It’s unusual to see Donald Duck taking on a bit of a different role in Sea Salts. I guess it should not be a surprise to see him as a sailor in this short, considering that his every day dress is that of a sailor uniform. Still, we’ve seen a whole lot of Donald on dry land, and very little of him at sea. In Sea Salts, most of the short is spent at sea, with Donald and his bug companion.
In fact, the entire short focuses more on the bug who is Donald’s whipping boy than it does on the main duck himself. The way the bug is telling things, the two of them have a symbiotic relationship. I guess that’s true, but only if you see “symbiotic” as “Donald abuses the bug for his own selfish means, then take pity on him to keep him around.” That’s pretty much what happens throughout the short.
This poor bug is put through the wringer by Donald. His favorite trick is to give both of them straws to a drink, then squeeze off the bug’s access on the straw, ensuring that only he gets to drink. If that sounds awful, it is. Basically, Donald is denying his only friend access to nourishment. Yet this is treated as a comic and silly sort of thing. Even the final gag in the short is the old version of Donald and friend enacting this same gag.
The tone of this short is off because of that reason. That straw gag is repeated at least three times, but even past that, there’s the idea of the bug being used as bait for fish. Donald tricks him into jumping on a hook, then lowers him in front of fish that seem like piranhas jumping out of the water. It’s the kind of thing that just feels cruel.
That’s why I didn’t care for Sea Salts. It’s fun to see Donald be cruel, don’t get me wrong. Watching him mistreat his nephews is fun…but only when the payoff is Donald getting his just desserts in the end. In this case, he’s treated fairly, and the person he antagonizes throughout the short ends up his lifelong companion. There’s some kind of strange disconnect in this that I couldn’t quite get over. It’s amusing, but that kept me from enjoying it.