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Director: Joe Grant?
Release Date:
 November 18, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Wallace Beery, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Helen Hayes, Fredric March, Marie Dressler
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Parade of the Award Nominees © Walt Disney‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ was especially made for the fifth Academy Awards gala night of November 18, 1932 to introduce the nominees for best actors and actresses.

The short is based on the opening parade of ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), and reuses quite some animation from the original Silly Symphony, but this time it features Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, all in their color debut, predating their official color debuts in ‘The Band Concert‘, ‘On Ice‘ and ‘Mickey’s Garden‘ respectively by three years. Thus, their color designs are a bit different: Mickey wears green shorts instead of red ones, and Pluto is a sort of grey-ish, instead of orange-brown.

Following Mickey, Minnie and some characters from the original ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ we watch the following Hollywood stars parade: Wallace Beery as ‘The Champ’, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt (both starring ‘The Guardsman’), Helen Hayes (‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’), Fredric March (‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’), transforming while walking, and finally Marie Dressler (‘Emma’).

The caricatures were based on designs by Joe Grant, who, at that time, was still working as a newspaper caricutarist. Grant was only hired later, for ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, which premiered eight months later, and which features many more caricatures of Hollywood stars. Incidentally, Fredric March, Wallace Beery and Helen Hayes won the Oscars.

Apart from this film, Disney was very present at this gala night: he was nominated for Best Sound Recording, he won the Oscar for the new category ‘Best Animated Short Film’ with his full-color debut ‘Flowers and Trees‘, and he got an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, with which Hollywood acknowledged the little mouse’s extraordinary fame. This was Disney’s first triumphant presence at the Academy Awards, but many successes would follow, as Walt Disney would receive no less than 26 Academy Awards during his career…

Watch ‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ is available on the DVD ‘Mickey Mouse in Living Color’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 November 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Klondike Kid © Walt DisneyKlondike. In a beautiful opening scene we cut to “Klondike Bar’, a rowdy bar, where Mickey is a bar pianist, playing the popular ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny’.

The bar scene is pretty complex, with a lot going on. Goofy is there, too, seemingly just to show he’s a star to stay, for he has no involvement in the plot, at all. Outside, Minnie is freezing, and Mickey takes her inside, but then Pierre (a.k.a. Pete) arrives, peg leg and all. Soon he runs off with Minnie after a short gun fighting scene. Mickey, of course, rushes out to follow him, and jumps on a sled pulled by Pluto. In a remote log cabin, a fight ensues…

In essence ‘The Klondike Kid’ is ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ in Alaska. But what an execution of such an old idea! The gags are plenty and funny and build up to a fast paced finale. This short is unique for its time in its clever integration of story and gags: the gags are not bonuses, but really add to the story. Highlight must be the ridiculous fight between Mickey and Peg Leg Pete hindered by spiral springs. Mickey Mouse arguably reached the apex of his solo career with this cartoon.

Because of the strong similarities in setting and storyline ‘The Klondike Kid’ feels like a direct ancestor to Tex Avery’s two settings of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’: ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ (Warner Brothers, 1939) and ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (MGM, 1946).

Watch ‘The Klondike Kid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 49
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Wayward Canary
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Good Deed

‘The Klondike Kid’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 October 15, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Touchdown Mickey © Walt DisneyLike the earlier ‘Barnyard Olympics‘, ‘Touchdown Mickey’ is as fast-paced sports cartoon. It plunges right into action, when we watch Mickey getting a touchdown for his team Mickey’s Manglers, in an attempt to defeat their opponents, the Alley Cats. The Alley Cats all look like Pete sans peg leg, and they prove tough opponents to Mickey’s much more diverse team.

The sheer speed with which the countless gags are delivered is astonishing, especially when compared to contemporary cartoons from other studios, or earlier Mickeys. By 1932 the studio made better use of Mickey the little hero than ever before, and ‘Touchdown Mickey’ excellently plays on Mickey as the underdog beating the odds. This means we can immediately sympathize with him and his feeble team, drawing us into the match ourselves – as we really want him to win.

