Tag Archives: leonard maltin

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.

donaldv2-04

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.

Donald_Duck_-_In_Der_Fuehrer's_Face_2

“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.

hqdefault-42

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.

ccf7a09

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.

vlcsnap-2012-01-30-14h14m12s52

“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.

4-2

“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)

The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

Mickey Mouse is the character that launched an empire.  When Walt’s darling little mouse took to the screen he captured the hearts of millions of movie-goers in the 1930’s, adult and children alike.  And even though he’s no longer a big part of Disney’s animation output, the theme parks and other merchandising have made sure that Mickey has never faded far from the spotlight. His earliest exploits though are thematically different from what is presented as Mickey Mouse today.  Sure the obvious distinction of Mickey no longer appearing in black and white is clear, but it’s his character traits that are most notable.  In his earliest days, Mickey was more like Bugs Bunny in that he was a bit of a trouble-maker.  He was never on Bugs’ level in that regard, but he did partake in things some parents were not overly fond with.  The cartoon that famously introduced the character Pluto, “The Chain Gang,” begins with Mickey in prison, of all places.  He smoked, he drank, and he could be a bit of a jerk in those old cartoons.  Walt Disney, after hearing the complaints from some parents, decided he needed Mickey to be the face of his company, and as a result, he needed to clean him up just a bit.  His cartoons still needed the characteristics he was about to excise from Mickey, so he took them (and then some) and applied them to a new character, an anthropomorphic duck he named Donald.

Donald took off like a rocket.  His easily irritable and temperamental nature made him a hit with fans who either rooted for him or against him.  His tendency to exhibit wild mood swings added a charge of electricity to his cartoons; fans knew the tantrum was coming, they just didn’t know when.  At first, Donald appeared alongside Mickey for the most part, but soon his popularity earned him his own series allowing him to surpass Mickey himself in terms of popularity.  To date, no other Disney character has appeared in more cartoons than Donald and he’s appeared in more comic strips than any character who doesn’t wear tights and fight crime.  Donald Duck is recognized all over the world and has become an institution, so it should come as no surprise that he has several DVD releases in the Walt Disney Treasures line as well.

I love Donald and always have.  I liked Mickey too when I was a kid, and I always had a fondness for Pluto, but Donald was my favorite.  He’s just an inherently funny character and a lot of that comes from the performance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash, Donald’s voice actor from the 1930’s thru to the early 80’s concluding with Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  That semi-intelligible voice is perfect for the character.  It sounds like something that would come from a duck, if a duck could speak.  Of course, that impression may only exist because Donald has been around for over 70 years but that certainly must have been the sentiment when Nash was awarded the role.  Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to figure out what Donald is saying, but that adds to the humor.  Early on, other duck characters that would appear in Donald cartoons, including Daisy, would speak like Donald but overtime that was dropped.  Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, exhibited a lesser but similar speech pattern until DuckTales when they were basically made to speak somewhat normal.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

The Chronological Donald was released in four parts from 2005-2008.  As the name implies, the shorts appear in chronological order beginning with Donald’s debut from the Silly Symphonies series “The Wise Little Hen.”  This makes Donald the rare character to debut in color before black and white.  His first appearance with Mickey came in the short “Orphan’s Benefit” which can be found on the set Mickey Mouse in Black and White.  It would have been nice to have it here too to mark the occasion as several other sets contain overlapping cartoons, but oh well.  After “The Wise Little Hen,” the rest of the shorts are Donald cartoons though he wasn’t officially given his own series until 1937 with the first short being “Don Donald.”  Mickey doesn’t appear in any of these cartoons (with the exception of one brief cameo), but Pluto and Goofy make appearances as Disney seemed to enjoy pairing Donald with those two.  This set also contains the debut of Donald’s nephews in the cartoon appropriately titled “Donald’s Nephews.”  We’re also introduced to Donald’s cousin Gus in one short who never made another appearance that I’m aware of.

For the most part, these shorts try to put Donald in a new role in each one.  That role is either an official one like “Officer Duck” or making him a golfer or a celebrity chaser.  Some of the ideas repeat, such as “Donald’s Ostrich” and “Donald’s Penguin.”  There’s repeating gags too, of course the most famous being Donald’s tantrum where he thrusts out one arm and swings the other while hopping up and down.  If he doesn’t assume this pose in every cartoon, well then he does in almost every one.  It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, as several shorts here are ones I’m familiar with from my childhood so they have a nostalgic quality for me.  “Sea Scouts” is one where Donald and his nephews are sailors and have to contend with a shark.  It’s a mostly slapstick affair with a great sequence of Donald trying to keep from getting swallowed by the shark.  “Beach Picnic” is another where Donald finds his water float to be uncooperative and Pluto finds himself victimized by the irascible duck.  This cartoon also contains the Pluto fly paper gag, one that shows up in several other cartoons.

This set was created before the vault concept was created for this series.  For those unaware, the vaulted cartoons are ones that contain offensive material.  Leonard Maltin is the host for the set and he does comment on some of the shorts.  The most common bit of offensive material is stereotypical portrayals of native americans.  Anyone around the age of thirty who grew up watching old Warner Bros. shorts or Disney cartoons (including feature-length films such as Peter Pan) should be familiar with this kind of material.  I don’t tell people how to raise their kids so if you’re not familiar with this kind of stuff and are weary about showing it to your kids do some research.  In the case of Donald Duck shorts, a great many can be viewed on video sites for free making it easy to preview the material first.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Of course, if you want to purchase such a set for your kids know that it isn’t easy.  Disney only released a limited amount figuring only collectors and Disney diehards would be interested so walking into a store and simply buying a set of Donald Duck cartoons is basically impossible.  Volume One was produced in larger numbers than others but still can command a hefty price.  Amazon has it currently priced at $65 and volume two at $54 with volumes three and four jumping over $100.  I don’t know if they’re worth it, but if you do love Donald and want some of his cartoons you will find this to be a quality set.  The DVDs came housed in a plastic DVD case which in turn is packaged in a silver tin.  The only negative to the packaging is that the tin can be prone to denting in the shipping process.  The cartoons look great for the most part, especially when one considers how old they are.  Some have survived better than others and it shows on some with the usual white Donald being a little dingy or sometimes yellowed.  The quality of the animation can’t be dulled by age though, and if anything, it only looks more impressive in today’s age where a lot of animation is low-budget or computer generated.  Hand drawn animation is practically dead and this set certainly helps to bring the viewer back to the golden age for animation.  Animation fans and Disney fans would do well to track these sets down.  I own three of the four, and the completest in me likely demands that I eventually get the fourth.  I’ve watched them all and on a lazy Sunday morning it’s not uncommon to find me on my couch with a cup of coffee and Donald Duck playing on my TV.

The shorts:

  • 1934
    • The Wise Little Hen
  • 1936
    • Donald and Pluto
  • 1937
    • Don Donald
    • Modern Inventions
    • Donald’s Ostrich
  • 1938
    • Self Control
    • Donald’s Better Self
    • Donald’s Nephews
    • Polar Trappers (with Goofy)
    • Good Scouts
    • The Fox Hunt (with Goofy)
    • Donald’s Golf Game
  • 1939
    • Donald’s Lucky Day
    • The Hockey Champ
    • Donald’s Cousin Gus
    • Beach Picnic
    • Sea Scouts
    • Donald’s Penguin
    • The Autograph Hound
    • Officer Duck

%d bloggers like this: