One of the problems with discussing old popular culture is that, let’s be real, pop culture moves on. The parody becomes better known than the original, and you can get stuck with a reference no one gets. This is the case with this cartoon, which references Frank Buck, a wild animal catcher, one-time zookeeper of the San Diego Zoo, and frankly terrible-sounding human being. Several Disney shorts refer to him (in another short, Goofy sings, “We don’t know why we catch ’em but we bring ’em back alive”), but these days, he is blessedly forgotten.
Still, here we have Clarence Nash as Donald Duck as Frank Duck, who is in the wilderness of Neveryoumind, wishing to bring back a “wild man” to the Ajax Circus. Pinto Colvig is Goofy as the wild man, who is leading a pleasant Tarzan sort of life, swinging about the jungle and minding his own business. Then Donald shows up, and showing sense, the wild man tries to kill him. At first, Donald (let’s be real, no one thinks of him as Frank) tries to sign him to a contract, but when that fails, he’s just as happy to imprison him. Only then there’s this lion trying to kill both of them, of course.
I assume the whole “wild man” aspect of the cartoon is to give Donald some sort of antagonist. It’s still Not Great. This cartoon is from 1946, and I’m pretty sure that was after even the most regressive circus stopped showing humans as curiosities just based on where they lived. So you hope that’s not what’s going on here. On the other hand, you know, why else would Donald so confidently expect to find a Tarzan-like person in the jungle? Are Disney jungles teeming with orphans raised by wild animals? How does this even work?
And I mean, Donald’s presenting a contract to someone so unfamiliar with the modern world that he eats a fountain pen sandwiched inside the paper. Who’s going to speak for Goofy in this? I know some pretty horrific stories of people who were living exhibits in museums and so forth, and there’s no reason to assume that having a contract would prevent that. Since Goofy in this appears to speak no English and therefore not even know what the contract entails, and of course he didn’t read it before splattering ink all over it because he’s illiterate.
It is a very weird cartoon, one of the ones that only works as well as it does because of its casting. You couldn’t put Mickey into the Donald role. You couldn’t put him into the Goofy role. You couldn’t switch Donald and Goofy; there’s a gag at the end where they switch, but it only works because it doesn’t work, if you see what I mean. For one thing, before Donald’s arrival, the wild man is totally mellow. Donald, however, is never mellow no matter the circumstances. So yeah, that would fail.