Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 20, 2008)
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. We find the final collection of Donald Duck cartoons via The Chronological Donald Volume Four. Like you might expect, this one picks up where Volume Three ended. It presents 25 shorts that span a period of 10 years. We start with 1951’s “Dude Duck” and progress through 1961’s “The Litterbug”.
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, 32 minutes, 41 seconds):
Dude Duck (1951, Jack Hannah): When a bunch of babes visit a dude ranch, a horse named Rover Boy hopes they’ll ride him. Instead, he gets stuck with Donald, a fate he does his best to avoid. Rover Boy provides a surprisingly good foe for Donald, as their interactions provide solid sparks. I don’t know if we ever see Rover Boy again, but this makes for a strong short. 9/10.
Corn Chips (1951, Jack Hannah): Chip an’ Dale interfere when Donald Duck attempts to enjoy some popcorn. No characters get under Donald’s skin quite like these chipmunks. “Corn” takes a simple premise and makes the most of it. 8/10.
Test Pilot Donald (1951, Jack Hannah): When Donald’s prized model airplane lands in his tree, Dale takes it for a ride, much to the Duck’s consternation. Some of the Donald/Chip an’ Dale shorts tend to favor the rodents, but this one balances the two factions fairly well. It provides a moderately clever concept and turns into an enjoyable cartoon. 7/10.
Lucky Number (1951, Jack Hannah): Donald’s nephews want to surprise him with a new car won in a contest, but first they have to retrieve. Unwittingly, Donald stands in their way and complicates their mission. I suppose shorts like “Number” should benefit from the manner in which Donald sabotages his own happiness, but I gotta admit his behavior becomes somewhat frustrating. I actually feel bad for the characters, and that harms the comedy. 6/10.
Out of Scale (1951, J. Hannah): Because it doesn’t fit with the proportions of his backyard train, Donald tries to remove the tree in which Chip an’ Dale live. As with the prior cartoon, the chipmunks create a nice foil for Donald, and that helps make “Scale” another winning short, especially when it takes a clever twist toward the end. It does make one question the pair’s sexuality when they set up house together, though. 7/10.
Bee On Guard (1951, Jack Hannah): Donald tries to pilfer honey from a tree and comes up against a dim-witted but determined guard. Initially I feared that this short’s lead bee would be that annoying buzzer from earlier efforts, but I don’t think that’s the case. He uses the same basic design but seems fatter and dopier. That makes him a more satisfying foil for Donald, and the short fares pretty well for itself. 7/10.
Donald Applecore (1952, Jack Hannah): Chip an’ Dale steal apples from Donald’s tree and he tries to halt this. Although I dislike the extremely self-destructive behavior of “Lucky Number”, I think Donald works best when his own faults undercut his success. In “Applecore”, however, he seems too much like the victim. Actually, I suppose Donald’s too aggressive and angry to feel like a true victim, but I think he earns some sympathy since the chipmunks clearly provoke him with their theft. It’s not as much fun to see Donald punished when he doesn’t do anything wrong. 5/10.
Let’s Stick Together (1952, Jack Hannah): An elderly bee named Spike reminisces about his earlier collaboration with clean-up man Donald. Yes, Spike is definitely that “Honeynut Cheerios” bee from the earlier days, though it’s odd to see him befriend Donald. This actually provides some clever moments, at least until they inevitably come to blows. Even for Donald, it seems cruel to which him attempt to kill Spike’s bee girlfriend! Nonetheless, it’s usually a good little short. 7/10.
Trick or Treat (1952, Jack Hannah): Donald toys with his nephews on Halloween. This cartoon offers a funny and entertaining look at the Duck's Halloween sadism and his inevitable comeuppance. 8/10.
Don’s Fountain of Youth (1953, Jack Hannah): Donald and the nephews visit Florida, where they find the old stomping grounds frequented by Ponce de Leon. Donald uses the opportunity to mess with the boys. The Duck’s attempts to trick his nephews become amusing, though never particularly inspired. 7/10.
The New Neighbor (1953, Jack Hannah): When Donald moves to a new house, he has to deal with the obnoxious behavior of neighbor Pete. Unlike most Donald shorts, this one gets some points for our ability to connect with its tale, as virtually all of us have been stuck with pushy, annoying neighbors. It remains a little odd to see Donald as the aggrieved party, but the cartoon still has its moments. 7/10.
Working for Peanuts (1953, J. Hannah): When the chipmunks see all the peanuts a zoo elephant receives, they try to horn in on that action. As I previously expressed, Chip an’ Dale worked well against Donald Duck, but you won’t tell that here. Donald receives primary billing for this short but plays a surprisingly small role. Instead, the chipmunks mainly battle Dolores the elephant. She’s not a very interesting character, and that leaves “Peanuts” as a lackluster short. 5/10.
