February 18, 1967 – Birth of Disney Legend, Animator, and Current Voice of Donald Duck, Tony Anselmo
“The legacy is in my heart and soul that, I feel that it’s an honor to be the guy who gets to be the keeper of the keys or the carrier, or what have you, of this legacy. I love that so much, that’s so important to me. That’s the best part [about being Donald] for me. It’s fun. It can actually be a lot of work, you know, and you have to do long sessions, especially if there’s a lot of tantrums.”
Born February 18, 1967, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tony Anselmo loved animation from an early age. “I would write the animators, you know, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston, and Jack [Hannah] about what it took to be a Disney animator,” Anselmo explained, “and they would write back, very generously with advice.” While in high school, he took night classes in figure drawing and acting, and submitted his portfolio to the studio. After Ollie Johnston and Jack Hannah saw it, they sent him to the California Institute of the Arts, where he spent three years studying animation under Hannah’s direction. “At that time, I remember telling people I wanted to be an animator, and they didn’t know what that was,” Anselmo recalled. “Since The Little Mermaid, I think there’s been a popularity of what animation is, and everybody wants to be a part of it, but before that it was a very, sort of a cultish thing, where there were very few of us who knew what Disney animation was, and who those people were, the Nine Old Men and California Institute of the Arts.”
After graduating from CalArts, Anselmo was placed into a training program with famed animator Eric Larson for eight months, studying Disney style animation and being given animation tests. After that, Anselmo became and inbetweener at the studio. Anselmo credits Jack Hannah for his entering the studio; coincidentally, Hannah became the director of the Donald Duck unit under Walt Disney, so the old director of Donald hired the new voice of the duck.
Anselmo being interviewed by Leonard Maltin in 2005
When asked how he became the voice of Donald, Anselmo responded that “It wasn’t anything I actually intended to do, but…it really was a small family, everybody knew everybody. And the first day I was on the lot, I was walking up Dopey Drive, and a man came down the steps of the animation building, five-foot-two and white hair [Clarence Nash, longtime voice of Donald Duck], and he passed me and he goes, ‘Good morning’ [in Donald’s voice], and I, in a split second, I had never met him before, and I had never seen who did Donald’s voice, so to hear that distinctive voice coming out of a man who I hadn’t met before was shocking, but at the same moment it was like, that’s Donald Duck! It would have been like being at MGM and seeing Clark Gable.
“Clarence was a good friend. And, doing voices and being the class clown, Donald was a voice that I couldn’t do. And I asked [Nash], for fun, ‘How do you do that?’ And he showed me, and I couldn’t do it. But I would practice from time to time – any voice person will tell you that the best place to practice is in the car, or in the shower – and one day it kind of clicked in, and I thought, ‘Okay, I think that I did it.’ The next time I saw Clarence I said, ‘Is this it?’ and goes, ‘That’s it!’ But it was just the sound, and there’s much more to it. You know, how to enunciate as much as possible. There’s certain words you use, certain words you try not to use, or you use something that means the same thing.
“It wasn’t until…he was supposed to the Rose Parade. In his fiftieth year, I think Ducky got the attention and the acclaim that he had, I think, always deserved. To celebrate Donald’s fiftieth birthday, he put his hand and footprints at the Chinese Theater, he was on the Tonight Show, the Academy Awards, and he was supposed to do the Rose Parade, and I didn’t know that he was sick; he had gotten leukemia. And I went to the Rose Parade and he wasn’t in the car, and Margie Nash called and said he was in the hospital. So I went to the hospital to visit…and he said, ‘You’re gonna do this.’ It all came at the same time and I thought, ‘You’re dying, and you want me to do that? No, I don’t want you to die, and no, I want you to do this.’
“The odd thing about it was, for a period of about six months before that, I thought it was just because we were friends and he thought it was fun, he would come in my room in the animation building when I was drawing, and he would say, ‘Try this,’ or ‘What would you do if Donald had to be in this situation, what would you say?’ or ‘Say this,’ and I would go, ‘Okay,’ and I thought it was fun. I really didn’t think he was spending the time, you know…I felt like he had taken me under his wing, to use a corny phrase, but I didn’t know why he was spending so much time with me. And it wasn’t until he was ill in the hospital and he told me, that it was like, ‘Oh.’ So, I’m very protective of it. It’s a legacy of not only Clarence and Jack, who were dear friends of mine, who I respected, and miss, but Walt Disney, and a legacy that I wanted to be a part of. It’s something that I watch over and I’m very protective of it, because I want to keep the integrity of not only the sound of it, but the integrity of the personality of Donald, what he does, what he doesn’t do. It’s not just the way Donald sounds, it’s how he reacts to any given situation. He would react differently to the same situation as Mickey or Goofy would act differently.”
In 1990, Anselmo put both of his skills to good use by animating and voicing Donald in Disney’s version of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. He continues voicing Donald in various Disney projects, most recently the Kinect Disneyland Adventures game, and has said, “Pending natural disaster, I expect to be doing Donald the rest of my life.” He was named a Disney Legend in 2009 at the D23 Expo in Anaheim.