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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’

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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 November 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Klondike Kid © Walt DisneyKlondike. In a beautiful opening scene we cut to “Klondike Bar’, a rowdy bar, where Mickey is a bar pianist, playing the popular ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny’.

The bar scene is pretty complex, with a lot going on. Goofy is there, too, seemingly just to show he’s a star to stay, for he has no involvement in the plot, at all. Outside, Minnie is freezing, and Mickey takes her inside, but then Pierre (a.k.a. Pete) arrives, peg leg and all. Soon he runs off with Minnie after a short gun fighting scene. Mickey, of course, rushes out to follow him, and jumps on a sled pulled by Pluto. In a remote log cabin, a fight ensues…

In essence ‘The Klondike Kid’ is ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ in Alaska. But what an execution of such an old idea! The gags are plenty and funny and build up to a fast paced finale. This short is unique for its time in its clever integration of story and gags: the gags are not bonuses, but really add to the story. Highlight must be the ridiculous fight between Mickey and Peg Leg Pete hindered by spiral springs. Mickey Mouse arguably reached the apex of his solo career with this cartoon.

Because of the strong similarities in setting and storyline ‘The Klondike Kid’ feels like a direct ancestor to Tex Avery’s two settings of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’: ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ (Warner Brothers, 1939) and ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (MGM, 1946).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 49
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Wayward Canary
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Good Deed

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

Director: Unknown
Release Date: April 30, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Ozzie of the Mounted © Walt DisneyOswald is a mounted police officer in charge of catching Peg Leg Pete, who, in spite of his name, has two legs here.

Oswald follows Pete on a mechanical horse, but in the end they’re both chased by a bear. Oswald, however, manages to get both Pete and the bear into prison.

‘Ozzie of the Mounted’ feels rather routine, and is less remarkable than say ‘Rival Romeos‘ or ‘Oh, What a Knight‘. The chase scene fills a large part of the cartoon, but contains few clever gags. Nevertheless, the animation of Oswald swinging around on his mechanical horse’s loose spring is still fascinating to watch. It’s also interesting to point out that Oswald’s mechanical horse looks far more mechanical than his mechanical cow in ‘The Mechanical Cow‘ from seven months earlier. This shows the subtle but steady progress the Walt Disney studio was making in animation, even before it became famous for that.

Watch ‘Ozzie of the Mounted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 18
To the previous surviving Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Bright Lights
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Hungry Hoboes

Director: Unknown
Release Date: March 5, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Honey, Pete
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Rival Romeos © Walt DisneyIn this gag-packed cartoon Oswald and Pete compete over Honey, a female cat character, who was Oswald’s girlfriend in 1928.

Pete and Oswald both ride in their cars to her house in a scene looking forward to the early Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Barn Dance‘ from later that year. Oswald serenades her until a goat eats all his sheet music and even his banjo. Then he turns the animal into a hurdy gurdy, like Mickey would do later that year in ‘Steamboat Willie‘. When Pete arrives, he and Oswald fight over Honey, almost tearing her apart. Honey gives them the cold shoulder and leaves with a third guy into the distance. Then our rivals kick each other in remorse, like Donald Duck and Peter Pig would do six years later in ‘Wise Little Hen‘ (1934).

As you may notice, ‘Rival Romeos’ contains quite a lot of embryonic gags that Walt Disney would reuse later in other cartoons. Because of these prophetical gags ‘Rival Romeos’ is a highlight among Disney’s Oswald cartoons.

Watch ‘Rival Romeos’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 14
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Africa Before Dark
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Bright Lights

Director: Unknown
Release Date: November 14, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Ocean Hop © Walt DisneyOswald joins a plane race from New York to Paris (inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s flight on May 20-21 that year).

Oswald is introduced as the dark horse and enters the race disguised as a pantomime horse. One of his competitors is an early version of Peg Leg Pete. Pete is the obvious villain, gluing Oswald’s plane to the ground with chewing gum. Luckily, Oswald manages to make a new, rather improbable plane out of a dachshund and two balloons.

Meanwhile, Pete misleads all the other competitors by turning an absurdly high direction indicator. Somehow, Oswald isn’t misled and he and Pete compete to be the first. Pete shoots Oswald out of the air, but it’s Oswald who wins the day. What became of the falling dachshund, however, we’ll never know… [UPDATE: Thanks to David Gerstein we do know: see his comment for the cartoon’s lost end gag]

‘The Ocean Hop’ is a clear forerunner of ‘Plane Crazy‘ (1928), Mickey Mouse’s debut cartoon. Both were inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s historical transatlantic flight. Oswald’s cartoon is not as consistent as Mickey’s, however, and features less spectacular scenes. In one way the differences between the two cartoons show that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were constantly improving themselves even at this early stage of their careers.

