Whenever people ask me who my favorite Disney character is, my answer has always been Donald Duck. When I was a kid I could easily relate to the tiny frustrated duck with a raging temper who quacked all the time, because that was exactly who I was. To this day I still get angered easily and he remains one of the most relatable fictional characters ever created, to the point where I genuinely consider him my spirit animal.
I’m not the only one who loves him. Donald Duck has appeared in more films than any other Disney character, and he even surpassed Mickey in popularity by the end of the forties.
Walt Disney was the person who created Donald Duck. He came up with the idea for his sailor suit and his signature short temper, while animator Dick Lundy developed him as an animated character. Walt wanted a character besides Mickey who could portray negative traits because it didn’t fit Mickey’s personality.
The man who voiced Donald Duck was Clarence Nash, an impressionist who made a name for himself in the late twenties on a Los Angeles radio station, and animal sounds were one of his specialties. Donald’s voice was achieved in a special way that required the voice actor to produce sound from the air in their cheek rather than their larynx. When Nash performed in Vaudeville, he used this technique when imitating his pet goat Mary, and he used the voice while singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in his audition for Disney, after which Walt hired him as the voice of Donald Duck on the spot. The distinctive voice would be a large part of the reason for his popularity. Nash voiced Donald for over fifty years until the role was taken over by Disney animator Tony Anselmo in the eighties.
Donald Duck first appeared in the 1934 Silly Symphonies cartoon The Wise Little Hen where he was animated by Art Babbitt and Dick Huemer, although it wouldn’t be until his second appearance in the Mickey Mouse cartoon that came out the same year Orphan’s Benefit when he would introduce his short temper as Mickey Mouse’s comic foil. Many of the personality traits he would demonstrate in Orphan’s Benefit such as his temper, stubbornness and show-offy attitude would remain throughout the rest of his film career.
Ever since then, Donald Duck has appeared in cartoon shorts regularly alongside Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy and the rest of Mickey’s friends, and he often appeared with Mickey and Goofy as part of a comic trio in many entertaining cartoons starting with Ben Sharpsteen’s Mickey’s Service Station (1935) in which the personalities of each character would be highlighted to comedic effect in a series of gags.
Donald was given his own cartoon series in 1937 beginning with Don Donald and these were the cartoons that introduced the world to his girlfriend Daisy Duck and his three mischievous nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, who also became popular characters.
During World War II, Donald Duck served as the mascot for the Army Air Corps and U.S. Coast Guard and his fighting spirit was totally in tune with the attitude of the nation at the time. In fact the only Donald Duck cartoon that ever won an Academy Award was the 1943 war cartoon Der Fuehrer’s Face in which Donald has a nightmare that he joins the Nazi party.
Donald’s post-war cartoons often paired him with Chip and Dale, who were his comic rivals in outdoors-based cartoons along with Humphrey Bear, Spike the Bee and Louie the Mountain Lion (Donald often didn’t get along with the animal kingdom).
Donald lasted longer than many other cartoon characters who retired in the fifties, and he also appeared frequently on television in Walt Disney’s anthology series. He even co-hosted the 30th Academy Awards in 1958 (it wouldn’t be his last time showing up at the Oscars).
In addition to the short films, he has starred in Disney’s feature films Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), Fun & Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Fantasia 2000 (1999), always as a part of some of the most memorable scenes from each film.
In addition to being the character who appeared in the most Disney films, he is also the character who has appeared in the most Disney Park attractions, including Animagique, Mickey Mouse Revue, Mickey’s PhilharMagic and It’s a Small World.
Donald Duck has also gained popularity from his appearances in comics. He has appeared in his own Sunday strip and most famously in a series of comic books by Carl Barks, the man who created Scrooge McDuck, established Duckburg, introduced Donald Duck’s family tree and is credited for expanding Donald’s universe and forming the basis for the TV series Ducktales.
Donald Duck is particularly popular in Europe because of these comics, his weekly magazine being the most popular comic in Nordic countries for decades. His popularity in Italy is also very high, Italy being the country from which Donald’s younger self Paperino Paperotto and his superhero alter ego Paperinik (Duck Avenger in the U.S.) originated.
Donald Duck is so popular that he is regularly referenced in pop culture, he has starred in video games, he is one of the few fictional characters with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and with Disney’s permission he was even made the mascot of the University of Oregon where he is known as the “Fighting Duck.”
Whenever anyone mentions Donald Duck it is hard not to think of him as a real person because Walt Disney and his team of artists did such a good job bringing him to life and keeping his personality consistent.
For example, his signature temper tantrum.
His signature move of hopping on one leg, holding out his fist and swinging the other was first introduced in the film Orphan’s Benefit and was the creation of animator Dick Lundy, who called it his “fighting pose.”
Despite his temper, Donald is reasonably happy and carefree, and even delights in pulling pranks on others, although he isn’t really a bully, and he cannot take a joke as well he can dish one out.
He likes to brag but he can also be cowardly and easily intimidated by characters like Pete which makes him appear as someone who likes to appear tough to hide his insecurities, although that doesn’t mean he is not brave. He has a tremendous amount of perserverance in the face of hardships and often gives it his all when he sets his mind to something. He is a hard worker who has served in the U.S. army as a commando and has also served in the U.S. Navy, leaving the care of his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie in the hands of Donald’s uncle Scrooge McDuck while he fought overseas.
Donald is one of Mickey Mouse’s best friends, although Donald has been known to be jealous of Mickey’s fame from time to time. This has been revealed throughout his career in television starting with The Mickey Mouse Club in which Donald Duck clearly wishes the show was named after him instead of Mickey.
As someone who is also short-tempered, cowardly and has been prone to jealousy throughout my life, I have often felt a kinship with Donald Duck, but his determination and courage have also made him an inspiring role model. The reason for his popularity could very well be attributed to the fact that many people feel the same way as I do.
Even though Donald Duck’s temper sometimes saves him from trouble, like when he’s cornered by a bully, it is often seen as a detriment. But even with all the flaws in Donald’s personality that make him feel lesser than people like Mickey Mouse, he still tries to do the right thing, he still aspires to greatness and he still sees himself as a winner. That’s why I proudly wear this shirt with his image.