The shorts collected in The Chronological Donald: Volume Three are uneven, ranging from the lovely to the disposable. Watched consecutively, the thirty shorts, even the good ones, can’t help but grow tiresome; after all, they were never meant to be watched that way, all in a row like that, intended instead to be taken in small, individual doses. Like most volumes of The Walt Disney Treasures series (the original “Silly Symphonies” set is a notable exception), The Chronological Donald: Volume Three is best enjoyed in the way thick reference books are: occasionally flipped through at random, not read cover-to-cover; as a valuable historical record, to sit on the shelf collecting dust until needed.
As historical record, the set offers a fascinating glimpse into the lesser, more obscure offerings of an animation studio that, back then anyway—the set covers 1947-1950—never put anything less than its all into its craft. (The animation anyway; the writing often leaves something to be desired.) Each short has its fair share of clever visual gags, from Donald’s “cold stares” producing a tangible stream of solid ice to a collision with a tree that transforms Donald’s trendy sports car into something out of The Magnificent Ambersons. The laws of physics are violated with an infectious glee, the cartoons ride with a marvelously uninhibited fluidity of motion.
The duck himself is, as always, hilariously irascible, but so one-note that his trademark squawk grows wearying over the course of the two discs’ four-hour running time. Overall, Donald works best in smaller roles and co-starring duties, as a scene-stealer rather than the focus of attention. (Though he can be, at his very best, strong enough to carry an entire short.) He finds his stride playing off of mischievous characters—Huey, Dewey & Louie; “Bootle Beetle”; Chip n’ Dale—who excite his famous temper, but the shorts trip up when Donald is paired with his romantic foil, Daisy Duck. She’s a humorless biddy who all too often, in her whining insecurity, keeps Donald and his temper—the source of his humor—in check.
The shorts are best appreciated in the way they were meant to be enjoyed: toss one on before watching a DVD, recreating the classic moviegoing experience, albeit sans a newsreel. Just don’t watch more than one at a time.