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

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 6
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: All Wet
To the next surviving Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Empty Socks

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date:
 June 20, 1936
Stars:
 Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pete
Rating:
  ★★★½
Review:

Moving Day © Walt DisneyBecause Mickey, Donald and Goofy can’t pay the rent, evil sheriff Pete will sell their furniture. The boys decide to move before that’s going to happen…

‘Moving Day’ is the this third of the classic trio cartoons featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy. In this entry Mickey is hardly visible. Most of the cartoon is taken by his co-stars in two all too elaborate sequences: one featuring Goofy in a surreal struggle with a piano with a will of its own, and another featuring Donald’s trouble with a plunger and a fishbowl.

Despite the great animation, one gets the feeling that in this cartoon the artists were too much obsessed with character and less with gags, making this cartoon a bit slow and tiresome, when compared to the previous trio outings ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ and ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade‘ from 1935. Luckily, in later trio shorts like ‘Moose Hunters’ or ‘Hawaiian Holiday’, the fast pace was found again.

‘Moving Day’ is the first cartoon to feature Pete in color. It was also the last of only three cartoons in which Art Babbitt animated Goofy. After he had done so much for the character in ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ and ‘On Ice‘, one can say that in ‘Moving Day’ he went a little too far in milking the goof’s scenes. Anyhow, Babbitt went over to feature films, but after these three shorts Goofy’s character was established well enough for others to take over with equally inspired results.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 85
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Rival
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Alpine Climbers

Director: Jack King
Release Date:
December 18, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Bellboy Donald © Walt DisneyDonald is a bellboy at a chic hotel. He’s hindered in doing his job by Pete’s mischievous son (yes, Pete has got a son in this cartoon).

Pete manages to stay calm, but not Donald. In the end, Donald is fired, but he gets his chance to spank the wicked brat.

‘Bellboy Donald’, penned by Duckmen Carl Barks and Jack Hannah, is one of the better Donald Duck cartoon of the early forties. You won’t find any better interplay between Donald and Pete, with the exception maybe of ‘Trombone Trouble’ (1944).

Moreover, the cartoon contains some remarkably flexible animation of  a type rarely seen in a Disney cartoon.

Watch ‘Bellboy Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 37
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sky Trooper
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Der Fuehrer’s Face

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 6, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Sky Trooper © Walt DisneySky Trooper’ is the third of six shorts dealing with Donald in the army.

The cartoon starts where ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ ended: with Donald peeling potatoes. And like in the former cartoon Donald Duck wants to fly.

Sergeant Pete gives him a chance, letting him do some ridiculous test and sending him up to be a paratrooper. Unfortunately, Donald doesn’t want to jump and clings to Sergeant Pete. They both end up falling without a parachute but with a huge bomb in their hands. Surprisingly, they survive the fall, because in the end-shot we can see them both peeling potatoes.

‘Sky Trooper’ is surprisingly similar to the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ from five months earlier. However, the cartoon is an improvement on the former two Donald Duck army cartoons. The next ones would even be better…

Watch ‘Sky Trooper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 36
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Vanishing Private
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 25, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

The Vanishing Private © Walt Disney‘The Vanishing Private’ is the second of the Donald in the army cartoons. Like the first, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ from four months earlier, it features Pete as Donald’s adversary.

In the opening shot we watch Donald singing the theme song from ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ and painting a huge canon in ridiculously bright colors. Sergeant Pete tells him to make the canon hard to see. Donald does so by using invisible paint from an experimental laboratory. He accidentally falls into the bucket of paint himself, making himself invisible and driving Sergeant Pete mad.

‘The Vanishing Private’ suffers because of two reasons:

1) the invisibility makes Donald all too powerful. It’s therefore hard to sympathize with him, and not with poor Pete. This is a problem shared by other invisibility cartoons, like the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947).

2) The other Donald army cartoons are all about the pains and annoyances of normal army life, which is absolutely part of their fun. But the subject of ‘The Vanishing Pirate’ is so unlikely, one can hardly relate to it.

The result is not a funny cartoon, making ‘The Vanishing Private’ arguably the weakest of Donald’s army cartoons.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 35
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Goldmine
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sky Trooper

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 1, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald Gets Drafted © Walt DisneyThe attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, suddenly smacked The United States into war. The war changed the life of many American citizens, including cartoon stars.

Donald Duck was the fourth of these to support the war effort on the big screen, following Porky Pig, Barney Bear and Popeye, who had joined the army and navy, respectively, in July (‘Meet John Doughboy’) and November 1941 (‘The Rookie Bear, ‘The Mighty Navy’). Moreover, Popeye had already engaged the enemy in February in ‘Blunder Below‘. Donald was soon followed by Pluto (May 22), and Woody Woodpecker (June).

