As most people know, Walt Disney's career was built in a large part on the fame of Mickey Mouse, the animated character he first brought to the screen in 1928. Mickey starred in over 120 cartoons in the years since, but he had a fatal flaw. He was a straight man. As his popularity grew, Disney realized that he couldn't have Mickey act in a mean or sneaky way; people wouldn't like it. So he created a stable of supporting characters to create mayhem, and Mickey would try to extricate himself from it. One of the most popular of these secondary characters was Mickey's pal, the easily irritated Donald Duck.
Donald made his debut in the 1934 cartoon The Wise Little Hen (an excerpt of which is presented with this set. The entire cartoon is available on the Silly Symphony DVD set.) In this first appearance, he didn't have the explosive personality that would later be his trademark, but he did look very similar to the Donald Duck that generations of children would come to know. Clarence Nash first gave Donald his distinctive voice, and would continue to do so until Nash's death in 1985.
In The Orphan's Benefit, a Mickey Mouse cartoon also released in 1934 (included in the Mickey Mouse in Black and White set,) Donald first lost control of his temper, and that became a staple of his cartoons. Poor Donald would be pushed until he couldn't take it any longer and then explode in a violent outburst of squawks. This was a hit with audiences, and Donald became a regular member of Mickey's ensemble.
Donald Duck proved to be such a popular character that in 1937 he moved up to star status with his own series of cartoons. Disney has put together the earliest cartoons that the angry duck stars in and released them as a Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume One. This set, limited to 165,000 numbered copies, presents 36 cartoons on a two-disc set that also includes a couple of nice extras.
There are some great cartoons in this set. Two of Donald's Academy Award nominated shorts are included: Good Scouts and Truant Office Donald nominated in 1939 and 1942 respectively. Other highlights include the first appearance of Donald's nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie in 1938's Donald's Nephews and Daisy's first appearance (under the name 'Donna Duck') in Don Donald.
Another treat is that Carl Barks wrote many of these cartoons. Barks was the man responsible for all of the great Uncle Scrooge comic books of the 40's and 50's. He had an innate understanding for the duck family, and after leaving Disney in 1942, Barks took a job with Western publishing where he was assigned to write and draw Donald Duck comics. The very high quality of the stories that he created earned him the nickname "The Good Duck Artist" back when comic creators were anonymous. Over the years he penned hundreds of comic book stories about Donald and the inhabitants of Duckburg, all of which are highly prized by collectors today. It is a treat to see his earlier take on Donald in these cartoons.
The cartoons included are:
1934: The Wise Little Hen (Excerpt)
1936: Donald and Pluto
1937: Don Donald
1938: Self Control
1939: Donald's Lucky Day
1940: The Riveter
The two-channel mono sound is very good, with no hints of hiss or distortion. Though it is as hard as ever to understand what Donald is saying, the dialog is clear and clean. Of course when these cartoons were made, high fidelity audio tracks were something that wasn't even on the drawing board, so there is not a lot of dynamic range. Even so, these shorts sound as good as they did when they were originally shown in theaters, probably significantly better in many cases.
The full frame video looks very good on these cartoons. The colors are bright and haven't faded. There are only the slightest print imperfections, most of which look like they can be attributed to dirt on the cells themselves. Disney did a good job on the restoration and presentation of these classic cartoons.
As with the other cartoon volumes in the Walt Disney Treasures series, this set is introduced by Leonard Maltin.
Disc One also features two galleries, Publicity and Memorabilia and Story and Background Art. The first on contains a series of movie posters, magazine covers and comics, including the first week's worth of the Donald Duck newspaper comic strip. Some of these images have a voice over by Leonard Maltin.
The Story and Background Art gallery has a series of storyboard drawings from the cartoons Don Donald, Donald's Nephews, Sea Scouts, Mr. Duck Steps Out, and Donald's Vacation, some frames are also narrated by Leonard Maltin.
Easter Egg: If you highlight Donald's face in the third diamond shown on the 'Bonus Features' menu, there is an excerpt from the 1941 feature film The Reluctant Dragon where Robert Benchley is looking around the Disney Studios and stumbles into a recording studio. Florence Gill (Daisy Duck's Voice) and Nash (the voice of Donald) singing opera (as ducks of course) accompanied an orchestra.
The second disc has a 5˝-minute featurette The Man Man Behind the Duck: Clarance "Ducky" Nash. This short biography looks at the man who created one of the most recognized voices in the movies. It is a nice overview, though I would have liked it to be a little longer.
Easter Egg: If you highlight
the devil Donald on the bonus menu, you will be taken to an extra cartoon
The Volunteer Worker. A public service type cartoon, this
less than three minute short has Donald trying to raise money for a charity
with little luck.
All of the Disney Treasures have been great collections, and this volume is no different. Disney did everything right with this set, presenting the cartoons in chronological order, with nice transfers. A must for any animation fan's library. Highly Recommended.