The Ugly Duckling is the titular protagonist of Disney's 1939Silly Symphoniesshort of the same name. Actually a cygnet, his egg somehow found its way into the nest of a duck family who mistook him for one of their own, and hatched him, only to immediately reject him for not looking the way a duckling should.
His namesake book appears in Lilo and Stitch, playing a major role in the film as a source of catharsis for Stitch.
Unlike his nest mates, who were short and pudgy with small features and fluffy yellow feathers, the Ugly Duckling is lean, white, and fuzzy with a body twice as big and a lanky build characterized by big feet, a long neck topped by a bulbous head, and a large beak from which he made a loud honk that greatly irritated the mother and father duck.
Initially silly and carefree, the Ugly Duckling is at first completely oblivious to how unusual the ducks find him as well as their subsequent revulsion toward him. It is only after they banish him from their family that he realizes how much uglier he is than the other ducklings, which makes him feel increasingly lonely and depressed. As his attempts to find a new family all meet with failure, it is only when he meets the swans and learns his true identity that he learns to accept and take pride in himself once again.
Role in the short
Shortly after being hatched, the Ugly Duckling unknowingly causes an argument between the mother and father duck, who can't understand how such an abnormal baby could be born to them; especially since the others were all perfect little ducklings. When the duck parents go their separate ways, the Ugly Duckling (oblivious to how they intentionally left him behind) decides to follow the mother and ducklings to the pond and swims after them. As the ducklings all climb up onto their mother's back, he jumps up to join them and is immediately thrown off by her when she realizes his presence. Mistaking her actions as part of the game, he honks for them to wait up and continues to chase after them until she suddenly snaps at him to go away before she and the ducklings turn their backs, leave, and ostracized him all alone.
Confused as to why the mother duck doesn't like him, he looks at his reflection and (following his initial fright) is shocked to see how different he is from the ducklings, especially when he sees how happy they are without him around. Realizing he has no place with them, he wanders away and eventually comes across a nest of sparrow chicks in an overhead branch. Deciding that they would become his new family, he climbs in but is violently chased off by the mother when he eats a worm intended for her own babies. While fleeing her attack, he retreats back into the pond where he encounters a wooden duck decoy. When it doesn't scold him or try to drive him off, he interprets its silence as acceptance and adopts it as his new mother. Unfortunately, while playing on and around his new "parent", he causes it to tip over and knock him on the head with its bill.
Shocked by the sudden and unprovoked attack, the Ugly Duckling escapes to the safety of the bank where he watches the decoy turn its back on him just like the mother duck. Deciding that he was just too ugly for anyone to love, he gives up hope of ever finding a family to accept him and breaks down in tears. As his sobs become louder and more despondent, he is approached by a group of cygnets, who sympathize for him and honk to get his attention. To his surprise, not only do they look and sound like him, but they actually seem happy to see him. Encouraged by their own honks, he stops crying and dives in to play with them until their beautiful mother calls them to her side. Expecting her to reject him for his ugliness like all the rest, the Ugly Duckling decides to paddle away when the cygnets circle around him, blocking his path, and their mother suddenly swims up and reaches for him. Certain that she's going to attack him, he briefly cowers in fear until she pulls him close and lovingly embraces him as one of her own whereupon he realizes to his joy who he really is and where he belongs.
No longer an Ugly Duckling, the cygnet swims along with the others when he's spotted by none other than the duck family. The mother duck invites him to return to them but he refuses and remains with his true mother and siblings instead, turning his back on the duck family as he follows his own into the distance.
The story of the Ugly Duckling from the short is different from the original fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story, the Ugly Duckling matures into an adult swan before finding his family (or reunited with his kind in some other versions), while in the short, he finds his family in a much shorter time of few minutes instead of around a year in the story. Also, the one in the short is still a cygnet when he ends up in the loving care of the Mother Swan.
The Ugly Duckling makes a cameo in Lilo & Stitch, where he is seen in a book.