The Vanishing Private

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Jack King
Producer: Walt Disney
Writer: Carl Barks


  • Clarence Nash — Donald Duck (voice)
  • Billy Bletcher — Sergeant Pete (voice)

Walt Disney Productions: 1942
7 minutes

December 2009

A fine camouflage

The Vanishing Private is is one of the fine wartime one-reel films that Disney made starring Donald Duck. Hollywood was quite patriotic in those World War II days, but Carl Barks has fun with the too-prevalent regimentation of Army life.

Sergeant Pete gives Private Duck the task of painting a large artillery piece. After Donald's mixture of bright colors with polka dots is rudely rejected, he stumbles upon a secret and experimental paint in a laboratory and enterprisingly applies it to the big cannon, which speedily becomes quite see-through (or see-around) invisible. This is not at all to the sergeant's liking, but when Donald gets soused in the invisibility paint, the sergeant can't see him for a proper upbraiding — except for duck-shaped prints on the ground and similar vacancies.

This is a common, not to say standard, fantasy of folks trapped in regimented situations: worthy or not, voluntary or not. Speaking hypothetically, any soldier is likely to daydream sometimes of donning a tarnkappe, a cloak of invisibility, and dancing the merry prankster all around some overbearing sergeant. — I speak hypothetically, you understand; because when in the Army myself, I never would have thought of, let alone done, any tricks of slipping away from duly uniformed Authority.

"What, never?"

"Well, hardly ever!"

W. S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
H.M.S. Pinafore

The distinctive but nearly incomprehensible Donald Duck voice, as typically rendered for animation, scarcely comes into play. The reel is all about action and sight gags — or invisible gags.

It's not easy to get the better of any man's Army; yet we may pause thoughtfully at how the simple application of nearly perfect camouflage to all the soldiers might cause major structural changes. Invisibly painting just one duck gives us The Vanishing Private, a little gem on the invisible front of good soldiering.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson

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