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Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 April 5, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Barnyard Concert © Walt DisneyWhile other studios, like Walter Lantz and the Max Fleischer drew inspiration from jazz, and while Warner Bros. could draw from an extensive music catalog, in the early sound days Walt Disney turned to (copyright-free) folk songs and classical music.

After ‘The Opry House‘ (1929) and ‘Just Mickey‘, Mickey’s concert career reaches new heights in ‘The Barnyard concert’. In this highly enjoyable cartoon Mickey conducts a barnyard orchestra in Franz von Suppé’s overture to ‘Dichter und Bauer’. There’s one throwaway gag looking all the way back to his breakthrough cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie‘ (1928),in which Mickey torments some pigs, but most of the cartoon is forward looking.

Indeed ‘The Barnyard Concert’ looks like a blueprint for ‘The Band Concert‘ (1935), in which many of the gags introduced here are improved to perfection. The cartoon features no dialogue, whatsoever, but is full of clever sight gags.

Unfortunately, at this stage the animators still had problems with Mickey’s eyes: in one close-up in particular they are placed awkwardly in Mickey’s face.

Watch ‘The Barnyard Concert’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 17
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Just Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Cactus Kid

‘The Barnyard Concert’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: November 9, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★
Review:

Gypped in Egypt © Van Beuren‘Gypped in Egypt’ is a cartoon set in Egypt. It predates Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies‘, which covers similar grounds, by nine months.

This cartoon was the last of four to feature Waffles and Don. The duo had finally reached distinct personalities in this short: Waffles, the tall cat, is constantly afraid, while Don, the small dog, keeps calm and unimpressed.

In the opening shot we watch the duo traveling through the desert on a camel. When the camel dies, a nightmarish scene starts, featuring a sphinx, pyramids and more camels. This brings our heroes inside an Egyptian tomb, where they encounter dancing skeletons and hieroglyphs. Suddenly, there are skeletons everywhere, and Don plays the piano with one of them. The cartoon ends abruptly with Waffles and Don running from a giant hypnotizing sphinx face.

‘Gypped in Egypt’ features several elements that were reused in Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies’: dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. However, Van Beuren’s cartoon is much cruder and more disjointed than Disney’s latter cartoon. Its greatest feature is it hallucinating character. Unfortunately, it is not retained throughout the picture, and the whole cartoon suffers from all too sloppy storytelling and ditto timing.

Watch ‘Gypped in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gypped in Egypt’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: John Foster
Release Date: August 3, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse, Waffles
Rating:
Review:

Hot Tamale © Van BeurenIn 1930 practically all American cartoon studios looked at Walt Disney to guide them through the fledgling sound era (the notable exception being Max Fleischer, who went entirely his own path).

None went so far as the Van Beuren studio, which already in 1929 introduced a couple of mice with an all too obvious resemblance to Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Van Beuren’s mice were called Milton and Rita, but I’ve no evidence the studio ever advertized their names on the screen. Why should it? All resemblance to the real Mickey and Minnie clearly was only beneficial to the studio’s output.

‘Hot Tamale’ is one of these films featuring these blatant Mickey and Minnie lookalikes. This time Milton is in Mexico, riding a mechanical horse (why?) to serenade his sweetheart. Rita dances to his music.

There’s still some acting that clearly stems from the silent era, but more disturbingly: Milton looks rather horny and seems more driven by lust than by love. At one point Waffles (who is Pete only but in name) arrives, also craving Rita. Of course, it’s our “hero” who wins her in the end.

In ‘Hot Tamale’ Van Beuren’s pseudo-Mickey and Minnie were nothing like the real thing. But it would become worse. In ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘ both the resemblance and the abject behavior of these Mickey & Minnie-lookalikes was even more striking. It was a question of time before Walt Disney came into action…

Watch ‘Hot Tamale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hot Tamale’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: June 22, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A Romeo Robin © Van Beuren‘A Romeo Robin’ is a rather disjointed Silly Symphony-like cartoon, predating Disney’s Silly Symphony ‘Birds of a Feather’ (1931) by half a year.

Like the latter cartoon, its subject is birds. The short opens with birds whistling, and one yodeling. Then we cut to two birds dancing, while metamorphosing to their deaths in a bizarre scene that should be seen to be believed.

After this mind-blowing scene we’re introduced to an evil one-eyed cat who’s after the birds, and later to a bird who catches a worm to offer to his girlfriend. Together they go for a trip in a plane. When the plane falls down, the evil cat accidentally swallows the plane instead of its inhabitants.

‘A Romeo Robin’ looks like a crude parody of a Silly Symphony. It’s remarkable that at one point some story sets in, even if that remains rather pointless. But then again, around this time even the Silly Symphonies themselves made little sense.

Watch ‘A Romeo Robin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Romeo Robin’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 18, 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wise Flies © Max Fleischer

The Fleischer studio had already experimented with synchronized sound in 1924, four years before ‘Steamboat Willie‘, so of all cartoon studios they made the transition to sound the most easily.

The Fleischers’ first sound series were the Screen Songs, the first of which was released in February 5, 1929. Eight months later they were followed by the aptly titled Talkartoons. These Talkartoons didn’t have a single star, but like Disney’s Silly Symphonies explored a wide range of subjects.

These Talkartoons show the Fleischers’ disregard of lip synchronization. This feat was reserved for special scenes, like song sequences. Unlike Disney, the Fleischers recorded all dialogue after animation, inviting the voice actors to ad-lib at will. Thus the Fleischer cartoons were the most talkative of all 1930s shorts. This technique reached its peak when Jack Mercer became Popeye’s voice in 1935, but already peppers their earliest output.

The improvised dialogue suits the studio’s free spirited, and equally improvised animation style perfectly. Add a multitude of zany gags, strikingly jazzy soundtracks and remarkably adult subject material, and it’s clear why the Max Fleischer cartoons from 1930-1933 are among the most delightful of all studio cartoons from the golden age.

‘Wise Flies’, the seventh Talkartoon, is a perfect example. It uses the theme of ‘the spider and the fly’, a theme Walt Disney would also use one year later in ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931). However, the Disney version lacks the sexual overtones present in this Fleischer’s version. In it a six-legged spider spots some flies on a hobo’s head. He tries to catch one, but returns home to his wife empty-handed.

However, later he seduces a female fly, playing ‘Some of These Days’ on his web (a delightfully fast piece of guitar jazz). He then starts singing this tune, popularized by Sophie Tucker in 1926, and a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1929. His song leads to a dance sequence much akin to Disney’s Silly Symphonies from the same era. The film ends when the spider’s wife gets jealous, and interrupts the spider’s courting.

The animation by Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears is crude and simple, but the swinging soundtrack is delightful. The end result is an enjoyable piece of rubberhose animation.

Watch ‘Wise Flies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 7
To the previous Talkartoon: Fire Bugs
To the next Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes

Director: Frank Moser
Release Date: 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Family Album © Audio Productions‘Family Album’ is a commercial by Charles W. Barrell for the Western Electric Company, glorifying the telephone, and its ‘offspring’: other inventions that are derived from telephone technology, including the microphone and the speaker.

The film reuses the character Talkie from Fleischer’s earlier film ‘Finding his voice‘ (1929), but its star is an anthropomorphized telephone, talking about his family. Although quite educational, the film is less interesting than Fleischer’s film. The animation, by veterans Paul Terry and Frank Moser, is rather poor and limited. There’s no rubbery animation whatsoever, and the designs are still in 1920s style.

‘Family Album’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 2: Animated Education’

Director: Cy Young
Release Date: 1930
Rating:
Review:

A Desert Dilemma © Audio Productions‘A Desert Dilemma’ is a short commercial for a car insurance, made by Cy Young (misspelled as Sy Young in the opening titles).

The cartoon is still rooted in the 1920s: its animation is from the silent era, and the designs are old-fashioned. The story is rather incomprehensible, and one wonders whether this commercial has ever been a success. However, it has a lively jazzy score to enjoy.

Nothing in this film indicates a rare talent, but a year later Cy Young would make a very early color short called ‘Mendelssohn’s Spring Serenade’, which is miles ahead from this short. Soon after he was hired by Walt Disney, and became a star effects animator at the Disney studio, providing stunning special effects for the studio’s first five features. Young left Disney in 1941, after the strike, and worked for the US Air Force. He ended his own life in 1964.

‘A Desert Dilemma’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 2: Animated Education’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 14, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Kitty
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Spooks © Walter Lantz‘Spooks’ is a nice early Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

It takes place in a theater where Oswald performs. It features a mysterious phantom who helps Oswald’s girlfriend Kitty to become a great singer by putting a record player in her dress. This leads to an absurd performance. The phantom fancies Kitty, but she prefers Oswald, who has to rescue her from the phantom’s clutches. This part of the film has horror overtones, commonplace in the early 1930s. The film ends with a rather lame gag.

