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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’

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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 October 15, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Touchdown Mickey © Walt DisneyLike the earlier ‘Barnyard Olympics‘, ‘Touchdown Mickey’ is as fast-paced sports cartoon. It plunges right into action, when we watch Mickey getting a touchdown for his team Mickey’s Manglers, in an attempt to defeat their opponents, the Alley Cats. The Alley Cats all look like Pete sans peg leg, and they prove tough opponents to Mickey’s much more diverse team.

The sheer speed with which the countless gags are delivered is astonishing, especially when compared to contemporary cartoons from other studios, or earlier Mickeys. By 1932 the studio made better use of Mickey the little hero than ever before, and ‘Touchdown Mickey’ excellently plays on Mickey as the underdog beating the odds. This means we can immediately sympathize with him and his feeble team, drawing us into the match ourselves – as we really want him to win.

The short marks Goofy’s third screen appearance and already he is a more recognizable and more defined character than Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow would ever be. In ‘Touchdown Mickey’ he’s a radio reporter, if a rather uninformative one, and in one of the numerous gags he accidentally mistakes the head of a colleague for his microphone. Twelve years later Goofy would be playing football himself, in ‘How to Play Football’ (1944), but by then is character had gone through quite some transformations.

Interestingly, there’s another character with a characteristic laugh in this cartoon, a fat pig in the audience, who wears glasses and holds a cigar. As his design is more complex than that of all other characters, I suspect him to be a caricature, but of whom?

‘Touchdown Mickey’ was released only twelve days after the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘The Goal Rush‘, which covers exactly the same subject to less satisfying results.’Touchdown Mickey’ is great, it’s fun and absolutely among Mickey’s all time best cartoons.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 47
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Whoopee Party
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Wayward Canary

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

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 May 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Revue © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Revue’ is famous for introducing Goofy, whose guffaw we had heard off-stage in the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Barnyard Olympics‘.

In this cartoon he’s an elderly person, bearded and wearing glasses. We don’t hear him speak, only his guffaw can be heard, and together with Pluto he forms the running gag of the cartoon. Although Goofy literally has the last laugh, nothing points to the direction of a star career beyond the laugh itself, and indeed, in ‘Trader Mickey‘ his guffaw was used by a cannibal king, indicating it was not an exclusive trait, yet.

Nevertheless, Goofy would return in ‘The Whoopee Party‘, redesigned, christened Dippy Dawg, and here to stay. In fact, Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character, whose voice predates the screen persona, which is completely built around the stupid laugh, and ditto voice.

Apart from Goofy’s debut, there’s enough to enjoy in ‘Mickey’s Revue’, even though it revisits two themes explored earlier in the Mickey Mouse cartoons: that of Mickey and the gang giving a performance and that of animals causing havoc. Here, the source of havoc are the small kittens from ‘The Barnyard Broadcast‘ and ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (both 1931). It was their last screen performance, for they would soon be replaced by little mice, first introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Revue’ follows the same lines as ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’, but is much better executed, cleverly intertwining the subplots of Goofy’s annoying laugh, Pluto trying to enter the stage, and the kittens interfering with Mickey’s performance. One of the gags involve a kitten caught in the hammers of Minnie’s piano, a gag looking forward to a similar one in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947). Despite it’s great comedy, ‘Mickey’s Revue’ was the last cartoon exploiting the ruin finale, as used in 1931/1932 cartoons like ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘.

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is a typical ensemble cartoon, also starring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and no less than three Clarabelle Cows. By now Horace Horsecollar had caught up with his comic personality, and had grown in personality beyond that of a stereotyped horse. Unfortunately, Horace was not developed further on the movie screen – it was left to Floyd Gottfredson  to explore Horace’s character further in his comic strip.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 41
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer

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

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 7, 1931
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto?
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Blue Rhythm © Walt Disney‘Blue Rhythm’ is a genuine concert cartoon, in the vain of ‘The Opry House‘ (1929), ‘The Jazz Fool‘ (1929), ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) and ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ (1930).

