This week’s breakdown profiles Donald Duck’s first official solo cartoon!
Like Donald’s Better Self (1938), the story for Don Donald was originally conceived for the Silly Symphony series. In October, 1935, a story outline set in Mexico was tentatively titled “The Little Burro.” The main characters in the story were a burro, a small boy and his temperamental girlfriend. Somehow, the story evolved into a vehicle for Donald Duck, which seemed more appropriate. It also features the earliest incarnation of Daisy Duck, named Donna in this film.
During its production, also indicated on the draft, it still retained its U.S. (Silly Symphony) production number. At least one cartoon starring a standard character (1936’s Mother Pluto) was classified as a Symphony. In the case of Don Donald, it was re-classified as a Mickey Mouse short in its original release for bookkeeping purposes, though obviously Mickey doesn’t appear in it. (The copy seen here is a re-issue, which rectifies Donald’s name in the main titles.)
The production records indicate the story directors for Don Donald were Webb Smith, Otto Englander and Merrill de Maris; both Smith and de Maris scripted Floyd Gotfreddson’s Mickey Mouse comic strip. No surviving records specify the persons responsible for the film’s impressive layout and backgrounds. One probable background artist might have been Mique Nelson, who spoke in a studio lecture conducted in March, 1937, about its backgrounds. In order to convey the intense light and heat of the Mexican desert setting, the background artists used tempera paints. The same technique was used in Ferdinand the Bull, released the following year.
Don Donald doesn’t contain a high concentration of animators, as does Ben Sharpsteen’s Mickey’s Fire Brigade. Dick Huemer and Fred Spencer’s animation dominate most of the film; Huemer handles the lovers’ quarrel between Donald and Donna (great foreshortening as his body springs forward after being struck with the guitar in scene 12), and exchanging his burro shortly after. Fred Spencer animates Donald flaunting his new roadster, and later animates Donald’s struggle to restart it (Milt Schaffer animates the close-up scenes of the roadster). Spencer also handles a reprise of Donna scolding Donald, striking him with a busted horn.
Jack Hannah primarily handles these scenes of Donald speeding along the desert, as the roadster pulls cacti into various positions (Effects animator Ugo D’Orsi, is credited on the draft for one sequence of a cactus resembling Rodin’s “The Thinker.”) Al Eugster animates Donald chasing after his runaway auto. Eugster previously worked in East Coast animation studios, starting as a “blackener” for Pat Sullivan in the late ‘20s as a teenager. He moved over to Max Fleischer’s studio in 1929, then migrated to the West in the mid-‘30s, animating for Charles Mintz on the Krazy Kat cartoons. Later, he animated at Ub Iwerks’ studio, where he collaborated with former Fleischer colleagues Shamus Culhane, Grim Natwick, Berny Wolf and Rudy Zamora. He left Iwerks and was hired at Disney’s on May 17, 1935, where he specialized in animating Donald sequences.
The draft for Don Donald indicates an approval date from May 25, 1936; the film was released January 9, 1937. One oversight in the draft lists the description of the “Thinker cactus” scene twice; what should be listed is the burro sniffing along the ground instead (animated by Johnny Cannon). Donald Duck would return to Mexico – with Jose Carioca and Panchito the rooster – in the segmented animated feature The Three Caballeros, released about eight years later.
Enjoy the breakdown video, amigos! Hasta luego!
(Thanks to J.B. Kaufman and Frank Young for their help.)