The short marks Goofy’s third screen appearance and already he is a more recognizable and more defined character than Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow would ever be. In ‘Touchdown Mickey’ he’s a radio reporter, if a rather uninformative one, and in one of the numerous gags he accidentally mistakes the head of a colleague for his microphone. Twelve years later Goofy would be playing football himself, in ‘How to Play Football’ (1944), but by then is character had gone through quite some transformations.

Interestingly, there’s another character with a characteristic laugh in this cartoon, a fat pig in the audience, who wears glasses and holds a cigar. As his design is more complex than that of all other characters, I suspect him to be a caricature, but of whom?

‘Touchdown Mickey’ was released only twelve days after the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘The Goal Rush‘, which covers exactly the same subject to less satisfying results.’Touchdown Mickey’ is great, it’s fun and absolutely among Mickey’s all time best cartoons.

Watch ‘Touchdown Mickey’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 47
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Whoopee Party
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Wayward Canary

‘Touchdown Mickey’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 13, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Nightmare © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is not a spooky horror cartoon like ‘The Haunted House‘ or ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘. No, it’s more of a bachelor’s nightmare…

The short’s plot harks back all the way to ‘Poor Papa’ (1928), the pilot film for the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series, Mickey’s predecessor. In ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ Mickey dreams he finally marries Minnie, and is soon visited by a stork delivering a baby, and another, and another… Until the storks deliver tons of little kids. When he is awake he’s very happy to be still a bachelor.

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ introduces the little orphan mice, who would replace the little kittens of ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue’ (1932) as a cause of complete destruction. In Mickey’s dream they ruin the house, especially with paint. In order to show Mickey’s horror scenario, the short uses some excellent and complex use of animation cycles featuring lots and lots of little kids.

It’s interesting that the orphan mice first were introduced as Mickey’s children, and only in dream form. In their next cartoon, ‘Giantland‘ (1933), they suddenly materialized into the real world. The orphan mice would stay around until 1936, starring five more cartoons, before returning one final time in ‘Pluto’s Party‘ from 1952.

The little brats also appeared in the Sunday Pages of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic, starting on September 18. In Gottfredson’s comics the mice are reduced to two, but no less disastrous. They are introduced as Mrs. Fieldmouse’s children and are apparently Mickey’s nephews. These two would eventually be christened Morty and Ferdie, and reenter the movie screen once in ‘Mickey’s Steamroller‘ (1934).

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ spawned at least two similar cartoons: first the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘Porky’s Romance’ (1937), and second, the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Diary‘ from 1954.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 44
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 May 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Revue © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Revue’ is famous for introducing Goofy, whose guffaw we had heard off-stage in the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Barnyard Olympics‘.

In this cartoon he’s an elderly person, bearded and wearing glasses. We don’t hear him speak, only his guffaw can be heard, and together with Pluto he forms the running gag of the cartoon. Although Goofy literally has the last laugh, nothing points to the direction of a star career beyond the laugh itself, and indeed, in ‘Trader Mickey‘ his guffaw was used by a cannibal king, indicating it was not an exclusive trait, yet.

Nevertheless, Goofy would return in ‘The Whoopee Party‘, redesigned, christened Dippy Dawg, and here to stay. In fact, Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character, whose voice predates the screen persona, which is completely built around the stupid laugh, and ditto voice.

Apart from Goofy’s debut, there’s enough to enjoy in ‘Mickey’s Revue’, even though it revisits two themes explored earlier in the Mickey Mouse cartoons: that of Mickey and the gang giving a performance and that of animals causing havoc. Here, the source of havoc are the small kittens from ‘The Barnyard Broadcast‘ and ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (both 1931). It was their last screen performance, for they would soon be replaced by little mice, first introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Revue’ follows the same lines as ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’, but is much better executed, cleverly intertwining the subplots of Goofy’s annoying laugh, Pluto trying to enter the stage, and the kittens interfering with Mickey’s performance. One of the gags involve a kitten caught in the hammers of Minnie’s piano, a gag looking forward to a similar one in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947). Despite it’s great comedy, ‘Mickey’s Revue’ was the last cartoon exploiting the ruin finale, as used in 1931/1932 cartoons like ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘.

