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The Chronological Donald – Volume 2

1e_66925_0_TheChronologicalDonaldVolume21What day is today? It’s Donald’s birthday! He made his debut in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen” on this day back in 1934 making him one of the oldest reoccurring characters at Disney. And while he may not be the oldest, he’s the most entertaining. Yes, more so than Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and all the rest. He was basically the star of Disney’s shorts in the 40’s and 50’s when other characters were seeing their workload reduced. It was basically the creation of Donald that allowed Mickey to settle into his more everyman role as the wholesome and unblemished face of the brand. And while Goofy and Pluto continued to receive steady work during these years, they never came very close to eclipsing Donald Duck who proved to be the most versatile and naturally funny character in the company’s arsenal. He was likable enough that the audience could be asked to root for him, but possessed enough bad qualities that audiences could also delight in seeing him get his comeuppance.

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Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is best known for containing the WWII cartoons.

The Walt Disney Treasures collection is a series of DVD releases now long out of print. They fetch a pretty penny on the resale market now mostly because Disney has never really revisited them or printed them in mass quantities. They were the brainchild of film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who felt these treasured shorts that defined Disney in the early days should be celebrated and made available. Since Disney no longer directly profits off of these cartoons, save for a bonus feature here and there on conventional releases, most of the shorts can actually be viewed on various streaming platforms online at no cost. Disney is expected to launch its own streaming service next year, so it will be interesting to see if lots of copyright claims start going up this year to get them pulled down.

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“Der Furher’s Face” contains some rather surreal imagery.

The DVDs are the way to go though if you want to watch these treasured shorts. Donald Duck had enough material to span four volumes, each being two discs, and of the four I think it’s safe to say the best overall collection is Volume 2. This captures the era of cartoons when Donald had settled into a nice groove, but had yet to become too formulaic. Released just after the Great Depression, there’s a lot of historical nuggets to chew on during disc one with Donald being rather poor and forced to ration things like rubber and gas. Perhaps most famously, are the World War II era cartoons contained in the “Vault” section on disc one. A lot of these could best be described as propaganda today, with Donald excitedly signing up for war in one and tackling Adolf Hitler in another.

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The boys have some fun at the expense of their uncle in “Donald’s Off Day.”

A great many Donald Duck cartoons typically place Donald in a fairly ordinary role, maybe in a conventional job or portraying a farmer, and then have him face-off with an adversary. In “Bellboy Donald,” he’s a bellhop on his last chance on the job to keep guests happy and he’s forced to deal with Pete’s punk kid who really tries his patience. In “Donald’s Garden” he’s a simple farmer with a rodent problem. A gopher, perhaps a precursor to the more famous duo of Chip and Dale, wants to eat his crops but Donald isn’t about to share. And then of course there’s his nephews which he clashes with at times such as in “Donald’s Snow Fight,” in which Donald wrecks their snowman and they plot revenge via a spectacular, over the top, snowball fight.

Other cartoons basically pit Donald against himself. In “The Plastic Inventor,” Donald tries to build a plane out of plastic, but he makes the mistake of getting it exposed to water while flying causing it to melt. In perhaps the best cartoon on disc two (and maybe the whole set), “Donald’s Crime,” he steals from his nephews’ piggy bank for a night on the town and is forced to confront the guilt he feels. And sometimes he’s also basically just playing the victim and we laugh at his misfortune, like in “Donald’s Off Day” where he just want to golf on his day off but the weather won’t allow it, forcing him to stay home with his nephews who play a vicious prank on him.

DonaldDuckInNutziLand_zpscc10584aThe war cartoons though, are definitely the most infamous on this set. Because they’re in The Vault and contain politically incorrect humor, they have a sort of forbidden fetish attached to them. They’re not all straight propaganda though. In “Donald Gets Drafted,” we see our duck protagonist in a very eager mood to enlist while a song cheerily lets us know that the Army is better than it’s ever been before. In the end though, while Donald hopes to be a fighter pilot, he just ends up going through basic training and is forced to peel potatoes. He gets some revenge against his mean drill sergeant, played by Pete, in the next cartoon, “The Vanishing Private,” when Donald uses invisible paint to disappear and harass his sergeant causing the general to think he’s crazy. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is probably the most famous of these shorts, and not simply because it won an Academy Award. It depicts Donald in Nazi Germany being subjected to Hitler’s numerous brainwashing techniques and portraying daily life as horrible there. It also contains a rather unflattering portrayal of the Japanese, which also shows up in other shorts. It’s a surreal short though, and in the end it’s revealed to be a dream and Donald wakes up in the most garishly decorated bedroom of an unabashed American patriot. Everything about the cartoon is over the top, but it’s just so fascinating to watch as someone very far removed from that era.

