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Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

The Volunteer Worker © Walt Disney‘The Volunteer Worker’ is a short commercial in which Donald tries to collect for charity, to no avail.

Every citizen shows him the door. When he sits down at the dumps, a construction worker helps him out, giving him a first donation and delivering the film’s message that charity helps.

This construction worker is an elaborate human character, and very well animated. The complete film excels in high production values, possessing a great montage, showing Donald’s though time, and beautiful lighting.

Watch ‘The Volunteer Worker’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Volunteer Worker’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey & Louie
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Fire Chief © Walt DisneyAfter co-starring in ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ (1935), Donald now is a fire chief himself, helped by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

There’s no heroism involved in this cartoon, however, as the four ducks only try to extinguish a fire that Donald accidentally has put to his very own fire station.

Penned by e.g. Carl Barks, this is a genuine gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast and plenty, and building to a ridiculous finale, in which Donald destroys the fire station, his car and his hat within seconds. The animation, too, is extraordinarily flexible, especially when Donald blows his horn. The cartoon is a delight from start to end, and must be counted among Donald’s all time best.

Barks would later return to the theme in the equally classic comic ‘Fireman Donald’ (1947), in which Donald is as inadequate as a fireman as he is in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Fire Chief’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 21
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Timber

‘Fire Chief’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 20, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Window Cleaners © Walt DisneyWindow Cleaners is the fifth of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pluto. Unlike the other films starring the duo, this is pretty much Donald’s film, with Pluto sleeping most of the time.

Donald has a job cleaning windows on a ridiculously high building and using the lazy mutt as his helper. This accounts for some spectacular background art emphasizing the dizzying heights Donald is working on.

The film is less gag rich than its contemporaries, however, being split into two long and distinct routines: in the first Donald tries to wake Pluto, to no avail. Highlight of this part is his attempt to yell into the drainpipe. This scene accounts for some spectacular body deformations on our beloved duck.

In the second routine Donald bullies a bee, which takes revenge immediately. This bee is the direct ancestor of the bee Jack Hannah introduced in ‘Inferior Decorator’ (1948) and one can say that all Hannah’s bee films follow the routine from this particular cartoon.

Watch ‘Window Cleaners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 20
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Fire Chief

‘Window Cleaners’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 9, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Donald's Vacation © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a delightful entry in the Donald Duck series. The cartoon opens idyllically enough, with Donald humming and strumming his ukelele, while canoeing through a beautiful landscape – the bacground artwork in this scene is absolutely stunning.

When a waterfall accidentally lands him on the perfect spot, his canoe turns out to be an inventive marvel, outdoing Mickey’s trailer in the cartoon of the same name (1938): not only can the canoe change into a tent instantly, it’s also capable of storing endless supplies.

But before Donald can relax, he first has to battle a collapsible vacation chair. Like the outboard motor in the previous cartoon ‘Put-put Troubles‘, the chair provides excellent comedy, showing that Donald was at his best when struggling with everyday objects.

When he finally comes to rest, a multitude of chipmunks, antecedents of Chip ‘n Dale, steal all his food. This leads to an encounter with a bear, which elaborates on the comedy of the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Pointer’ (1939), adding countless new and original gags, like the bear stripping a tree from its bark, and Donald cutting holes into some waterfalls.

‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a gag cartoon throughout, but in this finale the gags come fast and plenty, and lead to an excellent closing, in which Donald flees into the distance, only a couple of minutes after his unfortunate camping adventure had started.

Watch ‘Donald’s Vacation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 19
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners

‘Donald’s Vacation’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Put-Put Troubles © Walt DisneyIn 1940, the Donald Duck series really hit the stride, becoming a series of pure gag cartoons, with few real failures until the end.

By now, Donald had shed his childish feathers, and had become more or less a representative of the American average citizen, coping with familiar troubles, like in this case, a failing outboard motor.

