Disney's irascible waterfowl gets his fourth trip to the archival well with the latest in the Disney Treasures tins, The Chronological Donald, Volume Four, 1951-1961, an extremely varied and fun set that contains one of my all time favorite Donald shorts, "Donald in Mathmagic Land," which I loved seeing in school when I was a kid, and which I just found out was shown to my 12 year old only last year in his sixth grade advanced math class, proving that true classics never age. Only slightly jokingly I add that one of the best things about these sets is the subtitle option, which allows the viewer to finally understand what the frell Donald has been squawking all of these years.
Donald Duck is a reactionary character and thus his features are best when there's either a situation or other characters with whom he can interact (usually angrily). In fact it's fun to contrast the sunniness of Mickey Mouse with the downright stormy Donald, and those who aver that Disney only ever presents spoonfuls of sugar-coated goodness for mass consumption had better take another long look at Donald Duck. Has there ever been a more contrary, angry and even downright mean character that has caught the public's fancy the way Donald has (aside from certain Fox News commentators, that is)? Somehow his tantrums make him all the more lovable, probably only because he ends up doing damage to himself when his temper gets the best of him. It's all the more remarkable when you consider that other Disney stalwarts like the venerable Mickey Mouse and Goofy had their series shut down in the early 50s, but that Donald soldiered on for almost another ten years.
One way or the other, this great collection offers a wonderful supply of foils for Donald, probably none better than the equally impish chipmunk duo of Chip and Dale. It was some sort of mad genius to pair Donald with this daffy duo, and the results are consistently hilarious. Again it's a testament to the sweetness of the Disney approach that neither the chipmunks nor Donald lose their affability even when they're all involved in trying to quite literally kill each other. The Disney story whizzes work overtime here crafting one perfectly executed sight gag after another throughout each of these great features.
Also on tap are several CinemaScope features, three offering Donald doing National Park duty with a mischevious and somewhat dimwitted bear named Humphrey (think Yogi without the brains, pic-a-nic baskets or Boo-Boo). While these don't quite have the gag quotient of the Chip 'n' Dale features, they offer an expansive vista that's unusual for animated features of this era and therefore provide at least a lot to look at. From a design standpoint, these are a fascinating lot, showing Disney's slow push into a more modern style that would culminate at the end of the decade with the feature film Sleeping Beauty.
Taken together, the four volumes of The Chronological Donald offer an unparalleled window into the art of feature animation and how it evolved over the course of several decades. Just seeing the character design of Donald himself change through the years is instructive as to how Disney refined and reimagined their "product" (as loathe as I am to describe Donald that way) as time went on. This fourth volume may well be the apex of the series, with some of the funniest, and most visually spectacular, offerings in the entire Donald canon.
Dude Duck (1951)
Disc One Bonus Features include "Donald Goes to Press," a nice review of Donald Duck comic book efforts, "The Unseen Donald Duck: Trouble Shooters," a fun "pitch session" featuring storyboards from a shelved 1946 Donald short, and an informative commentary by Disney mainstay Leonard Maltin, as well as Jerry Beck, on "Working for Peanuts", describing its 3D version.
Disc One From the Vault includes two "politically incorrect" shorts (racial stereotyping is the culprit), surprisingly from the 1950s, Uncle Donald's Ants (1952) and Rugged Bear (1953).
Donald's Diary (1954)
Disc Two Bonus Features include "Disney's Mickey Mouseworks Cartoons," modern day attempts to recreate the heyday of Donald and company, and an Audio Commentary (again by Maltin and Beck) on "Grand Canyonscope," one of the CinemaScope cartoons offered herein, and one that benefits immensely from the graphics-based animation of Eyvind Earle.
Disc Two's From the Vault includes Spare The Rod (1954), No Hunting (1955) and How to Have an Accident at Work (1959). I frankly had to wonder what we were supposed to find offensive about the last one, the millisecond of faux Chinese wisdom or the ongoing parody of a country yokel in the guise of Fate.