The Chronological Donald – Volume 2

1e_66925_0_TheChronologicalDonaldVolume21What day is today? It’s Donald’s birthday! He made his debut in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen” on this day back in 1934 making him one of the oldest reoccurring characters at Disney. And while he may not be the oldest, he’s the most entertaining. Yes, more so than Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and all the rest. He was basically the star of Disney’s shorts in the 40’s and 50’s when other characters were seeing their workload reduced. It was basically the creation of Donald that allowed Mickey to settle into his more everyman role as the wholesome and unblemished face of the brand. And while Goofy and Pluto continued to receive steady work during these years, they never came very close to eclipsing Donald Duck who proved to be the most versatile and naturally funny character in the company’s arsenal. He was likable enough that the audience could be asked to root for him, but possessed enough bad qualities that audiences could also delight in seeing him get his comeuppance.

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Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is best known for containing the WWII cartoons.

The Walt Disney Treasures collection is a series of DVD releases now long out of print. They fetch a pretty penny on the resale market now mostly because Disney has never really revisited them or printed them in mass quantities. They were the brainchild of film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who felt these treasured shorts that defined Disney in the early days should be celebrated and made available. Since Disney no longer directly profits off of these cartoons, save for a bonus feature here and there on conventional releases, most of the shorts can actually be viewed on various streaming platforms online at no cost. Disney is expected to launch its own streaming service next year, so it will be interesting to see if lots of copyright claims start going up this year to get them pulled down.

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“Der Furher’s Face” contains some rather surreal imagery.

The DVDs are the way to go though if you want to watch these treasured shorts. Donald Duck had enough material to span four volumes, each being two discs, and of the four I think it’s safe to say the best overall collection is Volume 2. This captures the era of cartoons when Donald had settled into a nice groove, but had yet to become too formulaic. Released just after the Great Depression, there’s a lot of historical nuggets to chew on during disc one with Donald being rather poor and forced to ration things like rubber and gas. Perhaps most famously, are the World War II era cartoons contained in the “Vault” section on disc one. A lot of these could best be described as propaganda today, with Donald excitedly signing up for war in one and tackling Adolf Hitler in another.

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The boys have some fun at the expense of their uncle in “Donald’s Off Day.”

A great many Donald Duck cartoons typically place Donald in a fairly ordinary role, maybe in a conventional job or portraying a farmer, and then have him face-off with an adversary. In “Bellboy Donald,” he’s a bellhop on his last chance on the job to keep guests happy and he’s forced to deal with Pete’s punk kid who really tries his patience. In “Donald’s Garden” he’s a simple farmer with a rodent problem. A gopher, perhaps a precursor to the more famous duo of Chip and Dale, wants to eat his crops but Donald isn’t about to share. And then of course there’s his nephews which he clashes with at times such as in “Donald’s Snow Fight,” in which Donald wrecks their snowman and they plot revenge via a spectacular, over the top, snowball fight.

Other cartoons basically pit Donald against himself. In “The Plastic Inventor,” Donald tries to build a plane out of plastic, but he makes the mistake of getting it exposed to water while flying causing it to melt. In perhaps the best cartoon on disc two (and maybe the whole set), “Donald’s Crime,” he steals from his nephews’ piggy bank for a night on the town and is forced to confront the guilt he feels. And sometimes he’s also basically just playing the victim and we laugh at his misfortune, like in “Donald’s Off Day” where he just want to golf on his day off but the weather won’t allow it, forcing him to stay home with his nephews who play a vicious prank on him.

DonaldDuckInNutziLand_zpscc10584aThe war cartoons though, are definitely the most infamous on this set. Because they’re in The Vault and contain politically incorrect humor, they have a sort of forbidden fetish attached to them. They’re not all straight propaganda though. In “Donald Gets Drafted,” we see our duck protagonist in a very eager mood to enlist while a song cheerily lets us know that the Army is better than it’s ever been before. In the end though, while Donald hopes to be a fighter pilot, he just ends up going through basic training and is forced to peel potatoes. He gets some revenge against his mean drill sergeant, played by Pete, in the next cartoon, “The Vanishing Private,” when Donald uses invisible paint to disappear and harass his sergeant causing the general to think he’s crazy. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is probably the most famous of these shorts, and not simply because it won an Academy Award. It depicts Donald in Nazi Germany being subjected to Hitler’s numerous brainwashing techniques and portraying daily life as horrible there. It also contains a rather unflattering portrayal of the Japanese, which also shows up in other shorts. It’s a surreal short though, and in the end it’s revealed to be a dream and Donald wakes up in the most garishly decorated bedroom of an unabashed American patriot. Everything about the cartoon is over the top, but it’s just so fascinating to watch as someone very far removed from that era.