Something has happened however, for now Mickey and the gang are not performing for their own fun or at the barnyard, but they are giving a concert in a large theater. It thus predates similar concert cartoons like ‘The Band Concert (1935), Bugs Bunny’s ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘ (1946), and Tom & Jerry’s ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947), introducing several piano and conductor gags.

This is one of those rare Disney cartoons in which the music performed can be unmistakably identified as jazz (in the earlier ‘The Jazz Fool’ this is not the case, despite the cartoon’s name). In fact, the cartoon is one great rendering of the St. Louis Blues (and not ‘Blue Rhythm’, a composition also popular in 1931, and recorded by Fletcher Henderson and Mills Blue Rhythm Band).

W.C. Handy’s classic song is first performed by Mickey on the piano, borrowing some tricks from Chico Marx. Then it is sung by Minnie, followed by some scatting by the both of them. Then Mickey and Minnie leave the stage, the curtain opens to reveal a big band, to which Mickey returns to conduct. And finally the blues is performed by Mickey on the clarinet, imitating bandleader Ted Lewis, complete with the entertainer’s typical top hat.

Minnie’s blues singing resembles contemporary female vaudeville blues singers (e.g. Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Levey and Victoria Spivey) and the pig trumpeter performs in the growling jungle style of Bubber Miley, who was a trumpeter in Duke Ellington’s band. Mickey shows to be an all round entertainer, performing as a stride pianist, a scat singer, a conductor and a clarinetist. Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, on the other hand, are clearly a percussionist and flutist, respectively, roles they would also have in ‘The Band Concert‘ (1935), the greatest of Mickey’s concert cartoons. Also featured in Mickey’s band is a dog who may or may not be Pluto, and who plays the trombone, disturbing Mickey while doing so.

Blue Rhythm is a great cartoon, from the opening scene, in which Mickey casts a huge shadow on the curtains to the grand finale in which the excited performance makes the stage collapse. This cartoon may have few gags, it is a delightful ode to music, and to jazz in particular.

Watch ‘Blue Rhythm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 31
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Steps Out
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Fishin’ Around

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

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 June 20, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Fire Fighters © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Fire Fighters’ Mickey is a fire chief who rushes to a burning building, losing almost his complete team on the way.

Together with Horace Horsecollar he rather pitifully tries to extinguish the fire. But he saves the day when he rescues Minnie from the flames.

‘The Fire fighters’ is the first Mickey Mouse cartoons since ‘The Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ to tell a straightforward story. The cartoon is simply packed with gags, which lead to an exciting finale, showing Mickey’s heroic character.

Among Mickey’s team mates is a primitive Horace Horsecollar who is only half anthropomorphized. ‘The Fire Fighters’ is also notable for its use of animals as objects (an ostrich as a pole, a cat as a siren), while objects are very much alive, indeed, most notably the ladder, which is shown sleeping in bed.

The cartoon makes clever use of animation cycles, especially in the scenes depicting the burning building. Some of the gags are quite unique, like Mickey milking a fire hydrant and a ladder that climbs itself down, a gag that has to be seen to be believed.

In all, ‘The Fire Fighters’ is one of the best of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons, and certainly Mickey’s best short of 1930.

Mickey would fighting fire again five years later in the equally inspired ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade‘ (1935).

Watch ‘The Fire Fighters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 19
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Cactus Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Shindig

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

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 April 5, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Barnyard Concert © Walt DisneyWhile 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:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 17
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Just Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Cactus Kid

‘The Barnyard Concert’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 October 15, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Horse Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Jazz Fool © Walt Disney‘The Jazz Fool’ opens with Mickey playing the organ on a tilt car, which says ‘Mickey’s Big Road Show’, followed by a crowd of animals.

When settled down, Mickey produces a piano out of nowhere, and performs a mildly jazzy stride tune on it. We also watch Horace Horsecollar without his usual yoke performing some drumming to Mickey’s organ tune.

