A Year in Shorts Day 274: "Truant Officer Donald
Another day, another Donald Duck short. And frankly, thank God for that! After a few days of pretty lame cartoons, it’s good to go back to some classic cartoon hijinks with everyone’s second favorite animated duck. (Some will say their second favorite animated duck is actually Scrooge McDuck, but that’s neither here nor there. Everyone’s favorite animated duck is, of course, Daffy, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that.) And today’s short is a particularly good one, folks. It’s time to talk about the 1941 film Truant Officer Donald!
Directed once again by Jack King, Truant Officer Donald follows Huey, Dewey and Louie as they all decide to skip school in order to go swimming at the lake. This, to me, seems like a more practical use of a duck's time anyway, but apparently the legal system disagrees. Unfortunately, the three boys run afoul of their uncle, Donald, who is apparently a truant officer now. That seems like something of a conflict of interest to me, but I suppose he needs the money so he doesn't have to keep stealing from his nephews every time he wants to get laid. Well, Donald may be a duck but a pig is still a pig, and Huey, Dewey and Louie make their way to their clubhouse to mount a defense so they can continue to enjoy their day off. Classic cartoon hijinks ensue, including my favorite scene, in which Donald mistakenly believes he's accidentally murdered his nephews. It's the little things that make a cartoon work, you know?
Truant Officer Donald is something an odd duck for a Disney cartoon. With its emphasis on slapstick violence and the anything goes logic surrounding a lot of the gags, it often plays more like a Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes short than anything else. And while it's often a dangerous game for an animation studio to dip their toes into someone else's pool (as anyone who has seen Warner Bros.' Quest for Camelot can attest to), when it works, it really works. And putting Donald Duck in your short is an excellent way of stacking the deck in your favor. Just about any situation you can imagine automatically becomes funnier once you put Donald Duck into the mix. (Why do you think they enlisted him to do the short about paying your taxes? Or learning about math?) While not all the bits in Truant Officer Donald are particularly inspired (although some certainly are; again, Donald thinks he cooked Huey, Dewey and Louie alive), they are all elevated by Donald's over-the-top reactions to them (and, of course, Clarence Nash's excellent performance). If you're not a Donald Duck fan (blasphemy, I know), this short certainly won't do anything to change your mind. But for us true believers, it's a veritable gold mine of fun.
Sure, Truant Officer Donald is not the BEST cartoon in the world. It's not even the best Donald Duck short we've looked at. It lacks the gorgeous noir trappings of Donald's Crime or the truly insane energy of No Hunting. (Remember when we covered that short? My God that was so long ago.) But it's nevertheless a very enjoyable film, filled with a lot of great gags and some classic Donald freakouts. It's certainly a lot better than most of the shorts it was competing against that year, and for my money it probably should have won. (Although I wouldn't have begrudged a victory for Superman either.) But unfortunately, while Walt Disney would take the Oscar home that year, it would NOT be for Truant Officer Donald. No, instead he won it for Lend a Paw. A Pluto short. Ugh. But that is a story for another day. For now, let's just accentuate the positives, and surprise surprise, that means watching another fun short starring Donald Duck!
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