For the third year in a row, we’re marking the birthday of Donald Duck with a post about The Walt Disney Treasures releases baring his name. Today is Donald Duck’s 85h birthday dating back to June 9, 1934 when the theatrical short The Wise Little Hen was released to theaters. Donald may not be the star today that he was back in the 40s, but he’s still one of the most recognizable cartoon characters around the world and it’s hard to imagine that changing anytime soon.
On November 11, 2008 Disney released the final edition of The Chronological Donald Duck. Allegedly, the company was going to stop at Volume 3, but enough fans made their voices heard and Disney finished off the series in proper fashion. I’m not sure why Disney would have stopped before this. Certainly, the amount of cartoons remaining may have been less celebrated than those on Volumes 2 and 3, but there were still enough remaining that Disney should have basically felt obligated to finish. Then again, the company is somewhat famous for incomplete releases as they just now finished releasing all of the episodes to the show DuckTales.
Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck was limited to 39,500 copies. The original pressing also contained an error with one short, Bee on Guard, in which about five seconds were missing. Disney issued replacement discs, which probably won’t help you out in 2019 if you go seeking a set on the after market. Over 39k being issued seems like a lot for what is probably a niche release, but it’s a small enough printing that this volume is hardest to acquire. It routinely sells for well over $100 and I wonder if some of its scarcity is due to Disney collectors buying them when they first came out with the intention of sitting on them. With Disney+ on the way this fall, maybe prices will start to come down if these shorts wind up there, but for now this set is all we have if we want to see late era Donald Duck from the 1950s.
Donald was basically the only character at Disney still getting the short treatment, which included a poster for every release. If I were a rich man I’d be a collector of these posters. They’re beautiful.
If you’re a Donald Duck fan and you don’t already have this set, then you’re probably looking at those after market prices and wondering if you should bite the bullet and grab a set. I’ll do my best in this post to help you make an informed decision, though it should be said if you’re staring at an eBay listing for $250 then there is probably no way a collection of old cartoons could live up to that price point (unless you’re quite wealthy and that kind of price tag is meaningless to you). I’ll say upfront that if all four volumes were readily available at retail then this set would be the least desirable, though certainly still worth the MSRP.
The cartoons in Volume 4 span almost the entirety of the 1950s beginning in 1951 with Dude Duck. It also contains the educational Donald shorts from 1959 and 1961. In addition, there are also 10 Mickey Mouseworks shorts starring Donald Duck from 1999-2000 included as bonus features. They’re not as good as the classics, but still a welcomed edition. Some of the shorts on this set are quite popular and probably the most popular is Trick or Treat, the 1952 short featuring Donald playing a trick on his nephews at Halloween rather than treating which invokes the wrath of the witch Hazel (voiced by the legendary June Foray). There are also encounters with Chip and Dale to be found here, Donald’s best foils.
Trick or Treat is probably the most famous short from this collection.
Chip and Dale do some heavy lifting, but they aren’t the only foils who show up. The set begins with Donald opposite a reluctant horse when he visits the Bar None Ranch (maybe that’s where Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude got the idea) in Dude Duck. Humphrey Bear makes his second ever appearance in the short Rugged Bear in which he hides from hunters in Donald’s cabin and disguises himself as a bear skin rug. It’s good fun to see Donald unwittingly interacting with a bear. Humphrey also returns in Grin and Bear It where he’s basically a precursor to Yogi Bear as he seeks to steal Donald’s food. He’ll make a few more appearances as well making the second disc feel like The Humphrey Disc. There’s also a one-off adversary in The Flying Squirrel in which Donald is victimized once more by a rodent, only now this one can fly! Louie the Mountain Lion also returns in Donald’s first exposure to CinemaScope in Grand Canyonscope. Obviously, the cartoon wanted to take advantage of the aspect ratio by setting it at the Grand Canyon, but it’s still a worthwhile short to take in, especially since it actually includes Donald Duck basically destroying a national treasure.
Grand Canyonscope also featured a new widescreen intro for Donald.
In addition to the usual, there are also some experimental shorts on this set. Probably the most entertaining is Donald’s Diary in which a narration (performed by Leslie Denison) of Donald’s life via his diary accompanies the visuals of Donald falling in love with Daisy and then having his life ruined by her. It livens up the format, though some of the humor may be a bit outdated, I still had fun with it, nonetheless. And then there are the two How to Have An Accident shorts, one being set in the home and the other at work. They’re hosted by a character named Fate and they’re basically slapstick cautionary tales imparting some pretty basic advice. I’m surprised Donald was called on to star in these as it feels more like a Goofy concept, but Donald is pretty entertaining when he’s getting hurt. The second of these shorts, How to Have An Accident at Work, is confined to the Vault section due to an offensive Chinese impression, but by Volume 4 the disclaimers have grown less intrusive.
No Hunting features a rather hard to miss cameo.
Speaking of the Vault, there are only four additional shorts deemed “worthy” of the section. Uncle Donald’s Ants landed in the section due to an insensitive portrayal of Indigenous Africans via some ant characters. A couple of others are apparently there due to violent imagery. The previously mentioned Rugged Bear is a vaulted cartoon probably due to some uncomfortable gunplay and Donald “mowing” Humphrey with a lawnmower. No Hunting features more gunplay, though it’s a short that’s mostly known for featuring a cameo by Bambi and his mother. Spare the Rod also contains some characters called Pygmy Cannibals that are certainly offensive by today’s standards though also commonplace in media from the era. I would say, in general, the vaulted cartoons on this set are the least offensive we’ve seen, but I also grew up seeing worse on television as a kid.
