Saturday Matinee #144: "Donald's Diary" (March 5, 1954)
Published October 5, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
I'm a huge proponent of keeping a journal. It doesn't need to have daily entries, or even weekly ones. Just a journal that allows a person to collect their thoughts within a moment, or to reflect on a memory of long ago. I can trace this back to my fifth grade education. During that year, I picked up a book called Harriet the Spy, and fell in love. Because of that book, I've often done my best to maintain journals, either of the day-to-day mundane living, or the excitement of a trip or vacation. My backpack often held a variety of odds and ends, but the one common element was that trusty journal, getting replaced time and again as I'd fill them up and move on to the next. And so, in tribute to journal-writing, let's check out one of Disney's own characters and the journal that he keeps. Rather than offer the summary, we fortunately have one of his entries:
February the 29th.
This morning was much like any other morning. When I took my usual walk, I had no idea that on this day, I was destined to find the girl of my dreams. I suppose the whole thing was my fault, I was just a lonesome bachelor searching for my ideal. Ah, yes, I'm quite impulsive by nature. And yet I can't say I was unhappy as a bachelor, though at times, I felt as though I was missing something.
My technique was simple, I swept her off her feet. My search was over, at last I found my dream girl. Took her to the latest movies, just two crazy kids. We dined at the best places. I took her to my favorite spot and she took me to hers. And when I could resist her no longer, I kissed her.
Ah, I knew I was winning her over. I was invited to meet the family. Ah, yes, they were my kind of people. I knew the time was now to pop the question. Ah, tonight's the night. Alone at last, the stage was all set for my big moment.
At last, my dreams had come true. Her family didn't feel they'd lost a daughter, but they gained a son. She helped plan our honeymoon. She was loyal. And she was sensitive. And had a wonderful sense of values.
We drove directly to our dream cottage. Alone at last. Well, with the honeymoon over, we settled down to domestic life and got to know each other better. I'll never forget that first evening when I returned home. She had prepared my favorite dish. And how surprised I was to see her family. And after a hearty meal, I went for my favorite chair.
I began to notice a change in Daisy. What had happened to this beautiful thing between us? Was this the wedded bliss I dreamed of? I was losing my identity, I had become a robot.
Dear Diary, it was a narrow escape. Though I was born when I kissed her, I died when we parted. But I live for a little while.
"Donald's Diary" emerges from the tail end of the character's filmography, during an era in Disney shorts animation when the animators began experimenting with new forms of narrative, along with the usual "character vs. character" standbys that had dominated much of the 1940s. Here, we see how personal reflection can sometimes not match the incidents as they happened. This is both an intentional parody, as well as a frightening commentary on just how much our minds can cheat us. Disney themselves can be guilty of this, though not intentionally. For example, one of the oft-repeated legends and lore regarding the studio is how Walt dreamed up Mickey Mouse during his train ride from New York, after losing Oswald and his animators to Charles Mintz's deceptive contract loophole. In reality, Walt asked Ub Iwerks to draw up some (secret) concepts for a new character, while they were still finishing up their contracted work with the Oswald shorts. Ub ultimately went with a mouse, having been inspired by some sketches that Hugh Harman drew a few years earlier. But it's more fun to look back and pretend that the train story happened, simply because it seems to have more sentiment and impact on the unsuspecting audience.
Granted, the lies we see in "Donald's Diary" doesn't quite have a global impact as the legend of Mickey Mouse's creation. In fact, Donald even seems to realize it late into his journal entry, as we discover he does not marry Daisy, and has been stationed to a lonely outpost in the middle of the desert. Thus, the true lesson of the short is revealed: catch yourself before you get too caught up in the lie. To quote the Doctor, "We're all stories in the end. Make it a good one." And the art of storytelling always leaves room for exaggeration and enhancement. Just make sure to never get so caught up within that storytelling that we fail to remember what is the truth.
"Donald's Diary" can be found in two Disney DVDs. Naturally, you'll find it in "Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume Four." It also is featured among the shorts in "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume Ten: Best Pals - Donald and Daisy."