Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 8, 2006)
Mickey Mouse is – and always will be – Disney’s most famous character. But “most famous” doesn’t necessarily mean “most accomplished”. For that title, I think we have to look toward Donald Duck. He appeared in many more shorts than the Mouse, and his efforts were usually better. We get more reinforcement of that idea with this new two-DVD set called The Chronological Donald, Volume Two.
As you might expect, this one picks up where Volume One ended. It presents 32 shorts that span a period of only four years. We start with 1942’s “Bellboy Donald” and progress through 1946’s “Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive”. For each short, I’ll offer the following information: the year in which it was produced and its director. I’ll also provide a quick synopsis of the cartoon plus my number grade for each one done on a scale of 1 to 10.
Bellboy Donald (1942, Jack King): To save his job, Donald attempts to tame his temper. A bratty kid who stays at his hotel makes that impossible. The sight of Donald as he tries to keep himself under control makes this one delightful, and a rare ending where he comes out on top offers an interesting change of pace. 9/10.
The Village Smithy (1942, Dick Lundy): Blacksmith Donald tries to fix a wheel and put a shoe on a donkey. Inevitably, he runs into problems. Perhaps a letdown was unavoidable after the splendid “Bellboy”, but “Smithy” seems pretty lackluster nonetheless. 5/10.
Donald’s Snow Fight (1942, Jack King): Donald and his nephews do battle in the ice and snow. This one features more anger and antagonism per second than most – and that’s a good thing! The fighting offers plenty of clever moments and makes this one a winner. 9/10.
Donald’s Garden (1942, Dick Lundy): Donald gets frustrated by a quirky well and a hungry varmint as he tries to farm. This short emphasizes cuteness and lacks the punch I like from Donald. 4/10.
Donald’s Gold Mine (1942, Dick Lundy): Donald discovers gold in his coal mine. The cartoon places Donald in the usual positions of humiliation and pain; it comes as no shock that he never profits from his gold. It takes an unusual scenario, though, and makes the most of it. 8/10.
Donald Gets Drafted (1942, Jack King): The title says it all as Donald enters the Army. Due to its status as a piece of wartime semi-propaganda, the short doesn’t have as much fun with the situation as it could, but it doesn't feel like propaganda either. It gave the GIs something to laugh at as they identified with Donald’s plight – and it still entertains 60+ years later for non-military folk. 7/10.
The Vanishing Private (1942, Jack King): Donald happens upon paint that makes its subject invisible and turns himself into the Duck Who Wasn’t There. A much more fanciful look at the military, “Private” doesn’t exactly come across like a documentary. The fantasy twist provides many laughs in this solid short. 8/10.
Sky Trooper (1942, Jack King): Potato-peeler Donald longs to fly planes. His nerve gives out when forced to parachute, though. Like “Drafted”, this one has fun with the conventions of military life. It makes Donald sympathetic but still amusing. 7/10.
Donald’s Tire Trouble (1943, Dick Lundy): WWII rationing hits home when Donald tries to reuse his worn-out old tire. Only Donald could get quite so bent out of shape by a piece of rubber! The short offers creative ways to pique his ire and ends up as a good one. 7/10.
Flying Jalopy (1943, Dick Lundy): Donald buys an old plane from Ben Buzzard, a sleazebag who hopes it’ll kill the Duck so he can collect insurance money. In a twist, Donald comes out on top here. It’s odd to see him cast as the good guy, and this turns “Jalopy” into a fun change of pace. 8/10.
Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943, Jack Kinney): Donald dreams that he’s stuck in Nazi Germany. The DVD’s most controversial cartoon, that’s a daring concept, and one that works very well. It uses some less-than-PC elements but makes its point in clever and entertaining ways. 9/10.
Fall Out – Fall In (1943, Jack King): GI Donald experiences pain and hardship during a long march. This one fits in with "Trooper” and the others that address daily military life. It doesn’t excel, but like the rest, it includes more than a few fun moments. 7/10.
The Old Army Game (1943, Jack King): Donald tries to evade authorities when he returns from an unauthorized night on the town. Another short intended to click with GIs, this one takes an interesting theme. It works just fine as Donald battles with Pete, his boss. 7/10.
Home Defense (1943, Jack King): Donald sets up his own post to listen for enemy aircraft, and his nephews have fun with him. It’s good to see the War treated from a non-military point of view for once. “Defense” uses its topic nicely and provides a lot of clever material. 8/10.
Commando Duck (1944, Jack King): Donald goes on the attack during a jungle mission. The least-PC of the bunch due to its crude depiction of the Japanese, I won’t hold those outdated attitudes against it. However, those elements make “Commando” more dated and less universal than the other shorts here. That makes it mostly interesting as a historical curiosity. 5/10.