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is a typical ensemble cartoon, also starring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and no less than three Clarabelle Cows. By now Horace Horsecollar had caught up with his comic personality, and had grown in personality beyond that of a stereotyped horse. Unfortunately, Horace was not developed further on the movie screen – it was left to Floyd Gottfredson  to explore Horace’s character further in his comic strip.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Revue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 41
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 June 8, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Musical Farmer © Walt DisneyIn this film Mickey and Minnie are farmers, which makes the film a little like a remake of ‘The Plow Boy‘ (1929).

First we watch Mickey planting seeds with help from Pluto, and Minnie milking a cow. Then Mickey decides to scare Minnie by stepping inside the scarecrow. A string of gags leads to Mickey playing the bagpipes on three geese. This starts a musical number, which is almost Silly Symphony-like in its directionless musical fun at the barnyard. We watch cows, lamb, ducks, pigeons, turkeys and chickens moving and dancing to the tune of Turkey in the Straw.

But then we cut to several chickens laying multitudes of eggs, except for poor Fanny. At this point suddenly a story develops, with Fanny laying an enormous egg, which attracts a lot of attention from her fellow chickens, the other animals, and finally, Mickey. Mickey rushes to bring his camera to make a picture of it, but unfortunately, he uses too much flash light powder, and everything explodes. This final gag was also used by Floyd Gottfredson in the Mickey Mouse comic strip, published on March 13, 1932.

‘The Musical Farmer’ is one of the weaker Mickey Mouse films of 1932. Like e.g. ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘ it’s uses the part-musical-number-part-frantic-finale-formula, but by mid-1932 shots of dancing animals had become a bit tiring and old-fashioned. Moreover, Fanny’s story feels a little out of place, and I suspect that part of this film was intentionally designed as a Silly Symphony, which apparently never really took off.

Watch ‘Musical Farmer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 42
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Revue
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia

‘Musical Farmer’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 October 1, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Bugs in Love © Walt Disney‘Bugs in love’ was the very last of the black and white Silly Symphonies, being even released after  the technicolor films ‘Flowers and Trees‘ and ‘King Neptune‘.

The short’s story is almost a copy of that of ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931) and features two bugs in love, who are threatened by a mean crow. Luckily their fellow flies come to the rescue, in an elaborate battle scene, in which the flies use e.g. ink, false teeth, shoe polish, an eggbeater, a mousetrap and castor oil to defeat the crow.

The ingenuity of this particular battle scene is intriguing, but unfortunately it follows all too similar scenes in films like ‘The Spider and the Fly’, ‘The Bird Store‘ and ‘The Bears and the Bees‘. The result is a rather traditional Silly Symphony, with its repetitious animation and rhythmical sequences. Luckily, with its two color Silly Symphonies Disney had demonstrated it could do much better, and the studio did not return to this formula, until the elaborate ‘The Moth and the Flame’ from 1938.

‘Bugs in love’ is clearly related to the successful comic strip ‘Bucky Bug’, begun earlier the same year. However, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the hero bug in ‘Bugs in Love’ is Bucky himself, or not.

Watch ‘Bugs in Love’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 31
To the previous Silly Symphony: King Neptune
To the next Silly Symphony: Babes in the Woods

‘Bugs in Love’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 July 9, 1932
Rating:
Review:

The Bears and the Bees © Walt Disney‘The Bears and the Bees’ follows the adventures of two little bear cubs, who encounter a large mean bear and a bee colony.

The two cubs eat the bees’ honey, but luckily it’s the old mean bear who gets all the stings, in an elaborate battle scene, comparable to those in ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932).