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Goofy isn’t too good to appear in a Donald Duck cartoon.

If there is a shortcoming to this era of cartoons it’s that they’re not always the best looking. Some just weren’t properly taken care of, like “The Village Smithy” in which the film had aged so poorly Donald is basically yellow. Money was tight because of the war effort, so backgrounds are sometimes bland or sparse. The animation, by and large though, is still exceptional Disney quality animation. Another drawback though is perhaps the absence of more classic adversaries for Donald. Chip and Dale won’t show up until Volume 3, and they’re often thought of as Donald’s best foils. Pete is present in several shorts, and Donald pairs up with Goofy in a few others. There’s no Mickey though as he always receives top billing in any cartoon he shows up in. There are some one-off villains like a buzzard and gorilla, and if anything it’s nice to see some variety. The cartoons featuring Chip and Dale are more of a novelty than anything, as those two basically possess the same qualities as the gopher from “Donald’s Garden,” they just happen to be more recognizable.

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“A Day In The Life of Donald Duck” is probably my favorite special feature across the entirety of The Walt Disney Treasures line.

Volume 2 not only perhaps possesses the best set of Donald Duck cartoons ever created, but it also has arguably the best bonus features of any of the four. “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck” highlights the first disc and it’s a fake documentary of Donald’s day to day life from the old Disneyland TV series. He’s super imposed over live-action as he visits the Disney Studios in Burbank and even runs into his voice actor, Clarence Nash, at one point. It’s pretty funny and the effects still hold up well enough today. My own kids are convinced Donald is really interacting with the environment in it. Disc Two contains a sit-down between Maltin and current Donald Duck voice actor, Tony Anselmo. It’s a great interview and Anselmo details how he got the role, what it’s like to play Donald, and even discusses drawing and animating him. There’s also a retrospective on Carl Barks, long somewhat forgotten and ignored, Barks was the writer and artist for the Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comic books that often didn’t even bare his name. He has since experienced somewhat of a renaissance as Disney tried to remedy that during the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s nice finally seeing him get his due.

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“Donald’s Crime” may not be as famous as the WWII cartoons, but it might be the best on the set.

If you wanted to get just one collection of Donald Duck cartoons, then Volume Two of The Chronological Donald┬áis the way to go. It tends to be the cheapest due in part to 125,000 sets being produced, which is more than Volumes 3 and 4 combined, though not as many as Volume One. You may not get the fun first appearances of Daisy, the nephews, or Chip and Dale, but what you do get is a collection of really entertaining cartoons. All of the sets are pretty entertaining in their own right, but Volume Two is the one I come back to most frequently. The cartoons are just really funny and feature good variety, though I could understand if someone preferred Volume Three over this one since it has more familiar adversaries, some great cartoons in its own right, plus it features the more memorable Donald Duck theme song. If you’re a fan of The Duck, or a fan of classic animation in general, then you should probably just try and get all four volumes because I don’t think you can count on Disney re-releasing these anytime soon or in a better package.

The Shorts

1940

  • The Volunteer Worker (presented as a Bonus Cartoon on disc two)

1942

  • Bellboy Donald
  • The Village Smithy
  • Donald’s Snow Fight
  • Donald’s Garden
  • Donald’s Gold Mine

1943

  • Donald’s Tire Trouble
  • Flying Jalopy

1944

  • Trombone Trouble
  • The Plastics Inventor
  • Donald’s Off Day
  • Donald Duck and the Gorilla
  • Contrary Condor

1945

  • The Eyes Have It
  • Donald’s Crime
  • Duck Pimples
  • No Sail
  • Cured Duck
  • The Clock Watcher
  • Old Sequoia

