A Year in Shorts Day 250: "Good Scouts"
As I’ve said before, Disney was the king of Best Animated Short in the 1930s. And this was no more apparent than at the 11th Academy Awards, in which their four nominated films set a record for most nominations from a single studio. And this wasn’t one of those years with an absurd amount of nominees; Disney represented eighty percent of the category for 1938! (The only exception, Hunky and Spunky, is a film so terrible that they probably should have gone ahead and nominated another Disney short instead.) That year’s winner was Ferdinand the Bull, a pretty damn good short, but also nominated were Brave Little Tailor (also damn good), Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood (pretty damn bad) and today’s film, Good Scouts. How does this particular short stack up? Well, it stars Donald Duck, which should probably go far in answering your question.
Directed by Jack King, Good Scouts follows a pretty simple premise to some fairly outlandish conclusions. Donald is going on a camping trip, with his nephews in tow. This is apparently a Boy Scouts outing, although apparently the only scouts in Donald's troop are his family members; no doubt Donald's Tenure as scoutmaster was so filled with explosions of rage and cartoon violence that they were the only ones who didn't quit in disgust. The wisdom in this decision is quickly proven over the course of this short; it isn’t long before Donald loses his temper, tries to upstage his nephews, and eventually winds up provoking the ire of a bear. Altogether it’s a pretty standard day for Donald, and it makes for a pretty standard Donald Duck short. As far as “Donald Duck goes out into the wilderness” shorts go, I’d say it falls on the middle of the scale- it’s not a work of mad genius like No Hunting, but it’s not boring and racist like Tea for Two Hundred. Still, while in hindsight it might seem rather average, Good Scouts is nevertheless an important short for Donald- this was the first of his shorts to get nominated for an Oscar!
It is, admittedly, rather hard to go wrong with Donald Duck. (Not impossible mind you, just difficult.) He's just a fun character to be around, and Clarence Nash's iconic vocal performance always makes his freak outs entertaining. Combined with some quality animation and fun slapstick, and it's hard to complain too much. But at the same time, Good Scouts never captures the bizarre, madcap energy that the best Donald shorts contain. I think part of that comes from Huey, Dewey and Louie. While I have nothing against Donald's nephews (indeed, I find them quite funny at times), here they just aren't very funny. I think the trio are a lot funnier when they're more mischievous; they're more effective as foils that way, with Donald being forced into a position of responsibility he's not really suited for. Alternatively, if they're going to be good-natured kids, then that should be played up as much as possible, to contrast with Donald's awfulness, as seen in Donald's Crime. I guess what I'm saying is that the nephews should be used to highlight Donald's character flaws, and while that's certainly on display in Good Scouts, I don't think that's explored to its full potential.
This might seem like nitpicking, and I suppose, for the most part, it is. But much like with Tom and Jerry, I find that it's important to hold Donald Duck to a higher standard. We know just how funny he can be, so it's important that we don't settle for less. I think the Academy made the right call in giving the Oscar to Ferdinand the Bull, at least in comparison to Good Scouts. While this short may be funnier, that one certainly had a lot more going on for it artistically; it represented a bigger swing from the studio than Good Scouts, which was pretty run-of-the-mill, all things considered. And besides, while Good Scouts may have been the first Donald short to get an Oscar nod, regular readers are well aware that it wouldn't be his last. Donald Duck's history with the Oscars was just getting started, and it was (almost) entirely uphill from there.
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