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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

Watch ‘Three Little Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 November 19, 1932
Rating:★★★
Review:

Babes in the Woods © Walt Disney‘Babes in the woods’ is a free adaptation of the fairy tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

In Disney’s version the two lost children encounter some merry dwarfs before they meet the witch. The witch takes them for a ride on her flying broom to her gingerbread house.

Once inside the witch’s abode the cartoon takes a nightmarish turn. in the dark and gloomy inside the witch reveals she turns little children in newts, rats, spiders and bats. We watch the with turn a cat into stone, which immediately falls down and brakes. Then she turns the boy into a spider. When she wants to turn the girl into a rat, she’s interrupted by the dwarfs, who have come to the rescue. While she’s fleeing for the squadrons of gnomes firing arrows at her, the girl discovers a potion to turn the spider and all other animals present in the witches house into children again. In the end the witch is turned into stone by falling into her own potion.

This re-telling of Grimm’s classic tale introduces some story ideas that made it into ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ five years later: there’s a scary forest with trees looking like monsters and there are of course the witch and the dwarfs. Indeed, concept artist Albert Hurter was responsible for most of the looks of both this Silly Symphony as one of the chief designers for Disney’s first feature.

The storytelling is economical, with a lot happening in the mere seven minutes. As soon as the witch enters the scene, the action is relentless. The pretty scary scene inside the Witch’s house is particularly gripping. The short also contains a small dance routine, reminiscent of, but a great improvement on ‘The Merry Dwarfs‘ from 1929. The children’s designs of this particular film became stock designs in most studios in the rest of the 1930’s, in which more and more films would take a childish character, anyway.

With ‘Babes in the Woods’ embarked on a series of Silly Symphonies that were adaptations of familiar fairy tales and fables. Other examples are ‘Three Little Pigs’ and ‘The Pied Piper‘ from 1933, ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants‘ from 1934 and ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ from 1935.

‘Babes in the Woods’ is a stunning tour-de-force for 1932, but four days before its release Disney had started its first in-house art class, hosted by Don Graham. With these twice-weekly art classes Disney’s animators got better and better, and all subsequent Disney films clearly show that, with the Silly Symphonies in particular showing an enormous growth during the rest of the 1930’s.

One trivial remark: Hansel and Gretel are wearing traditional costumes typical for some Dutch fishing-villages. However, the landscape looks anything but Dutch (in fact, it looks pretty Mid-European). Talking about being lost!

Watch ‘Babes in the Woods’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 32
To the previous Silly Symphony: Bugs in Love
To the next Silly Symphony: Santa’s Workshop

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 March 18, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Goofy, Pluto
Rating:★★★½
Review:

Mickey's Mellerdrammer © Walt DisneyIn ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ Mickey and the gang are performing a stage version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (1852), a so-called ‘Tom Show’.

Surprisingly, this was not Mickey’s first take at the play, as he and his pals had performed it already in February 1932 in Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse strip ‘The Orphanage Robbery’. The comic strip undoubtedly influenced the cartoon as in both the comic strip and in the cartoon Mickey plays both Topsy and Uncle Tom, while Minnie plays Little Eva, Clarabelle Cow Eliza and Horace Horsecollar the vicious plantation owner Simon Legree. Because the comic strip predates Goofy’s birth he’s not part of the play, and in the cartoon he only helps behind the scene. Goofy remains a surprisingly bland character, doing little more than laughing stupidly, proving that his guffaw still was his only defining character trait.

First we watch Mickey and the gang dress themselves, obviously in the best minstrel tradition and featuring quite a few blackface gags, including the obligate reference to Al Jolson’s ‘Mammy’. Then we watch two scenes of the play itself. The play opens merrily enough with Little Eva and Topsy dancing to ‘Dixie’, but a little later Simon Legree is about to lash Uncle Tom.