The story of ‘The Bears and the Bees’ is consistent, but remarkably boring. The two little bears look like early forerunners of Mickey’s nephews Morty and Ferdy, who would make their screen debut two years later in ‘Mickey’s Steamroller‘ (1934). It’s interesting to see how the animators tried to render these two cubs partly as animals and partly as little brats. This way of animating animals halfway anthropomorphism would become a Disney specialty, leading to masterpieces like ‘Bambi‘ (1942) and ‘Lady and the Tramp‘ (1956). In this short it can be watched in its embryonic form.

Watch ‘The Bears and the Bees’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 27
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Bird Store
To the next Silly Symphony: Just Dogs

‘The Bears and the Bees’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 January 5, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Bird Store © Walt Disney‘The Bird Store’ follows earlier Mickey Mouse films and Silly Symphonies in presenting half a song-and-dance routine and half a story.

This short starts quite boringly with endless bird song routines, but after 4 minutes of this a cat enters, which leads to a small story when the cat captures a small canary and all other birds free the canary and chase the cat away to a city dog pound.

The bird designs are still pretty primitive, and much more akin to those in ‘Birds of a Feather‘ from one year earlier than to ‘Birds in the Spring‘ from one year later. Most birds are clearly drawn from fantasy, and make no sense at all. The provisional realism of the canary in ‘Mickey Steps Out‘ hardly gets any follow-up here. A small highlight form the four ‘Marx Birds’, which mark the earliest instance of Hollywood caricatures in a Disney film.

Watch ‘The Bird Store’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 26
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Ugly Duckling
To the next Silly Symphony: The Bears and the Bees

‘The Bird Store’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 November 10, 1931
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Fox Hunt © Walt Disney.jpg‘The Fox Hunt’ is the most atypical Silly Symphony of the black and white era. It’s not devoted to music at all, and it features human characters.

These human hunters ride rather cartoony horses, and much of the fun comes from the silly ways the hunters ride their horses. One even rides a cow, a pig, a porcupine and a log with four dogs in it. The cartoon opens most spectacularly, with the morning sun’s beaming rays lighting a few forest scenes. A little later there’s a beautiful scene of the hunters and their horses casting long shadows on a hill. A scene like this looks all the way forward to the Ave Maria sequence of ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

The human figures are a bit of a mixed bag, but generally more convincing than those in ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ or ‘The China Plate‘ from earlier that year. Thus, ‘The Fox Hunt’ is one of those films showcasing Disney’s ambition, even though it’s by no means a classic.

The fox hunt theme was revisited nine years later in the Donald Duck short of the same title (1938), which uses the same skunk end gag, which itself was copied from the Oswald cartoon ‘The Fox Chase‘ (1928).

Watch ‘The Fox Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 24
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Spider and the Fly
To the next Silly Symphony: The Ugly Duckling

‘The Fox Hunt’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 October 13, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Spider and the Fly © Walt DisneyAfter ‘The Cat’s out‘ of three months earlier ‘The Spider and the Fly’ is the second silly symphony focusing on a story instead of a musical routine.

In this short a mean spider lures two flies into his web by playing harp on it, recalling a similar scene in Max Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ from 1930. The female fly is captured, but the male fly summons all the other flies to help him rescue her, which they do in a long battle scene on the music of Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Die leichte Kavalerie’ and Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig. Here we watch flies riding horseflies and using dragonflies as bombers and shoes on caterpillars as tanks. There’s also a spectacular scene in which the flies set fire to the spider’s web, with the poor female fly still in it. Ironically, the spider’s finally captured with flypaper.

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is more melodramatic than funny, but there’s a lot going on, and one doesn’t get the time to get bored. The basic story line of this cartoon would be followed in two other Silly Symphonies: ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932) and ‘The Moth and the Flame’ (1938), also featuring insects.

