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Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Movie Mad © Ub Iwerks‘Movie Mad’ starts with Flip the Frog reading a book titled ‘How to be a Movie Actor’ and imitating Charlie Chaplin.

With his newfound talent he tries to enter a film studio, but he’s thrown out again and again by the guard. Flip even reuses an Oswald trick from ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928), trying to sneak in under a man’s shadow. When he finally’s inside, the cartoon actually fails to deliver its premise. Flip gets caught in a Western, in some 1001 Arabian Nights setting, and in a Russian drama, but that’s pretty much it. The Russian drama scene is undoubtedly inspired by the 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy ‘His New Job’.

Although the cartoon fails to make full use of its Hollywood setting, it contains a great corridor scene. This scene expands on the one in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930), adding more zaniness to it. It is a direct ancestor to the marvelous corridor scene in Tex Avery’s ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Besides this there are some great caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, depicted as dogs. These may very well be the first animated caricatures of Laurel and Hardy ever put on screen. They would return in the very last Flip the Frog cartoon, ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), along with several other Hollywood caricatures.

‘Movie Mad’ may turn out to be rather disappointing, it does feature great music by Carl Stalling, and it lays out the story plan for both the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939) and the Looney Tune ‘You Ought To Be in Pictures‘ (1940).

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 12
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The New Car
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Village Specialist

‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 May 2, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog, Honey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ragtime Romeo © Ub Iwerks‘Ragtime Romeo’ initially seems to revisit a theme that Ub Iwerks had explored before with Walt Disney in the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit film ‘Rival Romeos‘ and the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barn Dance‘ (both 1928), when we watch both Flip and a Pete-like character ride their anthropomorphized cars to Honey’s house.

But when Flip starts to serenade Honey, events take a different turn. Flip serenades her on a guitar, while yodeling and whistling, and on a piano, waking up all the neighbors. Surprisingly, they all respond enthusiastically, urging Flip to play more, except for one, who desperately tries to block out the noise. In the end she calls the police, which arrests the still performing Flip and Honey.

This short contains a piquant scene, in which Flip’s portrait watches Honey undressing. Later, the real Flip watches her naked silhouette through the window curtains. Iwerks’s studio would add more of these risque moments in future shorts, like ‘What a Life‘,  ‘The Office Boy‘ and most notably ‘Room Runners‘ (all from 1932).

Watch ‘Ragtime Romeo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 10
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Laughing Gas
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The New Car

‘Ragtime Romeo’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 January 31, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating:
Review:

The Village Smitty © Ub IwerksIn this cartoon Flip the Frog is a blacksmith in a farm-like setting.

Flip replaces a horseshoe of a horse that belongs to a female cat character. This kitten looks exactly like Honey, who was Oswalds’s girlfriend in the 1927-1928 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, which Disney and Iwerks had made together. When the horse gets stung by a mosquito he runs off with “Honey” helpless in her carriage. Luckily, Flip saves the day, and wins “Honey”’s kiss.

‘The Village Smitty’ is much more interesting on paper than on the animated screen. Its even pace and its scarcity of gags makes the cartoon virtually endless.

Nevertheless, ‘The Village Smitty’ profits from Carl Stalling’s inspired music. Stalling had left Disney together with Iwerks, thinking that without Iwerks the Disney studio would have no future. After a while he joined Iwerks in his new studio. Stalling would stay with Iwerks until the studio collapsed in 1936. He then moved to Warner Bros., where he would become the most famous cartoon composer of all time.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 8
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Soup Song
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Laughing Gas

‘The Village Smitty’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 January 31, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating:
Review:

The Soup Song © Ub IwerksIn ‘The Soup Song’ Flip works at a café, although his real occupation there remains rather obscure.

We watch him as a bandleader (imitating Paul Whiteman), as a purser, a cloakroom boy, a waiter and a cook. He dances with a cat on stage (who looks very much like Oswald’s girlfriend, Honey), while a hungry customer eats his cutlery, a gag clearly stolen from the Max Fleischer cartoon ‘Dizzy Dishes’, released five months earlier. In ‘The Soup Song’ the gag is much less well executed however, and it lacks the zany imagination of the Fleischer cartoon. In no sense ‘The Soup Song’ is a classic, and although the animation is good, the cartoon pales even when compared to ‘Dizzy Dishes’, which isn’t all too remarkable itself.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 7
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Little Orphan Willie
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Village Smitty

‘The Soup Song’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 September 27, 1930
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Village Barber © Ub IwerksAfter two films Flip the Frog was redesigned to be a sort of a young man, living in town. Thus in his fourth cartoon Flip is a barber.

This cartoon contains only two scenes: in the first scene we watch Flip polishing his barber pole, which is then stolen and replaced by Flip out of a cat’s tail. In the second scene Flip cuts a hairy dog customer, accompanied by a nail polisher and a shoe polisher. The four of them sing a song together, with which the cartoon ends.

