Thursday, February 18, 2010

Modern Inventions

One of my favorites among Donald Duck’s early cartoons is this one: Modern Inventions. Why? It’s a favorite among my kids, and we constantly quote the robot butler from this short: “Your hat, sir.”

You’d have to live in my house to understand, but if you’ve seen this short, you know the robot butler is the best running gag we’ve seen in Disney shorts. That’s right, I said the best. Take Donald’s magic pockets or sleeves that he used in The Band Concert to produce flutes seemingly out of nowhere and combine them with a robot who keeps taking his hat, and you have comedy gold. Donald produces a series of sillier and sillier hats throughout the short, from a top hat to a Napoleon looking general’s hat.

Aside from that running gag, the rest of the short features Donald’s interactions with various mechanical contraptions designed to “make life easier.” As anyone who has dealt with technology over the years knows, sometimes the new device designed to make things easier actually makes it harder. That’s the case for Donald.

He has the first attack come from the automatic bundling machine. Watching Donald get tied up in knots is funny, but it is of course his reaction to that that makes it so good. This is a short that could not have worked with Mickey, because Donald’s frustration and silly laugh make the humor work.

My personal favorite is the baby carriage. When Donald runs away from the robot butler (again), he dives into a baby carriage. This little sequence demonstrates my favorite parts of Donald’s character. He is fun loving, because he gets into the spirit of things, putting on a baby bonnet and playing along with the carriage that plays him music and rocks him. But as always, Donald has to try and push it too far, asking for a bottle, with disastrous consequences.

The final sequence, with Donald stuck upside down in a barber’s chair, is classic Donald. Watching his tail feathers get turned into a finely coiffed hairdo is funny, but I like the way he gets his face polished with shoe polish.

Donald’s frustration is classic, and it’s what makes us love him. I said it before, but Donald is what we all end up being, even though we want to be Mickey. Donald is like me, so I love to watch him go through things that are just larger, more cartoonish versions of what I’ve gone through.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. This is yet another cartoon I'd love to see the original titles to. I've read many times that this was the first cartoon in the Donald Duck series, but since this is the last of the Disney cartoons to be released by United Artisits, I wonder if the original titles still labeled it as part of the Mickey Mouse series.

    It's a great cartoon though and one that's well worth re-watching not just because it's so funny, but also to check out some of the excellent background paintings. Once again there's an art deco feel to the interiors and there's some wonderfully elaborate contraptions (some barely only on screen for a second). Infact there's an incrdiblel attention to detail about everything in this cartoon. Notice how everything shiny is especially highlighted right down to the transparent cellophane that Donald gets wrapped in so we can see him thrashing about inside.

    And Ryan, since you enjoyed the Robot Butler so much, you'll have to check out these wonderful publicity drawings on Cartoon Retro:

    (I wish that some of those things happened in the actual cartoon!)


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