Canvas Back Duck (1953, Jack Hannah): Donald goes to the carnival and finds himself involved in a boxing match with Pete. Did Disney ever develop any real evil characters for their shorts other than Pete? Maybe, but I can’t think of any. He made many appearances over the decades and remains the quintessential Disney baddie. “Canvas” follows a fairly predictable path, but it comes with a good number of laughs. 7/10. 109:16
DVD Two (one hour, 49 minutes, 16 seconds):
Donald’s Diary (1954, Jack Kinney): We watch the first meeting and gradual romance between Donald and Daisy and compare his version with the reality. This short doesn’t excel, but it has some good moments. It doesn’t make much sense that HD&L appear here as Daisy’s brothers, but no one looks toward Disney cartoons for internal consistency. Who knew Daisy was such a slut, by the way? 7/10.
Dragon Around (1954, J. Hannah): When Dale sees Donald’s construction vehicle, the imaginative rodent thinks he’s a dragon. The pair battle both mechanical beast and Duck. This one uses the usual basic story, but its use of the construction device and the fantasy theme make it more creative than most. 8/10.
Grin and Bear It (1954, Jack Hannah): Donald visits Brownstone National Park and interacts with a hungry bear named Humphrey. I’m not sure if “Grin” represents Humphrey’s first appearance or not; he’d show up a few more times, though I don’t think he ever became a particularly beloved Disney character. Frankly, he’s kind of irritating, but “Grin” gets in some laughs anyway – some unintentional, as the way we view the word “molest” today gives the “don’t molest the bears” sign a different meaning. 7/10.
The Flying Squirrel (1954, Jack Hannah): Donald sells peanuts in a park, and the title character tries to steal them. The lead rodent comes across as nothing more than a solo variant on Chip an’ Dale. He flies and he’s not as goofy, but otherwise he’s a lot like his tree-dwelling predecessors. His aerial exploits offer some fun gags but the short remains less than stellar. 6/10.
Grand Canyonscope (1954, Charles A. Nichols): We follow Donald as he tours the Grand Canyon and also encounters a gruff old lion. The first of a few CinemaScope shots found here, the short ran along with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The short uses the full CinemaScope frame to good effect and presents decent laughs. 6/10.
Bearly Asleep (1955, Jack Hannah): A few shorts back, Donald was a tourist at the national parks, but now he’s a ranger? Well, he was selling peanuts in a park recently as well; no one looks to Disney cartoons for continuity. Here he deals with Humphrey’s attempts to stay in his house during the cold winter. I still don’t much care for Humphrey, and “Asleep” doesn’t benefit from the widescreen treatment as well as “Canyonscope”. 5/10.
Beezy Bear (1955, Jack Hannah): For CinemaScope short number three, Donald runs an apiary and Humphrey tries to steal honey. Oddly, he’s back to civilian status here and is no longer a ranger, though his farm abuts the park. Humphrey’s charms remain modest, so “Beezy” doesn’t do much to charm. 5/10.
Up a Tree (1955, Jack Hannah): Lumberjack Donald attempts to fell a huge tree, much to the dismay of its inhabitants, Chip an’ Dale. Since the last few shorts have featured inferior characters like Humphrey and the flying squirrel, it’s good to come back to our favorite chipmunks. Granted, I’ve never been wild about the gay rodents, but they’re better than their competition. “Tree” features a simple but effective battle between the Duck and the boys. 7/10.
Chips Ahoy (1956, Jack Kinney): After a quick return to 1.33:1 dimensions, “Ahoy” brings us back to CinemaScope glory – and delivers our first look at widescreen Chip an’ Dale. The boys try to use Donald’s model boat to traverse water and get some nuts. This allows for some aquatic hijinks that generally amuse, though it’s never particularly clear why Donald tries so hard to stop the chipmunks; I guess it’s just his natural sadism. In an unusual turn, it makes the normally dopey Dale out to be pretty bright; he predicts all of Donald’s attacks and addresses them before they occur. 7/10.
How to Have an Accident in the Home (1956, Charles A. Nichols): For the set’s final CinemaScope short, “Accident” combines comedy with information. It shows all the ways folks can increase the odds something bad will happen to them in their houses. “Home” gets across its message without too much preachiness and it makes its points via some decent comedy. 6/10.
Donald in Mathmagic Land (1959, Hamilton Luske): A long (27:38) educational film, Donald enters the mystical “Mathmagic Land” and learns how important math is to the world. If I were stuck in class right now, I’d enjoy “Mathmagic” as a fun diversion from a boring lecture. However, I finished school a long time ago, so I can’t find much in “Mathmagic” to entertain me. As educational programming, it’s fun. As plain entertainment, it doesn’t do anything for me, though we do get the bizarre sight of Donald done up like Alice in Wonderland. 5/10.
Donald and the Wheel (1961, Hamilton Luske): Also unusually long (17:55), “Wheel” provides another educational piece. Wise old “Senior” teaches scatting, jive-talking “Junior” about the amazing wheel. Donald pops up in historical vignettes that depict the wheel’s use over the years. It’s faster-paced and more enjoyable than “Mathmagic”, though it’s also more dated with beatnik Junior. Still, it’s fun for what it is. 7/10.
The Litterbug (1961, Hamilton Luske): We end the set with a short that’s closer to a public service announcement than a piece of comedy. “Litterbug” posits Donald as a thoughtless jerk who creates lots of waste. It’s interesting mainly as a curiosity, as it’s not particularly entertaining. Frankly, it’s more sanctimonious than I’d like. 4/10.