Disney’s first Donald Duck short in 60 years shouldn’t be the last


Donald Duck, arguably tied with Goofy as the second most recognizable Disney character after Mickey Mouse, starred in over 150 short films throughout the 1930, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. 2024 marks the 90th anniversary of the pantsless Pekin, who persisted through the second half of the 20th century thanks to Disney Channel replays of his shorts, appearances in DuckTales, and the Kingdom Hearts games.

Disney is celebrating the duck’s birthday with the usual merch drops and theme park shenanigans, but its best gift to fans is a brand-new short: DIY Duck, Donald’s first solo short outing since 1961’s The Litterbug. Directed by veteran Mark Henn, who has remained on Disney’s hand-drawn animation team throughout the quarter-century pivot to 3D CG, DIY Duck checks all the boxes of a classic Donald short, starting with a mundane day-in-the-life problem that puts the character through the cartoon wringer.

Donald was always my favorite cartoon character: Landing between the more wholesome Disney gang and Tex Avery and Chuck Jones’ elastic, ecstatic WB cast, Donald was just… some dude… trying to learn how the world works and get by. His temper could run hot, but he was solutions-oriented. He wanted to make a buck, but wasn’t anything like Scrooge McDuck. His curiosity and zest for life meant Disney could drop him into a PSA every now and then — Donald wanted to learn, and we wanted to learn with him. I will dig up what might be his greatest adventure, Donald in Mathmagic Land, once a year just to remind myself that, yeah, math rules.

These days, Donald’s mostly a relic, playing second fiddle to Mickey in the rare instances when Disney approves its mascot character for media use. That’s a bummer, and DIY Duck is a great reminder. Today’s more sophisticated toons are often fantastical and larger than life even when speaking to nuanced human experiences. So it’s kinda nice to have a modern short, simple yet stylish in its cartooning, that is about fixing a crack in a wall — something that I, like Donald, would be absolutely terrible at. In a neat throwback, DIY Duck also pays tribute to Donald’s classic rage voice by using archive clips of Clarence “Ducky” Nash, who voiced the character for 50 years.

While Disney maintains a hand-drawn department, the company mostly deploys it for stunts (like DIY Disney and last year’s Once Upon a Studio short) and skeletal work on 3D CG features. During a visit to Walt Disney Animation for 2014’s Big Hero 6, I was fortunate to watch Henn in action, cartooning by hand for a scene that would later be painted over and rendered with the finished CG art. Whether Disney will ever make a new hand-drawn feature — or, heck, a steady stream of Donald shorts! — is unclear, but by keeping Henn and the team on board, the studio implicitly understands the soul of the medium, whether it’s breathing life into 3D characters or reviving a legacy for an act of tribute. I’m just hoping this isn’t the last time we see Donald in this form over the next 60 years.


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