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Only In Europe: A 90-Minute Donald Duck Documentary


The Donald Duck Principle is a 90-minute German/Norwegian documentary produced last year in honor of the Disney duck’s 80th anniversary. Directed by Edda Baumann-von Broen and Hasko Baumann, the film attempts to make sense of the impassioned relationship that Europeans have with the unlucky, ill-tempered cartoon character.

The European interest in Donald stems more from the character’s appearances in comics books than his original form as an animated star, and the documentary includes input from his comic-obsessed fans, among them Austrian painter Gottfried Helnwein, Norwegian author Øyvind Holen, and French cartoonist/Métal Hurlant co-founder Jean-Pierre Dionnet, as well as Duck comic artists on both sides of the pond like Don Rosa and Volker Reiche.

Here is the film’s official synopsis:

The Donald Duck Principle examines the tremendous success of the small, short-tempered and often luckless duck, and applies Donald’s loser topos to today’s world. Like no other figure, Donald Duck shows us what it means to be human. No matter what he does, everything goes wrong. Yet he is a master in the art of rebounding. In many countries, Donald Duck is more popular than Mickey Mouse. He reminds us of our own fears and weaknesses, but also of our ability to bounce back. Beginning with close-ups of the comic figure, the film delves deeper into the Donald Duck universe. While the comics themselves brim with excitement, so do the interpretations of numerous famous scholars. We let artists like Don Rosa and Gottfried Helnwein and others analyze the fascinating psyche of Donald Duck and then direct the viewers’ attention to the big picture: What role do losers play in today’s culture, where it’s all about self-optimization?

There are English, German and French versions of the film, though the English version doesn’t appear to be available for ready viewing. A French version of the film can be watched online (link taken down due to potential malware). Perhaps it’s the language barrier, but it’s not readily apparent to me what the second half of the film has to do with Donald Duck, or if it’s even the same documentary, but they would seem to be connected in some manner.

  • Hey Now

    I haven’t seen the film, but the answer night lie in the fact that Carl Barks and Don Rosa are just ridiculously good storytellers.

    • Liz

      So true! I’ve got several Carl Barks books translated into Faroese and am using them to practice it now. Such a fun way to learn a language. ;)

    • Mesterius

      Good comics creators is certainly a factor… though I’d argue that Rosa is much more of a Scrooge guy than a Donald guy, and there’s a number of other Donald writers and artists, besides Barks and Rosa, who also deserve mentioning. But I don’t think that in itself explains why Donald Duck comics are so popular in Europe, as opposed to, say, the United States.

  • Mister Twister

    I will buy this documentary. For some time I was convinced that comics are the superior medium, since they allow for more creativity in writing. I guess europeans see it as well.

  • Duck!

    We Europeans basically “grew up” with Mickey and Donald – but mostly in comic form. And the two characters were – somewhat strangely – clearly separated!

    In Germany for example you had the “Micky Maus-Comic”, a comic book featuring (mostly) the Mouse and you had “Donald Duck – Lustige Taschenbuecher” (“funny pocket books”). The latter being single stories (in a pocket book, real book like publication – not really a “graphic novel”) being interconnected through newly drawn segments (mostly in different style and sometimes pretty badly at that). So you got some sort of “frame story” or “background story” going on. Though the “mouse-universe” would (sometimes) cross-over into this or feature its own storylines, Donald’s part would be the more important one – and more often too.

    On the other hand, the mouse stories of the 50s and onwards became pretty bland and boring. Him being a private detective of sorts and never really going anywhere. Whereas the duck-place had a lot of interaction going on already through the ensemble of characters. Just bring Donald and Dagobert (Scrooge McDuck never becoming the “established” name – “Duck Tales” later fixed that to a degree, but not in Germany) together and the latters lust for money – or him being a tightwad and the other needing money – and you have a story going on!

    No wonder the Duck would become predominant over the years! Especially, since most of the comics were (steadily) drawn in Italy and the publishers got more and more requests for Duck stories. And good Duck stories – beyond the stereotypes of Donald being (always) the short-fused loser! Children were VERY adamant about that (if you believe the stories)!

    Thus Barks and his high standard-stories became the role model for generations of artists and stories – and their readers. Which in the end helped American artists such as Don Rosa to establish themselves for there being a demand for “good” Duck-stories.

    Over here the mouse is the symbol for the US (in comics). But the Duck is obviously the one we want to read about. ;)

  • Pencilneck

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    • AmidAmidi

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  • AG

    The magic German formula of Donald that made (and makes the comic still) so popular was emphasis on language above and beyond Barks own wonderful storytelling foundation. I recall visiting and, upon noticing how ubiquitous Donald Duck comics were compared to the US, hearing from anyone I asked about the language, and even the translator — as wiki helpfully notes:

    “Donald’s dialogue in German comics tends to be more sophisticated and
    philosophical, he “quotes from German literature, speaks in
    grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings,
    while the stories often take a more political tone than their American
    counterparts”,[27] features especially associated with Erika Fuchs’s popular German translations of the comics created by The Good Duck Artist Carl Barks”.