Donald in Mathmagic Land
August 9, 2011 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Donald in Mathmagic Land is a 27-minute Donald Duck featurette released on June 26, 1959. As Walt Disney said, "We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject." (Wiki)
posted by twoleftfeet (48 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Ah I remember this, my high school maths teacher of only a few years ago showed this to our class, he was a great teacher as you can probably guess.
posted by _frog at 3:49 AM on August 9, 2011

Funnily enough, I grew up listening to Disney's Multiplication and Division record, which featured songs with lyrics like:

What kind of chicken doesn't lay any eggs
What kind of table doesn't have any legs
The rooster's eggless, by its definition
And the tables are the tables of multiplication
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:58 AM on August 9, 2011

I watched this so much that I think I broke the tape.
posted by mdonley at 4:00 AM on August 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

This show taught me everything I know about 3-cushion billiards.
posted by mr vino at 4:08 AM on August 9, 2011 [16 favorites]

Yeah that billiard guy. I still remember this nearly twenty years after I watched it. Great film!
posted by smoke at 4:09 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Only members were allowed to enter. They had a secret sign: The Pentagram!

Back in the day Disney was full of subversive types.
posted by three blind mice at 4:10 AM on August 9, 2011

Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land? Never heard of it. *dismissive wave*
Still have my VHS copy.
posted by carsonb at 4:50 AM on August 9, 2011

Now I can watch this even when my middle school math teacher ISN'T too hungover to lead a class!
posted by SpiffyRob at 4:59 AM on August 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

I showed this on the last day of college algebra last fall and spring. It holds up pretty well, despite some golden section flim flam.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:06 AM on August 9, 2011

This is the very first thing I ever watched on VHS. We had to borrow a (top-loading!) VCR (it had a "remote" on a long wire) to watch it. And I watched it dozens of times. Mind was so blown.

I've got it for the kids and they like it too, but yeah, the golden section section. The flowers kind of drag on and the Parthenon just. doesn't. fit. The mental geometry part is awesome, though.
posted by DU at 5:11 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

What a great movie; my 6 ear old loves it! The DVD is hard to find but worth looking for. I think we had to order it directly from Disney.
posted by TedW at 5:12 AM on August 9, 2011

We watched this every year in school. They would have us all sit in the gym and they'd project it. I think it's the only school wide event we had.

My husband has never heard if it. Thank you!
posted by MaritaCov at 5:13 AM on August 9, 2011

Only members were allowed to enter. They had a secret sign: The Pentagram!

That sequence really needs a Black Metal makeover.

And, yes, I saw this in high school math class, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:27 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some of the "Golden Proportion" stuff kinda struck me as a little bit *too* eager to see patterns in everyday shapes, but the music stuff, showing how scales are more or less logarithmic fractions (err...if I'm saying that correctly) was always fascinating to me. The billiard stuff was pretty cool, though I recall most of the examples required that the two target balls (ahem) be touching.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:31 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mrs. jquinby was a math teacher for years and showed this to her classes annually. We still have it somewhere on VHS, but haven't had a VCR in some time. Glad to see it's out there in digital format now.
posted by jquinby at 5:46 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

What a great movie; my 6 ear old loves it! The DVD is hard to find but worth looking for.

It's easily found in the US now on Amazon as either a separate DVD or as part of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series release "The Chronological Donald Vol. 4".
posted by inturnaround at 5:54 AM on August 9, 2011

ShuuterBun- you're right on the Golden Proportion stuff. Martin Gardner wrote a fantastic article that I cannot seem to find on the interwebs called "The Cult of the Golden Ratio." If you look at the places that they choose to measure from, they're rather arbitrary. I finally saw this about a year ago- a physicist friend of mine couldn't believe I hadn't seen it as a kid. It was good, but a lot of it was lost, both in that I know more about the history of the Pythagoreans than is presented (they were weird) and the Golden Ratio stuff.
posted by Hactar at 6:14 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I loved this as a kid. I stopped mentioning it years ago because no one knew what I was talking about.

Either you need a complete reboot of who you hang around with, or . . . maybe the trick is not to mention it on a daily basis to the same people, who after a while will just feign ignorance to avoid a discussion. I have learned the latter truth the hard way.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:18 AM on August 9, 2011

I saw this once in elementary school (love!) and then again as a special treat one day in calculus in grade 11 (more love!).

And now I am at work and cannot watch it again for hours. Cruel.
posted by jeather at 6:21 AM on August 9, 2011

It was my favorite, favorite video as a kid. I loved this. I still push it on all my younger cousins with alarming frequency and will continue doing so for as long as a) my VHS copy holds up and b) my cousins keep their VCRs.

In fact, I'm going to go see if I can finagle it on dvd.
posted by lydhre at 6:24 AM on August 9, 2011

I got to run the projector when we saw this in math class.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:03 AM on August 9, 2011

This show taught me everything I know about 3-cushion billiards.
One of the first things I looked for when video started popping up on the web was this film, which was shown to me in junior high. The same junior high that introduced me to programming, three decades ago.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:13 AM on August 9, 2011

DISCLAIMER: i don't own any of this, i'm am not infringing copyright
i always respect copyright laws and their owners at all times

posted by SpiffyRob at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

disney's "educational films" are pretty good - the vhs of mathmagic land is bundled with the first episode of The Wonderful World of Color which includes such gems as Walt Disney casually harassing some young women and ludwig von drake singin about colors and basically everything you need when you're wanting to look at cartoons and are severely impaired (or enhanced)

and then there's saludos amigos and the three caballeros, a major plot point of which is donald duck being tormented by giant tripped out cactuses adn then being shot into space

fuck yeah
posted by beefetish at 7:24 AM on August 9, 2011

And Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom!
posted by mkb at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hell yeah. I loved this movie. And yeah, the Golden Ratio stuff doesn't actually work, but its a good way to introduce the concept. But I totally fell in love with so much of this stuff because of this movie.
posted by strixus at 7:40 AM on August 9, 2011

the vhs of mathmagic land is bundled with the first episode of The Wonderful World of Color

The first episode? I never knew! Do the others also feature Ludwig von Drake? Please say yes.
posted by jinjo at 7:41 AM on August 9, 2011

Oh, I loved that short. It also taught me the basics of playing pool/billiards.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:10 AM on August 9, 2011

Oh my. This is the most intense nostalgia I've felt in quite some time. The music, the narrator's voice, the Venus de Milo and her golden rectangled face! I probably watched this daily for a year in 2nd grade or so.
posted by robstercraw at 8:34 AM on August 9, 2011

the narrator's voice

That's Paul Frees, sounding about as close to "normal" as you're likely to hear him. He was a Disney (and pretty much everything else) mainstay for decades. And yep, he's the voice of Ludwig von Drake as well.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:37 AM on August 9, 2011

Various math classes I was in watched this multiple times during middle and high school, but I was somehow out sick every time, until the last day of AP Calculus when we watched it one more time per my request. It didn't quite live up to the hype, I felt.
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 9:32 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hah, I just showed the music section to this to my husband a few days ago, as he's just starting to pick up an instrument and wanted to know WHY the notes are what they are. I'm not sure he was satisfied, though, but I sure was.
posted by brainmouse at 9:44 AM on August 9, 2011

Loved those peculiar old educational films. The one I occasionally name-check, to blank stares, is Hemo The Magnificent, a potent confection of Bell Labs wonder for my primary school brain.

Disney also did a spectacular educational film on the dangers of VD, but I can't find it online, except in stupid ironic crap-satirical dubbed versions (though I didn't look too hard, to be honest). Neat period piece, that.
posted by sonascope at 9:53 AM on August 9, 2011

Ah, memories. I had never even heard of this short, until a Number Theory course I took in college. Our professor made an offhand reference to it, and seemed dumbstruck that not a single member of the class had any idea what she was talking about.

Which worked out great for us, because it led the cancellation of our regularly scheduled Friday quiz, to be replaced with viewing this movie! She even brought us popcorn.

Sometimes I miss college.
posted by CharlieSue at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2011

Not sure if I'd seen this before, but we had the comic book, which had these scenes and more.
I remember the billiards and the Golden Rectangle most of all, but there was a scene at the beginning (before he went to Mathmagic Land) where Scrooge McDuck was after Donald about (IIRC) being behind on his mortgage payments to Scrooge. While in Mathmagic Land, Donald learns the Wheat and Chessboard trick, and at the end of the story, he offers to sell his house to Scrooge for a cost of 1¢ on the 1st square of the board; 2¢ on the 2nd square; 4¢ on the 3rd square...
Scrooge agrees and is shocked to find out the cost is $184,467,440,737,095,516.15

Mathematics is not only fun, it's profitable.
posted by MtDewd at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2011

I must have watched this serially-broken-and-repaired filmstrip at my elementary and junior high schools a dozen times. It has stuck with me for decades, and I remember it as being a favorite. But watching it now, I am surprised at how little there is to it. Its treatment of the Pythagorean scale is alarmingly truncated (and somewhat misleading - to wit, Pythagorean tuning is not widely used today, and most "common" instruments are tuned on an equal-temperament scale). And it thoroughly fails to explain - or even hint at - the reasoning behind the "diamond system" in three-cushion billiards. (I believe an easy explanation - which could be presented remarkably well in animation - may be found in Chapter 1 of Alexander Soifer's book How Does One Cut a Triangle?). Still, I can see why I would have enjoyed this filmstrip far more than any of the others I ever saw in primary or secondary school. While there's little "math" in mathemagic land, it hinted at beautiful things, and didn't feel like lecturing.
posted by dilettanti at 11:43 AM on August 9, 2011

Not sure how I missed this? Maybe I'm too young, which, at 41, is a nice little reversal of fortune.