1946

  • Donald’s Double Trouble
  • Wet Paint
  • Dumb Bell of the Yukon
  • Lighthouse Keeping
  • Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive

The Vault

  • Donald Gets Drafted (1942)
  • The Vanishing Private
  • Sky Trooper
  • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
  • Fall Out – Fall In
  • The Old Army Game
  • Home Defense
  • Commando Duck (1944)
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DuckTales Premiere “Woo-oo”

ducktales_2017_by_xeternalflamebryx-db1zb8bWhen Disney set out to reintroduce DuckTales to a new generation of youngsters they clearly decided the most enduring legacy of the late 1980s cartoon series was its catchy theme song. Penned by Mark Mueller and covered in exhausting detail in a new Vanity Fair piece, the DuckTales theme has remained a unifying force of nostalgia for those who heard and watched cartoons during its run. It’s upbeat, poppy, and entrancingly catchy qualities are essentially the one aspect of the old cartoon preserved almost exactly for this new edition of DuckTales. Sure, it’s now sung by Felicia Barton and that final verse is altered ever so slightly, but it’s relatively unchanged from its origins and it still rocks.

The theme has been a central part to the advertising blitz laid out by Disney which seems to know it has something in DuckTales. So confident is the sense coming from the company that it’s a wonder this wasn’t attempted sooner. Is there something magical about waiting for the 30th anniversary of the original program as opposed to the 10th or 20th? Or have we just arrived at a moment in time technologically speaking where this show can be done at a reasonable cost without resorting to the 3D computer-generated imagery of many of Disney’s modern cartoons? Whatever the reason, the song appeared in a quick teaser for the show last year along with the unmistakable “Yeah!” of Donald Duck. The new cast was introduced via a YouTube video where they all sing the song with great exuberance and some pretty impressive timing. And why not? The song is perhaps the best cartoon theme ever concocted and should be leaned upon heavily to bring this franchise back.

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The money bin is still a thing, and looks to be harder to penetrate this time around.

And DuckTales is indeed back. Saturday August 12th marked the debut for the new series, and much like its predecessor, it debuted with an hour long special. Disney XD was the chosen landing spot and the entire day’s programming has been dedicated to airing the new episode of DuckTales, titled “Woo-oo”, for the entire duration of the day. It’s a bold way to announce a new show and it will also be streaming on Disney’s websites and apps presumably until the show’s re-debut in September.

Resurrecting a beloved franchise isn’t easy and often thankless. Fanbases seem to become increasingly protective of that which they love as time marches forward and the slightest change can cause the biggest disruptions. Perhaps that’s why the show has felt so secretive with Disney waiting what felt like an eternity before showing off even a still image from the show. In general, it seems most took the show’s new look with enthusiasm. Scrooge now sports his traditional red coat from the comics from which he first made his name. The show is presented in 2D as opposed to 3D, and all of the familiar faces are still there. The children have received a makeover, as expected, but they don’t feel as forced as the ones the nephews got for the short-lived Quack Pack program in which Disney seemed to be forcing teenaged culture into the show in a mostly unauthentic fashion. The show also promised to send its cast on more timeless adventures, seeking treasure and uncovering all manners fantastic all while maintaining not just the spirit of the original toon, but those Carl Barks stories as well.

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Expect to see some old foes pop-up eventually.

Naturally, some voices had to change as well and Disney kept its casting decisions under wraps for some time. Alan Young was basically the only Scrooge my generation knew, but Father Time made sure it wouldn’t be possible for him to continue the role for the new series (RIP). David Tennant has brought his Scottish charm to the new series. His Scrooge is a lot more youthful sounding, but comes across as authentic and dashing and I think it’s a voice that will suit him. Terry McGovern, who voiced Launchpad McQuack in the original series as well as in Darkwing Duck, lobbied hard for the role here but was passed over in favor of Beck Bennet. Bennett is fine, and I understand the feeling in the building that this should be a new show for a new generation, but Bennett basically sounds like he’s doing his best McGovern impression which makes me wonder what’s the point in re-casting him? The nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie have unique voice actors for really the first time in their existence in Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan. I’ll miss the adorable duck voice of Russi Taylor, but I can’t argue against the decision to make the nephews feel like distinguishable characters from one another. It used to be that only the color of their shirt differentiated one from the other, but in this series all three have their own unique personality. It seems like Huey will be the boy scout, Dewey the crafty trouble-maker, and Louie more of a laid back sort. Kate Micucci is Webby, who too seems like she’ll have a more pronounced character other than girl duck. Mrs. Beakly has perhaps received the most pronounced makeover as she’s gone from grandma-like in appearance to a hulking behemoth. She’s voiced by Toks Olagundoye and I’m curious to see what kind of backstory has been crafted for her to explain this brawny physique. Last, but certainly not least, is Donald Duck voiced by the irreplaceable Tony Anselmo. Donald was reduced to a cameo role for the original DuckTales due in part to Disney being sensitive about using its classic characters for TV and over concerns of his sometimes unintelligible speech pattern. Thankfully Donald has been restored to full-time cast member as he was in the comics and DuckTales 2017 already has a huge leg-up over the original.

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Donald and his nephews have a very hum-drum sort of existence when the show opens.

The premiere opens with Donald and his nephews aboard a houseboat that they apparently live on. It’s seen better days, and Donald is preparing for a job interview. When he realizes he can’t leave his nephews home alone, he decides to ask his estranged uncle for a favor. We find Scrooge in a state of depression as his life has become rather mundane and unexciting. He’s still fabulously wealthy, but doesn’t appear to be living a truly rich life. He and Donald had an unexplained falling out and their first encounter in many years is hardly warm and fuzzy. Still, Scrooge agrees to help out his nephew by watching his grand-nephews, who before today had no idea they were related to the famous Scrooge McDuck. They think they’re meeting a great adventurer, but are pretty disappointed in what is presented to them. They soon meet Webby, the grand daughter of Mrs. Beakly who lives with Scrooge and takes care of the household. Webby is starved for adventure and her sheltered life in the mansion appears to be driving her a little crazy. The boys and Webby make some fun discoveries while poking around the mansion, which helps to bring out Scrooge’s adventurous side. Meanwhile, Donald gets his job, but his new employer is going to cause some problems for his uncle. Everyone ends up on a collision course for Atlantis, the adventure is appropriately grand.

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Scrooge will have no shortage of enemies and challengers to his title of World’s Wealthiest Duck.

Right off the bat I find myself in love with the visual style of DuckTales. There’s a very Barksian quality to the look of the show with some of the images appearing very influenced by Barks’ later works of art. The animation is undoubtedly done on a computer, whether it’s done South Park style by creating 2D models that are animated or if they’re hand-drawn onto computer tablets I do not know, but it does work. It’s not stiff and it’s not lazy and it doesn’t really look like anything else on television right now. Scrooge warms up to his adventuring lifestyle pretty fast, but it’s fun so I’m not going to quibble with a fast-moving plot. The adolescents are convincing and there is room for exploration with all of them. Mostly, of course, I really am fascinated by this Donald Duck. He possesses his trademarked short temper, but it also appears he’ll be the voice of reason in the group who at least tries to keep everyone in check. It’s a role Donald has really never served on film and it will be a lot of fun exploring this rarely seen side of an 80 year old character. The easter eggs and callbacks are also handled as well as fan-service can be with only one line spoken by a reporter sounding forced, but I won’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy it. And I really loved the reveal at the very end of the episode, which I won’t spoil here, as it seems to suggest this version of DuckTales will have something very new to explore.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on this new version of DuckTales. I may have done things a little differently if given the chance, but I can’t deny the finished product looks and feels great. This show has a lot of potential and something about the way it’s being marketed just exudes an infectious amount of confidence in the material that’s very reassuring. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun stuff to look forward to on the horizon, with other Disney Afternoon properties even rumored to resurface. Whether you loved the original series or never watched it, I encourage you to check out DuckTales as this looks like it’s going to be a really fun ride.