‘Spooks’ features some very Mickey Mouse-like mice. Its animation, by Bill Nolan, Clyde Geronimi and Pinto Colvig is fair, and the story enjoyable, even if it’s rather inconsistent.

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

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hell's Heels © Walter LantzIn the spring of 1929 Universal announced that it had set up an animation studio to make sound cartoons of its own. Head of the studio was Walter Lantz. This was the beginning of the Walter Lantz studio, which lasted well into the 1970s, outliving all other contemporary cartoon studios.

With this contract Walter Lantz inherited Oswald the rabbit, a character originally conceived by Walt Disney in 1927, but whose copyright was owned by Universal. Universal demanded no less than 26 Oswald cartoons each year, and the results were consequently of variable quality.

‘Hell’s Heels’, Lantz’s 23th Oswald cartoon, is one of the better ones. It opens with Oswald, Peg Leg Pete and an anonymous grey dog being a gang of bandits wandering and singing through the desert. The three decide to rob a bank and Pete and the Dog send Oswald inside with dynamite. Oswald blows up the bank, killing Pete and the dog(!). Later, Oswald befriends the Sheriff’s little boy, which leads to some song-and-dance scenes, which surprisingly features a number of skeletons.

It’s strange to watch Oswald and Pete being buddies in this film, and the story is rather inconsistent, but the cartoon is fast and funny, and full of gags. Its lively jazzy score by James Dietrich is highly enjoyable, and the animation by Bill Nolan and Clyde Geronimi is joyful and of a fair quality. ‘Hell’s Heels’ shows that in 1930 other animation studios still could match the Walt Disney studio.

Watch ‘Hell’s Heels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: May 25, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Noah Knew His Ark © Van BeurenThis short starts with a scene in which we watch Noah, who is dressed like a sailor, dancing to music a chimp plays on an elephant’s toes.

When Noah’s corns warn him rain is coming, all animals flee into his ark, including a dinosaur. Only the skunks are placed in a separate little boat (a gag more or less repeated in Disney’s ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ from 1933). On the ship itself it’s suddenly dry and the animals start a very, very Silly Symphony-like dance routine, with dancing storks, monkeys, elephants, hippos, etc. Then they all sing ‘It ain’t gonna rain no mo”. But when the skunks enter the ark, all animals abandon ship. Iris out.

Like ‘The Haunted Ship‘, ‘Noah Knew His Ark’ shows a huge Disney influence. The cartoon is a Silly Symphony but in a name. In this stage Disney’s own cartoons were not really sophisticated themselves, and the Van Beuren Studio at times reaches the same level of animation. However, they bring little of their own, and ‘Noah Knew His Ark’ can hardly be called a classic.

Watch ‘Noah Knew His Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Noah Knew His Ark’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 April 27, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Haunted Ship © Van Beuren StudioWhen the Van Beuren studio lost their main character, Farmer Al Falfa to Paul Terry, they had to come up with new stars. Their first attempt was the animal duo Waffles and Don, a tall cat and a small dog who are the precursors of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry.

In their first film we watch them flying a plane before lightning strikes them down deep into the ocean. Here they meet an opera-singing walrus (probably inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Wild Waves‘ (1929), which also features one). Then they enter the shipwreck ‘Davy Jones’, which is full of monsters swooping into the camera, and a skeleton. The skeleton orders Waffles and Don to play the piano and xylophone, which starts the song-and-dance-routine-part of this cartoon.

Most interesting are four drunken tortoises singing ‘Sweet Adeline’ (probably inspired by ‘The Karnival Kid‘ (1929) in which two cats sing exactly the same song). The dance routine ends when Davy Jones himself appears and chases Waffles and Don away. However, the last shot is for the singing turtles.

‘The Haunted Ship’ clearly shows Walt Disney’s influence on other studios. It’s obvious that The Van Beuren studio tried its best to copy Walt Disney’s formulas and standards. Indeed, the cartoon is a great improvement on ‘The Iron Man‘ from three months earlier. There’s song and there’s dance, and music and animation now are closely intertwined. The Van Beuren studio would never reach Walt Disney’s sophistication, but in these early years they were at least able to come somewhere near.

