Monday, Dec. 22, 2008

Meet Donald Duck

By David Luhrssen
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Competing with Mickey Mouse, Walt Disneys first star, was an irascible waterfowl called Donald. The Chronological Donald, Vol. 4 is a superbly presented finale to a DVD series devoted to Donald Ducks many short subjects. Packaged in a metal canister and introduced by genial movie historian Leonard Maltin, Vol. 4 includes interesting bonus features such as a look at Donalds other career in comic strips here and abroad. (Who knew the gregarious bird was especially popular in Italy?)

Most of the set is devoted every short cartoon from 1951-61 starring Donald Duck. The shorts were already being phased out in mainstream cinema by the time this collection begins because newly independent theater owners no longer wanted to pay for them. But as Maltin explains, Disney kept Donald Duck running longer than most, partly for his popularity and party to keep animators sharp in between feature films.

The shorts collected here show that Donald continued to run opposite to Disneys postwar slide toward pabulum. He is a wise cracking (quacking?) character throughout, always blowing his top and usually falling victim to his own selfishness. A horse, a bumblebee, a wicked witch and a pair of wily chipmunks are among the creatures that give Donald his comeuppance.

Almost all of these beautifully drawn, Technicolor shorts remain as funny now as they were back then. Crude ethnic stereotyping is absent, erotic innuendo sneaks into the graphics and audiences can laugh at and sometimes with the resourceful if easily irritated and greedy Duck. One of the later episodes, pitting Donald against a crass canine neighbor, may well have inspired The Simpsons with its televised coverage of combat across suburban property lines.

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