In ‘Put-Put Troubles’ Donald and Pluto go for a boat trip on a lake. Pluto encounters a frog and gets stuck in a spring, while Donald has troubles with starting the outboard motor. The motor itself is excellently animated, behaving rather outrageously, and at one time even functioning as a can opener, destroying Donald’s boat within seconds.

This is arguably the first cartoon in which Donald has to battle with a well-known inanimate object. Donald was at its best when having to deal with common household objects, and this cartoon is a prime example. True, Donald had to deal with inanimate objects before, e.g. strange machines in ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937) and a giant spring in ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1938), but these were hardly familiar things to the average viewer, while Donald’s struggle with the outboard motor is recognizable to many, adding to its comedy. Even better examples were to come (e.g. the folding chair from ‘Donald’s Vacation‘ (1940), the folding bed from ‘Early to Bed’ (1941) and the leaking tap in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ from 1948).

In contrast, Pluto’s antics with the spring are less inspired, and the cartoon’s exciting finale comes all too suddenly to an end.

‘Put-Put Troubles’ was the first Disney short directed by the unsung hero Riley Thomson, who would only direct seven shorts between 1940 and 1942, all of them hilarious. Thomson had started animating for Warner Bros. in 1935, but already in 1936 he exchanged Warner Bros. for Walt Disney. After his direction career, Thomson became a story man for the Goofy series, then moved on to comics. He spent the final days of his career at Walter Lantz, as a layout artist for the Woody Woodpecker show.

Watch ‘Put-Put Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 18
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation

‘Put-Put Troubles’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mr. Duck Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ opens with Donald Duck preparing to visit his love interest, Daisy Duck.

To Donald’s dismay, his nephews want to go too, and the kid trio seriously hampers his courting efforts. Even sending them off to get some ice cream doesn’t help. Nevertheless, when Huey, Dewey and Louie make Donald swallow a popping corn, Donald’s dance moves become so hot, he quickly wins Daisy over. Thus, in the end, the exhausted duck is smothered in kisses.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is a clear cartoon of the swing era, and we watch all ducks trucking and doing the lindy hop to the swinging music. The Disney composers weren’t capable of making real jazz, however, and the music remains rather tame when compared to the big bands of the era. It’s a pity, because the animation on Donald and Daisy dancing, and on the nephews are playing the music is marvelous, and certainly hotter than the music accompanying it.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is noteworthy for marking the debut of Donald’s long lasting girlfriend, Daisy Duck, Donald’s second love interest after Donna Duck had disappeared into the distance on her unicycle in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937). On the screen, Daisy remained a minor character, only appearing in ten more Donald Duck cartoons. However, she would become a regular in Al Taliaferro’s daily strip, making her debut on 4 November 1940, first as Donald’s new neighbor. Later, Carl Barks, too, made regular use of this character. In both comic strips Daisy’s appearance remained largely the same as in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: May 17, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Billposters © Walt Disney‘Billposters’ is the third of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Goofy, and arguably the best in the series.

In this short Donald and Goofy are fanatical billposters, literally smothering the countryside with advertisements for canned soup. In the introduction we watch them reaching a barn, while whistling and humming ‘Whistle While You Work’ from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

What follows are only two routines: Goofy’s problems with a windmill, and Donald’s problems with a hungry billy goat. These separate routines are a continuation of the trio cartoon formula, now only minus Mickey. The string of gags is impressive, as one gag flows naturally into another, building to the strong finale, in which the two separate story lines combine. Especially Goofy’s antics belong to the best in his career. Nevertheless, Geronimi’s all too relaxed timing hampers the picture, and make the gags less funny than they could have been, making ‘Billposters’ fall short of becoming a real classic.

Watch ‘Billposters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Billposters is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 5, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Donald's Dog Laundry © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ Donald Duck has built a rather Rube Goldberg-like dog washing machine.

Donald decides that the unwilling Pluto is to be his first customer in bath, and tries to get him in bath, first with the use of a whistling rubber bone, and then with an all too lifelike cat hand-puppet. Of course, it’s the duck himself who takes the plunge, yet the cartoon ends with Donald cheering because his apparatus works.

