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Happy 90th Birthday Donald Duck!

Ninety years ago, 9 June 1934, is celebrated as the date that Donald Duck made his debut when he appeared in the cartoon “The Wise Little Hen” as part of Disney’s Silly Symphonies series.

Though this date is celebrated as Donald’s birthday the cartoon actually debuted a month earlier on 3 May 1934 when it was played at the Cathay Circle in Los Angeles as part of a benefit event.

Donald makes his debut in the Silly Symphonies, "The Wise Little Hen" (1934)

The 9 June wasn’t even the second date the cartoon was shown though as on 7 June 1934 it was shown at Radio City Musical Hall, New York ahead of the main movie feature “Sisters Under the Skin” which was later re-named “The Romantic Age”, an American drama film from the Columbia studios.

No matter what date Donald actually made his debut, 9 June 1934 is the day Disney designates to celebrate Mickey’s temperamental friend who is often presented as the antithesis of the well-behaved and well-loved mouse.

Between the 1930s-1950s Donald appeared in over 150 cartoons as well as many feature films. Two of my favourites are Saludos Amigos (1943) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Both of these are considered propaganda films and were created with the direction and support of the US Government to improve relations with neighbouring Latin America. These were created in response to Nazi films being shared in the regions around the Americas.

While the above films are more about celebrating Latin America, one of the most obviously propagandic films produced by Disney (and now very rarely mentioned or seen) is “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1943) which saw Donald cast as the main character. In the short film Donald is shown to be living in the nightmare world of Nazi Germany. Donald is forced to work in a munitions factory and throughout the film is forced to make the Nazi salute. In the end Donald wakes safe in his American bed, luckily for him it was just a nightmare!

This film won an Oscar for Best Short Film and is the only film featuring Donald to win an Academy Award. The use of Donald in this way highlights why he works well alongside Mickey as can you imagine cartoons featuring Mickey doing what Donald is forced to in that film! The star of the Disney empire is hardly likely to be utilised in such a way.

This wasn’t the only film that sees Donald wear a military uniform. In 1942 Donald was drafted into the US army in “Donald Gets Drafted”. It is in this film that we see Donald’s middle name is Fauntleroy!

Though he appeared in so many Disney stories in a starring role during the middle of the twentieth century, the last time Donald was a key figure in a film was in Fantasia 2000 which was released back in 2000. Since that time, he has made several camo appearances in other films and tv shows.

To celebrate his 90th Birthday Disney has created a brand-new short starring Donald (his first feature role in a short since 1961), called “D.I.Y Duck”. This short is just two minutes in length but is jam packed with the frustration of anyone who tries to fix something at home when it doesn’t go according to plan. Poor Donald!

As one of the fab five and most popular Disney characters he has a big presence across the Disney universe. Having said that, (disclaimer) he isn’t one of my favourite characters, but I appreciate the role he plays within the Disney framework.

Donald has several attractions in the Disney parks that he can be found in, these include his home “Miss Daisy” in Mickey’s Toontown at Tokyo Disneyland and the original Disneyland park, however at this park the interior of the ship has been made inaccessible and a splash pad has been created around the boat.

Donald is the central character of Mickey’s PhilharMagic which is found in Walt Disney World and Hong Kong Disneyland, while his likeness as one of the Three Caballeros is found in the “It’s A Small World Attraction” in Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland.

When we visited Shanghai Disneyland back in 2018 there was a inflatable Donald in Disneytown (the Shanghai version of Downtown Disneyland). I'm not sure if this is still found in Shanghai's Disney.

Now as we continue to celebrate Donald’s 90th Birthday throughout 2024 there has been a resurgence in Donald appreciation and even I, who really isn’t a Donald fan can celebrate the important role he plays as the opposite archetype to the much-loved Mickey Mouse. Back in 2004 to celebrate Donald’s 70th Birthday he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – what big celebrations are going to happen this year? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Disney has in store because at this time the only parks to really celebrate Donald have been Tokyo and Hong Kong.

A special 90th Birthday story book released for Donald and a Pop Vinyl (2024)


Further Reading (Selected Works):

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