I recently read Arthur Clarke's short story "History Lesson" (1949) a.k.a. "Expedition to Earth", in which "A Walt Disney Production" is mentioned. I would like to know two (related?) things:

  1. Whether or not Arthur Clarke ever explained if such film is (intended to be) a real Walt Disney film.

  2. Is such film animated or live-action? This question is relevant because

    That would imply rather different impressions about the "humans" on the Venusian watchers of the film at the end of the story.

  • 5
    It never occurred to me that Clarke's Venusians were describing anything other than a Donald Duck cartoon. (Disney's first live action movie was Treasure Island in 1950, and Clarke's story is from 1949.) Whether the description in the story was inspired by a specific real cartoon, I have no idea.
    – user14111
    Nov 26, 2016 at 5:30
  • 3
    By the way, that short story is better known by its canonical title, "History Lesson".
    – user14111
    Nov 26, 2016 at 5:53
  • 3
    I've done a quick search and those that are knowledgeable about early cartoons seem to agree that this is likely to be a mish-mash of various cartoons. It doesn't fit any known Donald Duck production exactly, but it does describe the genre quite well.
    – Valorum
    Nov 26, 2016 at 17:18
  • 1
    None that I'm aware of. The title character is clearly Donald Duck but the cartoon described doesn't fit any cartoon I'm aware of that predates 1949. It seems to be an amalgam of plotlines
    – Valorum
    Apr 22, 2019 at 6:46
  • 1
    I've read the story many times, and just read it again, and it never occurred to me to think of it as a Donald Duck cartoon. Even reading it with that idea in mind, I don't see it. Disney made an absolute crap load of movies and cartoons. The vague description could fit many live action movies and cartoons. There are even live action films that end with the main figure frozen on screen. So, I don't see the duck here.
    – JRE
    Apr 22, 2019 at 14:17

1 Answer 1


I found the original story and I don't think he had any particular Disney work in mind. What Clarke seems to be describing here is that the Venusian anthropologists are trying to assign some cultural meaning to... Donald Duck

Once more the final picture flashed on the screen, motionless this time, for the projector had been stopped. With something like awe, the scientists gazed at the stiff figure from the past, while in turn the little biped stared back at them with its characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper. For the rest of time it would symbolize the human race. The psychologists of Venus would analyze its actions and watch its every movement until they could reconstruct its mind. Thousands of books would be written about it. Intricate philosophies would be contrived to account for its behavior.

But all.this labor, all this research, would be utterly in vain. Perhaps the proud and lonely figure on the screen was smiling sardonically at the scientists who were starting on their age-long fruitless quest. Its secret would be safe as long as the universe endured, for no one now would ever read the lost language of Earth. Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the screen, and none could ever guess their meaning:

A Walt Disney Production

The problem is that Donald's bad temper is his shtick. Most of the cartoons featuring him have him explode into a quacking rage for comedic effect. Given the fact that we're only told that he's angry, that makes it impossible to nail this down to one particular short. Donald has been angry since 1934's Orphan's Benefit.

I liken this to the end of the original Planet of the Apes, where Heston's character discovers that he's been on Earth the entire time when he finds the mostly buried Statue of Liberty. Clarke is trying to connect something familiar, yet mundane, to his readers, and make the readers amused that future scientists, lacking any other context, would spend so much time on it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.