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is full of the mild and long character animation routines so typical of the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the second half of the 1930s. Where in later Warner Bros. or MGM cartoons the rubber bone and hand-puppet would have been only two of several attempts, in this short the two devices are milked at length. Especially, Pluto, probably animated by Norm Ferguson, gets ample screen-time, to a rather tiring effect.

Watch ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 16
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: March 15, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Riveter © Walt Disney‘The Riveter’ starts with Pete firing a pig from the building site and setting up a sign with ‘Riveter wanted’.

At that point Donald Duck walks by, and he immediately volunteers. Unfortunately, he is hardly suited for the job, having to work on the top of a tall skyscraper, and he’s soon a nervous wreck, only bothering Pete.

Pete had been introduced as Donald Duck’s adversary in ‘Officer Duck‘ from 1939, but he was still a criminal then. In ‘The Riveter’ Pete was cast as an authority figure, able to command Donald, a trend which had already started as far back as ‘Moving Day‘ (1936), in which Pete played the sheriff. The two characters suited each other well, and Pete’s authority was maintained in all subsequent Donald Duck-Pete-cartoons, save the last one, ‘Trombone Trouble’ from 1944.

In the Donald Duck series Pete appeared to be a softer, more ‘human’ character than in the former Mickey Mouse films. Even though he was Donald’s bully, he hardly was the villain he used to be. For example. in ‘The Riveter’ he gives Donald a job, even if he has clear doubts about Donald’s abilities. Moreover, it takes some time before Pete loses his temper, and at that time one can hardly blame him. Unfortunately, Pete was more or less sacked after’Trombone Trouble’, and he only had a short come-back in two shorts in 1953.

‘The Riveter’ is an inspired cartoon, with wonderful and inventive gags, with as a highlight Donald Duck drilling a dopey painter from tall to flat, without the character even blinking. Donald also revives Goofy’s dizzy walk from ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937), and his ride up the elevator is a wonderful exaggeration of Mickey’s similar ride in ‘Building a Building‘ (1933), stretching Donald’s body to the max. The short ends with a long chase scene, typical of the new era, which ends with Donald covering Pete with quick-drying plaster, turning the hapless foreman into a Greek fountain.

Watch ‘The Riveter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 15
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Officer Duck
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry

‘The Riveter’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Directors: Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: February 7, 1940
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Pinocchio © Walt Disney‘Pinocchio’ was Walt Disney’s long awaited successor to his hugely successfully first animated feature ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Its release was beaten by Max Fleischer’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, making ‘Pinocchio’ the third animated feature made in the United States.

In many ways ‘Pinocchio’ is a much darker affair than both earlier films. In fact, in many ways the feature is Disney’s darkest film, not only due to its deep oil canvases, but also because none of its villains are punished.

The film starts merrily enough, though, and the first 26 minutes take place in the cozy home of gentle woodcarver Geppetto, where his countless original cuckoo clocks, based on drawings by Albert Hurter, provide a lovely background. But as soon as Pinocchio leaves his house troubles start, and his predicaments go from bad to worse. And perhaps Geppetto might have known. I’ve always thought it strange to let the boy go to school on his own on his very first day of existence…

The dark atmosphere the film of course shares with the original book by Carlo Collodi from 1882, with which it also shares its episodic character. But Disney made the character entirely his own. Pinocchio’s design is cute and childlike, not the gaunt wooden puppet of many earlier illustrations of the book. This child-like design was developed by Milt Kahl, and surpassed an earlier, less appealing design by Fred Moore. This incidentally marked the start of the latter animator’s demise. Where Collodi’s Pinocchio was an obnoxious rascal, made out of some stubborn wood, Disney’s Pinocchio is a tabula rasa, an innocent child not yet corrupted by society. Indeed, the fairy’s task, to let his conscience be his guide, is seriously tested once Pinocchio enters the real world.

Pinocchio’s conscience is personified by Jiminy Cricket, a Disney invention based on a minor character from the book, which in the original all too soon is smacked against the wall. Jiminy Cricket is spared that fate, however, and in many ways is even made the main protagonist of the film. This little insect, developed and predominantly animated by Ward Kimball, is far less recognizable as an insect than the grasshopper had been in ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ (1934). Jiminy looks more like a tiny man, with his antenna looking more like two hairs. This design would resurface in that of Bootle Beetle, introduced in 1947.

It’s Jiminy Cricket who sings the famous opening tune, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, which leads us to the little cricket himself, who introduces us to the story, as he opens the book for us, and we literally hop with him to Geppetto’s toy shop. He’s voiced by Cliff Edwards, who in the 1920s enjoyed a famous career as ‘Ukelele Ike’, but whose career since then had been in a steady decline. ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ alone ensured him eternal fame, and the lovely tune would become Walt Disney’s signature tune from then on. Edwards gave the little insect cheerful lines, and rather modern remarks that makes us connect to the otherwise otherworldly story. Jiminy Cricket also shows a rather mundane interest in dames. He’s not only clearly impressed by the blue fairy, who indeed looks like a glamorous Hollywood girl, but also in the French can can dancing puppets who share the stage with Pinocchio in Stromboli’s theater. Jiminy Cricket surely is a lovable character, and it’s hardly surprising that he was reused again in ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ to bridge that film’s two stories, even though he seems quite out of place there.

Apart from Jiminy, the film is stuffed with great characters, most notably the cute kitten Figaro and his female goldfish companion, Cleo, also two Disney originals. Cleo is the direct ancestor of the sexy fish in the Arabian Dance of the Nutcracker Suite-sequence in ‘Fantasia’ (1940). They, too, would return to the screen in a short called ‘Figaro and Cleo’ (1943), after which Figaro was coupled to Pluto to star three more cartoons. ‘Pinocchio’ remained unique in this spawning of shorts, with ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) being the first Disney feature to do the same.

The villains, too, are delightful. The first rogues Pinocchio encounters are the petty criminals Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat. Norm Ferguson and John Lounsberry animate the duo with gusto, and the interplay between fox and cat is full of delightful classic vaudeville routines. More evil than those is the explosive puppeteer Stromboli, whose temper matches his name, taken after the Italian volcano. Stromboli is animated by Bill Tytla, and in a way he’s a variation on Grumpy in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Like Art Babbit’s Geppetto, he’s halfway cartoon and realism, showing the animator’s grown confidence with the human form, and like Ferguson’s Fox and Cat, his moves are broad and theatrical, and they have a charming quality despite the menace.

Not so with the fourth criminal, the sinister coachman. His menace is downplayed, except from one frightening outburst, making him all the scarier. The coachman takes Pinocchio to pleasure island, where things turn very dark indeed. In many ways the pleasure island episode forms the abyss of an already pretty dark film. On the ride to the isle Pinocchio immediately befriends Lampwick, delightfully animated by Fred Moore, who may be naughty, but who remains sympathetic throughout. His metamorphosis into a donkey is therefore a moment of genuine horror, and like the one metamorphosis scene in Snow White absolutely the scariest moment in the entire movie.

Pinocchio manages to escape Pleasure Island, and even manages to return home, only to find it empty, and even covered by cobwebs, as if he had been gone for months. This is very incongruous, as he had only been away for two days… Anyway, in a rather deus ex machina-like scene a dove delivers our heroes a letter stating that while looking for Pinocchio Geppetto has been swallowed by a whale. This weak story device is luckily easily forgotten, for this leads to the first moment in which Pinocchio takes matters in his own hand, bravely jumping into the sea without any reluctance. The subsequent sea scenes form the second incongruity in the film: we watch Pinocchio wander with ease on the sea floor, but his sea adventures end with his drowning…

At sea, Pinocchio meets his final adversary, that tour-the-force of villainy, Monstro. In the original book the puppet got swallowed by a shark, but the Disney studio made it into a very large whale. Like the whale in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Whalers’ (1938), which by all means looks like a study for this film, Monstro is a strange combination of a sperm whale and a finback, blown up to really gargantuan proportions. This leviathan is able to devour complete ships and shoals of tuna. It’s admirable that the film manages to feature both such a tiny character as Jiminy and this giant whale. Monstro absolutely dominates every scene in which he’s in, and his moves, by Woollie Reitherman, are a stunning effort of animation of force and weight, greatly helped by a multitude of effects animation. In any case Monstro’s chase of our heroes accounts for a stunning finale, crowning the already breathtaking film.

