Disney Shorts 1939

Donald’s Lucky Day

January 13, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

We open in a shadowy room as two criminals devised to send a bomb to a competing criminal, set to go off at midnight. And, to deliver this instrument of death on Friday the 13th, the unluckiest of all days, they’ve hired Donald.

Being the supersticious type, Donald manages to go through every manner of luck-influecing trick, the mirrors, going under ladders, but his main adventure is his uneven interactions with a black cat that take up the latter half of the film.

This one is just ok. There isn’t a lot of tension with the bomb situation, it’s mostly just funny how clueless Donald is. Some of the gags go on too long, like the animators were trying to burn out some time to get us to the end.

Society Dog Show

February 3, 1939 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2

Mickey takes Pluto to a high society dog show where the two of them yokel it up. There are some half-hearted gags with the uppity well cultured and groomed dogs, but when Pluto acts up in front to the judge, they are ejected. Things really get moving when the exhibition hall catches on fire and Pluto saves one of the trapped lady dogs. That shows some visual innovation and energy as we get a kinetic rescue through the blazing building. It works pretty well.

The Practical Pig

February 24, 1939 available in Silly Symphonies

It’s hard to communicate what a huge hit The Three Little Pigs was. This is the second sequal short to that massively popular short and it seems that they two younger pigs have learned nothing and we are all surprised the Big Bad Wolf has not died of starvation.

Nevertheless he persists and manages to capture the dumb pigs with the intent of using them to get to the last pig, who has devised an elaborate lie detector and wolf torture system for just such an occasion.

This is a great combination of slapstick and story. I want to say that Disney is running out of ideas with these characters and, while the over arching story is repetitive, there is enough invention here to keep it fresh.

Goofy and Wilbur

March 17, 1939 available in The Complete Goofy

This has the distinction of being Goofy’s very first solo short, in which Goofy and his grasshopper buddy Wilbur go fishing. Their method of fishing is to send Wilbur out into the lake to draw the fish into Goofy’s net. There’s some cuteness to the fact that the Goofy voice was first used for the grasshopper character in the Grasshopper and the Ants and here Goofy partners with a grasshopper for his first big adventure on his own.

Wilbur is lovingly drawn, very elastic and energetic with a lot of personality. This style is a good match for what they’re trying to do with Goofy. Goofy’s movement have a very rubbery quality as he clumsily catches the fish or chases down various animals who swallow Wilber. It’s a good one and you can see that the writers and animators really put a lot of creativity to try to make Goofy stand on his own.

The Ugly Duckling

February 24, 1939 available in Silly Symphonies

This is the last of the Silly Symphony series, which makes me a little sad.

Two ducks have a set of lovely yellow duckings and one “ugly” white duckling. This apparent infidelity leads to the departure of the father duck and the ultimate abandonment of the ugly duckling by his mother. The duckling goes in search of parental care before, hopeless and lost, he is taken in by a swan family. This short is very narrative driven and it’s fine for what it is in that. There are very few gags or laughs, confined mainly to the idea that a duck would accuse another duck of infidelity. The visuals are elegant but not stunning, the whole things feels a little more like an well crafted experiment than a real piece of entertainment.

The Hockey Champ

April 28, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

This is a quintessential Donald short. We open to Donald elegantly and masterfully ice skating on a frozen lake until he is interrupted by his nephews’ fumbling and hectic attempts to play hockey. He then proceeds to be beat the tar out of them, skating circles around them in a demonstration of this hockey superiority. But it wouldn’t be a Donald Duck cartoon if he didn’t lose his temper and make a fool of himself.

This is great. Good, engaging visuals of figure skating, the first hockey scene is great, lots of good fun gags around ice and snow, just great all the way through.

Donald’s Cousin Gus

May 19, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald is about to sit down to what seems to be a 5 course meal when his cousin Gus comes to call and totally cleans him out. Gus is based on the silent Harpo Marx and the short is a series of increasingly inventive food related gags. For such a simply concept, it’s incredibly esoteric and cute.

Beach Picnic

June 9, 1939 available in The Complete Pluto

Donald goes to the beach and goofs around with beach toy and annoys Pluto. It feels like the animators were really trying to see how many jokes they could get in around an inflatable horse, which takes up the first half of the cartoon. A part of me wonders if this isn’t still practice drawing water and wave-based action in preparation for the upcoming Pinocchio film.

Sea Scouts

June 30, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald is the captain of a fairly large ship upon which his nephews are his only crew. We get one ship-related mishap after another with little narrative. Again, there are a lot of water based animation involving ships, sharks, rowboats, and both above and below water effects. The gags come fast and thick with plenty of variety and slapstick to keep us laughing. 

The Pointer

July 21, 1939 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2

This is the first Mickey to feature the new Mickey Mouse design pioneered in Fantasia. This short holds hints of the gorgeous animation we see in Disney’s feature films, you can practically see bits of Bambi and Snow White peeking through. Mickey and Pluto are out hunting when Mickey runs afoul a large bear while Pluto is preoccupied with a family a quail. It’s a pretty solid short that also does well highlighting Walt Disney’s voice work as Mickey Mouse.

Donald’s Penguin

August 11, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Someone inexplicably sends Donald Duck a penguin in the mail. This is one of the shorts that is pretty light on story with the major conflict being that the penguin wants to eat Donald’s goldfish. A lot of this short feels like it is on auto-pilot with Donald’s manic personality.

The Autograph Hound

September 1, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

This is one that loses a bit of its spice if you’ don’t know the 1939 Hollywood royalty. Greta Garbo, Mickey Rooney, [the others] make appearances in caricature form. However, this short manages to shine where others fail because it gives these celebrities something genuinely entertaining to do, all while Donald is being chased by the studio security. There’s a particularly lovely scene where Shirley Temple and Donald swap autographs. It all works pretty well even if we don’t know the personalities anymore.

Officer Duck

October 10, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald is a police officer and is tasked with bringing in “Tiny Tom” and discovers that Tom isn’t as tiny as he would prefer. So Donald poses as the baby of Tiny’s buddy “Trigger” to take Tiny down.

This is a great short with good gags and a pretty solid story. We are allowed Donald’s abrasiveness because he’s up against Pete, who is substantially more abrasive.

Mickey’s Surprise Party

October 10, 1939 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Minnie is trying to surprise Mickey with home-baked cookies but the mishaps inherent with cartooning cause disaster in the house. Minnie dissolves into tears, and Mickey resolves the conflict by running out and getting a bunch of Nabisco snacks and crackers.

This short was done as a promotional spot for Nabisco at the New York World’s Fair. What strikes me is that it’s still a decent short on its own (just a little ham-handed in the resolution). Walt Disney still held high standards even when he was making commercials.