Watch ‘The Spider and the Fly’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 23
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Clock Store
To the next Silly Symphony: The Fox Hunt

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 September 16, 1931
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Clock Store © Walt Disney‘The Clock Store’ was the last of the Silly Symphonies solely devoted to a dance routine.

This time, the traditional dance routine is performed by clocks and watches to Frank Churchill’s music. The cartoon ends with two alarm clocks fighting each other to pieces. Unfortunately, before this final scene there is no story, whatsoever, and by now the dance routine had become very tiresome, indeed.

Nevertheless, the short is beautifully made: the opening scene shows a lamplighter lighting the street lights to stunning effects. Furthermore, halfway the cartoon we watch two 18th century human figures dancing an elegant minuet. This short dance scene was the studio’s most realistic take on the human form, yet, and a spectacular sight for a 1931 cartoon.

Watch ‘The Clock Store’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 22
To the previous Silly Symphony: Egyptian Melodies
To the next Silly Symphony: The Spider and the Fly

‘The Clock Store’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 21, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Duck Hunt © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Duck Hunt’ Mickey and Pluto are hunting ducks.

Their attempts are quite circumstantial and fail due to the inferior quality of Mickey’s gun. When the ducks discover that the female duck is only Pluto in disguise, they take revenge by taking Pluto by the ears and drag him and Mickey, who has gripped Pluto’s tail, into the air.

‘The Duck Hunt’ is a gag cartoon similar to ‘The Moose Hunt‘. Unfortunately it isn’t very funny. A lot of screen time is devoted to Mickey and Pluto marching to civil war tunes, and Pluto’s and Mickey’s flight through the air fails to become the intended great finale, because of a lack of great gags, although I liked the gag of Pluto’s flees leaving his fall by parachuting from his behind.

‘The Duck Hunt’ shows that not every Disney cartoon was a winner, despite the studio’s obvious efforts.

Watch ‘The Duck Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 37
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Orphans
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Grocery Boy

‘Blue Rhythm’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 7, 1931
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto?
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Blue Rhythm © Walt Disney‘Blue Rhythm’ is a genuine concert cartoon, in the vain of ‘The Opry House‘ (1929), ‘The Jazz Fool‘ (1929), ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) and ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ (1930).

Something has happened however, for now Mickey and the gang are not performing for their own fun or at the barnyard, but they are giving a concert in a large theater. It thus predates similar concert cartoons like ‘The Band Concert (1935), Bugs Bunny’s ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘ (1946), and Tom & Jerry’s ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947), introducing several piano and conductor gags.

This is one of those rare Disney cartoons in which the music performed can be unmistakably identified as jazz (in the earlier ‘The Jazz Fool’ this is not the case, despite the cartoon’s name). In fact, the cartoon is one great rendering of the St. Louis Blues (and not ‘Blue Rhythm’, a composition also popular in 1931, and recorded by Fletcher Henderson and Mills Blue Rhythm Band).

W.C. Handy’s classic song is first performed by Mickey on the piano, borrowing some tricks from Chico Marx. Then it is sung by Minnie, followed by some scatting by the both of them. Then Mickey and Minnie leave the stage, the curtain opens to reveal a big band, to which Mickey returns to conduct. And finally the blues is performed by Mickey on the clarinet, imitating bandleader Ted Lewis, complete with the entertainer’s typical top hat.

Minnie’s blues singing resembles contemporary female vaudeville blues singers (e.g. Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Levey and Victoria Spivey) and the pig trumpeter performs in the growling jungle style of Bubber Miley, who was a trumpeter in Duke Ellington’s band. Mickey shows to be an all round entertainer, performing as a stride pianist, a scat singer, a conductor and a clarinetist. Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, on the other hand, are clearly a percussionist and flutist, respectively, roles they would also have in ‘The Band Concert‘ (1935), the greatest of Mickey’s concert cartoons. Also featured in Mickey’s band is a dog who may or may not be Pluto, and who plays the trombone, disturbing Mickey while doing so.