Trombone Trouble (1944, Jack King): Pete’s bad horn-playing torments Donald – and gods Vulcan and Jupiter. They imbue him with powers to eradicate the trombone menace. The presence of the gods enables “Trouble” to be something different than the usual battle of wits and wills. 8/10.
The Plastics Inventor (1944, Jack King): Donald “bakes” a plane with non-metallic parts. “Inventor” looks at the shortages of the WWII-era in a less direct way than usual, as it confronts the ways folks had to improvise with little metal available. It’s an odd piece without that context, but taken in its period, it offers some clever comedy. 7/10.
Donald’s Off Day (1944, Jack Hannah): Bad weather keeps Donald from golfing, so he stays home and the nephews mess with him. Inevitably the short takes off onto some weird tangents, but these invariably prove amusing, especially when Donald thinks he nears death. 8/10.
Donald Duck and the Gorilla (1944, Jack King): Ajax the gorilla escapes from the zoo. Donald tries to scare the nephews with a fake threat from the ape, but tables turn when the real beast shows up at their house. I can’t say I care much for the concept of this short, but the execution compensates. 6/10.
Contrary Condor (1944, Jack King): Donald heads to the Andes to find a giant condor egg, but he ends up as Mama Condor’s surrogate child. With its narrator and instructional tone, “Condor” reminds me a little too much of the Goofy “How to…” shorts. It also suffers from too much cuteness. I don’t see it as a particularly strong Donald effort. 4/10.
The Eyes Have It (1945, Jack Hannah): Donald buys glasses that can be used for hypnotism, and he works them on Pluto to turn the pooch into various other animals. More visually inventive than most Disney shorts, this one benefits from the terrific adaptations Pluto makes. It’s a winner. 9/10.
Donald’s Crime (1945, Jack King): The Duck steals from his nephews to finance a swinging date with Daisy. He goes through the standard internal debate over the event. It’s a moderately entertaining morality tale but not one of Donald’s best efforts. 6/10.
Duck Pimples (1945, Jack Kinney): A series of scary tales on radio and in print freak out Donald. “Pimples” takes a simple theme and develops it in a creative manner. (Is it just me, or does the cartoon’s femme fatale look like the forerunner of Jessica Rabbit?) 7/10.
No Sail (1945, Jack Hannah): Donald and Goofy take a boat out to sea. When they run into problems with the sail, they get stranded in the middle of the ocean. It’s odd to see Donald and Goofy without Mickey, but the dynamic works. It’s even odder to see Donald with stubble coming out of his beak, but that doesn’t work, as it’s creepy. Overall, the short is clever and interesting enough to be good entertainment. 8/10.
Cured Duck (1945, Jack King): Daisy tells Donald to stay away until he calms his temper. Donald takes a class to that end. I like the insult machine used to fix Donald’s temper as well as Daisy’s tests for the Duck. 8/10.
The Clock Watcher (1945, Jack King): Donald slacks off at his job as a gift wrapper. Not one of Donald’s best adventures, this one still manages some good moments. 7/10.
Old Sequoia (1945, Jack King): Forest ranger Donald fights against “timber pirates” - who turn out to be beavers - and must defend legendary “Old Sequoia” or lose his job. If it were made today, “Sequoia” would come laden with a heavy-handed environmental message. Here’s it just goofy fun as Donald battles the Chip an’ Dale-esque beavers. 7/10.
Donald’s Double Trouble (1946, Jack King): Donald gets chewed out by Daisy and uses a suave doppelganger to regain her affection. Unfortunately, the sophisticated duck falls for Daisy and wants her for himself. Donald has to find a way to get rid of his twin. It seems predictable but entertaining. 7/10.
Wet Paint (1946, Jack King): Donald paints his car and does battle with a little bird who consistently – though accidentally – messes up the vehicle. Too much cuteness and too few laughs make this a lackluster short. 4/10.
Dumb Bell of the Yukon (1946, Jack King): When Donald heads into the snowy climes, he runs afoul of a bear cub. Despite its potential for too much cuteness, this one compensates with Donald’s sadistic side. It also includes the bizarre sight of Donald dressed as a cub that’s worth the price of admission. 7/10.
Lighthouse Keeping (1946, Jack Hannah): Donald battles a pelican to keep the lighthouse lit. It’s not one of Donald’s better efforts but I thought it was fairly entertaining. 6/10.
Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive (1946, Jack King): Donald heads to the jungle to bring back a “wild man” and finds Goofy. This one parodies Frank Buck, a noted animal adventurer of the era, but you don’t need to know that history for it to work. 7/10.