, which generally make the bulk of their profits in the third and fourth quarters, success here is critical. To get the real numbers on how December shakes out, check back on the first Thursday in January for December's same-store sales reports.

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And Finally...

If you like small-cap investing, you'd love Tom Gardner. You'll also like Tom Engle, who makes his Fool debut with A Small-Cap Market Beater. If you're more concerned with the roof over your head, or maybe looking for ways to raise funds for your next small-cap home run (or if you just like columns with long titles), check out Selena Maranjian's 8 Tips for Dealing With Contractors. It's not Tool Time, but it'll do.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, W.D. Crotty, Paul Elliott, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Jeff Hwang, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Alyce Lomax, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Dave Marino-Nachison, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim