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Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Production Date:
May 1929
Stars: Bosko, Rudolf Ising
Rating:
★★★
Review:

Bosko the Talk-ink Kid © Warner Bros.In 1928 Charles Mintz had hired away virtually Walt Disney’s complete staff and main cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. These animators now came to work for a studio, set up by George and Margaret Winkler to produce more Oswald cartoons. However, ca. one year later Universal, who owned Oswald, broke with the Winklers, gave Oswald to Walter Lantz, and left the former Disney animators out of work. 

Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising now tried to set up a studio of their own, and following the overnight success of ‘Steamboat Willie‘, they knew they had to come up with a character fit for sound. This new star was Bosko, a little negro, who, in his first appearance, had a remarkably low voice, provided by animator Max Maxwell. Bosko is introduced in ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, Harman and Ising’s pilot film, made to sell their new studio.

The film starts with Rudolf Ising drawing Bosko and talking with him. Then Bosko performs a little dance, imitates a stereotypical Jew, and plays the piano. He then starts to sing ‘Sonny Boy’, but unfortunately with an awful voice, which prompts Ising to put the cartoon character back into the pen and the ink pot. But Bosko returns from the inkwell to say the very first version of that famous Warner Bros. line: “So long folks!“.

Bosko is not really an endearing character and the film is a little bit slow, yet it’s easy to see why this pilot film sold: the interplay between the animator and the cartoon character, although by 1929 far from new, still looks fresh, and the dialogue adds a new dimension to the trick. This dialogue is way more sophisticated than anything made at Disney at the time. Bosko jabbers along, with a lot of lip-synchronization, which is not always perfect, but mesmerizing, nonetheless. Mickey would go lip-synch only two months later, in ‘The Karnival Kid‘, but even then his facial expressions were to be less natural than Bosko’s in this little short. Thus ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is an absolute milestone in animation history, and a rare film in which Harman and Ising were in fact ahead of their former employer.

The animation on Bosko, on the other hand, looks very, very Disney-like and is almost an exact copy of Ub Iwerks’s animation style. This would become a Harman-Ising trademark: combining sophistication with copycatting. This unfortunately would often prevent their films from being entirely new or original.

Anyhow, ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ raised the interest of Leon Schlesinger, a newcomer in the animation field, who sold the idea of a new cartoon series to Warner Bros., with the argument that the animated shorts could be used to promote Warner Bros. songs. Thus, the famous Warner Bros. animation studio was born!

Watch ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’ and the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 28, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Mickey's Follies © Walt Disney

‘Mickey’s Follies’ is the first Mickey Mouse film with his own name in the title – a clear indication that the mouse himself now was star enough to sell his own cartoons by name only.

In ‘Mickey’s Follies’ Mickey and his friends are giving a concert on the barnyard. First we see five dancing ducks, then a rather tough ‘French Apache dance’ between a rooster and a hen, followed by a pig singing in an ugly operatic voice. This pig is probably the first character in animation history to be funny because of a typical voice.

Highlight, of course, is Mickey himself performing his own theme song, titled ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’. This theme song clearly is the raison d’être of the cartoon, and it is even announced as such. No doubt this song was introduced as part of Mickey’s merchandising – and meant to be sold as sheet music, being the first Disney song to do so. An instrumental version of ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ would indeed become Mickey’s theme song and accompany the intro’s of many Mickey Mouse cartoons to follow. ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ was Disney’s first hit song, and the start of a long tradition, which hasn’t ended yet, as manifested by the huge hit ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen’ (2013). Disney’s attention for merchandizing made him a lot of money, and allowed him to invest more money in his cartoons than his competitors, enabling him to maintain the lead in the animation film world throughout the 1930’s.

Unfortunately, the cartoon’s focus on Mickey’s song makes it rather one-dimensional and dull. It’s an early example of a Disney song-and-dance routine cartoon, one of the first of seemingly countless such cartoons the studio produced between 1929 and 1931.

‘Mickey’s Follies’ is Disney’s second serious attempt at lip synch, after ‘The Karnival Kid’. Mickey sings much more than in the former cartoon, and the all too literal mouth movements give him many awkward facial expressions. Later the animators would learn to tone down the mouth movements, keeping Mickey’s face more consistent without losing the illusion of speech.

‘Mickey’s Follies’ marks the director’s debut of Wilfred Jackson, who had joined the Disney Studio as an assistant animator in April 1928. He was the first to replace Walt himself as a director. Jackson would have a long career at Disney’s studio: he directed his last film, ‘Lady and the Tramp’ in 1955, 26 years later. He retired in October 1961.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 10
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Karnival Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Choo-Choo

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: July 31, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Karnival Kid © Walt Disney‘The Karnival Kid’ forms an important step in the use of sound in an animated cartoon.

We had already watched and heard Minnie singing “lalala” in ‘The Plow Boy’, and in ‘The Barnyard Battle’ a sergeant spoke a few words. But in ‘The Karnival Kid’ there’s suddenly a lot of singing: Pete sings, Mickey sings, and the complete second half of the cartoon is devoted to song.

‘The Karnival Kid’ shows that lip synchronization was far more difficult to master than synchronized sound itself. The animation of the mouth to form syllables was a totally new feat, and initially it was done all too literally. This leads to awkward facial expressions at times, with especially Mickey’s face distorting into a multitude of mouth gestures. This would be even worse in Mickey’s next cartoon, ‘Mickey’s Follies’.

At the same time, a lot of the characters’ action remains typical silent pantomime. For example, when Mickey offers Minnie a hot dog for free, this is acted out in complete silence.

‘The Karnival Kid’ is a wonderfully witty film. Mickey works as a hot dog seller at the fair, where Minnie is a shimmy dancer. The film is split in two parts: in the first Mickey sells living(!) hot dogs and gives one to Minnie. When the unlucky weenie is not very cooperative, Mickey spanks him! These hot dog gags are reused from the Oswald short ‘All Wet‘ (1927), but they still feel fresh, due to the added sound. Now we can hear the hot dogs barking and yelping. And so, after ‘The Karnival Kid’ these hot dog gags were reused a second time by Ub Iwerks in the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Circus’ (1932).

The second part is introduced by a title card ‘later that night’, which melts before the scene starts. Here Mickey offers Minnie a serenade with the help of two cats who sing ‘Sweet Adeline’. The cartoon ends when Mickey is hit by a bed(!) which Pete has thrown at him.

As you may have noticed, ‘The Karnival Kid’ has very little story. It’s enjoyable because of the carnival atmosphere, the large number of gags, and the intoxicating singing.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 9
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Battle

To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Follies

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