“The ‘secret’ of Donald Duck’s voice is really just muscle control that you have to develop, like lifting weights,” Tony Anselmo, who since 1985 has given our garrulous if sometimes unintelligible duck his unforgettable squabble, once said. “You have to contort your mouth in a certain way, and the muscles have to be strong enough to stay contorted, so you can lock into it and concentrate on acting rather than ‘doing’ the voice.” It may sound difficult, but as anyone knows who has listened to Tony’s work on television series like DuckTales and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in feature films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or in video games and myriad consumer products, it’s probably even harder than it sounds.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 18, 1960, Tony was inspired by the first movie he had ever seen, Mary Poppins, and began drawing and making Super 8 films as a child. His drawings earned him a full scholarship to CalArts, the fabled art school that has bred so many Disney artists. He arrived at The Walt Disney Studios at age 20, focused solely on a career in animation. As a highly skilled animator, he worked on nearly every Disney feature from 1980 to date, but it was a friendship he struck up with Clarence “Ducky” Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck and a 1992 Disney Legend, that would eventually lead him to his second career behind the microphone.
Tony recalled that he never had any intention to voice Donald or any other character. He just innocently asked Nash one day how, exactly, he voiced Donald Duck.
“When he first tried to show me, I really couldn’t do it. I still wasn’t thinking of it in terms of carrying on the tradition. It was just for fun.”
Naturally persistent, Tony found himself practicing in the usual places one does such things—in the car or in the shower—and says one day the voice just “clicked in.” At this point he quacked a few lines to Nash, who began to tutor his protégé in earnest. Little by little, he passed down the tricks of his trade. By the time Nash passed away in 1985, Tony, after spending three years perfecting the voice of the vinegary fowl, gladly took up the legacy left to him by his good friend.
In 1990, when the Studios released The Prince and the Pauper, Tony became the first person to animate and voice Donald. And although acting with a pen is much different from acting with a voice, Tony is only too glad to help out in any capacity asked of him. “I’ve watched Donald Duck cartoons a million times and my whole life I wanted to work for Disney,” he once said. “Pending natural disaster, I expect to be doing Donald the rest of my life.”