June 21, 1961 – The Donald Duck Short Film Donald and the Wheel is Released to Theaters
“Well, frost me, Poppa, can it be your intention, to bat your choppers over nothing more than a wheel? Your brain is all tied up in a sling to think a wheel is such a great thing.”
On June 21, 1961, the Donald Duck short Donald and the Wheel was released to theaters. The story was written by Bill Berg, with songs and rhymes by Mel Leven, music by Buddy Baker, and direction by Hamilton S. Luske. It stars the vocal talents of The Mellomen (Bill Cole, Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Max Smith), with Ravenscroft and Smith as the father and Junior, and Clarence Nash as the voice of Donald Duck.
This educational short begins with two “spirits of progress” watching a piece of wood rolling around like a wheel. Junior, the younger of the spirits, asks his dad why he’s so impressed with the wheel. His father claims it to be the greatest invention of all time, to which Junior scoffs. When his father challenges him to name something better than the wheel, Junior accepts the challenge, but every invention he names is only possible thanks to the wheel. The father takes his son back in history to meet the inventor of the wheel.
Back in the caveman age, we see a prehistoric Donald Duck, who, after a run-in with a tiger, is inspired to create the wheel. The spirits try to explain to Donald what a wheel is used for, but Donald seems to not be able to understand. Donald finally asks them who they are, and they explain to him that they are the “spirits of progress,” there to help him with his great invention. The first example they give him is attaching two wheels to his sled, making it easier for him to cart around.
The song at that point goes through the evolution of the wheel, with Donald also donning the attire of each time period being sung about. Steam is soon added to the idea of the wheel, with trains and automobiles lauded in song, and Donald involved in comic situations with each passing period. Finally, after a massive pile-up on the highway, Donald angrily declares he’d rather walk.
They go back to Donald’s time, trying to take another approach with how important the wheel is. When they try to explain that the world is round, Donald insists that the world is flat. Junior takes over this time, trying to explain the rotation of the Earth, the moon, and all the planets in the solar system. The demonstration continues with gears to show how wheels keep things working. For a more “practical” example, they begin with a music box, moving to the gramophone, then the jukebox, which features Donald dancing with a live-action dancer.
The spirits, however, push a little too hard with how important the wheel will be, showing wheels in everything he will use in his day. When they claim that he’s about to create a great invention, Donald tells them “Oh, no! I’m not going to be responsible for that!” The spirits are consoled with the fact that although Donald didn’t invent the wheel, someone eventually did.