While Mickey Mouse is undoubtedly the most popular Disney character in the US, as it turns out, over the pond in Germany it's another Disney character entirely who holds the top spot, the character of Donald Duck.
It may sound a little odd, but Donald is so beloved in Germany that the national weekly "Mickey Maus" comic book (which features all the classic Disney characters, though Donald is most prominent), sells around 250,000 copies every week. The comic is so popular that it outsells superhero comic books, such as "Superman" consistently.
A cult-like following
Donald is such a popular character that there is even a fan group dedicated to the duck, called D.O.N.A.L.D (which in German, stands for "German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism"). D.O.N.A.L.D holds an annual congress each year, as well as several other events for their members. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2009, D.O.N.A.L.D president, Christian Pfeiler explained why Donald is so popular:
"Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him. He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read."
But wait a minute, the last part of that quote may have you scratching your head, after all the Donald Duck that English speaking audiences know isn't exactly what you'd call "well-read." Well, as it turns out, a lot of Donald's appeal in Germany can be attributed to the translator Dr. Erika Fuchs.
Erika Fuchs: the German voice of Donald
In 1951 Dr. Fuchs, a German translator, became the chief editor of Germany's "Mickey Maus" magazine, and it was because of her translations that Donald is so popular in the country today. Not content with simply translating the comics word-for-word, Fuchs often had the characters quote German literature. Often times she also put political subtext into the comics, and fleshed out the sparse English dialogue from the original comics with topics such as history or science.
Due to Dr. Fuchs creating this more scholarly Donald Duck, the comics introduced many Germans to the literary classics. For example, in one story Donald's nephews Huey, Duey and Louie (called Tick, Trick and Track in Germany) quote the Friedrich Schiller play "William Tell," in which Donald paraphrases Schiller's poem "The Bell." Lines from Goethe, Hölderlin and Wagner also appear, and as a result these literary classics are already familiar to children by the time they reach them in school. Donald even not-so-subtle tells his audience "Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers."
How has Disney allowed Donald to be so different in German?
The Donald Duck comics are published in Germany by Ehapa and Egmont Horizont, subsidiary companies of the Danish-based media group Egmont. Egmont is a licensee of Disney, and royalties are paid to Disney from each copy sold. However, Ehapa retains the artistic control over the German translations of the comic books, which is why Donald is able to be changed. While any content with Disney characters needs to meet a certain brand standard, Disney doesn't approve every tiny translation, so there is the opportunity to change characters and their dialogue.
Since his introduction over 60 years ago, in 1951, Donald Duck has become a total German classic. Today, despite the growing popularity of other forms of media and entertainment, Donald Duck comics still remain extremely popular for both children, and adults alike. While his friend, Mickey may always have the upper hand in America, in Northern Europe, and particularly Germany it's Donald Duck who reigns supreme. However it seems like Northern Europe isn't alone is preferring a supporting Disney character over Mickey Mouse, Japan also has a couple of favorite characters that might surprise you:
Lilo & Stitch
In Japan Lilo & Stitch was particularly popular, so much so that there was a Japanese anime series named Stitch! which ran from 2008 until 2011. The series took place several years after the original TV series which was a spin-off to the 2002 film.
Originally created for the Walt Disney Resort and named "the Disney Bear," he was christened Duffy at the Tokyo branch and his popularity is out of control! Along with having his own website within the Tokyo Disney website, he is also an incredibly popular character to get a photo with inside Tokyo's DisneySea park (a separate Disney park that sits next door to Tokyo Disneyland).