Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 29, 2008)
While Mickey Mouse may have been the studio’s most famous character, Donald Duck proved a bigger draw as time passed. That meant he starred in more shorts than his rodent friend – or any other Disney character – ever did.
Which is why we’re up to the third volume of Donald shorts on DVD. Mickey got three releases of his own, but that’s where the story ended, while Donald will require more discs to finish off his cartoons. The process continues with a new two-DVD set called The Chronological Donald, Volume Three.
As you might expect, this one picks up where Volume Two ended. It presents 25 shorts that span a period of only four years. We start with 1947’s “Straight Shooters” and progress through 1950’s “Out On a Limb”. 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.
DVD One (one hour, 26 minutes, 15 seconds):
Straight Shooters (1947, Jack Hannah): Donald runs a crooked carnival game and butts head with Huey, Dewey and Louie. This one works best when it concentrates on the shenanigans at the shooting gallery. Unfortunately, it takes a detour after a few minutes, one that proves less satisfying. 6/10.
Sleepy Time Donald (1947, Jack Kinney): When Donald sleepwalks, Daisy plays along so she won’t disturb him. This means he takes her on an unconscious date. Even while asleep, Donald provokes laughs. Among other elements, the sight of him with a boot for a hat and the odd ability to defy gravity makes this a strong short. It’s got more than a few amusing moments and turns into another winner. 8/10.
Donald’s Dilemma (1947, Jack King): A planter hits Donald on the head and causes trauma that makes the Duck believe he’s a great singer. After that he constantly croons and turns into a diva. A weird story that focuses on Daisy’s sadness after Donald becomes a star, this one takes some strange twists and veers from the Duck’s usual irascible character. Heck, Daisy even threatens suicide at one point! It’s consistently interesting and amusing. 8/10.
Crazy with the Heat (1947, Bob Carlson): Stranded during a road trip, Donald and Goofy find themselves stuck in the desert. It seems odd that this one ends up in a Donald set; Goofy gets as much – if not more – screen time than the Duck, so it also would’ve been a logical addition to The Complete Goofy. Whatever the case, it becomes a decent adventure. Not a lot of laughs result, but it entertains to a reasonable degree. 6/10.
Inconsistency alert: with a bloodthirsty Arab on display, shouldn’t this one be found in the “From the Vault” area? I don’t care for that form of self-segregation, but if Disney wants to be PC, at least do so in an internally logical manner. Other cartoons have been relegated to “The Vault” for less potentially offensive subjects.
Bootle Beetle (1947, Jack Hannah): we meet a rare form of beetle that runs into Donald, a naturist who seeks to acquire a specimen of that insect. Despite the variation in species, Bootle reminds me an awful lot of Jiminy Cricket. He looks a lot like Pinocchio’s conscience, and he even sound and acts like Jiminy! More cute than funny, “Bootle” rarely excels. However, it comes with a clever conclusion that helps redeem its minor flaws. 6/10.
Wide Open Spaces (1947, Jack King): While on the road, Donald tries in vain to get a good night’s sleep. “Spaces” takes a simple premise and runs with it. The short presents a series of clever sight gags and makes the most of its thin concept. 8/10.
Chip an’ Dale (1947, Jack Hannah): Donald Duck displaces the chipmunks from their home when he cuts down a little tree. They attempt to reclaim their property. “Chip” doesn’t mark the pair’s first appearance, but it does show the duo in an early state. They bring out the worst in the Duck, which means fun. 7/10.
Drip Dippy Donald (1948, Jack King): A leaky faucet and other distractions torment Donald as he attempts to sleep. Didn’t we just do this theme in “Wide Open Spaces”? “Drip” offers essentially the same tale redone with different nuisances. It still amuses, but it loses some points for a lack of originality. 6/10.
Daddy Duck (1948, Jack Hannah): Donald adopts a baby kangaroo and contends with that critter’s wild antics. Man, Donald turns on his new friend awfully quickly; he seems to dislike the kangaroo within minutes of getting him home. The comedy of “Daddy” works okay, though the premise is too stupid to make sense to me; couldn’t the writers find a better reason to pair Donald with a kangaroo? As it stands, he seems unsympathetic when the hopper annoys him; after all, he eagerly took on the responsibility. Yeah, I know it’s silly to expect great logic from a cartoon, but the idiocy of the premise bugs me here. 4/10.
Donald’s Dream Voice (1948, Jack King): Donald tries to sell brushes door to door but fails due to his poor diction. He takes “Ajax Voice Pills” to improve his speech and suddenly becomes a changed man. The short features a rather cheap concept but it uses it well. It milks the premise for all it’s worth and provides more than a smattering of funny scenes. 7/10.
The Trial of Donald Duck (1948, Jack King): Donald finds himself in court when he can’t pay a restaurant bill. If nothing else, I’ll give “Trial” credit as something different. It takes a weird view of Donald’s actions, as it makes him the victim even after he enters the restaurant without the means to pay. I get the feeling someone at Disney had an axe to grind with pricey French restaurants and this was the result. 5/10.