Despite the play’s serious subject matter, the cartoon is full of nonsense, especially when Mickey unleashes fifty dogs, ridiculously dressed in dogs costume. The cartoon ends, when these dogs encounter a cat and destroy everything in chasing it. This sequence makes ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ a late addition to Mickey’s destructive-finale-cartoon-series of 1931/1932. The large number of gags makes ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ quite entertaining, but of course the numerous blackface gags date the cartoon a lot, and make it an obvious product of a more openly racist era.

In Mickey’s next cartoon ‘Ye Olden Days’ the idea of him and the gang acting was taken a step further, when they were introduced as actors in that cartoon. The idea of cartoon characters performing a melodrama was later copied by Max Fleischer in ‘She Wronged him Right‘ (1934) starring Betty Boop.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 54
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white Volume two’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 December 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Good Deed © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is the second of four Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoons (‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ from 1931 was the first, the third would only appear at the end of Mickey’s career in 1952: ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ and the fourth would herald Mickey’s return to the screen in ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ from 1983).

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is a typical cartoon of the Great Depression era, which, if we look at the Hollywood output, seemed to find its lowest point in 1931-1933. Surprisingly many films from these years show people in great poverty, struggling at the bottom of society. Other examples are the Laurel and Hardy short ‘One Good Turn’ (1931), the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘What A Life’ (1932), the Cubby the Bear cartoon ‘Barking Dogs’, and the Warner Bros. musical ‘ Gold Diggers of 1933’ (1933).

In the opening scene of ‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ we watch Mickey being down at the dumps: he is a poor street musician, playing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ on a double bass in the snow. He’s obviously homeless and his pants are ragged. When all the change he got turns out to be just bolts and nuts his hopes of a decent meal in a fancy restaurant are shattered.

Meanwhile a rich and spoiled brat discovers Pluto and wants him for a present. So his father sends out his servant to buy Pluto from Mickey. Mickey first refuses, stating that Pluto is his pal. But then his double bass is destroyed by a sleigh and Mickey discovers a very poor and desperate mother of numerous kittens.

In other to help the latter, he finally sells Pluto to buy numerous toys for the little kittens, which he gives them, dressed like Santa, while they’re sleeping. Meanwhile, the spoiled brat is giving Pluto, his own father and the servant a hard time. In the end, the father spanks his son and throws Pluto out of the house. The cartoon ends when Mickey and Pluto are rejoined again, sharing a roasted chicken Pluto accidentally had brought along.

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is one of Mickey’s most melodramatic cartoons, and relatively low on gags, the most of which involving the spoiled brat and his antics. It plays a familiar theme contrasting the spoiled rich, who think they can get anything with money, with the unfortunate poor, who are willing to help each other out. It’s strange to see Mickey so poor, however, as he is in this cartoon. It’s as if he had lost Minnie and his friends, as well. The most poignant scene is that of a homeless Mickey roasting a sausage on a fire with a mock Pluto made out of snow.

This cartoon contains a caricature of Jimmy Durante as a jack-in-the-box, which is probably the first of many caricatures of this 1930s comedian in animated film. One and a half year later, Mickey would meet Jimmy Durante in person in the live action movie ‘Hollywood Party’.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 50
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Klondike Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white Volume two’

 

Director: Dave Hand
Release Date:
 May 13, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mail Pilot © Walt DisneyIn his fifth year Mickey Mouse was at the top of his game: practically every Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1933 is a winner (the sole exception arguably being ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘). Moreover, Mickey was still the top star himself, although with ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ he would give screen time to Pluto, the beginning of a trend that would take severe turns in the rest of the 1930s, when Pluto, Donald and Goofy would all but eclipse Mickey’s career.

None of that in 1933! In that year Mickey is still in prime form, with ‘The Mail Pilot’ as a perfect example. It’s astonishing to watch the ease with which its strong story is told, and how many events the animators could squeeze into the seven minute cartoon.