Waffles and Don’s career, however, proved to be short-lived. They only starred in three other 1930 cartoons: ‘Jungle Jazz‘, ‘Frozen Frolics‘ and ‘Gypped in Egypt‘.

Watch ‘The Haunted Ship’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘The Haunted Ship’ is available on the DVDs ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: John Foster
Release Date:
 January 4, 1930
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Iron Man © Van Beuren‘The Iron Man’ was one of the last of Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables to feature Farmer Al Falfa, before Paul Terry claimed this character to be his own.

It takes some time for we watch the title’s iron man itself. First we watch a cat with a hurdy-gurdy, then two fighting roosters with ridiculously large feet, and then some remarkable animation of a large tree falling down. This part is essentially silent, with music seemingly added.

Then Farmer Al Falfa receives a package with the iron man in it. Together they perform a bizarre slow dance, to psychedelic effects. It’s clear the Van Beuren studio was still struggling with rhythmical movement, for in this sequence both Al Falfa and the robot seem to float in air. There’s no weight or gravity involved, at all.

Then, when Farmer Al Falfa kicks the robot, it grows millions of miles tall, towering over the earth, before it explodes. This is a mindblowing piece of animated weirdness. However, the pieces fall together to form the robot again, which chases our hero into the distance. Iris out.

‘The Iron Man’ is in no sense a classic film, but it shows the difficulties of the sound age for the silent era studios. The second part also shows some embryonic weirdness that would become staple for the Van Beuren studio films of the early 1930s. Finally, ‘The Iron Man’ is one of the very first cartoons to feature a human-like robot. Other studios would follow years later, like Walter Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man’ (1932), Max Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932) and Walt Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933).

Watch ‘The Iron Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Iron Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 26, 1930
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Mysterious Mose' featuring Betty Boop naked in bed

Bimbo is the uncanny phantom-like Mysterious Mose, who visits a frightened Betty Boop at night.

The cartoon has a jazzy score, using the St. James Infirmary Blues. Like ‘Barnacle Bill‘, it is wildly surrealistic, with all kinds of animals appearing out of nowhere and disappearing into nothingness again, and during the title song there’s metamorphosis all over the place.

‘Mysterious Mose’ is the third cartoon featuring Betty Boop, and the first with her in the starring role. She’s still unnamed here, but her development as as sex object is pushed further, when her night shirt flies off twice, leaving her naked in bed. She’s also animated much better than in her earlier two films, ‘Dizzy Dishes‘ and ‘Barnacle Bill‘. Her looks and moves are more stable, more feminine, and thus, more sexy.

Watch ‘Mysterious Mose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 14
To the previous Talkartoon: Up to Mars
To the next Talkartoon: The Ace of Spades

‘Mysterious Mose’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 31, 1930
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Barnacle Bill' featuring Barnacle Bill and Betty Boop on a singing couch

‘Barnacle Bill’ is a literal visual illustration of the folk song of the same name, made famous by Hoagy Carmichael’s 1930 recording.

Barnacle Bill (another version of early Bimbo) is visiting Betty Boop, who’s called Nancy Lee in this cartoon and who apparently is the Captain’s love. All neighbors gossip about it, and when the captain arrives, he chases Barnacle Bill into the sea, where the latter dances with some remarkably humanized mermaids.

‘Barnacle Bill’ is the second cartoon featuring Betty Boop, and it introduces the strong sexual overtones, associated with the character in her early years. One example is Betty’s dress that rolls itself up, exposing her legs. There’s also a couch that itself replaces several chairs when Betty invites Barnacle Bill inside.

‘Barnacle Bill’ uses musical dialogue almost exclusively. It contains some odd perspectives and flexible animation, but most important of all, it is wildly surrealistic, creating a completely original world of utter weirdness. For example, when Barnacle Bill threatens to bust in the door, the door shrinks and hides under the welcome mat. Later, we watch Barnacle Bill swim through the air, and dive into the couch. And when he leaves Nancy Lee’s apartment block, he sails one of the stairs. Touches like these make watching the cartoon a mind-blowing experience. I don’t think it’s considered a classic, but to me it should be.

Watch ‘Barnacle Bill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 9
To the previous Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes
To the next Talkartoon: Swing, You Sinners!