The abundance of effect animation give ‘Pinocchio’ a stunning look anyhow. For example, all characters are airbrushed with lovely shadings, the blue fairy is strangely translucent, and there are great water effects during Pinocchio’s walk on the sea floor. All these extras give the film an extra luxuriant look, only matched by the Silly Symphony ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ (1939) and by ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

The staging, too, is often no less than stunning. Especially Pinocchio’s village are given two extraordinary bird eye’s view pan shots, based on designs by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren: the first starts with doves flying from a bell tower, which leads us to an elaborate shot through the village, showing it to be full of life. The second follows Honest John and Gideon leading Pinocchio to a career in the theater, on the delightful tune of Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee. Jiminy Cricket’s small size also accounts for some very original settings, like the detailed billiard table. All these settings were painted in rich oil canvases, which replaced the lighter water color backgrounds of ‘Snow White’.

Apart from ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee’, the film features two other delightful songs, all composed by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington: ‘Give A Little Whistle’, and ‘I’ve Got No Strings’. However, when events turn dark, the songs disappear from the screen.

When compared to ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Pinocchio’ is easily the better film. Unfortunately, like ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ ‘Pinocchio’ suffered from an unfavorable comparison to ‘Snow White’ and from the cut of the European market due to World War II. Thus the film was far less successful at the box office than hoped. ‘Pinocchio’ had cost the studio 2,6 million dollars, and by the spring of 1940 the studio was no less than $4,5 million in debt. This prompted the Disney brothers to go to the stock market. This was a successful move, and allowed the Disney studio to complete and distribute ‘Fantasia’. However, it also marked the end of an era, and when ‘Fantasia’ too, proved to be a financial disappointment, it was clear that Disney’s golden days were over. In that respect, ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ form the crowning achievements of a stunning career that had begun so humbly with ‘Plane Crazy’ twelve years before.

Watch ‘Pinocchio’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: October 10, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Officer Duck © Walt Disney‘Officer Duck’ is the first of nine cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pete.

Pete, who in this short is called Tiny Tom and who has a golden tooth, had been a great adversary to the courageous Mickey Mouse, and he also was a strong opponent to Donald Duck. However, he was dropped after 1944, as Donald Duck director Jack Hannah preferred smaller adversaries, making Donald Duck more of a straight man to bees, bugs and chipmunks.

In ‘Officer Duck’ Donald is a policeman ordered to arrest Tiny Tom (ergo Pete). He does so by pretending to be a baby, bringing out Pete’s previously unknown soft side. Apart from being rather unlikely, the comedy also suffers from milking this one idea – in a 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon the baby trick would have been only one of several schemes.

Watch ‘Officer Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 14
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter

‘Officer Duck’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 1, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Mickey Rooney, Sonja Heni, The Ritz Brothers, Shirley Temple
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

The Autograph Hound © Walt Disney‘The Autograph Hound’ is an update of the idea of the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Movie Mad‘ (1931): Donald Duck tries to enter a Hollywood studio, to meet some stars, but is hindered by a guard.

The caricature of Hollywood stars of course form the highlight of the cartoon, and like the ones in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), they were all done by Joe Grant. Donald especially has to deal with an obnoxious Mickey Rooney, the rather bland Sonja Henie (whom Donald had imitated in ‘The Hockey Champ‘), the forgotten Ritz Brothers and a lovely Shirley Temple.

