The Most Famous Duck in the World

The Wise Little Hen poster

The Wise Little Hen poster with Donald Duck
copyright Walt Disney Pictures

On June 9, 1934, Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies cartoon The Wise Little Hen premiered, which featured the the debut of Donald Duck, dancing to the Sailor’s Hornpipe. Donald is an anthropomorphic white duck, most famous for his semi-intelligible speech and his mischievous and temperamental personality. Along with his friend Mickey Mouse, Donald is one of the most popular Disney characters.

Donald Fauntleroy Duck was born on June 9, 1934 and soon became one of the most iconic Disney characters of all time. Walt Disney once described Donald as “the problem child of the Disney family”. In the early 1930s, Walt Disney got the idea to create a new friend for Mickey since Mickey started to become a role model for children and he also wanted a character with some ‘negative’ traits that could not be associated with Mickey, including his incredibly short temper.

Donald Duck first appeared in the cartoon ‘The Wise Little Hen’ based on the fairy tale The Little Red Hen. His first appearance was already pretty similar to Donald’s modern look with his popular sailor shirt and hat, however, his personality was quite different as he just filled the role of an unhelpful friend from the original story. In August 1934, Donald also appeared in Disney’s short film Orphan’s Benefit in which he attempts to recite the poems Mary Had a Little Lamb and Little Boy Blue, but everytime he tries, Donald is disturbed by the orphans. As we know Donald’s explosive personality, he threw a fit of anger in the cartoon. Next to his short temper, Donald has a pretty positive outlook on life. Often, he starts his day in a great mood until something spoils his day. He often appeares like a bully even though he never really attempts to seriously hurt anyone. Donals likes to brag about his skills including fishing and hockey playing. Unfortunately for Donald, he often also overestimates his abilities and finds himself in embarrassing situations. As the character Donald Duck got more and more popular, he also received a new design to look fuller and cuter than before. Shortly after, Donald began starring in solo cartoons and received another friend – Donna (later Daisey) Duck as well as three nephews.

During World War II, Donal Duck became part of several propaganda films. Probably the most famous became Der Führer’s Face, released in 1943. The film displays Donald working in a factory in Nazi Germany where the long working hours and the small food rations give him a hard time. Even worse for Donald: he has to salute every time he encounters a picture of Hitler. As these pictures appear in many many places of the factory, Donald suffers a nervous breakdown. He wakes up to realize that this was only a bad dream and looks to the Statue of Liberty and the American flag with renewed appreciation. The work won the 1942 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

When Donald Duck returned from the war, he kept the short temper and anger issues. Some people established the theory that the reason why Donald is prone to having his tempers and anger issues is because Donald has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, post-war Donald also appeared in educational films including Mathmagic Land and How to Have an Accident at Work.

At yovisto, you may be interested in the lecture ‘The Power of Cartoons‘ by Patrick Chappatte.

References and Further Reading:

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