Look, I have a brand. I admit this. So when I discovered that Year of the Month for this month was 1934, and that this particular cartoon was from 1934, the choice made itself. Because this is the first appearance of Donald Duck, Already Kind of Aquatic Sociopath. There was no other choice; I had to bring this to everyone’s attention. And it’s not even a little surprising to me to discover that Donald is also on brand in this one—arguably, he changed the least over the years, with only the kind of sociopathy on display changing.
This is a version of a Russian folktale. The little hen (Florence Gill) and her chicks come to Peter Pig (Clarence Nash) and Donald Duck (also Clarence Nash) to ask them to help her plant her corn. They refuse, claiming to be sick. She and the chicks plant and tend the corn. The little hen and her chicks come to Peter Pig and Donald Duck to ask them to help her harvest her corn. They refuse, claiming to be sick. She and the chicks harvest and cook the corn. Then, she pulls a switch and asks Peter Pig and Donald Duck to help her eat her corn, and of course, they’re well able to do that! Only she gives them a bottle of castor oil, because before they hear the question, they’re already pretending to be sick at just the sight of her.
I mean, low-level stuff, by Donald’s standards. Still, that his first appearance was refusing to help a mother and her children feed themselves is pretty much the sort of thing we’d expect from him. And that he’d fake illness for it? Yeah, on brand. While he’s only fulfilling the role the story put him in, he is still fulfilling the role of a wastrel and a liar, so yeah. He started as he would continue, unlike the other two of Disney’s Big Three, who would change a lot more in personality over the decades.
Meanwhile, why Donald and not Peter Pig? I don’t think Peter Pig ever made another cartoon. They adapted the cartoon into a storybook in the ’60s, and while Donald was too famous to be in the adaptation, causing “Daniel Duck” to be in that role, they also changed Peter Pig to Patsy Pig, for, you know, reasons. Why they couldn’t keep Peter and use, like, Dorothy Duck or something, I couldn’t say. No more can I say why Donald is the one who took off from this short—the hen was just Clara Cluck in a different version, really, but Clara’s not even having much of a comeback on the Disney Jr. stuff.
Few of the Silly Symphonies had much cultural impact, long-term. That’s okay; they don’t have to. They’re just cartoons. But unlike many of the others, this one had something that would last. The first appearance of that malevolent duck with the famous temper. Donald Duck: a noxious creep since 1934.