Bugs Bunny wasn’t the only one doing drag in the 50s.
This set also includes Donald’s brief foray into the world of “edutainment.” Depending on your age, you may have even seen some of these in school, in particular Donald in Mathmagic Land. The other two are Donald and the Wheel and The Litterbug. None are particularly entertaining, but worth a watch for the hell of it, I suppose. I can’t really attest to the educational value of them, but I suppose you could do worse. Surprisingly, Disney elected not to include Scrooge McDuck and Money which I actually would have liked to have seen here for the simple reason it was Scrooge McDuck’s first appearance outside of the opening credits to The Mickey Mouse Club show. Donald also had other educational cartoons not featured, but I can’t say it’s a great loss. Sure, as a completionist, I’d have liked to have seen Donald’s Fire Survival Plan and Steel and America, but I can’t honestly say I miss them.
When Disney started making new shorts for television in the late 90s of course Donald got to star again!
Lastly, we have the 10 shorts from the Mickey Mouseworks line of the late 90s and 2000s. I do enjoy the fact that Disney tried to resurrect the cartoon short and these characters specifically, but there’s definitely something missing. They don’t look as good as the old cartoons, despite being more recent, though they’re hardly ugly or anything. The characters often look and animate just fine, it’s the backgrounds that tend to be sparse and flat. Still, I’m glad someone like Tony Anselmo got the chance to voice Donald in proper shorts after voicing the character for so long. Daisy and the nephews get to appear as well and there are a handful of good gags, and a lot of recycled material. They’re worth watching, even more so than the educational stuff, but you’ll likely prefer the older cartoons to these.
The Mouseworks shorts look pretty good for what they were, late 90s television animation.
The Mouseworks cartoons comprise the bulk of the special features. Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck provide audio commentary on two shorts and it’s another thing worth a listen at least once. There’s also a walkthrough hosted by Eric Goldberg of an unproduced Donald Duck storyboard from 1946 called Trouble Shooters and it actually looks like we missed out on a pretty good cartoon. Lastly, there’s a little feature on Donald Duck’s foray into the world of comics. It only really covers the comics of the era these shorts are from and into the 60s, so Don Rosa fans might be let down. It’s a suitable overview though.
It was at this point that Donald Duck was showing some age. In particular, the shorts starring Chip and Dale can get a bit too familiar. There are three shorts here in which the plot is basically Chip and Dale getting involved in some miniature hobby of Donald’s: a small house and village in Out of Scale, a miniature airplane in Test Pilot Donald, and a miniature sailboat in Chips Ahoy. Individually, they’re all pretty good but if you’re binging these (and they were never created with that idea in mind, to be fair) then you may experience a feeling of diminishing returns. There also appears to be a desire to shake things up here and there. In Lucky Number, for instance, the nephews appear to be teenaged as they are able to drive a car. Then, of course, there was also gimmicky stuff like the Cinemascope debut and even a 3D cartoon, Working for Peanuts, which is understandably not presented in 3D on the set.
Humphrey Bear and Donald are a somewhat forgotten, but quite entertaining, pairing.
Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck is a good finale for the character. There are some great shorts on this set, some that should be celebrated more than they are, and they are definitely worth owning if you’re a fan of Donald Duck or a fan of animation in general. Sure, some of the gags presented here are a bit too familiar and may have been done better in a previous short, but they’re still entertaining. The quality in the production is also still there. These may not be the very best looking Donald or Disney shorts, but they still hold up as a wonderful example of the type of animation we’ve lost. I don’t know what a fair price is for this set and thankfully I’ve owned it long enough at this point that I can’t remember what I personally paid for it. I don’t think I’d ever pay upwards of $200 for it, but I’d probably pay half that and even a bit more because I’m such an enthusiastic fan of Donald Duck. If you’re more of a casual fan then feel free to ignore this set. Get Volume 2 which is the cheapest and if you really want more after watching all of the cartoons on that one then you’ll have a better idea of what you’re willing to pay. And like a lot of classic Disney shorts, if you really just want to watch them they’re not hard to find streaming for free online.
- Dude Duck
- Corn Chips
- Test Pilot Donald
- Lucky Number
- Out of Scale
- Bee on Guard
- Donald Applecore
- Let’s Stick Together
- Trick or Treat
- Don’s Fountain of Youth
- The New Neighbor
- Working for Peanuts
- Canvas Back Duck
- Donald’s Diary
- Dragon Around
- Grin and Bear It
- The Flying Squirrel
- Grand Canyonscope
- Bearly Asleep
- Beezy Bear
- Up a Tree
- Chips Ahoy
- How to Have an Accident In the Home
- Donald and the Wheel
- The Litterbug
- Uncle Donald’s Ants (1952)
- Rugged Bear (1953)
- Spare the Road (1954)
- No Hunting (1955)
- How to Have An Accident at Work (1959)
Mickey Mouseworks (1999-2000)
- Bird Brained Donald
- Donald and the Big Nut
- Donald’s Charmed Date
- Donald’s Dinner Date
- Donald’s Failed Fourth
- Donald’s Rocket Ruckus
- Donald’s Shell Shots
- Donald’s Valentine Dollar
- Music Store Donald
- Survival of the Woodchucks