Quack in Action: Cartoons That Shaped Donald’s Career

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A colorful animated image of Donald Duck with an open beak, wearing his signature white sailor hat. The background, inspired by his illustrious career in cartoons, has a blue gradient with bright light rays radiating outwards.

Credit: Disney

On June 9, 2024, Donald Duck celebrates his 90th birthday, and The Walt Disney Company is pulling out all the stops at both the theme parks and on Disney+. Before we get the first new Donald cartoon in over 60 years, it might be a good idea to brush up on some of his finest performances.

An animated character, Donald Duck, a white duck wearing a blue sailor hat and shirt with a black bow tie, is energetically running while carrying a brown sack over its shoulder against a blue background. Celebrating 61 years of timeless cartoon charm!
Credit: Disney

Essentially the comedic foil to Mickey’s sweet and charming persona, Donald is one of the more dynamic members of Disney’s Fab Five. His comedic cartoon escapades have delighted viewers for generations. With over 150 titles in his filmography, it can be overwhelming to pick even just one that shows all his talents.

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Donald is known for his attitude, gift for slapstick, and (most famously) his volatile temper, which often gets him into trouble. Dozens and dozens of cartoons greatly display all three of these attributes, but if we’re talking about which ones best define his abilities over his near-century-long career, a certain few already come to mind.

Donald’s Best and Brightest

A cheerful Donald Duck greeting visitors in front of the iconic fairy tale castle on a bright sunny day at Tokyo Disneyland.
Credit: Edited by Inside the Magic

Taste is highly subjective, and everyone likely has their favorite Donald Duck cartoon. However, the ones that helped shape his career and likeness are much easier to narrow down.

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After doing some research, combing through Donald’s past work, and binging more than a little Disney+, this writer has prepared a selection of Donald cartoons that genuinely show the best of his abilities.

While these might not all be Oscar winners, they do clearly demonstrate what Donald is capable of as a character. Running the gamut from silly to sincere to outright bizarre, these cartoons are sure to provide a full range of the character’s best performances.

Our Donald Duck Picks

The Wise Little Hen (1931)

A cheerful animated duck wearing a blue sailor outfit and hat stands outside a wooden structure near a serene body of water. The scene, straight out of classic cartoons, features a peaceful countryside with green vegetation and a cloudy sky, showcasing Donald's career in true quack in action style.
Credit: Disney

In Walt Disney’s adaptation of the Little Red Hen fable, Donald Duck first appears as one of the hen’s neighbors she goes to for help. Unfortunately, Donald and his pal Peter Pig are too busy dealing with bouts of sudden-onset indigestion to lend a hand.

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The best place to start analyzing Donald’s career is at the beginning. In his first on-screen appearance, one thing is perfectly clear about Donald Duck: he’s everything Mickey is not. He’s lazy, but he’s crafty and comedic about it, which would follow his acting style for many years.

The Band Concert (1935)

Mickey Mouse, dressed as a drum major in a red and yellow uniform, shouts at Donald Duck, who is laughing and wearing his classic sailor outfit. The background appears to be indoors with a wooden floor, reminiscent of their classic cartoons. This scene captures Quack in Action from Donald's career.
Credit: Disney

In Mickey’s first cartoon made in color, Donald acts as the antagonist while Mickey and his band perform in the park. While this gave Mickey his iconic bandleader look, it’s blatantly obvious who steals the show.

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It might be Mickey’s name on the marquee, but Donald is the star in this one. In fact, Mickey doesn’t even have a word of dialogue. Meanwhile, Donald shows how funny, persistent, and outright mean he can be when given enough motivation.

Donald’s Nephews (1938)

An animated image of Disney's Donald Duck titled "Donald's Nephews." Donald Duck is sitting on a stool, reading a book called "Modern Child Training," while his three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, look on attentively. One nephew is sitting while the others are standing in this delightful cartoon scene.
Credit: Disney

The premise of this 1937 short is simple: Donald’s nephews come to pay him a visit, cause trouble, and wreck his house, and laughter ensues. However, this launched an element of his career that still lingers with him.

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This short was the first on-screen appearance of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and it also made them perfect foils to Donald’s high-strung nature. The boys would appear in several other shorts that followed, often making Uncle Donald the butt of their jokes. Without their impish antics, we might not have DuckTales today.

The Clock Watcher (1945)

Donald Duck, dressed in his iconic blue sailor outfit and hat, is surprised by a Jack-in-the-box with a jester-like head popping out. The toy springs from a colorful box with a diamond pattern, situated indoors against a green wall background. It's another quirky moment in Donald's career of classic cartoons.
Credit: Disney

In this Holiday short, Donald works as a gift-wrapper for a department store during the Christmas rush. While he is primarily by himself in this little venture, his struggle to pack away the various objects never fails to get a laugh. His banter with the voice on the intercom system is also vicious mockery at its finest.

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We already know Donald can act as the perfect comic foil for other characters, but it’s incredible what he can do when left to his own devices. When even a lifeless jack-in-the-box can prove to be a powerful adversary, it’s a miracle Donald can even hold a pair of scissors without something going pear-shaped.

Duck Pimples (1945)

Donald duck under a pile of books in Duck Pimples
Credit: Disney

Duck Pimples is a weird one, and that’s putting it politely. After an evening of too many horror shows on the radio, Donald’s imagination begins to run away with him. Before Inside Out (2019), this was one of Disney’s most surreal ventures.

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This is what happens when Disney allowed its animators to experiment. Donald is essentially Alice in a twisted wonderland of his own creation, as over-the-top characters turn a quiet night at home into a freakish trip into one of the studio’s darker entries.

Fun and Fancy Free/Mickey and the Beanstalk (1948) 

Donald Duck wielding an axe.
Credit: Disney

If we had to include one feature film on this list, it’s fun and fancy free. Although Donald plays a supporting role in this Disney adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk, it’s where all his elements come together to give viewers his best.

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Donald is notorious for his temper, but rarely does he get as extreme as he does in this fairytale. We’ve seen him commit wanton acts of destruction but never try to take an axe to somebody. Pair that with his feather-flying antics and interactions with the rest of the cast, and it’s a recipe for one of his finest performances.

Do you have a favorite Donald cartoon? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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