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Donald’s Nephews introduces, well, Donald’s nephews – Huey, Dewey and Louie, who would go on to be very good characters for the company. They debuted in this short on the screen, but around the same time in the Donald Duck comic strip and comic books. The creation of the nephews led to an expansion of the “duck universe” in comics, especially those by Carl Barks. That’s a whole other topic, but one I might get to if all of Barks’ comics are ever collected. (Note to Disney: c’mon! Can you get Boom! or Marvel to take care of this?)
Regardless, the question before us today is whether Donald’s Nephews succeeds as a short. My answer is a resounding yes. It takes these new characters and plays them against Donald, leading to an increase in his frustration, and we all know that’s where Donald is at his best.
The short opens with Donald reading a postcard from his sister “Dumbella,” which I found very interesting. Does anyone know if Dumbella ever appeared in the shorts or the comics? This was the first I had heard of her. Regardless, the nephews pictured on the postcard are quite different than the ones who come crashing through Donald’s door only moments later.
To try and get a handle on the hooligans, Donald turns to a parenting book. This is when I started laughing. If you’ve ever been a parent, you know the double edged sword of parenting books. The advice they offer is often great in theory, not so much in practice. Donald finds this out in a hurry.
The rest of the short follows a pattern of Donald reading the advice in the book, following it, calming the boys down for a moment, then having it all go horribly wrong again. But saying it’s a pattern isn’t to say it’s predictable or boring. No, it’s hilariously funny, as we see the boys playing music, soaking Donald with a water balloon and feeding him a “Volcano Mustard” pie. The poor book suffers the consequences of Donald’s frustration.
One thing I took away from this short was how domesticated everything was. We have seen how Mickey has moved away from the rural, barnyard setting to more of a home-based life, but now Donald has joined him. Of course, this mirrors the journey of Walt and his team themselves, especially in this post-Snow White era.
Huey, Dewey and Louie don’t have much character in this short, and as would frequently be the case, they are mostly the same character done three times. Their sole purpose in this short seems to be to irritate Donald. It’s not mean spirited, though, but delivered with a smile. It’s a formula that would be successful again and again in the intervening years.
Dumbella was very much an off screen device rather than a true character. She never appeared in animated form and, as far as I know, never had an active role in the comics. In the nephews' first comic strip in 1937 Donald receives a similar letter from a relative (here named Della) and winds up with the nephews much like in the cartoon. I think years later comic strip artist Don Rosa, who tried to keep consistent timelines and family ties within Carl Barks' duck universe, kept Della as Donald's sister. I know she appeared in his famous Duck family tree image as Donald's sister, but I don't think she's ever appeared in any stories as H, D & L's mother (Although I'm sure there's a story where she's seen as a child with her brother Donald).
Donald welcomes the nephews inside, but gets smashed on the wall
when they come speeding inside with their own rendition of indoor polo
using tricycles. They stop to introduce themselves to Donald, then resume
their very rough indoor game when Huey blows his whistle. Of course
they proceed to literally smash every fragile thing in sight, including
a stack of books that fall down where Donald took cover, including one
on "Modern Child Training."
After reading the first suggestion, Donald somehow crosses the heavy
polo ball traffic to get to the piano, then begins playing "Pop Goes
The Weasel" to somehow try and calm the nephews down. Eventually, the
boys shy away from their rough-housing and join in playing the song
- Huey on the double-bass, Dewey on trombone, and Louie on accordion.
But this would not go smoothly because the kids had something evil planned.
First, Dewey takes a tomato and blows hard from the bell of his trombone,
causing the tomato to go airborne and smack into the piano top, quickly
enclosing Donald's head in the process. Huey then practices his archery
by taking his string bow and flinging it off his double-bass - precisely
poking Donald in his fanny and causing his momentum to smack into the
piano top holder; once again enclosing his head.
Through all of this, Donald is reminded in the book to never lose
his temper in front of the children. However, the nephews team up one
more time to clobber Donald using their own tricks. Dewey blows a balloon
up (how his lungs could be of helium we don't know), Huey takes a bag
filled with water and ties a string connecting the two while Louie is
ready to aim at the floating object, waiting for the precise moment
where he eventually connects and water splashes all over Donald's head.
When Donald asks who did that, all three blame it on another nephew
and go into a free-for-all. Donald then gets a very quick answer that
the children may just be hungry.
Donald announces that there is food on the table (in this case a
golden turkey), but the three continue to viciously fight. Finally,
Donald restores some decorum by firmly telling the kids to sit. Donald
says the prayer aloud while battling all three hyper nephews from getting
the food; but once he says "Amen", it's a four-way battle for food.
Even Louie has Donald's "hand" sandwich.
Now, Donald tries the "arouse their sympathy" approach by acting
very upset and hopeless because he could not control his nephews. The
three seem to fall for it, but great (albeit very evil) minds think
alike and had one more plan up their devilish sleeves. Huey apologizes
to Donald for hurting his feelings, but simultaneously, Dewey holds
open a cherry pie, takes all the cherry filling out of it, and Louie
replaces it with volcano brand mustard. Dewey then offers Donald some
pie, which Donald loves, so he quickly indulges. After a few seconds,
it was time for newscasters to report that a four-alarm fire was taking
place inside Donald's mouth, so desperately he screams for water. Well,
Donald got more than enough with Dewey throwing a pail of water in his
mouth and the other two dumping a tub of water directly on him. To add
insult to injury, Huey squirts Donald's mouth with water from a hose
while Dewey and Louie add the final nail to the coffin by using the
fire extinguisher and foaming Donald, leaving him dazed and confused
on the floor. The three nephews say goodbye to him by throwing "the
book" and squirting him a couple of times.
In the end, Donald reads the last sentence of the book: "After all,
little children are only angels without wings." This was the perfect
time for Donald to lose his temper, so he tears the book to shreds as
the cartoon ends.