‘Barnacle Bill’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 9, 1930
Stars: Betty Boop (unnamed)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Dizzy Dishes' featuring Betty Boop and the waiter

‘Dizzy Dishes’ is a  jazzy cartoon about a waiter in a restaurant who should bring a roast duck to an extremely hungry customer, but who does anything but serving. While the waiter is performing on stage together with the roast duck, the hungry customer eats almost everything in sight.

The cartoon is very typical of Fleischer’s early Talkartoons. The animation is rather crude, and outside the songs there’s no lip synch, but there’s a lot of metamorphosis going on. Apart from that, practically everything can grow hands and feet, creating an urban and surreal world, very different from the merry worlds of nature and farmlands of the rival Walt Disney studio.

‘Dizzy Dishes’ is not too interesting, but it marks the debut of Betty Boop. She’s introduced as an unnamed and rather fat and unappealing dog singer. The animation on her is erratic to say the least, but it already contains some specks of eroticism. She was designed as  a caricature of singer Helen Kane, who was the first to sing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’, which contains the Boop-Boop-a-Doop-phrases with which Betty Boop became famous.

Betty Boop’s creation is attributed to animator Grim Natwick (1890-1990), a veteran animator, who, according to his fellow animators, was the only animator able to handle the feminine figure. Interestingly enough, Grim Natwick later worked for Walt Disney, animating Snow White, the first realistically animated heroine, in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

Betty Boop was in fact the only successful cartoon star conceived by the Fleischer studio after Koko the Clown. Later they had considerable success with Popeye and Superman, but these characters were owned by King Features and DC Comics, respectively.

Betty Boop would become more and more erotic, and she would soon rise to stardom, changing from dog to human in 1931, and getting her own series in 1932, which lasted until 1939. But by then the Fleischer’s years of surrealism and eroticism were long gone.

Watch ‘Dizzy Dishes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 8
To the previous Talkartoon: Wise Flies
To the next Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill

‘Dizzy Dishes’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: October 9, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto (as Rover)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Picnic' featuring Mickey and Minnie picnickingMickey’s driving to Minnie’s house singing his own theme song. They both are going on a picnic. While Mickey and Minnie are singing and dancing across the field to the tune of ‘In the Good Old Summertime’, hundreds of wild animals take their food away. The picnic ends in rain.

‘The Picnic’ is a rather plotless and unremarkable cartoon. It nevertheless contains a nice surreal gag in which a rabbit pulls away a hole. This kind of surrealism was rare at Disney’s at that time, but later, Tex Avery would reuse this gag many times at Warner Brothers and MGM.

‘The Picnic’ would have been forgettable, did it not mark the debut of Pluto. He is called Rover in this cartoon, and appears to be Minnie’s dog rather than Mickey’s, but he’s Pluto alright. At this point there’s no reason to believe that Disney intended to make the dog a regular character. Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics of January 1931 cover similar grounds, but feature a very large dog called “Tiny”.

Nevertheless, in April 1931 Pluto would return in ‘The Moose Hunt‘. This time to stay*. In fact Pluto would become a more and more important character in the Mickey Mouse cartoons, at times stealing most of the screen time from Mickey, who would become more and more a ‘straight man’. Eventually, Pluto would be given his own series, in 1937.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 23
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Gorilla Mystery
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pioneer Days

* Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics followed three months later, introducing Pluto on July the 8th.

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 11, 1930
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Shindig' featuring Mickey and Minnie playingThere’s a party at the barn. Mickey and Minnie make some music and Mickey dances with Clarabelle Cow, with a dachshund and with a fat pig, but not with Minnie, who plays the piano.

The short contains no story, but is one of sheer joy. Mickey and Minnie perform folk tunes like ‘Turkey in the Straw’, ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ (in which Mickey repeatedly grabs Minnie’s knickers), and ‘Old Folks at Home’, performed by Mickey on a mouth organ. The cartoon ends when the pig lands on Mickey.

‘The Shindig’ marks Horace Horsecollar’s first appearance as a completely humanized horse. It also contains the first love scene between him and Clarabelle Cow, whose name is written on the shed in which she lives.

In Clarabelle’s first scene, we watch her read Elinor Glyn’s novel ‘Three Weeks’. When she discovers an audience is watching her, she blushes, and quickly hides the book away. No wonder, ‘Three Weeks’ was a scandalous book, an erotic romance from 1907, apparently still controversial in 1930.