During the final scene we also see Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Charlie, Stepin Fetchit, Joe E. Brown, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Katharine Hepburn, Groucho Marx and several others, all wanting to have Donald’s autograph.

Donald’s extraordinary fame in this cartoon seems to be a case of wishful thinking by the Disney Studio, but chances are that by 1939 Donald Duck had become the biggest animated star around. Mickey Mouse, the greatest cartoon star of the 1930s, was seen less and less on the screen, while Pluto and Goofy only came into their own during the 1940s. Fleischer’s Betty Boop had retired in July 1939, and even Popeye’s popularity may have waned after Segar’s death and the Fleischer’s move to Florida. Warner Bros.’ Porky Pig never became a huge star, and Daffy had still to reach his peak, while other potential rivals, like Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry or Woody Woodpecker only entered the scene in 1940.

Donald wears his blue cap for the first time in this cartoon, replacing his original white one. The blue cap was to stay till the present day.

Watch ‘The Autograph Hound’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 13
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Penguin
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Officer Duck

‘The Autograph Hound’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 11, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:
Review:

Donald's Penguin © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald Duck receives a present from one Admiral Bird, South Pole.

The package appears to contain a female penguin, whom Donald calls Tootsie. In ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald’s behavior is quite different than from the earlier ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), in which he tried to kill several penguins in order to eat them. True, even in this gentle cartoon he threatens to blast the penguin away with a shotgun, but mostly the short shows Donald’s soft side. This doesn’t lead to great comedy, and mostly ‘Donald’s Penguin’ seems to be the Donald Duck counterpart of the later, but equally dull Pluto-befriends-an-animal series (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945). Nonetheless, ‘Donald’s Penguin’ is a rare Disney cartoon in which creatures are killed, as Donald’s three goldfish all end in the penguin’s stomach.

‘Donald’s Penguin’ was the last cartoon in which Donald Duck wears a white cap. In his next short, ‘The Autograph Hound’ it was replaced by a blue one, probably for greater contrast.

Watch ‘Donald’s Penguin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 12
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound

‘Donald’s Penguin’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: June 30, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Sea Scouts © Walt DisneyIn ‘Sea Scouts’ Donald Duck pretends to be an admiral, commanding his inept nephews on a sailing trip.

All too soon, however, their trip turns into disaster, and when the mast breaks loose, Donald seems destined to end in the jaws of a ferocious shark. The shark is exactly the same design as the one in ‘Peculiar penguins‘ (1934), including the strange green coloring.

‘With ‘Sea Scouts’ Dick Lundy joined Jack King and Clyde Geronimi as a director of Donald Duck. Lundy would direct nine Donald Duck cartoons before leaving Disney for Walter Lantz in October 1943. Like Geronimi, Lundy had a rather gentle style and only one of his Donald Duck shorts is a real classic: ‘Donald’s Tire Trouble‘ from 1943.

‘Sea Scouts’ is a genuine gag cartoon, and it’s admirable to watch how several events lead to complete disaster. Moreover, Donald Duck’s obsession with his own hat is a nice ingredient in the turn of events. However, Lundy’s direction lacks the necessary bite, and the cartoon falls short in reaching the heights it could have with a better timing.

Watch ‘Sea Scouts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 11
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Penguin

‘Beach Picnic’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: June 9, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Beach Picnic © Walt Disney‘Beach Picnic’ was the first short directed by Clyde Geronimi.

Geronimi was born in Italy in 1901, and worked for Hearst, Bray and Walter Lantz before joining Walt Disney in 1931. He was promoted to director in 1938, and he directed 21 shorts, featuring Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Pluto before moving on to feature films in 1943.

Geronimi had a gentle directing style, more fit for charm than for comedy, and best suited for Mickey and Pluto. ‘Beach Picnic’ is a typical example. It opens with Donald Duck singing the 1914 hit song ‘By the Beautiful Sea’, and in fact he looks like a bather from that era.