This is Mickey’s second piano concerto cartoon (after ‘The Opry House‘ from seven months earlier), and thus contains some new gags involving piano playing. Mickey severely mistreats the instrument, even spanking it, so, unsurprisingly, the piano takes revenge in the end. The music can hardly be called jazz, however, even though it contains some nice stride piano. It would take two years before Mickey would turn to real jazz, in ‘Blue Rhythm‘ (1931).

As one may have noticed ‘The Jazz Fool’ is one of those early plotless Mickey Mouse shorts. However, there’s plenty of action, and Mickey’s piano performance is still entertaining today. Nevertheless, Mickey would turn to the violin in his next concert cartoon ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930).

Watch ‘The Jazz Fool’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 12
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Choo-Choo
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Jungle Rhythm

Director: Fred Beebe
Release Date: January 13, 1942
Stars: Clarabella Cow, Donald Duck, Figaro, Geppetto, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, Pluto, The Seven Dwarfs
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

All Together © Walt Disney‘All Together’ is the last and the shortest of the four propaganda films Disney made for the Canadian government.

In the first half we only see some Disney stars parading on patriotic march music in front of the Canadian parliament building in Ottawa. This short scene reuses animation from ‘Pinocchio’ (Pinocchio, Geppetto and Figaro), ‘Good Scouts’ (Donald and his nephews), ‘Bone Trouble’ (Pluto), ‘The Band Concert‘ (Mickey and the gang), ‘Mickey’s Amateurs‘ (Goofy) and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (the seven dwarfs, who are clearly singing and whistling, although their voices are not heard). ‘All Together’ is the only propaganda short to feature Pinocchio stars.

The second half uses powerful imaginary to persuade the public to buy war certificates. Of the new images, the most striking is the one of coins marching with bayonets.

‘All Together’ is image only. It doesn’t feature any kind of story, making it the least interesting of the four Canadian propaganda films.

Watch ‘All Together’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: April 13, 1932
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Barnyard Olympics' featuring Mickey Mouse on a bicycleAs the title implies, there’s a great sports event at the barn.

Mickey is joining a cross country race that involves running, rowing and cycling (which is beautifully animated). His main opponent is a rather unrecognizable Pete, who looks like just a big mean cat without a peg leg.

‘Barnyard Olympics’ was inspired by the upcoming Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932. It’s a brilliant gag cartoon: it’s fast, consistent and exciting, and without doubt one of Mickey’s finest. It immediately starts with an excellent gag when a spectator suddenly discovers he’s being filmed and waves at ‘the camera’.

In a way ‘Barnyard Olympics’ marks Goofy’s debut. He’s not seen at all, but during a boxing match his characteristic laughter, provided by story man Pinto Colvig, can already be heard. In Mickey’s next film, ‘Mickey’s Revue‘, Goofy would appear on the screen himself.

With ‘Barnyard Olympics’ Mickey entered the zenith of his career. His films from 1932-1934 are his best. Almost all portray him as the little, but brave underdog fighting the odds, and importantly, in these films Mickey still is the star himself. After 1934 Mickey became more and more of a straight man, losing screen time to Pluto, Donald and Goofy. Yes, the Mickey Mouse films from the second half of the 1930s are also great, but by then Mickey’s own stardom was in a clear decline. But in ‘Barnyard Olympics’, like the other films from 1932-1934, he’s still in top form as the greatest cartoon star of his era.

Watch ‘Barnyard Olympics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 40
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Dog
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Revue

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

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 30, 1931
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Barnyard Broadcast' featuring Horace Horsecollar playing sawMickey’s got his own radio station at the barn. There, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow perform some music to broadcast.

All goes well, until a cat and her little kittens cause havoc in the studio. Mickey has a hard time chasing them away, and during his efforts all instruments are destroyed.

‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ reuses the cat from ‘Mickey Steps Out‘ from two months earlier, and it introduces the numerous kittens that would cause Mickey lots of trouble in the subsequent films ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ (1932). After that their role would be taken over by the orphan mice, introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

After ‘Mickey Steps Out’, ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ is another attempt in building a finale in a string of gags. The film is not entirely successful in this and only gains momentum when Mickey chases the cat away with a broom. The technique would be perfected in the subsequent films, ‘The Beach Party‘ and ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘.

