DVD Review: Walt Disney Treausres Wave VIII: The Chronological Donald, Volume 4 (1951-1961)

Walt Disney Treasures: Wave VIII
The Chronological Donald, Volume 4

Available on DVD 11/11/08
(For a Limited Time)


In the most recent wave of releases from the extraordinarily popular collectible DVD series that unlocks the Disney vaults to bring fans the rarest footage and most in-depth coverage of the studio's diverse history, co-creator and DVD host Leonard Maltin wraps up the fourth and final volume of the critically acclaimed and award winning Donald Duck shorts. Featuring thirty-one works that were crafted in what I feel was arguably his most artistically adventurous decade as Disney studios embraced widescreen, CinemaScope (in Grand Canyonscope), 3-D (with Working for Peanuts), blending live action and animation (Donald in Mathmagic Land), and other camera trickery to deliver their trademark superlative quality, The Chronological Donald, Volume Four is loaded with some of the most familiar shorts in the series.

Including such beloved characters as Donald's endearing nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie along with my personal favorites-- the adorable Chip and Dale-- that span the two-disc set with a running time of nearly six hours, viewers have the opportunity to watch them chronologically or alphabetically, searching out their favorites at will. Thankfully including subtitles which go a long way in understanding the nearly indecipherable Donald, each disc opens with a fact-filled, research heavy introduction by critic and Disney scholar Leonard Maltin who provides commentary throughout along with other animation experts.

With the boom of television threatening the survival of the motion picture industry, Maltin explains that the cost of the short in the '50s made theatre owners have to pay more to run them before Disney features, as was Walt Disney's wish. Vowing not to sacrifice the quality of their creative works, Walt closed down production on shorts starring Mickey, Pluto and Goofy, but kept the mischievous Clarence Nash voiced Donald running throughout a decade that saw many changes in the evolution of cinema. Due to the now restrained output, Donald's shorts became far more impressive, garnering a gorgeous one-sheet artistic poster for each film (which appear behind Maltin on the DVD; making me wish there would have been a poster gallery feature in the set) and sometimes additional music written in lieu of the famous Donald theme song.

In a special menu on each DVD called "From the Vault," Maltin introduces shorts that may be a bit politically incorrect by today's standards, urging audiences to watch with the frame-of-reference that they were a product of that era in mind and also encouraging parents to discuss what may make them uncomfortable or something that they felt was inappropriate with their children. Also including some great behind-the-scenes clips including "The Unseen Donald Duck: Trouble Shooters," which contain unproduced storyboards for the character's shorts that were pitched by Eric Goldberg, one of the studio's most acclaimed animators, it also features a fascinating mini-documentary called "Donald Goes To Press," which chronicles Donald's history from his first introduction to becoming a smash success in comic books and newspaper cartoon strips.

However, as someone who still fondly remembers the words to Donald's theme song and has unforgettable childhood memories of watching the shorts, the true gem is the gorgeous presentation of the shorts themselves in their original widescreen format. While there's no replacing Donald in Mathmagic Land--the epic educational short film that was used in public schools as far as sheer quality goes-- entertainment reigns supreme irregardless if it's in making us laugh or think and there were no greater foils for Donald than Chip and Dale.

Whether they were trying to steal Donald's popcorn in Corn Chips, moving into a tiny home in Donald's backyard electric railroad where the duck has a bit too much fun controlling the weather in Out of Scale, tampering with his apple crop in Donald Applecore, going sailing in a miniature boat in Chips Ahoy, or dealing with their tree getting chopped down in Up a Tree, you won't do much better than the shorts included in this set. Additionally working in some great shorts with his nephews in Don's Fountain of Youth or Lucky Numbers when the boys surprise their uncle with his recently won automobile, or seeing Donald take a memorable trip to Brownstone National Park in Grin and Bear It, there's a few that still feel timely today whether it's Donald having to deal with a very rude man in The New Neighbor or in the "you can never be too careful" hilarious cartoon meets public service ad, How to Have an Accident in the Home.

A wonderful pre-holiday release that made me wish I could find the earlier offerings in the limited edition series and one of three new Walt Disney Treasures to be released today in commemorative tins (stay tuned for reviews of the other two right here coming soon on Film Intuition), The Chronological Donald, Volume Four is so good that it makes you wish that more animated shorts were released to public audiences each year, in addition to the ones sometimes tacked onto the latest Hollywood films for children. Of course, if this were to happen, it would make this reviewer quote Donald enthusiastically in response-- "Oh yeah? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!" Until then, there's no denying that Donald was the alpha-duck of them all.