Thursday, January 20, 2011

Character Spotlight: Donald Duck

The Disney Revue's feature, Character Spotlight, will usually focus in on a specific character from the film featured in each month's Chronological Canon review, but before that feature starts up, I thought I'd do the first entry on a character known more for his work in shorts than features. He also happens to be my favorite Disney character: Donald Duck.

When we think of Donald Fauntleroy Duck, the first character attribute we think of is his ferocious temper. Whenever a cartoon short starts up and the screen fills with Donald's smiling beak and the theme song asks, "who's got the sweetest disposition?", you can be sure that within a few minutes Donald will be stomping the ground, feathery fists swirling in the air while he lets loose a squadron of scathing squawks that it's probably best we can't really understand.

But it's important to remember that Donald isn't always angry. In fact, I'd say that anger isn't really Donald's default emotion. In his heart, he's really an optimist. He wakes up every day with a song in his heart and a spring in his step. He faces every new challenge with optimism and good cheer. Just look at this compilation of Donald singing and dancing clips I spotted on YouTube. It's important to note that the majority of these clips come from the beginning of the shorts from which they've been excerpted:

I ask you - is that the attitude of a character whose dominant emotion is anger? Absolutely not. It's just that things never go poor Donald's way. Firstly, of course, there are those characters who seem to live only to vex him, chief among them a trio of mischievous nephews and a pair of troublesome chipmunks. But worse than those frequent thorns or any of the other foils our friend faces is the army of average annoyances that seem to always align against him until they become an avalanche of frustration. What should be simple tasks become Herculean trials of patience: trying to change a tire, making a batch of waffles, even just going to bed. These are the things that really drive Donald crazy, and who can blame him? Who hasn't struggled with some task that seems like it should be so easy, but frustrates at every turn until you want to scream and yell and tantrum like a toddler?
"Maybe I'm just a duck, but I'm human! A man can only stand for so much!" - Donald Duck, Early to Bed

Everyone has felt like this, but we learn that we have to control those emotions. We can't rant and scream and throw things just because the DVD case has so many pieces of tape on it, and those pieces of tape keep ripping so you can't get them off in one piece, and then the tape is stuck to your finger, and all the while your popcorn is growing colder, and you just want to watch the DVD already, and then you think you're all set, but there's ANOTHER piece of tape and... but we can't lose our tops over such things.

Fortunately, we have Donald Duck to do that for us.

And while Donald's passion can occasionally erupt into outbursts of fury, he can also direct that passion in healthy, even admirable ways. Look at the passion with which he pursues the object of his affection - the alluring miss Daisy Duck. Sure, Mickey has his Minnie, and those mice will flirt, hold hands, and date, but this is nothing compared to Donald's desperate desires for Daisy.

What a kiss - and without lips even!

Sure, there are times when his affection is distracted in another direction. If The Three Caballeros can be said to have a plot at all, that plot appears to be about Donald's traveling all over South America in an attempt to seduce (human) women. Let's assume, though, that those are wild weekends away driven by a recent spurning from Daisy. His heart always finds his way back to her. He is, as the title of the old cartoon said, crazy over Daisy.

Finally, we must admire Donald Duck for his incredible perseverance. As we've already noted, he has terrible luck It often seems as though every inanimate object in the world has somehow conspired against him. And yet, when faced with a task that turns out to be surprisingly difficult, Donald will continue to try to overcome it. Beaten down again and again, our duck continuously strives for success, and hopes to regain that sunny disposition again. Who but Donald Duck shrugs off a robot butler repeatedly stealing his hat because he has a million more hats up his sleeve?

So next time you think of Donald Fauntleroy Duck, don't just think of the terrible temper. Remember Donald the optimist, Donald the romantic, and Donald the indomitable. And then remember the temper, because that's pretty funny too.

If you care to buy some Donald to bring home...

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