Inferior Decorator (1948, Jack Hannah): When Donald’s flower-covered wallpaper attracts the attention of a confused bee, the Duck taunts the insect. However, the bee eventually gets back at Donald. “Decorator” has its moments, but I don’t much like the cutesy bee. Maybe he just reminds me too much of that Honey Nut Cheerios bee, but he’s a little too heavy on the adorable side and gets on my nerves. 5/10.
Soup’s On (1948, Jack Hannah): Donald deprives his nephews of dinner when they fail to follow his rules. Though Donald often comes across as sadistic in his dealings with H, D & L, here he seems more sympathetic. After all, he simply wants the kids to wash off their filth before dinner. That factor makes this one less fun than normal because we almost feel bad for Donald as the nephews torment him. Donald works better as the aggressor, not as the victim. However, a clever bit toward the end when the boys convince Donald that he’s dead helps redeem this one. 7/10.
DVD Two (one hour, 23 minutes, 53 seconds):
Sea Salts (1949, Jack King): This piece reunites Donald with Bootle Beetle. The two get shipwrecked and compete with each other for survival supplies. Somehow they manage to remain friends even as Donald tries to use Bootle as bait. Salts offers a mediocre short. 5/10.
Winter Storage (1949, Jack Hannah): While Donald tries to plant acorns in a forest, Chip an’ Dale do their best to steal the nuts for their own consumption. Frankly, “Storage” belongs on a C&D compilation more than it does here. Donald really plays a supporting role, as the rodents come to the forefront. It’s still a fairly amusing cartoon, however, as it takes a standard theme and boasts some good sight gags. 7/10.
Honey Harvester (1949, Jack Hannah): That Honey Nut Cheerios-style bee returns as he attempts to defend his honey from Donald’s attempts to purloin it. The unnamed bee remains an uninspiring character; I can see why he only made a few appearances, as he just doesn’t offer much to make him interesting. His presence dooms “Honey” to become a pretty lackluster short. 5/10.
All In a Nutshell (1949, Jack Hannah): If that title leads you to expect another Chip an’ Dale cartoon, pat yourself on the back! Donald runs a nut butter company and the chipmunks steal his inventory. Not exactly an inspiring story, is it? However, I like the twist it takes when C&D attempt to make off with Donald’s nut-shaped store; that adds a curveball that allows “Nutshell” to become something more than just a remake of “Storage” and the like. It also implies that the rodents kill Donald ay the end! Such a dark twist must count for something. 7/10.
The Greener Yard (1949, Jack Hannah): We get another flashback morality tale from Bootle Beetle as he tells of the time he tried to steal from Donald’s lush garden. If Disney wanted to feature a Jiminy Crickett-style character, why not just use Jiminy Crickett? Bootle continues to feel like a poor substitute, and “Yard” goes nowhere fast. 3/10.
Slide, Donald, Slide (1949, Jack Hannah): That unnamed bee wants to listen to classical music on Donald’s radio, but the Duck prefers to follow the World Series. The two battle over control of the radio. Perhaps a more interesting foe could make this one interesting, but man, I really don’t care for that stupid bee! His presence means that this one never excels. 4/10.
Toy Tinkers (1949, Jack Hannah: Chip an’ Dale attempt to retrieve their nuts from Donald’s house. This leads to a battle waged with toys. Unusually violent for a Disney cartoon, this one becomes pretty lively. It’s creative and clever. 8/10.
Lion Around (1950, Jack Hannah): Huey, Dewey and Louie dress up as a lion to scare Donald – and steal a pie he bakes. Man, that’s a heck of an expressive costume the nephews wear! That silliness aside, “Around” proves reasonably fulfilling. It gives us a twist to the usual antagonism between Donald and the boys, and some good laughs come along the way – even when a real lion makes an inevitable and predictable appearance. 7/10.
Crazy Over Daisy (1949, Jack Hannah): Set in the early 20th century, Donald tries to take Daisy on a date but Chip an’ Dale conspire to mock and stop him. The short doesn’t quite make it clear why they’re so anxious to mess with Donald, but the results offer amusement nonetheless. They do put Donald in the odd position of being a sympathetic character – C&D seem awfully sadistic – and this turns into a mostly fun short. 7/10.
Trailer Horn (1950, Jack Hannah): Chip an’ Dale discover mysterious footprints and track them to a mobile home operated by Donald Duck. As usual, they irritate him. The chipmunks often provided good foils for Donald, and that proves true here. Nothing genuinely inspired occurs, but the scenario offers enough humor to satisfy. 6/10.
Hook, Lion and Sinker (1950, Jack Hannah): The lion from a few shorts back returns along with a cub. When the elder feline fails to catch fish, they attempt to purloin Donald’s haul. This short features the most bizarre sense of proportion. When the cub trots home with a fish, it fits neatly into his mouth. However, when the much larger lion handles it, the fish suddenly becomes the same size as the adult cat! Strange proportions or not, this is a decent cartoon. The lions are acceptable antagonists; they lack the character of C&D or the nephews, but they’re much better than Bootle or the bee, at least. 6/10.
Out on a Limb (1950, Jack Hannah): Donald trims trees and taunts Chip an’ Dale. Unusually, Donald gets the better of the chipmunks more often than the reverse, as he really sticks it to them for a while. Of course, the situation inevitably switches, and all of this creates a pretty lively short. 7/10.