In ‘Donald Gets Drafted’, Donald enthusiastically signs up for the army, because he wants to fly, especially after seeing posters of very attractive air hostesses in uniform. His rather naive enthusiasm soon is lowered, when he first has to go through a rather rude medical examination only to end up in the infantry, where he’s bullied by sergeant Pete. Donald doesn’t make a very good soldier, much to Pete’s frustration, and ends up peeling potatoes.

‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is the first of six Donald Duck cartoons devoted to Donald’s career in the army. It introduces Pete as Donald’s sergeant, a role he would fulfill in three other of these war cartoons. The Donald Duck army cartoons are noteworthy for their ambiguous propaganda. Donald is far from a model soldier, and the cartoons makes quite some fun of the army superiors, in the form of Pete. It’s difficult to see them as army advertisements. Moreover, five of the six cartoons are devoted to Donald’s timid life at the training camp. Only in his last war cartoon, ‘Commando Duck’ (1944) would Donald leave American soil to kill some enemies.

With its humor being still quite mild, ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is not the funniest of Donald’s army cartoons. It is noteworthy, however, for revealing that Donald Duck’s second name is Fauntleroy.

Watch ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 32
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Snow Fight
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Garden

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: February 27, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Mad Dog' featuring Mickey protecting Pluto against a dogcatcherWhen Mickey is washing Pluto, Pluto accidentally swallows a piece of soap.

He runs into the street where he’s seen as a mad dog. There he confronts Pete (with peg leg), who is a dog catcher and who wants to shoot Pluto…

‘The Mad dog’ is a fast gag cartoon with a clear story from the beginning to the end. By now, the Disney studio could produce amazingly consistent stories. Moreover, effect animation had fully penetrated the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The washing scene, for example, is full of difficult and extraordinarily lifelike animation of splashing water.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 39
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Grocery Boy
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics

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: 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: David Hand
Release Date: January 7, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete ,Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Building a Building © Walt Disney‘Building a building’ has a grand opening with its close-up of the anthropomorphized excavator.

This fast and gag-rich cartoon can be summarized as ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ at a building site: Mickey is employed as an excavator machinist. When Minnie drops by selling box lunches, Mickey is so struck by love that he ruins the blueprints of foreman Peg Leg Pete three times. Pete is charmed by Minnie, too, and he tries to force her to a kiss. Of course, Mickey comes to the rescue, fleeing with Minnie and leaving Pete behind with the building in complete shambles. Pete just manages to fire Mickey, but Minnie immediately adds him to her business.

‘Building a Building’ reuses several story ideas from the early Oswald cartoon ‘Sky Scrappers‘ (1928). Both feature the hero being an excavator machinist, his love interest bringing box lunches, and Pete trying to abduct the girl. Even the excavator opening shot is a copy of the opening shot of ‘Sky Scrappers’. However, in five years both animation, timing and characterization have much improved. If ‘Sky Scrappers’ was a remarkable achievement for 1928, it was at times still crude. ‘Building a Building’ on the other hand has a refined quality that characterized the Mickey Mouse cartoons of 1933 and beyond.

There’s for example some remarkably flexible animation on Mickey when he rides the elevator. The animators have really put a sense of weight in his body, and exaggerated the effects of the sudden start and stop of the lift on it, with a lovely comic result. The musical score, too, is a delight from beginning to end, becoming particularly silly when Pete’s trousers change into a watering can. Indeed, with ‘Building A Building’ Mickey got his second Academy Award nomination, after ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931)

‘Building a Building’ is the first of a few 1933 Mickey Mouse cartoons that are introduced and partly played out in Song, following the Silly Symphonies ‘King Neptune‘ and ‘Santa’s Workshop‘ from 1932. Other examples from 1933 are ‘The Mad Doctor‘,  ‘Ye Olden Days‘ and ‘The Mail Pilot‘.

Watch ‘Building a Building’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 51
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Good Deed
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Doctor

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 2, 1937
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Worm Turns © Walt DisneyIn the opening shot of ‘The Worm Turns’ we watch Mickey looking like an evil scientist, working on a potion that can give courage and power.

He tries it on a fly caught in a spiderweb, on a mouse (the two different designs of mice in this film, with one being twenty times larger, is quite confusing!) who is the victim of a cat, on the cat, who’s chased by Pluto, and on Pluto, who’s threatened by evil dog catcher Pete.

The animation of the opening sequence is quite stunning, but the whole short fails to get funny. Hanna and Barbera would revisit the same idea in the similar ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse‘ (1947) with much better results.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 90
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Elephant
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Don Donald

Director: David Hand
Release Date: November 17, 1934
Stars: Donald Duck, Fifi, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey and Donald (in his third appearance) are policemen hunting Pete who has ‘dognapped’ Minnie’s dog Fifi. The chase, which includes a lot of gunfight, ends in a sawmill where all three have to cope with a runaway circular saw.

