Today I found myself pondering about Donald Duck. He’s been a favorite cartoon character of mine since childhood, but pinpointing the precise reason hasn’t been easy. By all means, Donald Duck SHOULD be a pretty unlikable character: prone to fits of anger and violence, sometimes greedy, sometimes selfish, sometimes just plain cruel, he seems designed to act as a foil to Mickey and co. more well-meaning and passive attitudes while still remaining as part of their group. Most of his early material portrays him as the butt of the joke (for example, trying several get-rich-quick schemes and failing miserably) and even now he seems to be inherently incompetent at everything he does or tries. It’s a bit difficult to track down the specifics of his personality and he’s been written by so many people and corporate machines that it’s virtually impossible to have a clear image of him (or any of the core Disney characters). However, the basics are always there, hidden as they may be.
It was only while drifting my consciousness away during an awful grammar class that it hit me: could it be possible that I like him precisely because of everything mentioned above?
Most of these Disney characters seem to be designed with a positive quality at their core. Mickey started as mischievous but slowly grew to fill a heroic archetype. Goofy is dumb but also a person that generally wants to do well to others. Minnie is kind, Pluto is loyal… the only exceptions I can come up with are in the likes of Pete and other antagonists, opposing forces to accentuate the morally correct actions of others. Sure, there are several cases where the “heroes” betray their characters for comedic purposes, but these are oddities more than a norm.
But Donald is different. Though part of the main cast and one of Mickey’s close friends, he’s always had more flaws than strengths. Maybe that’s what made my kid-self sympathize so much with him. He has deficiencies; he’s weak; he rarely comes out on top. He’s either outsmarted by his adversaries or makes enough mistakes to cause his own demise. But unlike actual villains, Donald is not evil: he merely has a short temper and doesn’t know how to hold back. It always struck me as odd when episodes tried to demonize his grumpy demeanor. Sure, his angered jumping and shouting and attempts to get back at the other party are needlessly aggressive… but wouldn’t you be angry if someone did an incredibly rude thing to you and ruined your day for no other reason but to cause laughter?
There’s this popular gif of him doing his usual enraged thing while this Mickey Rooney fella hands him a violin and starts dancing to the tune. It’s commonly used as a response to haters as a way to say “I don’t care about all your anger”, but context points to a quite different meaning. Donald Duck approached Mickey Rooney for an autograph, possibly being a big fan, but Mickey Rooney just acts like a relentless asshole, playing multiple tricks on him until Donald finally snaps. It’s only then that the scene happens. So with context the gif goes from a “haters gonna hate” attitude to “I’ve been an asshole to you but I’m just gonna laugh at your anger instead of accepting it as an appropriate response to my actions” (though maybe it’s a bit much to ask for people to look up the context of a damn gif).
Context for these scenes always mattered to me as a kid. 90% of the time, Donald’s anger felt justified: it was always someone else messing with him, ruining a pleasant morning or day out. Even the times when he was at complete fault, such as when he attempts something morally ambiguous to get himself some cash or treasure, it always comes from a very human sort of selfishness. He wants money and fame, but never quite gets there. They are inherent desires that everyone has felt at some point of their lives, poured into a cartoon duck with the temper of a newborn. We can relate and that’s what makes him fun to watch. I won’t say that he’s a fantastic character, but he’s definitely one of the most “character” characters in the core Mickey Mouse’s cast thanks to his various flaws. It’s even more evident when you see him act out of the good of his heart: despite his awful temper, we often see him working along with Mickey and Goofy to solve problems. He’s shown to care for Daisy and his nephews, despite the kids’ mischievous behavior.
Though I haven’t experienced them at length, the few Scrooge McDuck comics I’ve read show his human side pretty well. He’s seen hopping from job to job, never seeming to stay anywhere thanks to his incompetence. There’s one chapter where he fears not being good enough of an adult to serve as inspiration for his nephews, so he takes a pill (I think) to become a superhero. But this plan backfires as always and it causes him to lose his job. Later on, while trying to get his bicycle fixed so that he can keep working, with tears running down his eyes, his nephews comment on how he’s actually pretty great, raising them on his own and paying for their living expenses without a complain, despite how malicious they can be.
Maybe I’m just fond of that sort of character: the grumpy and selfish individual that nevertheless shows a soft side to themselves in moments of weakness or crisis, proving how they are not “bad”, but merely flawed individuals that struggle to cope with their dysfunctional personalities.
Another example of a character that made me feel this way back then is Eustace from Courage the Cowardly Dog. For those who don’t know, Courage the Cowardly Dog is about this pink dog living with his owners Muriel and Eustace, the latter a farmer, living in the middle of Nowhere, an arid and desolate setting that I’ve always found fascinating. It’s part comedy, part horror, a sort of show that wouldn’t fly nowadays.
Compared to Donald, Eustace is actually pretty terrible: he psychologically and physically abuses Courage every time he can, often demeans his wife Muriel and it’s through his actions that things always seem to get worse. Yet there are specific episodes (specifically when Muriel is in danger and he’s in a position to help) that it shows how much he cares for the woman. It was jarring but also touching to hear him shout Muriel’s name with such a worried expression. Unlike Donald, every bad thing that happens to him is often deserved, but I could never quite come to hate his guts and that’s worthy of a mention.
Some other examples comes to mind such as Daffy Duck (why it is always ducks?) but considering that most of my hypothetical readers are weebs it might be good to close this post with an anime, manga or visual novel character. To be honest, it took me a while to come up with one. The above-mentioned are all kids’ shows, which are usually free from the stupid constraints that limits entertainment aimed at adults. Characters like Donald Duck or Eustace would never be a thing in adult TV programming, or if they were, they’d never be characterized beyond their role as comic relief. So where do I go then? To a kids’ show, of course!
I’ll forgive you for not being too familiar with Doraemon if you didn’t live in, say, any Latin American country, Spain and others a decade or two ago (unless you’re Japanese of course). The show has a simple premise: an android cat comes from the future to help this young boy (called Nobita) get better at this “life” thing with many different gadgets. There’s a simple and colorful cast to keep things interesting: love interest and general cute girl Shizuka, rich-boy Suneo and last but not least Takeshi Gouda, also known by the others as “Gian”.
Gian is your typical bully character. Doraemon’s episodic structure allows him to enact the role of villain hundreds of time, making use of his big frame to do whatever he wants with the other kids of the neighborhood. We see him organizing games rigged in his favor, extorting his friends for money or forcing them to attend his singing concerts (it should be noted that Gian is tone-deaf and reacts very poorly to negative criticism, so the kids are forced to power through the whole thing).
He’s another one I can’t come to hate. For one, he acts just like you’d expect from a kid that’s realized he’s bigger and stronger than the rest. Gian is rash and selfish, but it’s the sort of selfishness caused by immaturity and not knowing any better. Being a kid, he figures that whatever horrible thing he does isn’t so horrible if he’s not punished for it, which is why he actually listens when a figure of authority asks him to stop bullying. It’s also hinted that his household is somewhat low-income, which might explain why he’s always taking stuff from others. And though he might often hit and abuse the kids, deep down he still considers them his friends. It’s a recurring theme (and joke) that despite being an antagonist in the TV show, Gian is a main ally and friend to Nobita through the movies, leaving aside their differences for the sake of adventure.
So what’s the point of this post, other than to talk about some characters I liked? Well, not a lot really. It was merely a topic I wanted to explore. It doesn’t fit the theme decided for this blog… but on second thought, screw that. If possible I’d like to keep posting these random ramblings and thoughts, but I don’t know how long it’ll take me to lose all interest again. Let’s hope it’s not soon.