But most of the screen time goes to Pluto, not Donald, and our favorite cartoon dog stars in two long situation comedy sequences. First with Donald’s inflatable horse (which Donald calls Seabiscuit after the champion race horse of the era), then with flypaper. This latter sequence is for a great deal a straight copy of Norm Ferguson’s flypaper scene in ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934). The animation is exactly the same, only redrawn in color.

Another gag features Pluto becoming inflated and flying through the air. This gag is undoubtedly the best of the entire film, and it was repeated by Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry short ‘Salt Water Tabby‘ (1947). Donald meanwhile has to deal with Indian-like ants, something he would have to do again in ‘Tea for Two Hundred’ (1948).

‘Beach Picnic’ is a slow, and only moderately funny cartoon, and it shows that Donald needed some stronger adversaries to make the comedy work than the gentle Pluto.

‘Beach Picnic’ is part of a transitional phase for Pluto. Even though Pluto’s own series had been launched in 1937, with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’, the series only really took of in 1940. In the meantime Pluto co-starred with Donald in four films, of which ‘Beach Picnic’ is the first (although the two had already shared screen time in ‘Donald and Pluto‘ from 1936).

Watch ‘Beach Picnic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 10
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts

‘Beach Picnic’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Cousin Gus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Cousin Gus © Walt DisneyIn the rare occasion that Donald’s relatives visited our hero, this quickly turned into disaster: in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938) the nephews managed to wreck Donald’s house within seconds, in ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ Gus makes Donald’s food disappear almost instantly.

Cousin Gus had first appeared in Al Taliaferro’s daily comic strip, from May 9 to 24, 1938, and from November 7 to 19, and the May comics clearly inspired this cartoon. He was less obnoxious during the November run, letting Donald Duck visit him at the farm. Both in the comic strip as in the film Cousin Gus is a silent character- in the short the only sound he makes is a honk when he squeezes his own behind.

Gus is introduced as being rather dumb, but his ways of eating are ingenious, eating corn-on-the-cob like a typewriter, knitting a sock out of spaghetti, eating a ridiculously large sandwich like a pack of cards, and peas by playing an Indian tune while sucking them in one by one. Soon Donald is left without any food and no wonder he tries to get rid of his gluttonous relative. He does so with a ‘barking hot dog’, a bizarre gadget that must only exist in the cartoon world.

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is a genuine gag cartoon, almost fit for more modern times, if it were quicker paced. The cartoon is entertaining, but never reaches classic status. More cartoons with cousin Gus were conceived, but they never materialized, and this cartoon remained Gus’s only screen appearance. However, he would embark on a comic career as Grandma Duck’s lazy farmhand.

Watch ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 9
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Hockey Champ
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

 

Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: November 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Ferdinand the Bull © Walt DisneyThis gentle film is based on the children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ (1936) by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, and tells about Ferdinand, a gentle Spanish bull, who loves to sit quietly and smell the flowers.

One day “five men with funny hats” come along, in search of suitable bull for a bullfight, and because the unfortunate Ferdinand has sat on a bee, his ferocious antics make him the one. However, once inside the arena, Ferdinand refuses to fight, much to the dismay of the matador.

Ferdinand is a really peaceful, pacifistic character, and a remarkable persona in 1938, when war already was around the corner. This character must have been an inspirational one at the time, and the film won an Academy Award. The short has a friendly atmosphere, and the only really funny part is the matador trying to persuade Ferdinand to fight by making faces, a scene animated with gusto by Ward Kimball.

Yet, there’s room for some more fun, as the banderilleros and picadors are caricatures of Disney personnel, drawn by Ward Kimball. We watch Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt as banderilleros,  Bill Tytla as the second of the picadores (the other two are probably caricatures, too, but I don’t know of whom), and Ward Kimball himself as the moza de espada, carrying the matador’s sword.  All humans are animated very well, proof that after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, the animators were more confident with the human body than ever.