Watch ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 33
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Fishin’ Around
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Beach Party

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 11, 1930
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Shindig' featuring Mickey and Minnie playingThere’s a party at the barn. Mickey and Minnie make some music and Mickey dances with Clarabelle Cow, with a dachshund and with a fat pig, but not with Minnie, who plays the piano.

The short contains no story, but is one of sheer joy. Mickey and Minnie perform folk tunes like ‘Turkey in the Straw’, ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ (in which Mickey repeatedly grabs Minnie’s knickers), and ‘Old Folks at Home’, performed by Mickey on a mouth organ. The cartoon ends when the pig lands on Mickey.

‘The Shindig’ marks Horace Horsecollar’s first appearance as a completely humanized horse. It also contains the first love scene between him and Clarabelle Cow, whose name is written on the shed in which she lives.

In Clarabelle’s first scene, we watch her read Elinor Glyn’s novel ‘Three Weeks’. When she discovers an audience is watching her, she blushes, and quickly hides the book away. No wonder, ‘Three Weeks’ was a scandalous book, an erotic romance from 1907, apparently still controversial in 1930.

The party idea of ‘The Shindig’ was elaborated on in ‘The Whoopee Party‘ (1932), producing a cartoon full of party delight, compared to which ‘The Shindig’ pales.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 20
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Fire Fighters
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1930
Stars: Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Cactus Kid' featuring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Mickey looking over a cliff‘The Cactus Kid’ can be summarized as ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho in Mexico’. Mickey visits a Mexican canteen where Minnie’s a waitress. They make music together until Pete enters and kidnaps Minnie.

When Mickey pulls her nose, we hear Minnie speaking Spanish. The Mexican atmosphere is further enhanced by the use of music from Emmanuel Chabrier’s España, although the chase scene is accompanied by Jacques Offenbach’s (French) can-can.

Pete’s seen with a peg leg for the first time in this cartoon, although he already had a peg leg in several Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. We also hear him really speak for the first time. Actually, there’s an unprecedented amount of dialogue in this cartoon. Nevertheless, Mickey’s lips still look awkward when he speaks. Fortunately, this problem would soon be solved in the following cartoons.

Horace Horsecollar is recognizable, too, with his characteristic yoke and bowler hat. But he’s still only a partly humanized horse, here, and Mickey rides him. Only in ‘The Shindig‘ from two months later Horace Horsecollar would be fully anthropomorphized.

‘The Cactus Kid’ happened to be the last cartoon Walt Disney directed himself until his unfortunate come-back with ‘The Golden Touch’ five years later. The film was parodied as ‘Galloping Romance’, the cartoon showed in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ from 1932.

Watch ‘The Cactus Kid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 18
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Concert
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Fire Fighters

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 1, 1933
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Mickey's Gala Premiere © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ is without doubt one of the greatest of all Mickey Mouse Cartoons.

The short both celebrates the enormous popularity Mickey enjoyed in the early 1930s, and establishes him as one of the leading actors of that period.

We’re witnessing the premiere of a new Mickey Mouse cartoon at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where Mickey and the gang are welcomed as celebrities (only Goofy is absent, his character was not yet established at that time).

The cartoon that is shown at the premiere is called ‘Galloping Romance’. It is an early and fantastic self-parody. This short only exists within ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ and is a ridiculous variation on ‘The Cactus Kid’ (1930), in which Mickey rides a number of silly animals in his pursuit of Pete, including a marimba. This self-consciously silly cartoon is way more old-fashioned than ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ itself.

Nevertheless, the crowd, which consists solely of well-known performers of the time, laugh their heads off and, after the show, all try to congratulate Mickey. Mickey’s wet dream appears to be being kissed by Swedish actress Greta Garbo, because it is the cartoon’s climax before it’s being revealed that all has been just a dream.

All the caricatures are the work of Joe Grant, whose work was also quoted by the Disney studio in the short special ‘Parade of the Award Nominees‘ (1932). For ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ Disney went directly to Grant, and the film became the story man’s first job for Disney. However, it was only two months after this film that Joe Grant became a full-time employee at the Disney studio. There he would also draw caricatures for ‘Broken Toys’ (1935) and ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936), but his main contribution would be to the story department.

