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Walt Disney Treasures:
The Chronological Donald, Volume One

1934-1941 (2004) - Disney

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume One

Program Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C+

Specs and Features

Disc One
Approx. 164 mins, NR, full-frame (1.33:1), dual-disc keep case packaging in limited edition tin, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), 6-page booklet, certificate of authenticity, Donald's Vacation poster lithograph, video introductions by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, 20 animated shorts, Publicity & Memorabilia gallery, 5 Story & Background Art galleries, Easter egg, animated program-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two
Approx. 129 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), video introductions by Leonard Maltin, 16 animated shorts, The Man Behind the Duck featurette, 2 Easter eggs, animated program-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned


So! After three Walt Disney Treasures sets devoted to Mickey Mouse, one to Goofy, and one to various Silly Symphonies, the studio's most popular animated character (according to Leonard Maltin anyway and I don't doubt it) finally receives a double-disc tin to call his own. For the hardcore, confirmed Duck faithful, this release is cause for celebration and no doubt these folks already have the set polished up and sitting on their shelves. But what about the rest of us? The casual Disney fans or those who don't really have a favorite Disney character but if forced to choose would probably pick Donald. Is this release worth the money for us?

It isn't hard to see why Donald Duck is the character of choice for those of us who prefer the anarchic spirit of the Looney Tunes cartoons over the more refined Disney shorts. Mickey Mouse is good-natured, resourceful and heroic. Say what you will about Bugs Bunny and the gang but I don't believe you can really peg any of those characters as heroes. Goofy is basically a dunderhead but a sweet and indefatigable dunderhead. Donald, on the other hand, is quick to fight and slow to admit when he's wrong. At times, it can seem as though Donald is shouldering the entire burden of anger and resentment for the whole Disney cast of characters, especially when he's teamed with Mickey and Goofy. But viewing the Donald Duck cartoons today, you may find that your memories of Donald's legendary temper are somewhat exaggerated by childhood memories. Whereas Daffy Duck is genuinely vain, petty, and at times just plain nuts, Donald is really only a seething ball of fury in comparison to his even-tempered Disney compatriots. He won't back down from a fight, particularly if it's with an inanimate object or someone much, much smaller. But that temper is often balanced with a smile, a laugh, and a quacked, "Well, whaddaya know?"

As the title of the set indicates, The Chronological Donald allows you to watch the duck's progression from barnyard bit player in The Wise Little Hen to truant schoolboy in Donald's Better Self to truant officer himself after his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Included for your consideration are the following:

Disc One: The Wise Little Hen; Donald and Pluto; Don Donald; Modern Inventions; Donald's Ostrich; Self Control; Donald's Better Self; Donald's Nephews; Polar Trappers; Good Scouts; The Fox Hunt; Donald's Golf Game; Donald's Lucky Day; Hockey Champ; Donald's Cousin Gus; Beach Picnic; Sea Scouts; Donald's Penguin; The Autograph Hound; Officer Duck

Disc Two: The Riveter; Donald's Dog Laundry; Billposters; Mr. Duck Steps Out; Put-Put Troubles; Donald's Vacation; Window Cleaners; Fire Chief; Timber; Golden Eggs; A Good Time for a Dime; Early to Bed; Truant Officer Donald; Old MacDonald Duck; Donald's Camera; Chef Donald

On the one hand, Disney should be commended for staying true to their concept of gearing the Treasures line toward collectors and aficionados. But for pure entertainment value, the sad fact is that most of the Donald Duck cartoons that people remember fondly aren't here. They would come in later decades as we met those incorrigible chipmunks Chip & Dale. Many of the shorts in this set are better in theory than in execution. Self Control, which has Donald attempting to follow the advice of a radio self-help personality, is a funny idea but it's marred (for me, anyway) by the typical Disney inclusion of a bland song. Both Modern Inventions and Donald's Cousin Gus also suffer from a terminal case of the cutes, although both have some funny gags. Not all of the cartoons on here are failures. Far from it. I thought The Autograph Hound, with its parade of caricatures of bygone stars, was very funny, as was Mr. Duck Steps Out and Donald's Camera. In fact, almost all of the shorts have at least one memorable moment. They're just not as consistently amusing as you might remember.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this set is gauging Donald's versatility as a character. Donald Duck is one of the few characters either in Disney or Warner Bros. who was strong enough to carry a cartoon completely on his own. Donald gives essentially solo performances in A Good Time for a Dime, Modern Inventions, and other such films. But he was also able to co-star with other leading characters. In addition to the Duck family (Huey, Dewey, Louie and girlfriend Daisy Duck), the set also showcases appearances by Pluto and Goofy. Even Mickey himself turns up, turning in a cameo in The Fox Hunt. But while this is great for buffs, casual viewers probably want to be more entertained than interested by a set like this.

Technically, the set is nearly but not quite on a par with other such collections in the Treasures line. The sound is the usual unimpressive but certainly workable mono. The picture quality is generally quite nice, though it suffers a bit in the earlier shorts. Considering the high quality of other Treasures releases, I'm willing to believe that these cartoons can't and won't look any better than this. Still, this isn't as stunningly clear as the Goofy or color Mickey Mouse sets.

Most surprisingly, the extras on this release are downright anemic. Leonard "I Love Disney" Maltin introduces the set and provides the usual PC antidotes for the handful of shorts that feature guns and/or racial stereotypes. But this time, his contributions don't go much beyond that. Disc one features a story and background art gallery but only spotlights five of the 36 cartoons on the set. There's also a publicity and memorabilia gallery, much of which is devoted to comic strips and comic book covers. I hope this is included and expanded upon in future volumes, since many of Donald's most memorable adventures weren't on film at all. Rather, they can be found in the classic Carl Barks comic books beginning in the 1950's.

Disc two's sole advertised bonus is a five-minute bio of Donald's voice, Clarence "Ducky" Nash. It's a decent little overview but honestly, just five minutes for one of the most recognizable voices in film history? The Chronological Donald also sprinkles a few Easter eggs here and there, one on the first disc and two on the second. Two of the eggs are clips from The Reluctant Dragon (available in its entirety on the Behind the Scenes WDT release) featuring Nash and Donald. The other is a brief 1940 short entitled The Volunteer Worker. It's an interesting piece but there's absolutely no context given for it. It's just thrown out there as is. I couldn't tell you what it is or why it was made but it's fun to watch.

I suppose the paucity of extras on this set can be attributed to the sheer number of cartoons spread out over these two discs. That's understandable. Presumably future volumes of The Chronological Donald will beef up the bonuses as well as include the later, more amusing Donald cartoons. I certainly hope so. The Walt Disney Treasures line has created a high level of quality for it to live up to. So for the studio to drop the ball on one of its most beloved characters? Why, as Donald would say, that's very exasperating.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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