‘The Village Barber’ is typical for the early Ub Iwerks cartoons, in which everything is sparked with life. Even the chair, the razor, and the furnace are autonomous beings, dancing to the musical beat. The Ub Iwerks shorts lack the metamorphosis and spontaneous generation so typical of contemporary Fleischer Talkartoons (e.g. ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘). Yet, together with the rhythmical Disney-like animation, the abundance of life give the Flip the Frog cartoons a very distinct character. Unfortunately, ‘The Village Barber’ is as low on gags as other Flip the Frog cartoons, and a little boring.

Nevertheless, it’s cartoons like these that ultimately sold the Flip the Frog series to MGM, making it the lion studio’s first venture in cartoon business. Iwerks’s contract with MGM lasted until 1934, when the company exchanged Ub Iwerks for Harman & Ising.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 4
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Flying Fists
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Cuckoo Murder Case

‘The Village Barber’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 December, 1930
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Puddle Pranks © Ub IwerksAlthough released after four other cartoons, ‘Puddle Pranks’ is Flip the Frog’s second cartoon. It was made before Pat Powers had sold the series, and it’s the last in which he’s portrayed as a real frog, small in size and acting in nature. Powers was dissatisfied with this version of Flip, and in the subsequent films he would, like Mickey Mouse, be boy-sized and living in towns.

‘Puddle Pranks’ starts with a very Mickey Mouse-like scene, in which Flip drops by his girlfriend’s house to take her for a ride in a grasshopper-chariot. Soon they’re followed by a pelican, which eats the grasshopper(!), and threatens to eat the two frogs. Flip disposes of the pelican, and the two go for a swim. But suddenly, the pelican is back, and they are only rescued because the pelican is eaten by a large fish.

‘Like ‘Fiddlesticks‘, Flip’s first cartoon, ‘Puddle Pranks’ is well animated and joyful, but low on gags and rather boring. The short is almost evenly paced, which makes it rather tiresome to watch.

Watch ‘Puddle Pranks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 2
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Fiddlesticks
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Flying Fists

‘Puddle Pranks’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 August 16, 1930
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★
Review:

Fiddlesticks © Ub IwerksIn January 1930 Pat Powers, Walt Disney’s distributor, hired away Disney’s star animator, Ub Iwerks, the man who had created Mickey Mouse.

Iwerks was to set up his own studio, with animators quickly hired with help of a newspaper ad. ‘Fiddlesticks’ was his pilot film, launching Iwerks’s own new star, Flip the Frog. According to David Gerstein in ‘Animation Art’ the origin of Flip can be found in the Silly Symphony, ‘Night’, which features a dancing frog. Apparently, Iwerks wanted to make a star out of this frog, but this idea was vetoed by Walt Disney. Now, with his own studio, he could launch Flip the Frog as his sole new star, which the likable if bland amphibian remained until 1933.

Surprisingly enough, ‘Fiddlesticks’, was made in Technicolor, making it the first sound cartoon in color, predating Walt Disney’s first color cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘, by two years. A milestone, one would say, if Walter Lantz had not already made a Technicolor cartoon sequence for the feature ‘The King of Jazz’, released in April. Moreover, in 1930 Technicolor was still a two-color system, only showing greens and reds, and Iwerks fails to do anything with the colors, which are less impressive than the later full color technicolor, anyway. Indeed, the following Flip the Frog cartoons were all in black-and-white.

Not only does ‘Fiddlesticks’ fail as a color cartoon, it is also disappointingly boring. The animation is good, and there’s a lot of rhythmical movement, perfectly synchronized to the soundtrack, but the cartoon is devoid of any story, and low on gags. The main body of the cartoon features a concert performance with Flip dancing and playing the piano, while a rather Mickey Mouse-like mouse plays the violin. The duet reuses some gags from earlier Mickey Mouse cartoons, like ‘The Jazz Fool‘ (1929) and ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930).

Unfortunately, ‘Fiddlesticks’ shows the problems of many Flip the Frog cartoons to follow: the animation is fine and the atmosphere is joyful, but  the cartoons are surprisingly low on gags and the stories never really come off, mainly due to sloppy timing and the absence of a build-up.

Watch ‘Fiddlesticks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 1
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Puddle Pranks

‘Fiddlesticks’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 November 11, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Hell's Bells © Walt DisneyWith its fourth Silly Symphony, ‘Hells Bells’, the Disney studio returned to the macabre that inspired the series’ very first entry.

Set in hell itself, it starts with a fire, bats and a spider swooping into the camera, and images of the three-headed dog Cerberus and some dragons. The main part however is devoted to a large devil, surrounded by numerous smaller ones playing music and dancing to it.

This section involves endless animation cycles. Luckily, there’s one great shot with a devil casting a huge shadow (looking forward to a similar, if much more elaborate scene in ‘The Goddess of Spring’ (1934). There’s also a great gag involving a crooked devil, and a weird one in which we watch devils milking a dragon-cow(?!). Despite its evil scenery, the whole atmosphere is remarkably merry.