DuckTales (1989)

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DuckTales (1989)

Licensed games are trash, or at least, that was the lesson the video rental store taught me as a child. Renting a video game on a Friday night was a special occasion in my house. Maybe a friend was sleeping over, or my parents wanted to rent a movie they didn’t really want me watching, so they got a video game to keep me occupied. The only thing that could ruin the evening, or rather the weekend, was renting a bad game so early on I learned what games to avoid. Usually, those games featured a licensed tie-in: ┬áRoadrunner, Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, X-Men – all terrible games with attractive box art.

One consistent exception to that rule were the Disney games, especially the ones centered around the Disney Afternoon programming block. Recently released in a bundle for modern consoles (though sadly no portable devices), The Disney Afternoon Collection is a reminder of just how much better these games were than the usual licensed junk. Developed by Capcom, these were real games meant to entertain with their play mechanics. The games didn’t need the license, the license needed the games. And the cream of the crop was DuckTales, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989.

DuckTales was not the first of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it soon became the flagship series for the block. Featuring a great cast, stories adapted from the renowned works of Carl Barks, and the best animation on television by a mile, DuckTales was an easy hit and it’s a cartoon that holds up remarkably well today. It’s adventure themes are easily adaptable for a video game, so in some ways it should come as no surprise that the game matches, even exceeds, the quality of the program.

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In DuckTales, Scrooge’s adventures take him beyond Earth.

DuckTales is a pretty traditional game for its era. The player controls Scrooge, notably decked-out in his comic attire red coat instead of the blue from the show, who can run and jump his way through five stages collecting treasure as he attempts to recapture his lucky dime from the villainous Magica DeSpell and Flintheart Glomgold. Scrooge handles like a standard character from the era, with the notable distinction that he can’t simply stomp on the heads of his foes to defeat them. Instead he must utilize his cane. When standing next to certain objects, he can swing it like a golf club to knock objects into enemies or objects. Mostly though, he needs his cane to function like a pogo stick. Bouncing off the head of an enemy utilizing his cane in such a fashion is Scrooge’s primary method of dealing damage. It also helps to give his jump an extra boost allowing him to clear wide chasms or reach higher platforms.

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I think every side-scroller was required to have an ice stage.

It’s the pogo quality of Scrooge’s cane that lies at the heart of what makes DuckTales so much fun, even today. Also playing a role are the large, open, levels. There may only be five of them, but they’re much larger than your garden-variety Mario or Mega Man stage. Scrooge can roam around them in basically any direction, and all are loaded with secret chests and treasures for Scrooge to find. Amassing a fortune is part of the game, and the amount of cash a player finishes the game with affects the ending cinematic, a rarity for 1989. Scattered through-out the levels are also other characters from the show, including Scrooge’s nephews and Launchpad, who are able to help out in small ways.

The visuals and sound of DuckTales are also areas where the game performs well. Naturally, the game makes liberal use of a digitized sample of the DuckTales theme, though I never found myself tiring of it. The sound effects are pretty standard for Capcom games of the era and are probably more enjoyable today with the aid of nostalgia. The graphics, while good for the time, are probably just a little above average for the NES. Some of the enemy sprites and character models are quite fun and expressive, though the bosses sometimes leave something to be desired.

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Launchpad isn’t totally useless, but he also could be more helpful here.

Games for the NES are sometimes considered quite difficult by today’s standards, but DuckTales is a fairly forgiving title in this regard. While it lacks a password or continue system, the adjustable difficulty makes it pretty easy to taylor the game to one’s skill level without making it embarrassingly easy. Changing the difficulty largely affects how much damage Scrooge receives from enemies, which is a simple and fair way to measure difficulty. The game doesn’t throw anything odd at the player, or introduce a foreign play mechanic at any point (unlike say Battletoads which just throws a racing level at the player out of no where), and anyone who has played a decent amount of 8-bit platformers can probably find a way to finish the game. It’s not a long game, though the desire to find all of the hidden treasures and achieve the best ending help provide incentive to play the game again and again.

Mostly, DuckTales is a really fun action-adventure game for the NES. It’s the type of game I can play today and hope that younger generations are able to see what made the game so much fun in 1989. As I mentioned early in the post, DuckTales was recently re-released as part of a bundle of Disney Afternoon titles so you don’t need to have a working NES on-hand to play it, though that’s currently how I enjoy it. And this is a game still worth playing, even after all these years.