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Disney's The Wise Little Hen was released in 1934. It's in full, nice colour.

But Donald's next appearance, or at least the first time he is more like Donald Duck as we know him, is in Orphan's Benefit from later in the same year, and this time, it's back to black-and-white!

What would make Disney go full colour only to then revert to black-and-white?

It's not like the first cartoon was some kind of spectacular, super-high-budget introduction of Donald Duck which made them go for colour. He seems to just be a throwaway "lazy duck" character, just like his pig buddy who never became famous unlike Donald. Our duck just happened to become popular later. So that doesn't explain the high production value for that particular cartoon.

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    Multiple releases can be in production at the same time.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 19:07
  • I would assume this has to do with the movie with which the cartoon shorts were shown. A color movie requires a color cartoon, right? And a black and white movie can't be outdone by a color short -- so black and white cartoon? Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 22:31
  • @Quasi_Stomach, likely the shorts were manually spliced onto the feature film (probably at the theater, not at the producer), so there wouldn't be a problem mixing color and b&w films.
    – The Photon
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 18:50
  • Orphans' Benefit got a color remake in 1941.
    – dan04
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 23:18
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    Animations take long to produce, especially back then without computers to aid. So it could be that the black and white one was started before the other one but was finished after and it would have been too big a hassle to colorize it afterwards, if it was even possible.
    – Thomas
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 14:27

2 Answers 2

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I'm going to take a swing at this, as no-one else has yet…

Colour was difficult, and cussed… and expensive - and not as clear or clean as black & white. It needed much more light [which was perhaps not so much of an issue for a cartoon] but overall, it wasn't really trusted. It was hard to make. It needed three synchronised strips of film negative to add up to one final colour movie, making the cameras considerably more complex and the entire process more fraught with issues.

Most movies up to the late 40s and beyond were still black & white, even though Technicolor was invented in 1915. It wasn't really until Eastman [of Kodak fame] devised a 'better, faster' single film process in 1952 that colour really came to the fore.
Before that, it was an expensive gimmick in the minds of the Hollywood executives of the time, and it didn't really guarantee a better reception for the movie itself with the audience, who were used to black & white.

I found a great article that manages to explain this [& more] fairly succinctly without too much technical detail - A History of Colour: The Difficult Transition from Black and White Cinematography

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  • The following animation films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940) Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), were all made by Disney and in color. By the mid-1940s I don't think money (nor time) was an issue for Disney. Ithink if you had answered that color was still in its infancy and it was only until 1937 with the release of Snow White, did color animation really took off.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:42
  • @Mari-LouA - all feature films, all several years after Orphan's Benefit.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:45
  • The Wise Little Hen ('34) Snow White ('37) followed closely by other Disney movies in the 1940s (not in the 1950s).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:52
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    @Mari-LouA - did you also read the other answer, that these were made by different parts of Disney? No matter how you frame your objection, it is still a fact that colour did not become mainstream until the single film process.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:54
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The two short movies are made as part of different series.

The Wise Little Hen is a silly symphony's cartoon and Orphan's Benefit is a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Of these two series, the silly symphony cartoons were more experimental and they introduced (three-colour) technicolour in 1932 with Flowers and Trees. Mickey Mouse followed in 1935 with The band concert.

According to that the Wikipedia article on Flowers and Trees:

Disney's other cartoon series, the Mickey Mouse shorts, were deemed successful enough not to need the extra boost of color, remaining in black-and-white until The Band Concert (1935)

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    "Within the animation industry, the series is known for its use by Walt Disney as a platform for experimenting with processes, techniques, characters, and stories in order to further the art of animation. It also provided a venue to try out techniques and technologies, such as Technicolor, special effects animation, and dramatic storytelling in animation, that would be crucial to Disney's plans to eventually begin making feature-length animated films."
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 4:46

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