On June 9th, one of the most versatile, celebrated and noisy Disney stars will observe a milestone. Although Walt Disney joked that he liked to celebrate Donald Duck’s birthday every Friday the 13th, the far more fortunate truth is that Donald’s debut is actually reckoned by the premiere date of his first screen appearance in the 1934 Silly Symphony cartoon, “The Wise Little Hen.”
Renowned for his volatile temper and occasionally less-than-ideal behavior, for this year at least Donald is truly golden as he joins other classic Disney personalities as one of the “Disney Fab 50 Character Collection” sculptures, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, The Most Magical Place on Earth. Donald’s statue can be found near those of his best pals Mickey Mouse and Goofy, in a position of honor in front of Cinderella Castle – a spot which many think of as the very heart of Walt Disney World.
It’s appropriate that Donald is featured at the center of this “World,” when he himself is one of the most well-traveled characters in the world in general. Of course, Disney films and stories are translated and available everywhere, but as an entertainment personality, Donald seems to have appeared in more than the usual amount of global travel situations … to the delight of audiences who tag along.
Donald’s travels are set forth in this 1945 chapter reader. (Author’s collection)
After a few cinematic jaunts to conquer lofty mountain peaks (“Alpine Climbers,” 1936) and learn the hula (“Hawaiian Holiday,” 1937), Donald set out on his biggest international journey yet, appearing as a curious American tourist traveling through South and Central America. Paralleling the real-life goodwill tour undertaken by Walt Disney and his artists at the request of the U.S. State Department, Donald personally visited Brazil, Peru and Mexico in the theatrical features “Saludos Amigos” (1942) and “The Three Caballeros” (1944). Donald’s experiences in the region were further chronicled in the book “Donald Duck Sees South America” (D.C. Heath & Co., 1945). In it, Donald traverses Ecuador, Columbia, Argentina and their neighbors, plus memorably gets a dunking as Father Neptune assists him in sailing across the equator.
Donald places wooden shoes outside a Dutch door in this “Donald Duck and Santa Claus” illustration by Disney Legend Al Dempster. (Book from author’s collection)
Despite Donald’s ever-expanding status as an international bon vivant, his old mischief-making habits occasionally made a return. In the Little Golden Book “Donald Duck and Santa Claus” (Simon & Schuster, 1952), Donald attempts to trick Santa into leaving him presents all around the world by duplicating the Christmas customs of children in many lands. With the aid of his “super-sonic plane,” Donald leaves hay for the reindeer in Sweden, trims a Tannenbaum in Germany, and sets out wooden shoes and woven sandals to be filled in Holland and Spain. Of course, clever Santa – and an observant elf – teach Donald a lesson by playing a trick on him in return!
This 1956 publicity photo shows Jimmie Dodd delighting Donald “en français” in an episode of the DISNEYLAND TV program.
When Walt Disney began his weekly television show in 1954, many early episodes featured Donald, with one installment highlighting the wandering waterfowl’s international popularity. In “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck” (1956), an overwhelming amount of Donald’s fan mail arrives, featuring children’s artistic depictions of their hero as he might look visiting them in their countries. Mouseketeer leader and prolific songwriter Jimmie Dodd arrives, and the charming result is a multi-national version of Dodd’s “Quack, Quack, Quack, Donald Duck” song. The young fans’ crayon drawings come to life as Donald is shown cavorting across the continents, becoming a web-footed Parisian boulevardier, a Venetian gondolier and a kilt-clad Scotsman.
Jimmie Dodd’s song was quickly recorded by Mitch Miller and the Sandpipers for this popular 78 rpm record release. (Author’s collection)
Donald’s travels have even transcended the boundary of Earth’s gravitational field. In the company (and with the financing) of his unlimitedly wealthy Uncle Scrooge, Donald found himself journeying out of this world to such exotic destinations as “The 24 Carat Moon” (1959) and an “Island in the Sky” (1960). These and other fanciful flights were concocted for Donald’s ardent comic book readers by Disney Legend Carl Barks, whose inventive writing and brilliant artistry would also serve as the inspiration for TV’s “Duck Tales” series (1987 and 2017).
Even the most peripatetic traveler must occasionally come home to roost, and Donald Duck is no exception. Donald was on hand in July of 1955 when Walt Disney dedicated his first ground-breaking theme park, Disneyland, in California. For the Oct. 1971 opening of Florida’s Walt Disney World, Donald was not only greeting guests personally but also co-starring in an attraction “The Mickey Mouse Revue.” Today, Donald enjoys choice roles in three major adventures, each located within a different Walt Disney World realm. The Magic Kingdom Park mayhem of Mickey’s Philharmagic revolves around Donald’s ongoing quest for the spotlight; at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, he’s along for the ride on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and at EPCOT, Donald returns to his rambling roots as he and his fellow “Caballeros” Panchito and Jose reunite in World Showcase for a Gran Fiesta Tour through Mexico.
Yes, he’s got all his ducks in a row: Donald and friends prepare for his 1984
50th birthday event.
Just as Donald Duck’s fans are flocking to Walt Disney World and The World’s Most Magical Celebration, Donald himself once had a “flock” of his own to contend with. Precisely 38 years ago, in honor of his 50th birthday, Donald played host to a real-life flock of 50 white Pekin ducks at Walt Disney World, who not only followed the birthday boy everywhere he’d go, but also rode as guests of honor in the official parade – wearing party hats, no less!
Happily, it’s now another occasion for party hats (or “ears–” sorry, Donald!) at Walt Disney World, and with all of the enchanting entertainment and celebratory surprises in place, it’s not a stretch to say that everyone who travels to participate in these golden festivities will find the proceedings to be “just ducky.”
To read more about the travels of Donald Duck (and Walt Disney) in South and Central America, we recommend “South of the Border with Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program, 1941 – 1948” by J.B. Kaufman (Disney Editions, 2009).