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Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date: September 16, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Enter Tom and Jerry playing saxophones. Their music makes a hen laying eggs, a cow producing tons of milk, and two woodpeckers producing a pile of wood. At one point all the lifeless objects of the farm start dancing. In the end the farmer pays the duo for the saxophones, but the moneybag turns out to be filled with mice.
It’s quite shocking to see that in ‘Barnyard Bunk’, a film made well into 1932, still features animation language of the silent era. The short features no dialogue, and the gestures of Tom, Jerry and the farmer are still of the 1920s. The designs of the farmer and the mice do not fare better, and the whole cartoon exudes from archaism. Its only modern feature is the dressed cow, which shows that already by 1932 the Hays code was getting hold of the cartoon industry.
Watch ‘Barnyard Bunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Barnyard Bunk’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: June 8, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
In 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:
‘Musical Farmer’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’
Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: April 5, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
While 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:
‘The Barnyard Concert’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 28, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
‘Mickey’s Follies’ is the first Mickey Mouse film with his own name in the title – a clear indication that the mouse himself now was star enough to sell his own cartoons by name only.
In ‘Mickey’s Follies’ Mickey and his friends are giving a concert on the barnyard. First we see five dancing ducks, then a rather tough ‘French Apache dance’ between a rooster and a hen, followed by a pig singing in an ugly operatic voice. This pig is probably the first character in animation history to be funny because of a typical voice.
Highlight, of course, is Mickey himself performing his own theme song, titled ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’. This theme song clearly is the raison d’être of the cartoon, and it is even announced as such. No doubt this song was introduced as part of Mickey’s merchandising – and meant to be sold as sheet music, being the first Disney song to do so. An instrumental version of ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ would indeed become Mickey’s theme song and accompany the intro’s of many Mickey Mouse cartoons to follow. ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ was Disney’s first hit song, and the start of a long tradition, which hasn’t ended yet, as manifested by the huge hit ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen’ (2013). Disney’s attention for merchandizing made him a lot of money, and allowed him to invest more money in his cartoons than his competitors, enabling him to maintain the lead in the animation film world throughout the 1930’s.
Unfortunately, the cartoon’s focus on Mickey’s song makes it rather one-dimensional and dull. It’s an early example of a Disney song-and-dance routine cartoon, one of the first of seemingly countless such cartoons the studio produced between 1929 and 1931.
‘Mickey’s Follies’ is Disney’s second serious attempt at lip synch, after ‘The Karnival Kid’. Mickey sings much more than in the former cartoon, and the all too literal mouth movements give him many awkward facial expressions. Later the animators would learn to tone down the mouth movements, keeping Mickey’s face more consistent without losing the illusion of speech.
‘Mickey’s Follies’ marks the director’s debut of Wilfred Jackson, who had joined the Disney Studio as an assistant animator in April 1928. He was the first to replace Walt himself as a director. Jackson would have a long career at Disney’s studio: he directed his last film, ‘Lady and the Tramp’ in 1955, 26 years later. He retired in October 1961.
Watch ‘Mickey’s Follies’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: August 10, 1953
Stars: Maw and Paw
This cartoon introduces Maw and Paw, two poor, phlegmatic farmers with hundreds of kids and one pig, who’s introduced as being the most intelligent of the lot. In an almost plotless story the pig wins a sports car. This leads to a lot of gags, without getting any funny. The cartoon even seem to look back all the way to the early 1930s with its barnyard setting and its abundance of repetitive animation.
Maw and Paw were no strong characters, and their series stopped two years later after only four films.
Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: October 10, 1942
Stars: Tom & Jerry
This short contains the very first example of the extreme cartoon violence that would become so typical for the Tom and Jerry series: the scene in which Jerry tries to cut off Tom’s head with a pair of hedge-shears.
The short’s highlight, however, is Jerry’s Josephine Baker-like dance with yellow feathers when he’s trying to disguise himself as a little chick.
‘Fine Feathered Friend’ is the first Tom & Jerry cartoon to start with their familiar opening tune.
Watch ‘Fine Feathered Friend’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack King
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Unfortunately, the cartoon just doesn’t deliver what it seems to offer. Literally stuffed with classical music themes (from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Wagner’s Tannhäuser), it’s mainly filled with animals just doing things.
One can detect two weak story lines: one about a piglet looking for food and the other about a rooster falling in love with a slender white chick. The latter story leads to the most symphony-like part of the cartoon in which all animals join the rooster and the chicken in their duet from Verdi’s La Traviata.
This remains one of the less interesting entries in the Silly Symphonies series, despite its sometimes stunning and convincingly realistic animal designs. It is very likely that these have influenced the animal designs of ‘Animal Farm‘ from 1954, which also features scenes of singing animals. Especially the pigs look very similar.
Watch ‘Farmyard Symphony’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 71
To the previous Silly Symphony: Wynken, Blynken and Nod
To the next Silly Symphony: Merbabies