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Goofy isn’t too good to appear in a Donald Duck cartoon.

If there is a shortcoming to this era of cartoons it’s that they’re not always the best looking. Some just weren’t properly taken care of, like “The Village Smithy” in which the film had aged so poorly Donald is basically yellow. Money was tight because of the war effort, so backgrounds are sometimes bland or sparse. The animation, by and large though, is still exceptional Disney quality animation. Another drawback though is perhaps the absence of more classic adversaries for Donald. Chip and Dale won’t show up until Volume 3, and they’re often thought of as Donald’s best foils. Pete is present in several shorts, and Donald pairs up with Goofy in a few others. There’s no Mickey though as he always receives top billing in any cartoon he shows up in. There are some one-off villains like a buzzard and gorilla, and if anything it’s nice to see some variety. The cartoons featuring Chip and Dale are more of a novelty than anything, as those two basically possess the same qualities as the gopher from “Donald’s Garden,” they just happen to be more recognizable.

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“A Day In The Life of Donald Duck” is probably my favorite special feature across the entirety of The Walt Disney Treasures line.

Volume 2 not only perhaps possesses the best set of Donald Duck cartoons ever created, but it also has arguably the best bonus features of any of the four. “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck” highlights the first disc and it’s a fake documentary of Donald’s day to day life from the old Disneyland TV series. He’s super imposed over live-action as he visits the Disney Studios in Burbank and even runs into his voice actor, Clarence Nash, at one point. It’s pretty funny and the effects still hold up well enough today. My own kids are convinced Donald is really interacting with the environment in it. Disc Two contains a sit-down between Maltin and current Donald Duck voice actor, Tony Anselmo. It’s a great interview and Anselmo details how he got the role, what it’s like to play Donald, and even discusses drawing and animating him. There’s also a retrospective on Carl Barks, long somewhat forgotten and ignored, Barks was the writer and artist for the Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comic books that often didn’t even bare his name. He has since experienced somewhat of a renaissance as Disney tried to remedy that during the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s nice finally seeing him get his due.

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“Donald’s Crime” may not be as famous as the WWII cartoons, but it might be the best on the set.

If you wanted to get just one collection of Donald Duck cartoons, then Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is the way to go. It tends to be the cheapest due in part to 125,000 sets being produced, which is more than Volumes 3 and 4 combined, though not as many as Volume One. You may not get the fun first appearances of Daisy, the nephews, or Chip and Dale, but what you do get is a collection of really entertaining cartoons. All of the sets are pretty entertaining in their own right, but Volume Two is the one I come back to most frequently. The cartoons are just really funny and feature good variety, though I could understand if someone preferred Volume Three over this one since it has more familiar adversaries, some great cartoons in its own right, plus it features the more memorable Donald Duck theme song. If you’re a fan of The Duck, or a fan of classic animation in general, then you should probably just try and get all four volumes because I don’t think you can count on Disney re-releasing these anytime soon or in a better package.

The Shorts

1940

  • The Volunteer Worker (presented as a Bonus Cartoon on disc two)

1942

  • Bellboy Donald
  • The Village Smithy
  • Donald’s Snow Fight
  • Donald’s Garden
  • Donald’s Gold Mine

1943

  • Donald’s Tire Trouble
  • Flying Jalopy

1944

  • Trombone Trouble
  • The Plastics Inventor
  • Donald’s Off Day
  • Donald Duck and the Gorilla
  • Contrary Condor

1945

  • The Eyes Have It
  • Donald’s Crime
  • Duck Pimples
  • No Sail
  • Cured Duck
  • The Clock Watcher
  • Old Sequoia

1946

  • Donald’s Double Trouble
  • Wet Paint
  • Dumb Bell of the Yukon
  • Lighthouse Keeping
  • Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive

The Vault

  • Donald Gets Drafted (1942)
  • The Vanishing Private
  • Sky Trooper
  • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
  • Fall Out – Fall In
  • The Old Army Game
  • Home Defense
  • Commando Duck (1944)

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