The self-conscious nature of ‘Mickey’s Gala Premiere’ would remain rare at Disney’s, but it would become one of the key features of the Warner Brother Cartoons, who would produce similar cartoons as ‘You Ought to be in Pictures’ (1940) and ‘What’s Cookin’ Doc?’ (1944). Both cartoons are tributary to ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’.

The short also sprouted several other cartoons featuring caricatures of contemporary Hollywood stars, among others ub Iwerks’s ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), Walter Lantz’s ‘The Merry Old Soul‘ (1933) and ‘Toyland Premiere’ (1934), Disney’s own ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) and ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), and the Warner Brothers cartoons ‘The Coo-Coo Nut Groove’ (1936), ‘Porky’s Road Race’ (1937) and ‘Hollywood Steps out’ (1941). Nevertheless, ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ was not the first in his kind, for already ten years earlier Felix the Cat made the trip to Hollywood to meet the stars in ‘Felix in Hollywood’ (1923).

Among the stars featured in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ I managed to identify The Keystone Cops, Marie Dressler, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable, Joe E. Brown, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mae West, Greta Garbo, Bela Lugosi, Frederic March and Boris Karloff.

Also featured is some guy who has a striking resemblance to Prince Charles of Wales and who’s dressed as a king. This is a caricature of Will H. Hays, the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). Hays was Hollywood’s chief censor and the man behind the Hays code, the censorship Hollywood imposed on itself between 1930 and 1968. Interestingly, the censorship only became severe when Hays made place for Joseph Breen in 1934…

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 58
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Whoopee Party © Walt DisneyAfter three  years of musical cartoons, consistent story lines where reintroduced to the Mickey cartoons with a remarkable success in 1932 (good examples are ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ and ‘Touchdown Mickey’). In this era the musical cartoon ‘The Whoopee Party’ with its total lack of story seems to be quite old-fashioned.

The short contains numerous elements that were used many times earlier: a public dancing, Minnie singing behind the piano and alive inanimate objects (although the latter feature was much more common practice in the Fleischer and Iwerks cartoons of that time – yet no other Disney cartoon celebrates the secret dancing life of inanimate objects as much as ‘The Whoopee Party’ does). The short also contains some nice effect animation of confetti and flying feathers. Despite being anything but new, the sheer fun with which everything is executed, makes this cartoon a delight to watch.

‘The Whoopee Party’ marks Goofy’s second appearance after his debut in ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ earlier that year. It’s in this cartoon he gets the looks he would maintain until Art Babbitt redesigned him for ‘On Ice’ (1935). He’s more than just a silly laugh now; he now has a rudimentary character of being some kind of silly person, and we hear him speak for the first time. Clearly, he now is one of the gang, making sandwiches with Horace and Mickey, and showing to be a character here to stay. Yet, he’s still more weird than likable – and when he made his debut as ‘Dippy Dawg’ in Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip in January, 1933, he’s introduced as a pest. In fact, Goofy’s character would remain rather vague until 1935. Only with ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ from that year he would become the likable Goof we know today.

It may be interesting to note that Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character built on a funny voice. His success is proof that, although a unique voice is not necessary (Tom and Jerry for instance could do perfectly without one), it certainly helps to build a character. This must have been an inspiration to later voice-based characters like Donald Duck, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.

Ironically, Goofy himself would eventually lose his voice in the early forties when voice artist Pinto Colvig left Disney for Fleischer.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 46
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Touchdown Mickey

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

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 9, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Plow Boy © Walt DisneyIn this weak cartoon (Mickey’s seventh) Mickey and Minnie are farmers.

The most remarkable thing about this cartoon is that it marks the debut of Horace Horsecollar. One might say, it marks the debut of Clarabelle Cow, as well, but the early Mickey Mouse cartoons contain a little too many non-distinct cows to state that clearly, because this cow is not different from the others.

