Friday, September 29, 2006

Donald and the Wheel

If you were a baby boomer attending elementary school at anytime during the 1960s or 1970s, there is a good chance you were exposed to 1959 Disney short subject Donald in Mathmagic Land. A 16mm classroom standard, this film has definitely become an “oh yeah-I remember that!” moment for a generation of Wallys, Beavers, and Marcia Bradys. But a similarly made Donald venture released a year later, while equally entertaining, is not nearly as well-remembered.

Donald and the Wheel premiered in theaters on June 21, 1961. It followed the same edu-tainment style format as Donald in Mathmagic Land. Clocking in at 18 minutes, Wheel runs ten minutes shorter than Mathmagic. While Mathmagic is fairly basic in its presentation, Wheel employs a more unique, and entertaining style-- it imparts its message in a combination of song and rhyming dialogue.

The Spirits of Progress attempt to inspire a caveman Donald to invent the wheel, by showing him what the future portends. The clever scripting by Mel Leven is illustrated in this excerpt from the song “The Principal of the Thing”:

“Though it may seem incidental
Still a basic fundamental
Should be mentioned here before the point has passed.
Illustrating if I may show
To show mathematic ratio
Will show just how slow the gears go or how fast.
Count the teeth around these two gears
You would know this if you knew gears
Now the large is twice the number you’ll concede.
Twice the number consequently
If you spin it even gently
You’ll observe the smaller turning twice the speed.
And that’s the principal of the thing
That’s the principal of the thing
How the gear speed is related
To the ratio we have stated
Is the scientific principal of the thing.”

Donald and the Wheel was incorporated into the “Man on Wheels” episode of the Wonderful World of Disney that first aired on March 26, 1967. I discovered a complete, uncut version of the film on the Disney Channel Vault Disney block of programming in the late 1990s. Thanks to DirecTV, it’s a solid copy from a digital source that I have since transferred onto DVD, and also ripped into a mp3. Hopefully, it will be included on a future Disney Treasures Chronological Donald volume.