The party idea of ‘The Shindig’ was elaborated on in ‘The Whoopee Party‘ (1932), producing a cartoon full of party delight, compared to which ‘The Shindig’ pales.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 20
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Fire Fighters
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1930
Stars: Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Cactus Kid' featuring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Mickey looking over a cliff‘The Cactus Kid’ can be summarized as ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho in Mexico’. Mickey visits a Mexican canteen where Minnie’s a waitress. They make music together until Pete enters and kidnaps Minnie.

When Mickey pulls her nose, we hear Minnie speaking Spanish. The Mexican atmosphere is further enhanced by the use of music from Emmanuel Chabrier’s España, although the chase scene is accompanied by Jacques Offenbach’s (French) can-can.

Pete’s seen with a peg leg for the first time in this cartoon, although he already had a peg leg in several Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. We also hear him really speak for the first time. Actually, there’s an unprecedented amount of dialogue in this cartoon. Nevertheless, Mickey’s lips still look awkward when he speaks. Fortunately, this problem would soon be solved in the following cartoons.

Horace Horsecollar is recognizable, too, with his characteristic yoke and bowler hat. But he’s still only a partly humanized horse, here, and Mickey rides him. Only in ‘The Shindig‘ from two months later Horace Horsecollar would be fully anthropomorphized.

‘The Cactus Kid’ happened to be the last cartoon Walt Disney directed himself until his unfortunate come-back with ‘The Golden Touch’ five years later. The film was parodied as ‘Galloping Romance’, the cartoon showed in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ from 1932.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 18
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Concert
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Fire Fighters

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: June 26, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Arctic Antics' featuring sea lionsIn ‘Arctic Antics’ the song-and-dance-routine, typical of the early Silly Symphonies, is carried out by polar bears, sea lions, penguins (whose habitat actually is the Antarctic), and a walrus. The latter is reused from the Mickey Mouse short ‘Wild Waves‘ from 1929.

‘Arctic Antics’ was the last cartoon Ub Iwerks directed before he left the studio to set up one of his own. It features a rather Mickey Mouse-like polar bear, but the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the end, in which the marching penguins disappear behind an iceberg. This gives a novelty effect of depth. This search of effects of depth would eventually lead to the invention of the multiplane camera, seven years later.

Penguins were revisited five years later, in ‘Peculiar Penguins‘ (1935). By then they had lost the out-of-place bellybuttons they got in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Arctic Antics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 11
To the previous Silly Symphony: Frolicking Fish
To the next Silly Symphony: Midnight in a Toy Shop

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: May 23, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Frolicking Fish' featuring three fish dancingFrolicking fish indeed. Even oysters, starfish and a lobster join in the dance routines, oh so typical of early Silly Symphonies. Nevertheless, this cartoon ends with some kind of story, when an evil octopus follows a small fish, who gets rid of the villain by dropping an anchor on him.

There’s not much to enjoy in ‘Frolicking Fish’ despite its merry premise. However, like ‘Autumn‘ this cartoon contains early and to many rivaling studios undoubtedly ‘unnecessary’ effect animation, this time loads and loads of bubbles.

It has entered animation history, however, by featuring the first example of  ‘overlapping action’ in animation. Overlapping action acknowledges that different (body) parts move with different speeds. So one part can already start moving, before another comes to an end, and animation cycles can overlap each other in imperfect ways. This opposed to the then normal type of animation, which was based on poses, which led to straightforward animation cycles. This new type of animation was developed by animator Norm Ferguson, who had been hired by Disney in August 1929. It was a milestone at that time, a piece of animation marveled at by Ferguson’s colleagues, including Walt Disney himself. It led to the development of full animation, which would slowly replace the ‘rubber hose animation’ of the early thirties.

Overlapping Action can be seen in the three fish dancing at 2:07. Compare it to the stiff stop-and-go movements of the fish musicians following this scene, and the difference may become clear.

From ‘Frolicking Fish’ on Norm Ferguson would become one of Disney’s greatest and most influential animators of the 1930s, and he was responsible for another breakthrough piece of animation: ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934), the first convincing piece of animation of a character thinking. He was a great influence on future Nine Old Man John Lounsberry, whom he trained as an assistant animator. Unfortunately, Ferguson’s star diminished in the 1940s, and by the 1950s his style had become old-fashioned…

Watch ‘Frolicking Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 10
To the previous Silly Symphony: Night
To the next Silly Symphony: Arctic Antics

‘Frolicking Fish’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

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