Nevertheless, the human designs range from from very cartoony, like the Matador, to quite realistic, like the Spanish ladies, who all look like copies of Snow White. No wonder, as they were animated by Jack Campbell, who had been a key assistant to both the two units that animated the title heroine.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ was the first Disney cartoon not to be part of any series. It could have been a Silly Symphony, as in 1938 that series had not ended, yet, but apparently, the studio chose the film to be no part of that. Perhaps, because in ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, music doesn’t play an important part, belying the series’ origin. Instead, the film uses a voice over to tell the tale, being the first Disney short to do so. The voice over technique is a rather lazy narrative device, but the Disney studio adopted it whole-heartedly. And so, unfortunately, voice overs would be deployed in many non-star Disney shorts and parts of package features of the 1940s and 1950s.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is the first of only two Disney shorts directed by Dick Rickard, the other one being ‘The Practical Pig‘ (1939). Rickard had been a story artist, working on a few Silly Symphonies and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ between 1936 and 1939. Otherwise he remains an enigmatic figure, as I cannot find any other information about him…

In December 2017 Blue Sky released their feature length adaptation of ‘Ferdinand the Bull’. I haven’t seen this film, yet, and therefore cannot compare the two films. Can you?

Watch ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is available on the DVD set ‘Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts 1920s-1960s’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Hockey Champ © Walt Disney‘The Hockey Champ’ easily is one of the best Donald Duck cartoons of the 1930s.

Unlike ‘Good Scouts‘ or ‘Donald’s Golf Game‘, this short is fast paced, full of gags, speed lines and chase scenes, looking forward to the 1940s, the age of chase cartoons. The cartoon opens wonderfully with Donald Duck performing some impressive figure skating, and imitating Norwegian world champion and movie star Sonja Henie.

His performance is interrupted by Huey, Dewey and Louie playing ice hockey, and Donald Duck challenges the trio to a game. He indeed shows some impressive ice hockey skills, playing all by himself, in a scene recalling Max Hare playing tennis with himself in ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (1935). This is a speedy scene for a 1939 cartoon, but when the Huey, Dewey and Louie take revenge, this speed is retained. There’s a wonderfully silly chase scene underneath the snow, with the hockey sticks acting as periscopes, and, needless to say, the haughty Donald is finally defeated by his nephews.

‘The Hockey Champ’ is an important step towards the faster cartoon style of the 1940s, and still a delight to watch, in contrast to contemporary Donald Duck cartoons, which are as beautifully made, but unfortunately less funny.

Watch ‘The Hockey Champ’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 8
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus

‘The Hockey Champ’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 13, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Lucky Day © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Lucky Day’ starts with the shadows of two gangsters making a time bomb to be delivered by a messenger boy.

The messenger boy in question is Donald Duck. Unfortunately, it’s Friday the 13th, and superstitious Donald desperately tries to avoid a ladder, a mirror and a black cat. In the end the black cat saves him by accident, hence the title.

Donald Duck is the sole star of this cartoon, but apart from his antics with the cat in the harbor, there’s little to enjoy. And because of Jack King’s slow timing, one has ample time to admire the beautiful, realistic background paintings, successfully evoking the atmosphere of a misty harbor quarter by night.

Watch ‘Donald’s Lucky Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 7
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Hockey Champ

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 4, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★
Review:

Donald's Golf Game © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is the third film featuring Donald and the nephews.

Donald’s in for a game of golf, and it’s clear he only uses his nephews to be caddies, without granting them anything. Naturally, the nephews take matters in their own hand, with ‘Goofy Golf Clubs’: one changes into a net, another into an umbrella, and a third one into a boomerang. Soon Donald is stuck in a rubber band, while the three brats are playing the field.

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is a genuine gag cartoon, but once again Jack King’s timing is ridiculously slow, spoiling otherwise fine gags. In the family’s fourth outing, ‘The Hockey Champ‘ (1939), this problem was finally over. Al Taliaferro would set the stage before the film, letting Donald Duck play golf in his daily comic strip from October 24 to November 5.

Watch ‘Donald’s Golf Game’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 6
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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