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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’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 June 25, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review

Plane Dumb © Van Beuren‘Plane Dumb’ opens with Tom & Jerry on a non-stop flight to Africa.

Jerry is worried they’ll not be safe in Africa, so, to be sure, they change themselves into blackface. But immediately afterwards their plane crashes into the sea, as if the blackface took away their ability to fly! At sea Tom & Jerry are bothered by an equally blackfaced octopus, some sharks and a large whale, which throws them onto the African shore. There they encounter some fantasy monsters (recalling the Waffles & Don short ‘Jungle Jazz‘ from 1930), a gospel quartet of black skeletons, and finally. several cannibals, who chase them away. Iris out.

Unlike any other Van Beuren film, ‘Plane Dumb’ is extremely dialogue-rich. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most dialogue-rich cartoon of the early 1930s. As soon as they’re blackfaced, Tom & Jerry start to talk in fake negro speak. Of course, as the duo is heading to Africa, this makes no sense at all – it only adds to the ignorant racism that completely fills this short. Moreover, one soon forgets that these characters had been Tom & Jerry in the first place.

Tom & Jerry’s dialogue is very reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the popular fake black radio stars of the time. The cartoon stars’ trite conversation was supposed to be the sole source of the humor in the cartoon, making ‘Plane Dumb’ the first animated cartoon ever to rely on dialogue. Rarely there was such a strange combination of innovation and backward thinking.

The dependence on dialogue makes the short a failure by all means, as none of it is remotely funny; not only by today’s standards, but also by those of 1932 itself, and the short only got a lukewarm welcome.

Nevertheless, in 1934 Van Beuren produced two cartoons featuring the “real” Amos ‘n’ Andy. Neither of the two were a success. Van Beuren might have known, if he had remembered ‘Plane Dumb’ well…

‘Plane Dumb’ arguably one of the most racist cartoon ever released. It’s so full of severe racial stereotypes, it’s practically unwatchable, today. Its only highlight may be in the animation of the whale, which has some menacing quality.

Watch ‘Plane Dumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 12
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Tuba Tooter
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Redskin Blues

‘Plane Dumb’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 10, 1931
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mickey Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mickey Steps Out’ is the first of a few Mickey Mouse cartoons that are half musical numbers  half story.

This was a plot structure used in many Mickey Mouse cartoons from 1931 to 1933, with ‘The Pet Store‘ being the last example. This half-baked structure was soon replaced by stories filling the complete cartoons.

In ‘Mickey Steps Out’, Mickey visits Minnie, but Pluto, who should have stayed in, is following him, dragging his dog house along to Minnie’s place. First, Mickey and Minnie perform their usual song-and-dance-routine (this time based on ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’), but when Pluto is chasing a cat, their music is interrupted and followed by a fast sequence of gags of Pluto and the cat ruining the house culminating in a blackface gag.

‘Mickey Steps Out’ arguably contains the first well-constructed finale in Disney history. It’s at least the first of a series of cartoons that end in complete destruction. Pluto would again cause havoc in ‘Mickey Cuts Up’ (1931) and ‘The Grocery Boy’ (1932). Later, destruction would be caused by little kittens (a.o. ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘, 1931) and orphan mice (a.o. ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘, 1932). ‘Mickey Steps Out’ reuses footage of ‘The Birthday Party’ of Mickey with a fishbowl on his head.

Almost secretly, the film introduces another novelty: the first attempt at a realistically drawn animal: Minnie’s canary is in no sense cartoony, behaving like a real bird. It’s a major advance when compared to the Silly Symphony ‘Birds of a Feather‘ from six months earlier. The canary only plays a small part in the cartoon, but is the testimony of Disney’s ultimate ambitions, even at this stage. It’s these innovations, better story arcs and a strive towards better, more realistic animation that propelled the Disney cartoons forward, leaving their contemporaries far behind.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 30
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Delivery Boy
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Blue Rhythm

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