Short film review – The Ugly Duckling (Jack Cutting and Clyde Geronimo, 1939)

This Walt Disney Productions short animation fell under the Silly Symphony banner when it was released in 1939. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short, the eighth in a run of eight Walt Disney films to do so.

It’s a fine little episode that tells the tale of a swanling that somehow ends up in a nest of ducklings, and is immediately shunned and ridiculed for being different to his surrogate brothers and sisters. 

A duck? Nah you must be quackers.

It curtails the original Hans Christian Andersen story by removing the whole extended pain of being without a family for around a year, skipping straight to the point where he is found by a swan family, presumably his own. In doing so, they miss out the point where he turns into an adult swan and the ducks are in awe of his beauty.
In its short sub-nine minute running time, it manages to fit in a surprising amount of substance. This is, for the whole part, a tale about an orphan who is unwanted by his new family. This would surely resonate with anyone in any element of this situation, and there is no holding back when the mother and father have a full-blown argument in front of the innocent swanling. Indeed, there’s a suggestion from the drake that since he looks nothing like the swan then perhaps his duck wife has been sleeping around. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

The animation is, inevitably, a thing of beauty. Two of Disney’s Nine Old Men were on animation duty (Milt Kahl and Eric Larson) and it certainly has the feel of one of their classic films (it was released between Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Pinocchio). There’s a certain amount of warmth you find in these old animations that has never been replicated.

It’s probably not the best short releases around this time from Walt Disney Studios, but it is deserving of all the praise it has received over the years. Why not revisit it? You’re only 78 years late to the party!

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