Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 15, 1928
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
April 1928. Disney has just returned from an ill-fated journey to New York. There he had learned that he had lost his star character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and all his crew – all hired away by his distributor, Charles Mintz.
All, save one – only his friend and star animator Ub Iwerks has remained loyal*. And while the rest of the studio is working on the last Disney-produced Oswald cartoons, Iwerks is set to work in a separate office, secretly working on a cartoon, not for Mintz, but for Disney.
Iwerks works at an astonishing speed, and he finishes the animation on the cartoon after two weeks. This is a stunning effort by all standards. But what is even more extraordinary is that the finished product, ‘Plane Crazy’, turns out to be such a fine cartoon!
‘Plane Crazy’ is more consistent than most of the preceding Oswalds. It’s fast, it’s simply packed with gags and very funny. Moreover, it’s full of visual tricks. For example, the film opens with the behind of a cow (!), walking away from the camera. Later there are some great perspective scenes with Mickey’s plane flying under a cow’s udders, and almost crashing into two cars.
The film draws inspiration from the same event as the earlier Oswald cartoon ‘The Ocean Hop‘ (1927): Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21 1927, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. A goggle-eyed Mickey Mouse (without shoes or gloves) wants to imitate ‘Lindy’ and builds a plane himself, helped by the other farm animals.
Unfortunately his plane crashes against a tree. Then Mickey transforms a car into a plane, and asks Minnie to fly along. After a breath taking take-off, the plane flies, and up in the air Mickey forces a kiss from Minnie, with disastrous results.
‘Plane Crazy’ is, of course, Mickey’s first cartoon and it hasn’t aged a bit. Yes, it’s a silent cartoon with sound added later. Yes, Mickey looks and behaves rather differently than he would do later, and yes, some of the gags are rather crude. Yet, Plane Crazy is outstanding for its fast-paced gags, its extraordinarily rubbery animation, its awesome use of perspectives and its effective pantomime character animation (its only piece of dialogue is Minnie asking “who, me?”).
The film is a testimony of Ub Iwerks’s extraordinary skill. Not only was he an incredibly fast animator, as this short shows he was also an original artist, with a distinct style and an excellent sense of comic timing.
Unfortunately, in 1928, the distributors didn’t see anything distinctive in Mickey. True, he was not too different from Oswald. Both characters were of more or less the same size (with Mickey being outrageously big for a mouse from the outset). Both characters were kinda likable, had a joyful, adventurous spirit, and were seen courting a love interest. Nevertheless, Disney produced a second cartoon with his new character, ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘.
Watch ‘Plane Crazy’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 1
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Gallopin’ Gaucho
* and, to be fair, animator Johnny Cannon, and the recently hired Les Clark (one of the future Nine Old Men – who was not even approached by Mintz), and some ink and paint girls, and the janitor.