Donald's film debut was in a 1934 Silly Symphonies cartoon called The Wise Little Hen. The Silly Symphonies were a series of musical cartoons that usually starred one shot characters. Donald was one of the very few characters from this series to really take off and get his own series. In this debut cartoon Donald was animated by Art Babbitt and Dick Humer. This also marks one of the few times where Donald's sailor suit actually makes sense. Donald's friend Peter Pig was also voiced by Clarence Nash and this cartoon was directed by Wilfred Jackson.
Despite this though Donald's real breakthrough as a cartoon star was as a supporting player in the 1934 Mickey Mouse cartoon Orphan's Benefit. In this film directed by Burt Gillett, Donald as animated by Dick Lundy does his first angry pose. With this quick little bit of animation the character was fully formed. As Mickey Mouse was becoming much more viewed as a role model for kids, he could no longer engage in any negative behavior making him harder to write as a comedy character, however Donald, who could never be confused for a role model, could get away with this stuff, allowing much more comedy to flow out from him. This cartoon also introduced the character of the hen Clara Cluck. It was remade shot for shot as a color cartoon in 1941, but here we have the original Black and White short.
Next up comes one of my favorite Disney cartoons of all time, a 1943 wartime film called Der Fuher's Face. This short was originally to be called Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The title was changed when studio musician Oliver Wallace wrote a catchy song called Der Fuher's Face. This film was directed by Jack Kinney, who was a master at slapstick comedy and probally Disney's greatest answer to the wild crazy and very funny cartoons coming out of Warner Brothers and MGM at this time. While many people refer to the Disney cartoons as cute while Warner Brothers cartoons are truly funny, Jack Kinney (as well as Jack Hannah and Ward Kimball) proved that that wasn't always the case. This is one of the fastest paced, cleverest and all around funny cartoons to ever come out of the Disney studio.
Last but not least we have another wild and crazy Disney cartoon, that easily stands against the crazy comedy coming from other cartoon studios at this time. We are going to look at Clown of the Jungle. This film was directed by Jack Hannah, who was also a master of fast paced wild slapstick. Donald's adversary in this film is the wild and crazy Aracuan Bird, who had previously appeared in the Disney feature, The Three Caballeros. This cartoon released in 1947 is a very funny short that never fails to make me smile.
-Michael J. Ruhland