As Mickey Mouse's worldwide acclaim grew, it became increasingly difficult for Walt and his team to continue casting him as the mischievous rascal he was originally; the Studios' flagship character could no longer be depicted performing questionable behavior, which severely limited the options available for him as far as the gag-filled shorts were concerned. But who would take his place?
Enter Donald Duck, the irascible, squawking scene-stealer that rose from the ranks of supporting player to become the headliner in his own series of cartoons, and not only became the most prolific Disney toon star of all time (with 128 total shorts to his credit), but also surpassed the popularity of the Mouse himself.
So now its time for the Duck's own Walt Disney Treasures set, titled The Chronological Donald: Volume One. Spanning his career from his debut in the 1934 Silly Symphony short The Wise Little Hen up to 1941, this two-disc collection includes a total of thirty-five shorts (which leaves ninety-four left ... this series will surely stretch into at least three volumes) as well as a scant selection of bonus features and a few Easter Eggs (hidden DVD features, see list below) thrown in for good measure.
As with any popular series (whether it be film, television, books, etc.), it is very evident that the animators and storymen behind this batch of cartoons held firm to the belief that "if ain't broke, don't fix it", for, as seen in the shorts herein, most of Donald's screen appearances adhered to the same simple recipe: combine the short-tempered leading man with some persistent irritant (usually some form of small animal or insect, a stubborn inanimate object, or his trio of nephews), stir well, and let expand until the duck explodes, babbling in his incoherent speech provided by his long-time â€˜alter ego' Clarence "Ducky" Nash.
And, while audiences of the time obviously ate 'em up, it does make for some repetitive viewing when sitting down to watch them all consecutively. Unlike the previous Treasures sets starring Mickey and Goofy, which revisited the classic evolutions of the characters through the years, its clear that Donald didn't change much, at least during the period seen in this volume. This was, after all, Donald's early period, so the tried and true formula still holds up in smaller doses, and there are a handful of delightful departures from the formula, most notably the star-studded The Autograph Hound and the jitterbuggin' Mr. Duck Steps Out.
This was also a time when Donald had several recurring co-stars, including Pluto, Goofy and the dastardly Pete, and his shorts also served to introduce such classic characters as his girlfriend Daisy (in Don Donald) and, of course, his three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie (in, naturally, Donald's Nephews).
With so much material to include, one can almost forgive the skimpy bonus features, which include a few galleries (which in part represent Donald's other career: best-selling comic book star) and a surprisingly brief overview of the life and career of The Man Behind the Duck: Clarence "Ducky" Nash. But I'm sure host Leonard Maltin has more up his sleeve for the remaining volumes.