“What the absolute hell, Disney?”
–my son, after I did the inflation calculation
For a few years when I was in high school, our annual vacation was driving from Los Angeles to Tacoma. My older sister had gone away to college there, and we went to visit her. Mom didn’t make motel reservations, as I recall, largely because she didn’t necessarily know where we’d be stopping in a given day’s driving. We had the Motel 6 guide book, telling us where every single one in the US was, and a AAA guide book, and that was how we traveled. One night, Mom couldn’t find a motel room as we headed south from wherever it was we’d stayed the night before. I clearly remember her coming out of one motel that had a vacancy enormously angry, because they were ridiculously overcharging for the room. She told us that they were doing it because they could get away with it.
Donald is driving through frankly not a dissimilar part of the country—I suspect it’s Northern California somewhere. There’s a place called the Hold-Up Motel; it’s full, but he can rent the cot on the porch for $16. (Plus tax and fees, from what I can tell.) Donald rightly has no interest in this hot garbage, but on the other hand, he’s absolutely exhausted. Instead, he goes out into the woods and attempts to inflate an air mattress for himself. Thus enters another “because the world hates him” cartoon of Donald versus the air mattress.
This is also another short that I’m quite sure is based on the real life of some animator or another. 1947 was just post-war, and the idea of taking a driving vacation was opening up again. You could travel without worrying that your tires would give out and you would run out of gas. I picture it with kids in tow, because that’s how it was for my mom, but still; one way or another, someone felt cheated by a motel proprietor, and likely was, and they dumped the problem on Donald because what else is he there for.
It’s a cartoon mostly made of sight gags, because the concept is so simple that you don’t really need more. Even if you haven’t been in Donald’s specific situation, it’s hard not to sympathize with him for once. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I prefer the cartoons where Donald is battling the malign forces of the universe, because he’s not overreacting to anything. Here, he’s so tired he’s barely even reacting most of the time. He’s just trying to inflate his air mattress and get some sleep.
For the curious, that $16 for a cot for a single night—ending at 6 AM, apparently—works out to well over two hundred bucks today. You can’t blame him. Why would you want to pay that much for a night on a cot in the woods? There’s not even a screen—presumably there’s no protection from bugs, and I’m sure there are plenty. Am I pleased at the idea that Donald gets cheated? A bit, yeah. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be sad at the Hold-Up Motel’s getting burned down except for the part where it would probably start a forest fire and the owner’s probably insured anyway.