Blue Rhythm is a great cartoon, from the opening scene, in which Mickey casts a huge shadow on the curtains to the grand finale in which the excited performance makes the stage collapse. This cartoon may have few gags, it is a delightful ode to music, and to jazz in particular.

Watch ‘Blue Rhythm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 31
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Steps Out
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Fishin’ Around

‘Blue Rhythm’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 23, 1931
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Birds of a Feather © Walt DisneyFollowing Van Beuren’s ‘A Romeo Robin‘ (1930) Disney devoted a whole Silly Symphony on birds.

The short follows the half-story formula introduced in ‘Playful Pan‘ with the first part consisting of more rhythmical movement to music than real dancing. The film starts with quite uninspired and tiresome gags about several birds moving randomly to music (opening with swans and a peacock moving to Jacques Offenbach’s barcarolle), but after 5’10 these give way to a small story about a baby chick who is taken away by an eagle but saved by a group of small birds.

The birds are drawn cartoony and not at all naturalistic. But such naturalism eventually would occur in Disney’s films, within only a couple of years, with ‘Birds in the Spring‘ being the prime example. It’s interesting to compare these two cartoons, which are only two years apart. The comparison makes ‘Birds of a Feather’ look primitive and dated, but even this cartoon knows one complex scene, in which the flock of small birds attacks the eagle. In this scene the movement of the circling birds  is animated beautifully and quite convincingly, as well.

Watch ‘Birds of a Feather’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 16
To the previous Silly Symphony: Playful Pan
To the next Silly Symphony: Mother Goose Melodies

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 April 11, 1931
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Melodies © Walt Disney‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is one of those Silly Symphonies showing the enormous strides the Walt Disney studio was taking to advance animation forward.

The cartoon easily outdoes all its contemporaries. The cartoon is extremely rich for its time, introducing us to countless characters, with only a few being stock models (the spider, some mice and some pigs). Some of the scenes are quite elaborate, like the finale, in which the book collapses and we watch all nursery rhyme figures dancing to the joyous music.

But the opening scene, which takes its time to introduce Old king Cole, is the most remarkable: it’s one long parade scene, looping the background, but otherwise remaining fresh by introducing new nursery rhyme characters all the time. Indeed, Walt Disney reused this device (and a lot of its animation) in the color cartoon ‘Parade of the Award Nominees‘ (1932), a special short for the fifth Academy Award ceremony, and in ‘The Standard Parade’ (1939), a commercial for Standard Oil.

Moreover, for the first time since ‘El Terrible Toreador‘ (1929) the studio takes its chances at the human form again. And although King Cole and his nursery rhyme friends are no ‘Snow White’, they’re a great deal more convincing than the humans in the earlier cartoon. The designs are more elaborate, and there’s much more sense of weight.

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is also the very first Silly Symphony to feature singing characters, anticipating the operetta cartoons of 1932-1935. The short simply bursts with ideas, and is a cartoon of sheer joy. On the other hand, it’s just that: by taking the ‘song-and-dance routine’-concept to the max, this cartoon offers singing and dancing only. There is no story, there are no gags, and the short features a lot of repetitive animation. This makes ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ strangely awesome and a little boring at the same time. Nevertheless, the cartoon was so successful, Disney would revisit its theme two times, in the Silly Symphonies ‘Old King Cole‘ (1933) and ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938).

Watch ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 17
To the previous Silly Symphony: Birds of a Feather
To the next Silly Symphony: The China Plate

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
July 28, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Cat's Out © Walt DisneyA cat is put out. When he tries to catch a bird, he falls down and gets knocked unconscious by a wind-flower.

Enter a nightmarish sequence, in which the cat imagines his lives are fleeing him, and that he’s being attacked by giant birds, hooting owls, bats, giant spiders and hollow trees. Luckily, in the morning it all appears to have been a dream.

