There was a Wise Little Hen
Who worried now and then
For fear that she'd
Be found in need
When winter came again

"The Wise Little Hen" was a 1934 entry in Walt Disney's Silly Symphony series. Like the other cartoons in the series, it has a strong musical score, singing as dialogue (and narration), and a bright Technicolor palette (the cartoons switched from black and white to color in 1932) over detailed animation. Basically a retelling of the well known story "The Little Red Hen," its chief claim to fame is that it was the animated short that introduced Donald Duck to the world.

It opens with the Wise Little Hen coming out of her A-frame house with a basket of corn (maize). Her chicks (all wearing white booties for some reason...or socks?) are milling around the yard, hunting and pecking. They end up accompanying her on her travels through the barnyard and beyond.

The question is always "who'll help?" First, who will help plant the corn? She considers Pete Pig who is "strong and big" (from the animation, "big" certainly goes without argument). So she visits him to ask for help. He's happily dancing around playing a concertina. Until she asks for help—then he has a "bellyache" (oinking out the words). As she leaves he's seen grinning from behind the "house."

Perhaps Donald Duck (being his first cartoon appearance, she can be forgiven for not knowing better). She arrives at his docked houseboat—yes, that's why the sailor suit—and he comes out dancing. She asks for help, causing his hat to jump up and flip around. Then he becomes afflicted with his own bellyache (though Donald, the consummate actor, does a much better job "selling" the illness). As she leaves, Donald winks at the audience from around the corner of the boat.

She might have known
That she alone
Would have to plant her corn

Not quite—her chicks help out—but still.... And the corn thrives. In no time it's as high as an elephant's eye (but not Dumbo, as that would be another seven years). Now that the corn is grown, "who'll help her harvest corn?." Guess.

This time around, she should know better. Perhaps she's more of an optimist. Anyway, she visits the "Idle Hour Club"—with President Peter Pig and Vice President Donald Duck (probably the only members).

Perhaps her friends
Will condescend
To help her harvest corn

Well—no. Sure, when she shows up they are dancing outside the ramshackle clubhouse, but as soon as the question comes up, they have another convenient attack of the bellyaches, including the appropriate gestures and vocal emissions (they more than overdo it). When they go into the clubhouse, they slam the door which causes the wall boards to separate, allowing the viewer to see them happily congratulating each other on a job well done.

Guess she'll have to do it herself. The Wise Little Hen goes home and soon it's time for making the feast:

There'll soon be muffins and cakes galore
Cornpones and fritters by the score
More cornbread than I've seen before

Mmm, mmm, do I feel hungry!
Yum Yum Yum

The glee club "Greek Chorus" aside, it is quite a spread:

...corn on the cob with gobs and gobs of melted butter oozing round and round, corn soup enough to feed and stuff an army...

Of course, the question now becomes "who'll help her eat her corn?" Pete and Donald are once again dancing when the Hen shows, but fearing more work, they quickly succumb to their bellyache attacks. In fact, their pseudoconditions are so bad that the pig has yellow spots on his tongue and Donald has little pyrotechnic bursts of color surrounding his head (now that's acting).

All that ends when she asks who'll help eat the food. With an "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy—and how!" from Donald they rush over to the covered basket the hen brought and, drooling, fight over who will get the contents. But it's not food they find: it's castor oil (that bane of the Little Rascals), the bottle clearly marked with both "Tasty" and "For tummyaches."

The pair have gotten their comeuppance and while they take turns kicking each other, we hear the final verse of the cartoon:

She'll eat the corn herself
Although her friends now see the light
They've nothing but an appetite
While they repent with all their might
She'll eat the corn herself

(friends? wise?)

Donald is not quite the duck he is known as today. He has a longer, less defined bill and is a bit more rounded and pear-shaped (smaller, too). He also lives in the boat—he would cease to be a "barnyard" animal and a fully anthropomorphic cartoon character with a house and a job and a car in later cartoons (most fully realized in the Carl Barks comic books). But some things remained the same. Though the design changed a bit, the sailor suit became a lasting trademark and he was paired with Clarence "Ducky" Nash who was the only voice who did Donald Duck for over 50 years.

(Sources: the Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies DVD set)

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