There are actually minutes of story meetings from the production of this cartoon, and it seems Walt was afraid they were going too one-dimensional with “the Duck.” Which is certainly true enough, as we’ve observed here before. He said he was afraid they were really only interested in making Donald mad. To be fair to the animators, though, I’m not really sure what other dimensions Donald has. I’m a faithful Disney viewer since childhood, and I’m pretty sure that Donald’s personality is just yelling a lot. The problem with the cartoon is not that the only personality they gave Donald is getting mad; the problem is that they didn’t do anything else with the cartoon.
Shockingly, Mickey (still in the Walt years) is running a circus. It’s orphans’ day; unsupervised orphans get in free. Mickey is the ringmaster. Donald has a seal act. There is nothing else in the circus except a band full of Pluto/Droopy crosses led by a Pluto/Droopy cross, and that’s easily the most unsettling thing in it. Anyway, the seals are smarter than Donald—not a challenge—and the baby seal in particular outsmarts him and wins the audience’s approval. And then the orphans attack, apparently planning to just outright kill both Mickey and Donald.
I get being on the seals’ side. The seals are better than Donald, as who is not. And I suppose Mickey is responsible for it inasmuch as he is the one who hired Donald. However, when I say the orphans are planning to kill Mickey and Donald, I mean they’re literally lucky Mickey and Donald survive. The orphans pack Mickey into the cannon Donald has crawled into of his own volition and shoot them into the rigging of the tent. There, Mickey and Donald are forced into a highwire act that the orphans make worse by putting oil on the tightrope and then flat-out electrifying it, shooting higher and higher voltage through it.
Now, Donald is quite the sociopath, and I don’t mean to walk that back. He has even attempted murder now and again. Usually of his own nephews, which is quite the look for him. And as I say, I get being on the seals’ side over Donald’s. But this is still a lot. This is the sort of thing you’d definitely want someone locked up for. And this is a full band of orphans—all of whom look like Mickey, because that’s how we do this—who are all attempting murder for entertainment.
And the Pluto band is the most unsettling thing? Yes, somehow. Okay, part of it is the cartoonish nature of the attempted murder. After all, the practical effect of electrocution in cartoons is mostly a lot of dancing and sometimes view of characters’ skeletons. But part of it is that their facial expressions universally do not change. They are watching the whole thing, and the conductor is dancing, and their faces do not change regardless of what that horrific band of orphans is doing. This short is deeply weird, even by ’30s Mickey and Donald cartoon standards.