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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’

Director: Dave Hand
Release Date:
 May 13, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mail Pilot © Walt DisneyIn his fifth year Mickey Mouse was at the top of his game: practically every Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1933 is a winner (the sole exception arguably being ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘). Moreover, Mickey was still the top star himself, although with ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ he would give screen time to Pluto, the beginning of a trend that would take severe turns in the rest of the 1930s, when Pluto, Donald and Goofy would all but eclipse Mickey’s career.

None of that in 1933! In that year Mickey is still in prime form, with ‘The Mail Pilot’ as a perfect example. It’s astonishing to watch the ease with which its strong story is told, and how many events the animators could squeeze into the seven minute cartoon.

In ‘The Mail Pilot’ Mickey is a mail pilot who has to carry a chest with money across the mountains. On his way he has to deal with a thunderstorm and a blizzard before he sees the sun again. The design of the anthropomorphized sun is the same as in the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ from one month earlier. Unfortunately, at the other end of the mountains he’s confronted by evil mail robber Pete, who has both his legs in this cartoon. Pete shoots Mickey’s wings and propeller to pieces, but Mickey manages to fly nonetheless, capturing the bandit on the way.

‘The Mail Pilot’ belongs to Disney’s operetta period (see also ‘The Mad Doctor‘ and ‘Ye Olden Days‘ from the same year), and all dialogue is sung. Its opening song. ‘The Mail Must Go Through’, forms the main musical theme, which composer Bert Lewis develops in classical fashion in the rest of the score to glorious effects.

‘The Mail Pilot’ has an exciting adventure plot, and it’s not surprising that it spawned a comic book story, which arguably was Mickey’s most exciting adventure thus far. The story (now also labeled ‘The Mail Pilot’ ran from February 27 (months before the release of the cartoon ) until June 10. Floyd Gottfredson greatly expanded on the cartoon’s story, substituting the mail pilot for a much more exciting pirate dirigible with a magnetic web to ensnare the mail planes. Later, some scenes of the cartoon were combined with elements from ‘Shanghaied’ (1934) in Floyd Gottfredson’s classic comic strip ‘Mickey and the Pirates’ (or ‘The Captive Castaways’, 1934).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 56
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man

‘The Mail Pilot’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 13, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Nightmare © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is not a spooky horror cartoon like ‘The Haunted House‘ or ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘. No, it’s more of a bachelor’s nightmare…

The short’s plot harks back all the way to ‘Poor Papa’ (1928), the pilot film for the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series, Mickey’s predecessor. In ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ Mickey dreams he finally marries Minnie, and is soon visited by a stork delivering a baby, and another, and another… Until the storks deliver tons of little kids. When he is awake he’s very happy to be still a bachelor.

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ introduces the little orphan mice, who would replace the little kittens of ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue’ (1932) as a cause of complete destruction. In Mickey’s dream they ruin the house, especially with paint. In order to show Mickey’s horror scenario, the short uses some excellent and complex use of animation cycles featuring lots and lots of little kids.

It’s interesting that the orphan mice first were introduced as Mickey’s children, and only in dream form. In their next cartoon, ‘Giantland‘ (1933), they suddenly materialized into the real world. The orphan mice would stay around until 1936, starring five more cartoons, before returning one final time in ‘Pluto’s Party‘ from 1952.

The little brats also appeared in the Sunday Pages of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic, starting on September 18. In Gottfredson’s comics the mice are reduced to two, but no less disastrous. They are introduced as Mrs. Fieldmouse’s children and are apparently Mickey’s nephews. These two would eventually be christened Morty and Ferdie, and reenter the movie screen once in ‘Mickey’s Steamroller‘ (1934).

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ spawned at least two similar cartoons: first the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘Porky’s Romance’ (1937), and second, the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Diary‘ from 1954.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 44
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 June 8, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Musical Farmer © Walt DisneyIn 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:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 42
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Revue
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia

‘Musical Farmer’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

Director: David Hand
Release Date: October 10, 1936
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Mickey's Elephant © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Elephant’s opens with Mickey receiving a cute young elephant from the Rajah of Ghaboon as a playmate for Pluto. Unfortunately Pluto is not amused, and he thinks ‘Bobo’ is an intruder with intentions to replace him.

‘Mickey’s elephant’ is similar to ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ (1933) and to ‘Mickey’s Kangaroo‘ (1935), in which Pluto is also jealous of an intruder and which also feature his evil side. Like in ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ Pluto’s evil consciousness has materialized into a little devilish persona, who talks with a strong New York accent and who persuades Pluto to fix Bobo using red pepper. Sneezing along Bobo blows is own new house down, but unfortunately Pluto’s too…

‘Mickey’s Elephant’ is a rare example of a Mickey Mouse film inspired by the Mickey Mouse comic strip. Most of the time the influence was reversed. But in this case Bobo the elephant had made his entrance in Floyd Gottfredson’s strip two years earlier. Bobo is a completely innocent character, and Pluto’s little devil notwithstanding, the cartoon is more cute than funny.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 89
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Donald and Pluto
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Worm Turns

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 30, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Steeple Chase' featuring Mickey, his horse and the colonel in a wheelchairMickey is a jockey in a horse race.

