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The Ugly Duckling is an animated short produced by Walt Disney and the 75th and final entry in the Silly Symphony series. It is based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen where a duckling is harassed and persecuted because of his homeliness but eventually matures into a swan, the most beautiful bird of all.

Walt Disney had earlier produced a black-and-white Silly Symphony episode under the same title in 1931, but with several key differences. For example, the Ugly Duckling in it is actually a duck who is hatched by a chicken. This one, produced in 1939, more closely follows the original story and won the 1939 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject. In it, the cygnet's suffering is shortened, as he is found and taken in by the swans after only a day of rejection and ostracism rather than a whole year.

The short was Disney's last Silly Symphony one and the only one to be a remake of an earlier short.


An expectant father duck is pacing by his mate's side. Suddenly, their eggs begin to hatch, much to his delight, giving birth to four new ducklings. But then, a fifth egg hatches, revealing a mismatched white one, and the father duck argues with his mate over this. (It is implied that he is accusing her of having an affair with a swan.) The Ugly Duckling attempts to join the duck family, but they turn their backs on him. So he attempts to join a family of sparrows and even to befriend a wooden duck decoy, but they all turn him down. He feels sorry for himself and cries until a mother swan and her cygnets approach him. He joins them and they accept him. The mother duck and her ducklings realized what he is and what he has the potential to become. She invites him to come back to them, but he refuses and turns his back on her as he proudly swims off with his new family, leaving her watching in shock.



Sample panel from 1939 newspaper serial

  • Like many Disney productions, the short has been adapted several times into children's books; some of which were published directly by Disney and others in association with non-affiliated companies like Little Golden Books. The initial success of the short also inspired a short-lived newspaper strip in 1939 as well as occasionally being featured in various Disney comic book serials.
  • The part where the mother and father duck argued and had a falling out for how ugly the Ugly Duckling is, may have been an inuendo joke for adults to understand, which is the father duck accusing the mother duck for cheating on him for a swan.
  • The abbreviated version is read by Lilo to Stitch in the 2002 Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch. The story has a deep impact on Stitch, who is inspired to set out to look for his real family.



Home video





Although not as prominent as some of Disney's other films, a substantial amount of merchandise tied into the short has been produced; mostly decorative pins sold as part of a limited collector's set


The Disney Wiki has a collection of images and media related to The Ugly Duckling (1939 film).

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