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Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 21, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney‘The Mad Doctor’ is Mickey’s third horror cartoon and easily his best (the other two are ‘The Haunted House’ from 1929 and ‘The Gorilla Mystery’ from 1930).

The plot is simple: it’s night, the weather is foul and Pluto is kidnapped by an evil scientist called Dr. XXX, who takes him into his laboratory, which is reminiscent of that of Frankenstein in James Whales’ film of the same name, 1931. Mickey follows Pluto’s tracks into a creepy castle, entering it in a scene which reuses some footage of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘ from 1931. Inside the castle he has to deal with several skeletons, including a ridiculous hybrid of a skeleton and a spider. Soon, he’s captured, too, and about to be killed by a chainsaw. Fortunately, it turns out to be all just a dream…

Besides the horror, this cartoon also features elaborate designs and loads of special effects. Especially beautiful is its shadowing on the characters. It also has a strong musical element, as the mad scientist sings all his lines. Some of the gags are quite surreal and reminiscent of the Fleischer style, like a lock locking itself or the scientist cutting off Pluto’s shadow. The cartoon also features a gag with many doors in one doorpost. This gag would be reused and improved by Tex Avery in ‘The Northwest Hounded Police’ from 1946.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 52
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 22, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A gruesome gorilla has escaped. Mickey rings Minnie to warn her about it, but she’s not afraid and she plays Mickey a tune* through the telephone, until the gorilla enters and kidnaps her. Of course Mickey rushes to her house to save her.

This cartoon is interesting for the rather extensive dialogue in the beginning of the cartoon. By now the Disney animators had mastered lip-synch, and neither Mickey nor Minnie show any awkward faces anymore while talking.

Even more interesting is the cartoon’s quite elaborately drawn gorilla, which in several scenes is staged originally to show its huge size. The cartoon is a great improvement on Mickey’s earlier horror cartoon, ‘The Haunted House‘ (1929) and cleverly explores the possibilities of suspense by using some spectacular elements of horror: whispers, shadows, darkness and false alarms. It also contains a classic corridor-with-doors-scene, which may very well be the very first in its genre.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 22
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Picnic

* The tune is “All Alone”, a hit song from 1924, which of course still was copyrighted in 1930. The use of a copyrighted tune marks a change in Disney’s musical policy. Apparently by 1930 he could afford it to pay rights. Disney’s use of well-known pop tunes remained sporadical, however. And Disney soon turned to producing hit songs of his own, most notably ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs‘ (1933).

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

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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