This beautifully animated short from 1939 has a simple plot: Donald Duck challenges his nephews to a game of ice hockey, 1 against 3, to prove his status as Duck Swamp’s resident Hockey Champion. Being Donald Duck, he carries a collapsible trophy in his jacket proclaiming him to be the champion and his slick moves during their impromptu pond hockey game give credence to his claim. His nephews, however, clearly don’t like being shown up by their hot-dogging uncle and decide to pay him back with a little old-school hockey brutality. It’s the classic hockey story of finesse versus goonery. And like in the most recent Stanley Cup Final, goonery is victorious thanks to the lack of officiating.
It’s a clever little short, which captures beautifully some of the best elements of pond hockey (particularly in the idealized setting), with a wide array of sight gags and physical comedy to make up for the fact that you can barely understand what any of the characters are saying. Here are a few things that stuck out to me:
- Is anyone else profoundly disturbed by Donald’s transformation into a female figure skater? He puffs up his feathers until he looks like an avian Sonja Henie, though I could have sworn he said Tonya Harding when I first watched it.
- I love that Huey, Dewey, and Louie – and later Donald – have colour-coordinated their hockey tape with their shirts.
- The nephew’s response to Donald saying that the point of hockey is to put the puck in the net: “What do you know about hockey?” Apparently more than you do, morons.
- The ducks’ version of a faceoff will be familiar to anyone who’s playing pond or street hockey before, though we would normally say “N-H-L” between stick-taps. Of course, the NHL had only been in the US for about 15 years at this point and only in the east: it wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is now.
- It’s pretty clear that Donald’s nephews are impressed with his skill and it’s only once he gives them the ol’ snow shower that they start plotting their revenge. Lesson to be learned: don’t gloat over defeating small children at a sport. Also, getting sprayed in the face by ice sucks.
- Donald gets at least three concussions during the course of this animated short. And, of course, they’re played for comedy. Different era, I guess. Also, he’s not real.
- In my experience, shooting the puck into a snow bank usually means the game is over unless you have a spare puck or can find the original. In Duck Swamp, this apparently means they convert their hockey sticks into periscopes and keep playing. Donald describes this as “monkey business.” Again, in my experience, monkeys are far more likely to fling their feces than play hockey inside of a snow bank.
- How you can tell this was made a long, long time ago: Donald accidentally hanging himself with an actual noose is played for comedy.
- Donald as a snow-covered steam engine? Surprisingly badass. Has anyone in hockey every been given the nickname “Steam Engine” or “The Locomotive”? If not, it’s time.
- Finally, quick recommendation: if your pond is located over a waterfall, don’t play hockey on it. Just saying.
Disney only delved into animated hockey a couple times, namely in Goofy’s “Hockey Homicide,” which gets a little off-track from hockey but seems to capture the chaos of the game fairly well, and regrettably in the Mighty Ducks animated series, which inexplicably starred alien ducks from another planet who fought crime in Anaheim with laser guns that shot hockey pucks. And they also played hockey. Because it was the 90′s, they also roller-bladed a lot. Don’t try to make sense of it, you’ll only hurt your brain. It did give hockey the worst jersey of all time: behold the majesty of the Wild Wing alternate jersey!