Unfortunately, his horse Thunderbolt gets drunk just before the race starts. So he rides a pantomime horse, with his two black stable boys in it, instead. Remarkably, they win, due to a colony of angry and determined wasps, who chase the two poor black boys to the finish and into the distance, while Mickey receives all the glory.

‘The Steeple Chase’ is one of those ‘adventure type stories’ Mickey began having in 1932, and which were undoubtedly inspired by Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip. ‘The Steeple Chase’ is a prime example: it shows clear similarities to ‘Mickey Mouse and his horse Tanglefoot‘, which ran about the same time (from June to October 1933). The colonel from ‘The Steeple Chase’ returns in that comic strip as a grumpy judge.

The early scenes firmly state why Mickey should win the race, e.g. when Minnie tells him “you gotta win, Mickey, or you’ll break the colonel’s heart”. Thus we are more involved in the horse race then in Mickey’s boxing game in ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from earlier that year. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Mickey’s actually cheating in both these cartoons, and misusing the two black stable boys while doing so. This makes it rather difficult to sympathize with Mickey. Moreover, the race is hardly as exciting as the one in ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ (1932), and the cartoon is by all means inferior to Gottfredson’s classic comic strip. The best gags come from the numerous ways in which the wasps attack Mickey and his fake horse.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 60
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Pet Store

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
July 11, 1932
Stars:
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating:
★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Mickey in Arabia' featuring a snake-charmer‘Mickey in Arabia’ can be described as ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ in Arabia.

In this short Mickey and Minnie are tourists visiting some mythical Arabian country on a camel. Here they meet Pete, who has both his legs here, and who apparently is some sort of sheik. Pete captures Minnie, which leads to an exciting finale, which consists of continuous series of gags.

Despite its all too familiar story outline, ‘Mickey in Arabia’ is a major step forward in the Mickey Mouse series. It places Mickey outside his familiar barnyard and performance settings, and sends him on an adventure abroad, similar to the ones Mickey was having in Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip of the same time. Mickey is at his best as the little hero, and he excels here. Gottfredson himself sent Mickey to Arabia, too, but only two years later, at the end of 1934. His comic strip ‘The Sacred Jewel’ borrows a lot of images from this 1932 film.

The adventure notwithstanding, the Disney story men didn’t forget to fill the short with gags, making ‘Mickey in Arabia’ a fast paced and funny short. It also has a great score, which makes excellent use of Albert Ketèlbey’s ‘In a Persian Market’ to create an Arabian atmosphere.

With ‘Mickey in Arabia’, the studio had hit the jackpot storywise, and in the next two years Mickey would play the little hero more often, with delightful results. Indeed, already in the same year, ‘Mickey in Arabia’ would be topped by the even more excellent ‘Touchdown Mickey‘ and ‘The Klondike Kid‘.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 43
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Nightmare

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: October 28, 1931
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Beach Party' featuring Clarabella Cow and Minnie Mouse picknicking on the beachIn ‘The Beach Party’ Mickey, Minnie, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar and Pluto go picnicking on the beach. All goes well, until an evil octopus ruins their picnic, and they all have to battle against him.

‘The Beach Party’ is one of four 1931 Mickey Mouse cartoons to feature no musical routine, at all. Clearly, the Disney studio grew more and more confident in telling stories instead of musical numbers. And rightfully so, because ‘The Beach Party’ shows that Disney studio was more capable than any other studio in telling a good gag-filled story leading to a great finale. These were a welcome replacement to the tiring song-and-dance-routines. And so, by 1932, the musical numbers had almost disappeared from the Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Nonetheless, ‘The Beach Party’ knows no dialogue, and most of the movement is rhythmical, and set to a musical beat. The film’s greatest idea is the battle, because the gang’s means to chase the octopus away are entirely based on their eating habits as shown before. Such subtle and sophisticated story telling was unknown outside the Walt Disney studio at that time.

Notice, too, how Pluto and the crab resolve into speed lines when fighting. This effect was still pretty new at the time. The gag with the crab would be reused six years later to much better effects in ‘Hawaiian Holiday’.’The Beach Party’ is no classic, but secretly this film, too, shows Disney’s ambitions.

‘The Beach Party’ is also the first of only two shorts in which Mickey, Minnie, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar are presented as four close friends, the other one being ‘Camping Out’ from 1934. Their friendship would become common practice in Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics, starting with ‘Mickey Mouse and the Ransom Plot’ (July-November 1931).

In these comic strips Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar would become real personalities, something that never happened in the Mickey Mouse films. Indeed, soon after Mickey changed to color in 1935, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar vanished from the screen, apart from an occasional cameo. Unfortunately, the same thing occurred in the Mickey Mouse strips: Horace’s and Clarabelle’s last major adventure with Mickey was ‘Race for Riches’ (July-September 1935), after which they were replaced by Goofy.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 34
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Broadcast
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Cuts Up

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