The Walt Disney Treasures series continues to churn out 2-disc sets of shorts and television shows that Disney seemed to produce in their sleep in the 40’s and 50’s. “Wave VIII” includes the fourth and final collection of all the Donald Duck shorts. Who's never wrong but always right? Who'd never dream of starting a fight? Who get stuck with all the bad luck? No one but Donald Duck!
Donald Duck probably follows only Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbell as popular and recognizable representatives of the Disney brand. The excitable cartoon duck who runs around without pants is the classic put-upon character. In The Chronological Donald: Volume Four, all of Donald’s post-war shorts from 1951 to 1961 are on display.
I’m not sure how much I need to say about Donald Duck and his 1950’s shorts. If you haven’t seen them all, you’ve probably seen one or two somewhere and you know the formula. Donald is frustrated by some pest or another (Chip N’ Dale are a frequent source of irritation) and he squawks, stomps, and shoots steam from his ears for six to seven minutes. He rarely sticks to one locale or basic set-up and moves from circus employee to suburban dweller to forest hunter to sophisticated dandy to family man with a wife and kids in the service of the story. Physical comedy and taking advantage of Donald’s hair trigger temper are generally the staples of these shorts.
While the 1940’s naturally had Donald going heavy on military propaganda films, he doesn’t completely lose his sense of civic duty in the 1950’s. Shorts like “The Litterbug,” “Donald in Mathmagic Land,” “How to Have an Accident at Home,” and “How to Have an Accident at Work” cast Donald as an object lesson in teaching an important lesson. Most of the rest of 31 shorts included in the set are just pure fun. There is one, “Working for Peanuts,” that was originally shown in 3-D but is presented in 2-D on this set and a few others that were shot in Cinemascope and shown in their original widescreen ratio.
While Donald is the obvious constant in these shorts, his supporting cast revolves steadily, although he does have several recurring adversaries. As noted earlier, Chip N’ Dale cause Donald a great deal of trouble in about a quarter of the shorts. There are also five appearances by Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and another five that feature a bear and ranger setting. The bear shorts proved very popular and both “Rugged Bear” and “No Hunting” were nominated for an Academy Award.
The Donald shorts are not particularly different, other than their main character, from the Mickey Mouse shorts from the same period. However, Donald is, to some degree, able to embody the less positive traits that Mickey, as the hero of the Disney company, couldn’t be shown having. This less than perfect personality was probably the main reason for Donald’s huge popularity during the 1950’s when these shorts were made.
If you’re either a Donald fan or a Disney completeist, this is a nice set. It’s 31 cartoon shorts from a golden age of cartoon shorts, so you can’t really go wrong. It might even be a good place to introduce new young fans to Donald, since by this point the Donald machine was running on all cylinders. The 2-Disc The Chronological Donald: Volume Four doesn’t exactly bowl you over with the extras. The key attraction is that if you purchase the three previous volumes you can have all the Donald Duck shorts. Still, a little more effort in terms of extras would have been nice. As with other Disney Treasures releases, a limited number of the collector’s tins will be released (this time it is 39,500) and you also get a postcard sized reproduction of the poster for “Grin and Bear It.”
The picture and sound are great. These shorts are fifty plus years old and they don’t have the same the crispness you’d expect from the latest Pixar computer release, but for their age they look impressive. Disney has put some effort into these things knowing they are appealing mostly to collectors and completists.
Disney mouthpiece (and “film historian”) Leonard Maltin hosts the set and provides introductions for both discs. He gives an overview of the disc and pimps his commentary track and the other extras. Maltin and animation historian Jerry Beck do commentary for “Working for Peanuts” and “Grand Canyonscope.” That’s two commentaries out of 31 shorts. While the choices were not random (“Working for Peanuts” was released in 3-D and “Grand Canyonscope” was one of a few Cinemascope shorts starring Donald) it doesn’t make sense that commentaries weren’t recorded for a few other shorts. As each short is about seven minutes, that means the commentary lasts about 14 minutes out of a total of almost four hours worth of shorts. In the words of G.O.B. from Arrested Development, “Come On!”
The rest of the extras are also mediocre. I guess all the good stuff was used up in the three previous volumes of Donald shorts. “Donald Goes to Press” is a twelve minute doc on the duck’s immense popularity in comic strips and comic books. It’s interesting, but suffers from a lack of involvement of anyone who was actually involved in what was going on. There is also “The Unseen Donald Duck: Trouble Shooters.” This is the storyboard art for a never made Donald short that is given some flow by animator Eric Goldberg pretending to pitch the idea to Walt Disney. Again, completists may be interested, but casual fans will not be too impressed.
The final extra is six Donald cartoons produced by Disney television animation in the late 1990’s show “Mouse Works.” This is pretty lousy filler. Although Maltin praises them in his short introduction the animation is weak and the backgrounds are particularly lousy. Their only benefit is to make the original 31 shorts look good by comparison.
Although this isn’t an extra in the direct sense, there is only a section called “From the Vault.” When you click on this item, Maltin appears to explain that you are about to see the racist Donald cartoons. He doesn’t say it that way, but it’s clear from his statements about the shorts being a “product of their time.” Five of the 31 shorts can only be accessed through this “From the Vault” link and you have to sit through Maltin’s introductory comment. In the end, some of them are kinda funny. I couldn’t figure out why one short was in this section until I realized it was because Donald is a hunter.
I wasn’t too impressed by the quality or quantity of the extras, but they are almost beside the point. This is about the Donald shorts and you get a nice selection of those in relatively good shape with a small dash of historical context to go with them. Any Donald or hardcore Disney animation fan will be pleased.
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