In ‘The Mail Pilot’ Mickey is a mail pilot who has to carry a chest with money across the mountains. On his way he has to deal with a thunderstorm and a blizzard before he sees the sun again. The design of the anthropomorphized sun is the same as in the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ from one month earlier. Unfortunately, at the other end of the mountains he’s confronted by evil mail robber Pete, who has both his legs in this cartoon. Pete shoots Mickey’s wings and propeller to pieces, but Mickey manages to fly nonetheless, capturing the bandit on the way.

‘The Mail Pilot’ belongs to Disney’s operetta period (see also ‘The Mad Doctor‘ and ‘Ye Olden Days‘ from the same year), and all dialogue is sung. Its opening song. ‘The Mail Must Go Through’, forms the main musical theme, which composer Bert Lewis develops in classical fashion in the rest of the score to glorious effects.

‘The Mail Pilot’ has an exciting adventure plot, and it’s not surprising that it spawned a comic book story, which arguably was Mickey’s most exciting adventure thus far. The story (now also labeled ‘The Mail Pilot’ ran from February 27 (months before the release of the cartoon ) until June 10. Floyd Gottfredson greatly expanded on the cartoon’s story, substituting the mail pilot for a much more exciting pirate dirigible with a magnetic web to ensnare the mail planes. Later, some scenes of the cartoon were combined with elements from ‘Shanghaied’ (1934) in Floyd Gottfredson’s classic comic strip ‘Mickey and the Pirates’ (or ‘The Captive Castaways’, 1934).

Watch ‘The Mail Pilot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 56
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man

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

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 December 10, 1932
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Santa's Workshop © Walt Disney‘Santa’s Workshop’ is one of the earliest Christmas cartoons, celebrating the Santa Claus myth with glee.

If the preceding Silly Symphonies, ‘King Neptune‘ and ‘Babes in the Woods’ were impressive, ‘Santa’s Workshop’ is even more beautiful and colorful. The short’s opening scenes are more colorful than those of the earlier shorts, and this high level of use of color is maintained throughout the picture.

Like ‘King Neptune’ it’s an operetta cartoon, with the elves and Santa singing their lines in rhyme. Santa Claus himself is a variation on King Neptune, equally stout and equally merry. We watch him reading letters, accompanied by a sour gnome, who shares his voice (Pinto Colvig) with later famous sourpuss Grumpy from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937). Later he test dolls, including a Topsy doll exclaiming ‘Mammy’, referencing to Al Jolson.

This scene is followed by a parade of mechanical toys into Santa’s sack, accompanied by Franz Schubert’s Military March No. 1. This sequence clearly shows how good Disney’s animation had become: the difference between living creatures and mechanical toys is unmistakable. This march a.o. features a mechanical Charlie Chaplin toy, and some stereotyped Chinese and Jewish dolls.

The racist dolls notwithstanding the complete cartoon is one of sheer delight, and must have been mind-blowing to the audiences of the time, unfamiliar with either color or this level of animation in other cartoons of the era. One can rightly say, that only in color the Silly Symphony series rightly found its purpose of pushing the limits of animation forward.

‘Santa’s Workshop’ itself was proof of the astonishing growth the studio had made in its four year existence. One of the reasons was that since 1931 Disney had sent his animators to evening classes at the Chouinard Art School. But on 15 november 1932 Chouinard art teacher Don Graham was appointed as the studio’s formal teacher, starting evening classes at the Disney studio itself.

From now on the studio could improve itself even faster, with the Silly Symphonies as its main platform for innovation, especially from 1934 onward, when Disney planned to make a feature film. By the mid-1930’s the art school cost the studio no less than $100.000 a year, but Disney now could improve the quality of his films at an amazing speed, leaving all competitors far behind.

‘Santa’s Workshop’ was one of the few Silly Symphonies to get a sequel. In 1933 the studio released ‘The Night Before Christmas’, which is  even more colorful and more refined than this cartoon.

Watch ‘ Santa’s Workshop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 33
To the previous Silly Symphony: Babes in the Woods
To the next Silly Symphony: Birds in the Spring

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’

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