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Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: April 18, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Night' featuring a moth near a candle‘Night’ is a typical ‘mood piece’ Silly Symphony, comparable with the season mini-series (Springtime, Summer, Autumn, and Winter). This time it’s night and we watch owls, moths, fireflies, mosquitoes and frogs moving to music.

As usual in the early Silly Symphonies, there’s practically no plot, but only a dance routine, and a rather dull one, too. Nevertheless, the short manages to evoke more ‘mood’ than the other early entries.

Especially the opening scene looks beautiful with its rippling reflection of the moon in the water, predating similar scenes in ‘Water Babies‘ (1935) and ‘The Old Mill‘ (1937). Indeed, ‘Night’ can be seen as an early forerunner of the latter cartoon, and it is interesting to compare them, and awe at the tremendous strides the Disney studio had made in the mere seven years between the two shorts.

According to David Gerstein in ‘Animation Art’ the dancing frog is the embryonic form of Flip the Frog, Ub Iwerks’s own star after he had left Disney January 1930. Apparently, Iwerks wanted to make a new star out of this frog, but this idea was turned down by Walt Disney. Indeed, this frog gets quite some screen time (the last three minutes of the cartoon), and has a girlfriend, who is a clear forerunner of Flip’s sweetheart in Flip’s second cartoon, ‘Puddle Pranks‘.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 9
To the previous Silly Symphony: Cannibal Capers
To the next Silly Symphony: Frolicking Fish

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: March 15, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Cannibal Capers' featuring a cannibal using skulls as castanets‘Cannibal Capers’ is a typical early dance routine Silly Symphony. This time we watch dancing cannibals, followed by the antics of one poor cannibal chased by a lion.

The caricatures of the ‘primitive’ blacks are backward and quite extreme in this cartoon: the cannibals have such huge lips, they almost look like ducks(!). Nevertheless, the cartoon is less offensive than a later film like ‘Mickey’s Man Friday‘ (1935), because the cannibals at least look sympathetic (despite the skulls that lie everywhere), and are not compared to apes, like in the latter cartoon.

It also fairs better than the Betty Boop cartoon ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Fead You Rascal You‘ (1932), which also features cannibals, but here they’re linked to musicians of Louis Armstrong’s orchestra, making a direct connection between the racist caricatures and real Afro-Americans.

Cannibals were staple characters of cartoons from the thirties, but the caricatures managed to stay well into the fifties, being featured in shorts such as ‘His Mouse Friday‘ (Tom & Jerry, 1951), ‘Spare The Rod’ (Donald Duck, 1954) and ‘Boyhood Daze’ (Merrie Melodies, 1957).

‘Cannibal Capers’ is noteworthy, because it contains the only animation by Floyd Gottfredson that hit the screen: that of the lion running out of the jungle and of a cannibal beating the drum. Around the time this cartoon was released, Gottfredson was asked to take over the Mickey Mouse comic strip (then still written by Walt Disney himself), something he would do until 1975.

Watch ‘Cannibal Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 8
To the previous Silly Symphony: Autumn
To the next Silly Symphony: Night

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: February 15, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Autumn' featuring a freezing skunkAutumn is the third entry in the season series, and it shows a small improvement in story development on the first two entries, Springtime and Summer. This time we don’t see animals just dancing, but collecting food for the winter in rhythmical fashion on Carl Stalling’s music.

We watch squirrels, crows, a skunk, a porcupine and some beavers collecting food (Disney would return to the latter species one year later in ‘The Busy Beavers‘). Then a cold winter wind make the ducks fly south and the other animals seek for shelter. At that point the cartoon suddenly ends.

Besides the tiny story element, notice the numerous falling leaves and elaborate reflections in the water, proof of Disney’s efforts to use ‘superfluous’ animation to give the cartoons more atmosphere and quality.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 7
To the previous Silly Symphony: Summer
To the next Silly Symphony: Cannibal Capers

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: January 4, 1930
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Summer' featuring a spider surrounded by four flies‘Summer’ is the second Silly Symphony in the season mini-series. ‘The merry bugs’ would have been a better title, because the short only focuses on insects (and one spider).

Like the other early Silly Symphonies, there’s only one long sequence of unrelated dance scenes, there’s no story whatsoever, and a lot of the animation is repetitive. This makes ‘Summer’ rather tiresome to watch. It’s undoubtedly the weakest entry of the four seasons, and one of the weakest of all Silly Symphonies. Like ‘Springtime‘ and ‘Autumn‘ it was directed by Ub Iwerks, and somehow, it shows the animator’s lesser ambitions.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 6
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Merry Dwarfs
To the next Silly Symphony: Autumn

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: March 6, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Just Mickey' featuring Mickey playing the violinThis is a very aptly titled short: we only see Mickey, there are no other stars or characters.

Mickey is the sole performer in his fourth concert cartoon (after ‘The Opry House‘, ‘Mickey’s Follies‘ and ‘The Jazz Fool‘, all from 1929). This time he’s playing the violin, presenting his reading of the fifth Hungarian dance by Johannes Brahms, Träumerei by Robert Schumann (which makes him cry) and, as an encore, the finale from ‘Overture William Tell‘ by Gioachino Rossini.

The whole setting is such that we’ve got the feeling we’re part of the audience ourselves, and that the man with the mocking laugh is among us. Later, the Warner Bros. studio would expand upon this idea of cartoon figures and audience interplay.

‘Just Mickey’ contains some good facial expression animation of Mickey, besides some great shadow effects during his rendering of ‘Träumerei‘. Moreover, the hand movements in this short are remarkably convincing. It is an early showcase of Walt Disney’s ambition to improve the art of animation. Being the first Mickey Mouse cartoon after Ub Iwerks’s departure in January 1930, it shows the studio could do very well without him…

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 16
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Wild Waves
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Concert

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 22, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A gruesome gorilla has escaped. Mickey rings Minnie to warn her about it, but she’s not afraid and she plays Mickey a tune* through the telephone, until the gorilla enters and kidnaps her. Of course Mickey rushes to her house to save her.

This cartoon is interesting for the rather extensive dialogue in the beginning of the cartoon. By now the Disney animators had mastered lip-synch, and neither Mickey nor Minnie show any awkward faces anymore while talking.

Even more interesting is the cartoon’s quite elaborately drawn gorilla, which in several scenes is staged originally to show its huge size. The cartoon is a great improvement on Mickey’s earlier horror cartoon, ‘The Haunted House‘ (1929) and cleverly explores the possibilities of suspense by using some spectacular elements of horror: whispers, shadows, darkness and false alarms. It also contains a classic corridor-with-doors-scene, which may very well be the very first in its genre.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 22
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Picnic

* The tune is “All Alone”, a hit song from 1924, which of course still was copyrighted in 1930. The use of a copyrighted tune marks a change in Disney’s musical policy. Apparently by 1930 he could afford it to pay rights. Disney’s use of well-known pop tunes remained sporadical, however. And Disney soon turned to producing hit songs of his own, most notably ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs‘ (1933).

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