This cartoon is particularly important in the development of Minnie: she now has lost the bra-like circles on her body and she’s singing for the first time. Notice how the animation of the tongue is completely convincing. Although Minnie’s only singing “lalalala” (something she would do in many cartoons to follow), this is an important step in the animation of speech. This was something I guess Disney was eager to master. Indeed, in the next cartoon, ‘The Karnival Kid‘, there’s suddenly a lot of talking and singing.

‘The Plow Boy’ contains a scene where the background moves the wrong way making the cow walk backwards.

Watch ‘The Plow Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 8
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: 
The Barnyard Battle
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Karnival Kid

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: February 23, 1935
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Donald Duck, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Band Concert © Walt DisneyAlmost three years after ‘Flowers and Trees’ Mickey finally made the step to color, and it’s probably because of this that ‘The Band Concert’ has such a Silly Symphony-like feel to it.

In 1935 the concept of a concert cartoon was already an old one (Mickey’s first was the ‘Barnyard Concert’ from 1930), but it finds the peak of perfection in this one.

Likewise, the use of Gioachino Rossini’s ‘overture Wilhelm Tell’ and ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in cartoons was far from new, but who would have thought that the two tunes would fit together so perfectly? The overture is played inside-out culminating in the storm sequence which brings forth a tornado. That’s how it feels, Mickey is not only conducting the storm music but even the real storm itself!

Notwithstanding the cartoon being a Mickey Mouse showcase, it’s Donald Duck who is stealing the show, like he did in the two previous Mickey Mouse cartoons he appeared in: ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘ and ‘The Dognapper‘. Being the only character in the cartoon born in color, Donald makes the transition from black-and-white to color naturally. Mickey and the other characters, on the other hand, still have a strong black-and-white feeling in their design and are less fitting in the bright world of color.

During Mickey’s concert, Donald produces an unending supply of flutes out of nothing, playing ‘Turkey in the Straw’ right through Rossini’s music (this ability of bringing forth material from out of nowhere was a capability that Donald would soon lose, but it would become a trademark of Bugs Bunny several years later). It’s a bitter irony that it’s this tune, ‘Turkey in the Straw’, which signals Mickey’s demise, because it was the same tune that made Mickey a star in the first place.

Nevertheless, ‘The Band Concert’ is without doubt Mickey’s best concert cartoon, arguably his best cartoon since ‘Steamboat Willie‘ and certainly one of the most perfect animated cartoons ever made.

Watch ‘The Band Concert’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 73
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Man Friday
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Service Station

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 11
, 1934
Stars:
Clara Cluck, Clarabelle Cow, Donald Duck, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, the Orphan Mice
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Orphan's Benefit © Walt DisneyIn ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ Mickey and the gang are giving a theatrical performance for the orphan mice we know from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ (1932) and other cartoons.

We watch Donald Duck reciting ‘Little Boy Blue’, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy as acrobats and Mickey and Clara Cluck giving a recital.

‘Orphan’s Benefit’ marks Donald Duck’s second appearance, after his debut in ‘The Wise Little Hen‘ from two months earlier, and his looks are still a bit awkward: he has black feet (because of his transition from color to black and white), an elongated bill and he is very small compared to the rest of the gang. Nevertheless, ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ marks the real birth of Donald Duck: he’s cast outside the Silly Symphonies along Mickey and his co-stars, and he’s really stealing the show. Moreover, for the first time he’s showing his temper and his typical ‘dance of anger’ (created and animated by Dick Lundy).

Besides Donald Duck this cartoon also introduces Clara Cluck, the opera-singing hen. Her career was way less successful than Donald’s: in total she would star in only seven cartoons, and she retired in 1942. Mickey’s role is reduced to a scarcely visible and embarrassingly unfunny straight man. Therefore Orphan’s Benefit marks as much the start of Donald’s career as the beginning of Mickey’s demise.

‘Orphan’s Benefit’ was the only Disney cartoon to be remade. In 1941 it appeared again, now in color and with new designs (especially of Donald Duck).

Watch ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 68
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Steamroller
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Plays Papa

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