‘The Cat’s Out’ is not devoid of dance routines (there are two dance scenes featuring scarecrows and a bat), but it has a surprisingly clear story, unmatched by earlier Silly Symphonies. It is arguably the first Silly Symphony with such a clear story, anticipating the straightforward storytelling of ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ of the end of the same year. This makes the short one of the most interesting Silly Symphonies of 1931.

Watch ‘The Cat’s Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 20
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Busy Beavers
To the next Silly Symphony: Egyptian Melodies

‘The Cat’s Out’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 December 16, 1930
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Playful Pan © Walt DisneyWith his double pipe, Pan makes all animals and plants, yes, even trees and clouds move and dance. The latter cause a fire with their lightning, but Pan lures the flames away to the lake, as if he were the pied piper.

Like ‘Springtime‘ (1929) ‘Playful Pan’ can be regarded as a forerunner of Disney’s groundbreaking cartoon ‘Flowers and Trees‘ (1932). The short is especially interesting for the introduction of the anthropomorphized flames, so typical of cartoons about fire. ‘Playful Pan’ is more entertaining than earlier Silly Symphonies, because half way the dance routine gives way to some kind of story, in which fire threatens the forest. This fire sequence is actually rather exciting. The fire itself is well animated, and the flames form a real threat: they do kill a humanized tree, and make all the animals flee.

The story formula of ‘Playful Pan’, in which the second half has some kind of story, was explored in many more Silly Symphonies from 1931 (e.g. ‘Birds of a Feather‘, ‘The China Plate‘. ‘The Busy Beavers‘). One had to wait until ‘The Ugly Duckling‘, from the end of that year, to watch a Silly Symphony to feature a concise story from start to end.

Watch ‘Playful Pan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 15
To the previous Silly Symphony: Winter
To the next Silly Symphony: Birds of a Feather

‘Playful Pan’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 October 22, 1930
Rating:
Review:

Winter © Walt DisneyAmong the earliest Silly Symphonies there was a cycle devoted to the four seasons. ‘Winter’ is the last of these four season cartoons.

Following the artistic success of ‘Autumn‘, ‘Winter’ is unfortunately as dull and plotless as the earlier ‘Springtime‘ or ‘Summer‘. The cartoon both starts an ends with a winter storm. In between we watch animals skating and dancing on Emile Waldteufel’s Skaters’ Waltz. This scene features some deer, which are a far cry from ‘Bambi‘ (1942), but who are more comfortable on ice than Bambi would ever be twelve years later. The cartoon ends when a groundhog sees his shadow again, and cold and snowy winds drive the animals back to their hiding places.

Luckily, ‘Winter’ formed the end of an era. Already with the next Silly Symphony, ‘Playful Pan‘ the Disney studio would aim to exchange the endless dance routines for more experiment, and this level of experiment would only increase from 1931 onwards…

Watch ‘Winter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 14
To the previous Silly Symphony: Monkey Melodies
To the next Silly Symphony: Playful Pan

‘Winter’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 September 2, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Monkey Melodies © Walt Disney

The Silly Symphonies were to be a series of great innovation, but in 1930 this was not so clear, yet, as the entries of that year were mostly preoccupied with dance routines.

The ‘innovation’ of ‘Monkey Melodies’, for example, is the embryonic story of its second half. But only with ‘Playful Pan‘ from the end of the year, some real experimentation was to kick in.

‘Monkey Melodies’ opens with monkeys, apes and parrots frolicking in the jungle in a long dance routine. After several minutes we follow two monkeys in love, who frolic to the tune of Rudy Wiedoeft’s Narcissus. The two go on a boat ride on a log, and manage to escape a crocodile, a hippo, a snake and a leopard.

‘Monkey Melodies’ is a very standard Silly Symphony, typical of 1930, the ‘story’ of the second half notwithstanding, and to be frank, the short is rather dull. Its highlight may be the effect animation of a crocodile swimming under water.

Watch ‘Monkey Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 13

To the previous Silly Symphony: Midnight in a Toy Shop
To the next Silly Symphony: Winter

‘Monkey Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

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