Sunday, December 23, 2007

Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald, Volume Three (1947-1950)
DVD review by Sombrero Grande

Who's got the sweetest disposition?
One guess; guess who?
Who never, never starts an argument?
Who never shows a bit of temperament?
Who's never wrong, but always right?
Who'd never dream of starting a fight?
Who gets stuck with all of that luck?

Why, it's Donald Duck, of course! Walt Disney once referred to Donald as the "Gable of [his studio's] stable." Why? Well, Donald gained lofty star status and massive popularity at Disney because of the fact that he was more versatile than Disney's other cartoon characters.

The initial Mickey Mouse was an asshole (seriously, watch Steamboat Willie and you'll see what I mean), but as Mickey's popularity grew and he became the corporate symbol of the entire company, his personality had to soften considerably. And with Goofy's persona only allowing him to be silly, Donald quickly became Disney's star character who was still allowed to be as big a jerk as the comedy would allow/dictate. Donald's quick temper, paired with his mischievous and sometimes malevolent inclinations, allow him to be either the hero or villain (and sometimes both) in a cartoon, and it's this very essence of his character that made him so popular both with the public and with Disney's writers and animators.

Donald ended up staring in far more cartoons than any other Disney character as a result of this versatility, and Disney has just released the third volume of his shorts on DVD, arranged chronologically, as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series. This two-disc set features shorts released in the years 1947 through 1950 and not only does it contain many of Donald's best shorts, but some of Disney's best as well.

I could list off the names of all the shorts available on these discs, but, let's face it: if you know these cartoons by their names, chances are you're a big enough fan to have already bought this DVD set. In The Chronological Donald, Volume Three, Donald battles with not just his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, but with many new characters as well, such as Chip and Dale (who got their names in the title of the cartoon featuring their first encounter with Donald), Bootle Beetle, a bee, a mountain lion, a baby kangaroo, a desert mirage, a drippy faucet, and virtually all the elements of nature at one point or another.

Some of the real highlights of the set are: All In A Nutshell, wherein Chip and Dale invade Donald's roadside "Nut Butter" stand; Slide, Donald, Slide where Donald faces off with a classical music-loving bee over control of the radio during a baseball-game broadcast; and the Oscar-nominated Toy Tinkers which pits Donald and Chip and Dale against each other again, this time over Christmas walnuts.

Two cartoons, Sleepy Time Donald and Donald's Dilemma, give Donald's girlfriend Daisy an uncharacteristic chance to take the starring role as she protects a sleepwalking Donald from danger and grapples with his newfound popularity when a falling-flower-pot-to-the-head inadvertently gives him a fantastic singing voice.

It's remarkable considering that these cartoons were produced sixty years ago, around the time many of today's kids' grandparents were born, that they still feel so timeless (aside from the occasional '40s radio, telephone, or automobile shown). Of course, there are some occasional moments that, by today's standards, are no longer considered "politically correct," and the shorts containing those are separated from the others in a special section of the DVDs labeled "From the Vault."

Three For Breakfast contains a brief, insensitive Asian caricature, and in Clown of Jungle, a character is briefly shown puffing on a cigar. Smoking is also prevalent in Donald's Happy Birthday, a short I never enjoyed as a kid, since it shows Huey, Dewey, and Louie getting punished when Donald misinterprets a thoughtful birthday present from the boys as an indication they've started smoking. While I can see how moments in these cartoons could make modern parents wince, I can't understand what in Tea For Two Hundred or Bee At The Beach lumps them into the "Vault" alongside these. Who knows, maybe I'm just not litigious enough to figure it out.

The extras in this DVD set include: introductions by film historian Leonard Maltin that provide interesting and educational context for the shorts, a look at Donald's "career" and his many cameo appearances in films, galleries of concept sketches for the shorts in this volume, a feature on sculpting maquettes that shows step-by-step how to create Donald in three dimensions, and a series of openings for The Mickey Mouse Club. Like the so-called "couch gags" on The Simpsons, at the start of every episode of The Mickey Mouse Club, something different would happen to Donald as he attempted to bang the MMC gong. Ten different openings are hidden throughout the discs as easter eggs, which is a pretty neat idea and they aren't too difficult to find, but the thing that prevents this from being a stellar idea is the fact that when you find these "easter eggs," you have to watch the MMC opening in its entirety every time just to get to the unique part at the end.

The fact that many of the cartoons in The Chronological Donald, Volume Three lack a satisfying conclusion doesn't lessen the fact that they can be damn funny. Overall, this DVD set contains enough great shorts to make it a suggested purchase for even the casual Disney fan.


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