The Ugly Duckling
Studio: Disney Release Date : December 17, 1931 Series: Silly Symphony

Cumulative rating:
(2 ratings submitted)


The classic tale of an unwanted newborn who grows into a beautiful swan, but here retooled into an outcast duckling who returns to save his family.




    • Announced release: December 17, 1931
    • Copyright date: December 24, 1931
  • This short was remade in color in 1939, also titled "The Ugly Duckling." This remake would prove to be the final Silly Symphony.


The Mickey Mouse Club (Season 1, Episode 69)


United States

Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies

United Kingdom

Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies


Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies

Netherlands / Belgium

Silly Symphonies

Technical Specifications

Running Time: 7:11
Animation Type: Standard (Hand-drawn-Cel) Animation
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Cinematographic Format: Spherical
Color Type: Black and White
Negative Type: 35mm
Original Country: United States
Original Language: English
Print Type: 35mm
Sound Type: Mono: Cinephone

Reviews and Comments

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From Jerry Edwards :

While this cartoon is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale - there are some important differences. In this 1931 cartoon, the Ugly Duckling is REALLY a DUCKLING, hatched with CHICKEN eggs. When the mother hen scorns the little duckling, he runs away in dismay. When a tornado drops the mother's chicks into a flood-swollen river, the duckling saves them from being carried over a waterfall - thus becoming the hero of the family. One rather jarring scene early in the cartoon is when the mother hen backhands the little duckling. Fantastic animation for this early time frame of the tornado and flood-swollen river. One cute scene is when the tornado passes over a dog (with a full coat of hair) that is half-in and half-out his dog house. The dog (!) comes out of the dog house showing his front half all bald from the wind and his back half still with a full coat of hair - funny sight gag. One cute touch is that the duckling uses a bellows to propel the chicks against the rushing water in the rescue. This is an absolutely wonderful early cartoon - which few people seem to have seen. I don't know why Disney hasn't released this on video or shown it on the Disney Channel - that I'm aware of.

From Ryan :

While not as sophisticated as the later 1939 remake, this version is still quite good. In this version, the "ugly duckling" really is a duckling and his "mother" a hen. I enjoy the animation of this short such as the cyclone scene. It reminds me of The Wizard of Oz. I also feel the scene where the duckling walks over to the pond is nicely done and the frog is very well animated. I also enjoy the gag where the dog sticks his head out of his doghouse and the cyclone removes the fur on his front half while his back half still has its fur. I have long been wondering why this cartoon had never been released on video or aired on TV in the past, but I am glad it has been released on the Silly Symphonies Treasures DVD set.

From Chris Purdue :

I give this Silly Symphony 5. I don't tend to enjoy the black and white shorts as much as the ones in color, and the same is true for this one, but I think it is good animation for it's time. He is an actual duckling in this one rather than the swan in the later version, and the animation is crude, but you still feel sorry for the little guy. His quack is a bit annoying, but by the end of the short, it doesn't matter. You see what a wonderful little guy he is because he saves all the little chicks from drowning.

From Gijs Grob :

Although crude and primitive compared to the 1939 short, this first version of The Ugly Duckling is a milestone in Disney's storytelling: where the earlier Silly Symphonies contained a lot of repetitive animation and dance routines The Ugly Duckling tells one coherent story from the beginning to the end. Even the Mickey Mouse films of that time are not that consistent.

The duckling (who repeatedly looks to the audience for sympathy -not unlike Oliver Hardy) is a real character who transforms from an outcast to a hero, and gains its well-earned sympathy at last.

This short, which is neither about gags nor about moving to music, would be the first testimony of Disney's ambitions in storytelling.

From Kyle Peters :

This short is my favorite Silly Symphony! I don't know why they had to end the Silly Symphonies series so soon.

From B. D. :

Another Ugly Duckling film was produced by Disney in 1939. Watching them back-to-back on the Silly Symphonies DVD, I was shocked by how drastically different they were - the 1939 version was a more-or-less faithful adaptation of the original fairy tale, whereas with this film, Disney essentially just took the title of the story and made up an original plot to go along with it.

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project :

The years of 1930 and 1931 in the Disney Studios were ones of great change, if the shorts offer any insight. We’ve looked at the changes here, from Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling leaving the studio, to the slow but steady shift away from musical based shorts to more story based subjects. With the release of The Ugly Duckling, Disney has finally made a Silly Symphony that follows one story from beginning to end, and in doing so, created a template for future prosperity at the studio.

I know that constant readers of the site are probably sick of my constant refrain of story vs. music, but it is a part of this early life in the Disney Studio. Iwerks, Stalling and their particular talents were built for creating cartoons that featured impressionist or silly visuals to accompany songs, such as in The Skeleton Dance. But with the loss of those two, the shift occurs to telling stories, which is what Disney would be known for in decades to come.

In The Ugly Duckling, we get a clear example of what Walt and his team are capable of when they attempt to tell a story. The characters are imbued with personality, pathos and life in a way that other Silly Symphonies have been unable to accomplish. When the duckling is cast out by his mother, a hen, the tears that he cries are heart breaking.

The animation here is not a standout in its artistry. Other than the duckling and its mother hen, the majority of the other characters are very simple, and the backgrounds and effects are nothing special. That does not detract from the storytelling, though, which is superb. As a viewer, you are always aware of where the action is, the emotions going through the characters’ minds, and you wait to see what will happen next.

That is the other thing that is accomplished here, probably for the first time. As I watched, I felt a real sense of suspense. I wanted to find out what was going to happen to the duckling. While I knew the story, I still was intrigued by what was happening and wanted to see how he would resolve things. The final scene, where the duckling rescues his brothers and sisters from their precarious perch in the river is very well done. The whole time that scene is running, the outcome is obvious, but it’s still compelling. That is the mark of a well done story.

The story is a familiar one – a duckling is born to a family of chickens, and is ugly compared to the cute little chicks. The mother hen pushes the duckling out of the family. But, when a tornado comes through, the duckling manages to warn the hen and her chicks, then saves the chicks from falling over a raging waterfall.

It is clear watching this short that story telling is where the talent of the Disney animators lies. They have the ability to create compelling characters, give the viewer a narrative to follow using those characters, and pay it off with exciting action, even if it’s just emotional action. Seeing this makes it no surprise that this was the first studio to successfully create a feature length animated film.

From Mac :

Yes, this one has a very definite emotional story. It differs significantly to the original tale. Instead of a cygnet (hatched among ducklings), who suffers many hardships before maturing into a beautiful swan, we have a duckling (hatched among chicks) who must prove himself a hero before gaining love and acceptance from others. Typical of other, later, Disney films, the protagonist is able to use the features that make him a freak to aid him in becoming a hero (in this case being a duck enables him to swim).

I love how music is used to tell the story in this one. Unlike earlier Symphonies, everything that happens moves the story along. However, every action, be it a tumble, footstep or teardrop is still in time to the music. It really is expertly done.

The emotions of the main character are wonderfully portrayed too. It's easy for the audience to emphasize with the little duckling and you can't help but feel sorry for him. One nice touch is how, when the mother hen finally hugs the duckling and hails him as a hero, he at first flinches a little bit. It's no wonder after the rough way she'd handled him in the past.

One odd detail in Merritt and Kaufman's book is that it mentions that a frog spits in the duckling's eye after razzing his own reflection. I wonder where they got that horrible idea from, because that scene wasn't in the version I watched.