Movies like this are so fabulous, not just for their pseudo-psychedelic production design, but also for the out-of-fashion names listed in the beginning credits. Buddy Baker, Eustace Lycett, Vincent McEveety, Hamilton S. Luske... and let's not forget the layout boys, McLaren, Al, Basil, and Vance!
posted by flyingsquirrel at 1:27 PM on August 9, 2011

Not sure how I missed this? Maybe I'm too young, which, at 41, is a nice little reversal of fortune.

I'm younger than you and saw it a lot as a kid. We didn't really seem to notice it as dated, I don't think.
posted by sweetkid at 3:16 PM on August 9, 2011

Weird. Now I'm retroactively pissed at my school system for not showing this. Grrr.

That, or I am indeed too old. Sigh.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 3:25 PM on August 9, 2011

I loved seeing this in school.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2011

I love the way the narrator says "magic spiral."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:49 PM on August 9, 2011

What is the chess game they play out there? Anyone recognize it? (who has the patience to transcribe it?)
posted by wobh at 9:23 PM on August 9, 2011

Love this short.

Does anyone remember the Disney cartoon in which a Donald-like duck is waiting for his girlfriend to get ready and has a flash-forward of their (incredibly sexist) life together? If memory serves, he leaves before his date emerges from the bath. I saw this on the Disney Channel twice in the mid-1980s, and was struck by the wrongness of it.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:13 AM on August 10, 2011

Count me in among the many people who loved this, and watched it multiple times as a child (though never at school). It wasn't an official VHS, instead taped with a bunch of other educational shorts, so when I lost track of it, the show was trippy enough that I thought I'd dreamed it for many years until I found it on the Internet. There's something very comforting about figuring out that, yes, the childhood thing you remember is real. I've never been able to identify or find the accompanying animated short on the tape, though, which was about a boy living in an urban apartment (New York, maybe) who was able to grow enormous vegetables (including an eggplant, I think) from seeds, and was a detailed account of how seeds work. Anyone remember that?
posted by ilana at 5:28 AM on August 10, 2011

Also I was frustrated that I never got to find out what was behind all those doors...
posted by ilana at 5:30 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

What is the chess game they play out there? Anyone recognize it? (who has the patience bad idea to transcribe it?)

It's not a 'known' game. It looks like 1959-era computer chess (i.e.-bad).

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.d5 (...and we're out of the book) c6 4.dxc6 Qxd1+ 5.Kxd1 bxc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.f3 exf3 8.gxf3 (OK, so both players prefer to mess up their pawn position instead of developing a Knight) e5 9.Bh3 Bxh3 10.Nxh3 Bb4 11.Bd2 Bxc3 12.Bxc3 e4? 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.fxe4 Nd7 15.Nf4 O-O-O 16.c3 Nc5+ 17.Kc2 Nxe4 18.Rad1 Rxd1 19.Rxd1 Nf2 20.Rd6 Kc7 21.Rxf6 Rf8?? 22.Nd5+??(N-e6+) cxd5 23.Rxf2 Re8? 24.Rxf7+ Kc6 25.Rxa7? Re2+ 26.Kb3 Rxh2 27.a4 Kb6 28.Rd7 Rd2? 29.Rxh7 d4 30.cxd4 Rxd4 31.Rh6+ Ka5 32.Rc6? Rd3+ 33.Ka2 Kxa4 34.Rc4+ Kb5 35.b3 Rd5 36.Ka3 Rd8 37.Rb4+ Kc5 38.Ra4 Kc6 39.b4? Kb5? 40.Ra5+ Kc6 41.Ka4 Kb7 42.b5? Ra8 43.Rxa8 Kxa8(and now it's a dead draw) 44.Ka5 Kb7 45.b6 Kb8 46.Ka6 Kc8(???- this is bad even for 1959 computers) 47.Ka7 Kd8 48.b7 Ke8 49.b8=Q+ Ke7 50.Qe5+ Kf8 51.Qe6 Kg7 52.Kb7 Kf8 53.Kc7 Kg7 54.Kd7 Kf8 55.(Mate in 3)Qe7+ Kg8 56.(Mate in 3)Qf6 Kh7 57.(Mate in 3)Ke7 Kg8 58.(Mate in 3)Qe6+ Kh8 59.Kf7 Kh7 60.(Mate in 1)Qg6+ Kh8 61.Qg7#
posted by MtDewd at 7:31 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks. I thought it looked weird.
posted by wobh at 7:35 PM on August 10, 2011

« Older The Great North Road   |   Canons Save Trees! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments