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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 1, 1934
Rating: ★★★

Peculiar Penguins © Walt Disney‘Peculiar Penguins’ can be summarized as ‘love story in the Antarctic’: a penguin falls in love with a girl, blows it, but saves the day by rescuing her from a terrible shark.

Being one of the weaker entries in the Silly Symphonies, ‘Peculiar Penguins’ nevertheless contains some fine animation, especially in the under water chase, which is literally packed with special effects. Like in ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘, the setting is introduced by a sugary song, accompanying a complex opening shot, with lots of penguins moving and seagulls flying in it.

Ten years later Disney would return to the Antarctic to tell about a particularly peculiar penguin called Pablo in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Peculiar Penguins’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 47
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Flying Mouse
To the next Silly Symphony: The Goddess of Spring

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: December 5, 1931
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★½

Mickey's Orphans © Walt DisneyIt’s Christmas and a poor lady drops by Mickey and Minnie’s house to leave a box at their doorstep.

This box contains an endless quantity of little kittens, which are taking over the house within seconds. Soon, the house is near complete destruction. This is partly Mickey’s own fault, because dressed up as Santa he gives the little brats toys like hammers, saws, drills, axes, and even guns and canons.

‘Mickey’s Orphans’ is a real gag cartoon from the outset and the first of several Mickey Mouse shorts in which many brats cause havoc. No musical routine is involved, and as soon as the box of kittens is opened, the gags roll in like they never did before. The kittens even manage to give the ever cheerful Mickey and Minnie a dismayed look, albeit only at the end of the cartoon. The little kittens would cause havoc again in ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ (1932) before being replaced by the little mice in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ later that year. Maybe the idea of giant mice dealing with little kittens was a little too awkward for the makers…

‘Mickey’s Orphans’ is the first of no less than four Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoons, the others being ‘Mickey’s Good Deed‘ (1932), ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree’ (1952) and ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983). It was nominated for the very first Academy Award for animated short film, but it understandably lost to the first technicolor short ‘Flowers and Trees‘ (1932), although Walt Disney did get a special Academy Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 36
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Cuts Up
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Duck Hunt

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: January 2, 1931
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★½

Mickey visits Minnie who has organized a surprise party for his birthday.

Mickey gets a piano for a present and he and Minnie perform a duet on two pianos, singing the 1928 hit ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby’, popularized by e.g. Annette Hanshaw and Louis Armstrong. When Mickey and Minnie dance themselves to the 1917 classic Darktown Strutters’ Ball, their music-stools take over their playing (as did Mickey’s stool in ‘Mickey’s Follies’ from 1929). The cartoon ends with Mickey playing variations on the 12th Street Rag on a stubborn marimba.

This cartoon is actually one long joyful play-and-dance-routine, but its beginning is quite remarkable: when Mickey and Minnie bashfully ask each other whether they’re fine, this may probably be the first funny dialogue in Disney history. At least, it’s a wonderful example of character animation, elegantly establishing the relationship between the two.

Mickey would celebrate his birthday again in ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), which only superficially resembles this earlier short.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 25
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pioneer Days
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Traffic Troubles

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1929
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

The Skeleton Dance © Walt Disney‘Skeleton Dance’ is the first of the Silly Symphonies and easily one of the best. It deservedly even ranks among the best cartoons of all time.

It starts spectacularly to begin with: we first watch lightning crack, immediately followed by an extreme close up of huge eyes, which only after the camera zooms out appear to belong to an owl.

The complete film is simple, yet perfect in its timing and its peculiar mix of eerie atmosphere and silly gags. The animation (which includes a remarkable quantity of repetition) is extraordinary fluent and the skeletons are convincing throughout the picture.

More than in any earlier cartoon the animation and music are a perfect match. This cartoon single-handedly puts Walt Disney, animator Ub Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling to the eternal hall of fame. A masterpiece.

‘The Skeleton Dance’ clearly shows Disney’s ambition. From now on Disney would use the Silly Symphony series to propel the art of animation forward, until the series ended 1939, after becoming a little obsolete, because their role had been taken over by the animated features.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 1
To the next Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador

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