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Western Animation / The Ugly Duckling (1939)

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So cute!

The Ugly Duckling is a 1939 animated short film (nine minutes), from Disney, directed by Jack Cutting. It was the last installment in the Silly Symphonies series that ran from 1929 to 1939.

It is of course an adaptation of "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen. A mama duck hatches five eggs, resulting in four cute little yellow ducklings, and one duckling that looks—different. It's white with a big beak, and it honks noisily rather than go cheep-cheep like the cute ducklings. The father stalks away in a rage. The mother and the other ducklings shun the Ugly Duckling, which eventually wanders away from its family, looking for a place to belong.



  • Abusive Parents: The mother duck treats the ugly duckling cruelly and quickly abandons him.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Most drawings of the ugly duckling in storybooks at least try to make him look odd or otherwise stand out from the ducks. Here, he's shown to be just as cute as the ducklings, making his ugliness a trait he finds all in his head.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: In the original fairy tale, the mother duck is one of the few animals in the farmyard to treat the ugly duckling with kindness, defending him from attacks, and is generally just glad he's healthy and can swim like the rest of her ducklings. Here, she rejects him right away and yells at him when he tries to swim after her.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The poor ugly duckling is rejected by the mother duck and then his siblings, who quack at him angrily before leaving him behind.
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  • Ambiguous Situation: At the end of the short, the ugly duckling gets adopted by a family of swans who look like him. It's possible that they actually are his family and his egg got lost somehow, or they just decided to adopt him regardless.
  • Chocolate Baby: The parents see the ugly duckling, which quite obviously doesn't match the others. The father duck gets angry and points and squawks at the mama duck. The mama duck gets defensive and angry and eventually slaps him. The father duck stalks off, never to be seen again. The clear implication is this trope.
  • Circling Birdies: Actually stars. The ugly duckling sees this after cuddling up to a bobbing duck decoy that the ugly duckling thinks is real. The bobbing duck bobs down and whacks the ugly duckling on the head.
  • Companion Cube: The ugly duckling finds a duck decoy and thinks it's real. At first, he's happy that it appears to accept him and let him jump on its back, but as the decoy bobs back and forth, it appears to attack the ugly duckling and then reject him by turning away.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The traditional version of the story takes place over about a year, with the ugly duckling getting his happy ending after growing up into a swan. The short only focuses on the first few minutes of the duckling's life and ends with him being adopted by a family of swans not long after being hatched (although he still has to experience a great deal of suffering before then).
  • Foul Waterfowl: The titular ugly duckling's mother and siblings all shun him just because they think he's ugly.
  • Happily Adopted: At the end of the short, a swan family adopts the ugly duckling, saving him from despair and accepting him as one of their own without hesitation.
  • Hope Spot: The ugly duckling finds his way into a robin's nest and is happily greeted by the baby robins, but he gets kicked out by the mother robin.
  • Informed Attribute: Much like the original, the duckling is treated as ugly, but while it looks different, it's actually rather cute. It's implied that the mother duck's rejection of him has less to do with him being ugly and more to do with her husband leaving her because he thinks the ugly duckling is proof that she cheated on him.
  • Ironic Echo: Near the beginning, the mother duck turns away from the ugly duckling after yelling at him and driving him off. In the end, the mother duck calls for the ugly duckling - only for the ugly duckling to scornfully turn away from its old duck family and swim away with its new swan family.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: Nothing but birds quacking and chirping.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The ugly duckling -actually a baby swan- swimming away with its new swan family after scornfully turning away from its old duck family.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Opens with the father nervously pacing and squawking and pestering the mother for updates.
  • The Remake: The second Silly Symphonies short to tell this story; it was previously made in black and white as "The Ugly Duckling" in 1931.
  • Riddle for the Ages: How did a swan's egg get in a duck's nest? (The original fairy tale didn't explain this either.)
  • Rule of Three: The ugly duckling is rejected three times (by the mother duck and her ducklings, a mother robin whose nest he found his way into, and a duck decoy) before finally being found by a family who loves him.