Animation History
April 15, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

Walt Disney’s “Donald and The Wheel” (1961)

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donald_wheel_comicAs Jim Korkis informed us last month, Walt Disney found great success with non-theatrical educational films, especially ones that could double as theatrical featuettes and eventual fodder for The Wonderful World of Color. Disney was already using Donald Duck in a group of educational (or “edu-tainment”) subjects for several years (including the classic Donald In Mathmagicland) by the time Donald and the Wheel made it theatrical debut (6/21/61 on the bill with The Parent Trap).

Donald and the Wheel is more ambitious (and entertaining) than it needs to be – but I guess that’s what makes it a Disney short. What’s most interesting about it is its use of live action. The film is narrated by two ghostly live action silhouettes representing “The Spirits of Progress Sr. and Jr.” (voiced by Thurl Ravencroft and Mel Leven). There is an interesting experimental use of xerography using live action cars when Donald’s on the freeway at the 8-minute mark, plus the use of some X. Atencio (uncredited) stop motion miniature wheel devices (at 10:52). Caveman Donald is also shown interacting with live figures – a throw back to The Three Caballeros as he goes ga-ga for a miniature live action ballerina.

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It must have been hard for the publicity department to market a Donald Duck short that wasn’t a gag-filled short cartoon, and that featured Donald (for the most-part) as a caveman. The press book (below, click thumbnails to enlarge) plays up the special effects – and fact that the film uses “the revolutionary Xerox and Sodium Screen Processes together for the first time”.

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I recall seeing this on the Disney Sunday night show as a child, shaking my head trying to understand it. Now I revel in it’s oddness. A strange film, but strangely entertaining.

15 Comments

  • All of the Donald Duck educational films were quite strange really, but nether the less some how entertaining.

  • This was an excellent film with scenes that kept showing up in other Donald shows on the Wonderful World of Color on NBC. This film not only was shown in toto on the TV series, it was half of the first show screened on that series. The other half of that first hour was the introduction of Ludwig Von Drake explaining color television to the viewers.

  • I heard that this short and “The Litterbug” was shown on the same bill as “The Parent Trap”.

  • The first “Wonderful World of Color” episode, aired September 24, 1961, was “An Adventure in Color/Mathmagicland,” and featured “Donald in Mathmagicland” (1959), not “Donald and the Wheel” (theatrical release June 21, 1961).

  • stupid me, I wasn’t paying attention. I was wrote about “Donald in Mathmagicland” and didn’t realize till after I submitted it that it was about “Donald and the Wheel.”

    “Donald and the Wheel” I saw for the first time in a theater. It played with Cliff Robertson in “PT 109.” Also on the bill was “Windwagon Smith.” I was in heaven as a kid.

  • P.S. The one I remember is “Donald’s Fire Survival Plan.” We saw it at an elementary school assembly, probably in 1967 or 1968. Introduced by an affable Walt Disney, it proceeded for about 10 minutes to convince me that our house burning down was inevitable. I had sleepless nights and nightmares for about two weeks.

  • I will have to say that all Donald Duck cartoons post 1956 are all quite an odd since they are all seems to be an educational rather than entertainment.

    • I sorta dig this period with the Donald Duck cartoons myself if only for what they could possibly teach me at a young age I didn’t learn in school yet! I do recall that moment in the film where we see the huge traffic moving by wondering how did they do that. Interesting what they could do with a little Xerox technology!

      Here’s that fire safety film by the way!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAiEYVRsXeY

  • I know I would buy a dvd of Disney’s educational shorts.

  • I had this on tape once. My folks used to record shorts off the Disney Channel show “Donald Duck Presents” for me to watch, and one of them was this very cartoon. Yes, they did run educational stuff – I remember “The Fight” from the “What Should I Do?” series showing up too.

  • Never saw this when I was a kid and do not remember this short of the “Wonderful World of Color” ether. It is a strange educational short and was never shown to us in school. I’ve seen “Donald in Mathmagicland” a few times as a kid. I think it was on “Disneyland” on ABC and then on the premier of “The Wonderful World of Color” on NBC. I think this one never made it to Television. But, I could be wrong..

    • It was on the “Wonderful World of Color” episode, “Man on Wheel”, one of the last episodes where Walt hosted (it aired a few months after his death). This episode also included Kimball’s simple highway of the future animation form “Magic Highway U.S.A” (reused for a second time on the show!) and the aforementioned “Freewaytopia”. This was released on video a long time ago.

      “Donald and the Wheel” was also showcased on an episode of “The Mouse Factory” and clips were used for the begining and closing of the show.

  • I was sort of mystified by “Donald and the Wheel” as an educational film.

    “Mathmagicland” was a commercial for math, showing schoolkids that numbers were more interesting than the addition problems on their homework. The two “Adventures in Music” shorts actually presented a lot of data about musical instruments and such. The “Accident” shorts offered sound advice, and “Litterbug” was a cheery public service message.

    “The Wheel,” on the other hand, presents the wheel as a radical, non-intuitive notion. That works in the gag context of convincing an irritable caveduck, but as the film goes on that message is pitched directly to the audience. As entertainment it’s fun, but it’s a puzzle as to what kids are supposed to take away from it.

  • Was that Dick Beals voicing one of the nephews in “Donald’s Fire Survival Plan”?

  • With Donald’s legendary penchant for wackiness,i guess Disney thought they would try to repackage him as an educational tool.Donald and the Wheel was entertaining and informative in its typical Disney fashion! I’m also a Thurl Ravenscroft fan!

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