The cartoon is outstanding for its fast pace and high content of gags. Mickey and Donald are staged as a duo, but, like in ‘Orphan’s Benefit’, Donald Duck is given the last shot. ‘The Dognapper’ would remain Mickey’s and Donald’s only genuine duo cartoon, but it set the stage for the famous trio outings of the late thirties in which Mickey, Donald and Goofy would fight the odds together. Goofy, the only missing element, would join Mickey and Donald a few months later, in ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ (1935).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 70
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Plays Papa
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Two-Gun Mickey

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
March 15, 1929
Stars:
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

The Barn Dance © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Barn Dance’, Mickey Mouse’s fourth cartoon, Pete’s rivaling Mickey for the love of Minnie.

The first scene of this cartoon draws its inspiration from the Oswald cartoon ‘Rival Romeos‘, released only eight months earlier. Pete and Mickey both come to Minnie’s house to court her. Pete has the advantage of having a car above Mickey’s chariot, and like Donna Duck would do nine years later in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937), Minnie (wearing a bra, like she did in ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘) falls for it. Luckily, the car falls apart even before they’ve taken a ride, so Mickey and Minnie ride together to a barn dance hall.

Unfortunately, Mickey can’t dance: his shoes grow bigger every step, stepping on Minnie’s leg all the time. So after the dance Minnie’s leg is a long mess. She then ties it in a knot and cuts off the excess! These two gags belong to a surreal type typical of the silent era, which Disney would soon abandon.

After Mickey’s failure as a dancer, Minnie only wants to dance with Pete. Mickey solves the problem with help from a balloon, but Pete wrecks Mickey’s plan, regaining Minnie and leaving Mickey crying on the floor. This is a rather odd ending of a marvelous cartoon, which is still firmly rooted in the silent era with its surreal gags, limited use of sound and absence of dialogue.

‘The Barn Dance’ is far less known than the three Mickey Mouse cartoons preceding it, but with its clear storytelling, funny gags and strong acting it’s still a delightful cartoon to watch.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 4
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Steamboat Willie
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Opry House

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
August 7, 1928
Stars:
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Gallopin' Gaucho © Walt Disney

Although Mickey’s first cartoon, ‘Plane Crazy‘, couldn’t arouse any distributor, Disney made another cartoon with his new character, ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’. It was to be Mickey’s second and last silent cartoon.

If possible, he is even ruder in this short than in ‘Plane Crazy’: according to a poster in the background, he is a sought-after criminal, we watch him smoking and drinking, and dancing a stout tango with Minnie (who’s wearing a bra in this cartoon).

Nevertheless, this cartoon is also the first in which Mickey shows to be a small, but clever and courageous hero. For when Minnie is abducted by Pete (who, in his first appearance in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, has both his legs), Mickey rescues her in a heroic fight. He then earns the kiss he tried to get by force in ‘Plane Crazy’. It was of course this character trait which was greatly expanded upon in later Mickey Mouse cartoons. Mickey’s nemesis, Pete, was in fact a much older character than Mickey – he already figured in some of the Alice cartoons and he was also Oswald’s adversary. His design was initially more dog- or bearlike, but in the Mickey Mouse cartoons it was settled that Pete was some kind of big cat.

Due to the melodrama ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’ contains less gags than ‘Plane Crazy’, but it’s still a wonderful and fast cartoon with ingenious gags like the scene in which Mickey uses his own tail as a tackle. ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’ also set out a storyline that was to be copied a couple of times (e.g. ‘The Cactus Kid‘ (1930), ‘Mickey in Arabia‘ (1932),’ The Klondike Kid‘ (1932)), and self-consciously parodied in ‘Gallopin’ Romance’, the film shown in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ (1933). ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’ itself was a parody of the 1927 Douglas Fairbanks film ‘The Gaucho’.

This cartoon was de facto the first production of Disney’s new fledgling studio (‘Plane Crazy’ was made secretly when Disney was still under Mintz’s contract). Ub Iwerks, who had animated ‘Plane Crazy’ single-handedly, could now be assisted by the young assistant animators Les Clark and the recently hired Wilfred Jackson to work on ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’. Both men would have long lasting careers at the Disney studio.

Unfortunately, ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’ didn’t stir the distributors any more than did ‘Plane Crazy’. Disney had to come with something original, if he would get Mickey on the screen. And with something original he came…

A few final trivial remarks

  1. Mickey has shoes in this cartoon, which he shortly looses while whistling his ostrich in one scene.
  2. Mickey’s eyes change from the goggly to the familiar ones during the same scene.
  3. The bird Mickey’s riding might very well be a Rhea, a relative of the ostrich, that lives on the pampas of Argentina, the place where the cartoon takes place.

Watch ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 2
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Plane Crazy
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Steamboat Willie

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