Thursday, June 20, 2013

Best Donald Duck Cartoons

Despite being a character who always plays second fiddle (or perhaps because of it) Donald Duck was Disney's biggest star in the Golden Age of Animation.  While Disney felt pressure to tone Mickey (who has starred in several great cartoons himself) down and keep him as an icon there were no limits that could be placed on Donald.

In this list I limited myself to 15 cartoons, but I could name several more.  Especially since Donald is just as good of a supporting character and ensemble player as a leading man.  But here are the 15 best Donald Duck starring cartoons.

15. Donald in Math Magic Land (1959)
Personally I am not a huge fan of this, probably because I am not a huge fan of math.  And if Disney cannot pique my interest in something, nobody can.  However this is one of the most imaginative educational cartoons I have ever seen and still features Disney's great production values.  This is one of the duck's most iconic roles and has been used frequently on television, home entertainment and in classrooms.  Teachers are still using it today.

14. Rugged Bear (1953)
Donald has faced off against many different adversaries.  From small ones like Chip 'n Dale in Toy Tinkers to massive ones like Pete in The Riveter.  But Humphrey the Bear is a different obstacle for Donald because he is not trying to hurt the duck and traditionally Donald is not trying to hurt him.  In this short Humphrey is trying to hide in Donald's cabin to escape the cold winter.  This is a different type of Donald short because the star is oblivious to the visitor and the audience gets to be in on the joke.

13. Donald's Dog Laundry (1940)
Despite being Mickey's dog, Donald and Pluto have done some of their best work together.  In addition to this classic short they teamed up in Donald and Pluto and Window Cleaners.  In this short Donald is determined to get Pluto to take a bath while Pluto is determined to not take a bath.  The animators get the most out of the pair's physicality and it is just a lot of fun.

12. Wise Little Hen (1934)
The first appearance of Donald was in this Silly Symphony.  Donald is a supporting character in the story of the Little Red Hen as one of the friends who would not help her.  The interesting thing for me about this short is that while Donald is the most memorable character in it he is not intrusive.  This cartoon still tells the story of The Little Red Hen well.  The character had a long way to grow, but even in his earliest stage he still had an infectious personality.

11. Don Donald (1937)
The first appearance of Daisy and Donald's first appearance South of the Border, a setting he always fit well in.  This is the bickering couple at their best.  Donald can't get anything right (partially because of his temper and partially because the universe is just cruel towards him).  It is interesting to note that early Daisy was voiced by Clarence Nash in the exact same voice he used for Donald, which strangely works.

10. Noah's Ark (1999)
Being that Mickey had his greatest performance in the original Fantasia it made sense to include Donald in a classic story in Fantasia 2000.  While it is nowhere near the masterpiece of Sorcerer's Apprentice or even the best of the new concert feature (Rhapsody in Blue, Firebird and Carnival of the Animals are all better) it is still a quality short.  Donald is in charge of gathering animals for Noah's Ark and he gets separated from Daisy.  We see both of them on the ark, but believing the other didn't make it.  Even though we know they are both alive their grief and love is animated so beautifully.  This is the most sincere Donald has ever been and it works.  Also the enormous scale and the familiar Pomp and Circumstance make this stand out from the traditional gag driven Donald short.

9. Blame it on the Samba (1948)
Many of Disney's package features from the forties featured Donald.  In one of the highlights of Melody Time a sad Donald and Jose Carioca are introduced to the magic of Samba music by the Aracuan.  This segment is full of energy and surrealism (most memorably the characters dancing on the musical notes).  Melody Time is not one of Disney's best package features, but this is always a good time.

8. Three Caballeros (1945)
It is difficult to critique the Three Caballeros.  One one hand it does not work as a feature, but the things that work are terrific, such as the Aracuan.  The best thing about it is easily the titular song which is Ward Kimball with no limits.  It is colorful, surreal and memorable.

7. Donald's Lucky Day (1939)
This is a good example of how the universe just gets mad at Donald.  He starts the short as a happy singing delivery man who is working on Friday the 13th and comes across black cats and under ladders.  Just a great simple setting that allows Donald's flustered persona to come to the surface, fun to watch.

6. Aqualera do Brasil (1945)
Donald is in two segments of the feature Saludos Amigos.  The first one, Lake Titicaca is pretty standard, but the final short of the movie makes the forgettable package feature worthwhile.  Mary Blair's backgrounds and the surreal backgrounds are so lovely and exciting to watch.  There is a paintbrush that paints all of Brazil and Donald's co-star Jose Carioca.  Jose proved to be a great partner for the duck as he has the same level of energy but much more positive.

5. Donald's Crime (1945)
I have this one on my iPod.  The simplicity of Donald's action and the escalation of his paranoia are a great juxtaposition.  The narrator adds to the comedy and keeps the short moving.  Donald in a crime movie is just a perfect setting.

4. Donald's Snow Fight (1942)
This is a Christmas classic.  The hostile relationship between Donald and his nephews escalates to ludicrous levels that are animated great.  it is full of clever gags that get the most out of the fun setting.

3. Donald's Cousin Gus (1939)
Donald plays the straight man in this for a change.  His cousin is a really fun one shot character that despite acting clueless manages to outsmart Donald.  Great gags involving food and one of Disney's funniest shorts.

2. Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)
This is the only Donald cartoon that has won an Oscar and a place in the book 50 Greatest Cartoons.  Modern audiences have misconstrued the intention of this short, this was one of the many propaganda cartoons that Disney was commissioned by the government to create.  This is easily their best World War II cartoon and it does a good job at making fun of the Nazis.  Donald was the only cartoon character who could get away with this.  He has bad enough luck that it is believable that he would end up working for the Nazis, of course it all turns out to be a bad dream and Donald is happy to be living in the United States.

1. Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940)
Aside from Thru the Mirror this is probably my favorite all time Disney short.  Just high energy throughout.  Donald leaves his nephews at home as he goes out on a date with Daisy.  Donald and Daisy dance at her house but the nephews sneak over and keep messing with their uncle while Daisy is continuously dancing, unaware of what is going on.  Look this one up if you have never seen it.

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