Inside Donald Duck's 90th Birthday Celebration at Walt Disney's Historic Studios

From Animation to Icon: The Burbank studio's tribute to 90 Years of Donald Duck

Left to Right: Animator Mark Henn, Donald Duck and voice actor Tony Anselmo.
Left to Right: Animator Mark Henn, Donald Duck and voice actor Tony Anselmo.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney Experiences

In 1934, Angelenos at the Carthay Circle Theater were introduced to a new feathered friend that would waddle his way into our hearts for many years to come. Little did they know this debut in The Wise Little Hen would mark the beginning of a legacy that would make Donald Duck an enduring icon of animation and pop culture. Ninety years later, to celebrate Donald's legacy, the Walt Disney Studios opened their doors to a select few, and we have exclusive behind-the-scenes access to this momentous celebration. Along with Tony Anselmo, the talented voice behind Donald Duck, and animator Mark Henn, we were granted the rare opportunity to honor one of our favorite classic cartoon characters. Join us as we take you on a journey through the history, artistry and excitement of Donald Duck's 90th anniversary.

Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Tucked away in Burbank, the Walt Disney Studios shines as a beacon of imagination and the birthplace of many of our childhood heroes. After releasing his first feature-length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney utilized the film's revenue to create the studio in 1940. To this day, the historic location remains intact as the day it opened. Even Walt's office remains as the way he would've left it, surrounded by his favorite books, photos of his children and plans to continue the Disney magic. From Cinderella to Queen Elsa, countless iconic characters were created within the building but none more enduring than the feisty Donald Duck.

As we were welcomed onto the famous lot, we couldn't help but recognize the larger-than-life essence that the experience provided. Here we were, celebrating a character, who jumped from ink to television and then into our reality. To understand Donald's humble beginnings, we first toured the Ink & Paint department, where we learned more about the history of animation. Guided by the current artists of Disney's Ink & Paint Department, we gained insight into the meticulous craft of animation, from frame to frame. From the early days of handmade colors to the revolutionary Xerox technology, each detail revealed the timeless artistry behind Disney's most beloved films. We even learned that, on average, it took 24 frames per second and 400,000 individual frames to complete an animated film. This level of detail remained a hallmark of the studio, culminating in beloved classics like "The Little Mermaid," the last animated film to utilize this art form. Now the building is dedicated to creating Hand Painted Animation Cells for cast members, legacy projects and consumer products. To close this section of the tour, the artist Annie Hobbs, gave us a quick demonstration of how our duck of the hour was brought to life.

To continue the birthday celebration, The Walt Disney Archives also assembled a captivating display showcasing Donald Duck memorabilia spanning several decades. Becky Cline, Director of Walt Disney Archives, offered us a nostalgic journey through the evolution of this beloved duck's merchandising legacy. From vintage advertisements featuring Donald's many animated styles to video games, toys and inspired food items, this exhibit was a testament to the enduring popularity and cultural impact of Donald Duck.

While we were fascinated by the merchandise of the past, we were able to turn around and witness the latest products to be released in honor of Donald Duck's 90-year milestone. Disney's collaboration with industry-leading brands such as Adidas, ASOS, Citizen, and Funko has resulted in a plethora of stylish new products, from shoes to accessories, allowing fans to celebrate their favorite duck in style.

According to Liz Shortreed, senior vice president of Disney Global Softlines and Global Brand Strategy, "Donald Duck's relatable and endearing frustrations with everyday life have made him one of the world's most famous personalities, so we knew we had to make sure to celebrate him in a big way."

Among our favorite items is the Disney Donald Duck Carry-On By American Tourister, Adidas Originals x Disney Super Star Shoes, and Disney Donald Duck 90th Anniversary Mug. With Donald Duck's birthday approaching in June, fans can join Mickey & Friends in celebrating this milestone at various Disney parks or indulge in the array of products available for purchase.

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