‘Hells Bells’ is most noteworthy for its last part, in which the dance routine makes place for a tiny story, in which the large devil demands a smaller one to offer itself as dog food to Cerberus. The little devil refuses and flees, and finally manages to kick the large one into the fires of hell. Over the coming years, stories like these would overtake the song and dance routines of the Silly Symphonies, finally replacing them altogether.

Watch ‘Hell’s Bells’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 4
To the previous Silly Symphony: Springtime
To the next Silly Symphony: The Merry Dwarfs

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: 1942
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Stop That Tank © Walt Disney‘Stop That Tank!’ was the first commission that resulted from the showing of the pilot instruction film ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting‘. In that respect it was Disney’s very first commissioned animated instruction film.

The film was made for the Canadian army to show the working of the Boys MK-1 anti-tank rifle. Unlike ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ it features full animation and humor, as well as live action sequences, to educate the soldiers. Most of the film consists of (very boring) instructions, but the film starts very nicely with the full animation sequence of a squad of rattling tanks led by a caricature of Adolf Hitler, jabbering in mock-German, being shot to hell by Tommies and their anti-tank-rifles. In hell we watch Hitler raging in distress. The devil explains to us that Hitler says that “against your anti-tank rifles he simply can’t win”.

During the instruction film which follows we still have four incidents of full animation: three involving a goofy soldier, who 1) tries to carry an anti-tank rifle on his own, 2) opens the magazine the wrong way and 3) goes to bed with his gun, the film’s last shot. The fourth incident is that of a cow being shot instead of a tank.

No doubt these four comic reliefs were very welcome during the otherwise extremely dry and boring instruction film. However, for contemporary audiences only the opening sequence remains of interest. Its strong and rather vicious propaganda was going to be echoed in a lot of cartoons during the war era.

Interestingly, this film was directed by Ub Iwerks, Disney’s old friend, who, after the end of his own animation studio adventure, had recently rejoined the Disney studio. Iwerks went to work at the technical department, and ‘Stop That Tank’ is the only film he directed during his second stay at Disney’s I know of.

Watch ‘Stop That Tank!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: June 26, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Arctic Antics' featuring sea lionsIn ‘Arctic Antics’ the song-and-dance-routine, typical of the early Silly Symphonies, is carried out by polar bears, sea lions, penguins (whose habitat actually is the Antarctic), and a walrus. The latter is reused from the Mickey Mouse short ‘Wild Waves‘ from 1929.

‘Arctic Antics’ was the last cartoon Ub Iwerks directed before he left the studio to set up one of his own. It features a rather Mickey Mouse-like polar bear, but the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the end, in which the marching penguins disappear behind an iceberg. This gives a novelty effect of depth. This search of effects of depth would eventually lead to the invention of the multiplane camera, seven years later.

Penguins were revisited five years later, in ‘Peculiar Penguins‘ (1935). By then they had lost the out-of-place bellybuttons they got in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Arctic Antics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 11
To the previous Silly Symphony: Frolicking Fish
To the next Silly Symphony: Midnight in a Toy Shop

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: February 15, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Autumn' featuring a freezing skunkAutumn is the third entry in the season series, and it shows a small improvement in story development on the first two entries, Springtime and Summer. This time we don’t see animals just dancing, but collecting food for the winter in rhythmical fashion on Carl Stalling’s music.

We watch squirrels, crows, a skunk, a porcupine and some beavers collecting food (Disney would return to the latter species one year later in ‘The Busy Beavers‘). Then a cold winter wind make the ducks fly south and the other animals seek for shelter. At that point the cartoon suddenly ends.

Besides the tiny story element, notice the numerous falling leaves and elaborate reflections in the water, proof of Disney’s efforts to use ‘superfluous’ animation to give the cartoons more atmosphere and quality.

Watch ‘Autumn’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 7
To the previous Silly Symphony: Summer
To the next Silly Symphony: Cannibal Capers

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: January 4, 1930
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Summer' featuring a spider surrounded by four flies‘Summer’ is the second Silly Symphony in the season mini-series. ‘The merry bugs’ would have been a better title, because the short only focuses on insects (and one spider).

Like the other early Silly Symphonies, there’s only one long sequence of unrelated dance scenes, there’s no story whatsoever, and a lot of the animation is repetitive. This makes ‘Summer’ rather tiresome to watch. It’s undoubtedly the weakest entry of the four seasons, and one of the weakest of all Silly Symphonies. Like ‘Springtime‘ and ‘Autumn‘ it was directed by Ub Iwerks, and somehow, it shows the animator’s lesser ambitions.

Watch ‘Summer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 6
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Merry Dwarfs
To the next Silly Symphony: Autumn

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: October 4, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Springtime' featuring a tree washing itself in the rain‘Springtime’, the third entry in the Silly Symphony series, is also the first of four Silly Symphonies devoted to the seasons.

Animated by Ub Iwerks, Les Clark and Wilfred Jackson, it sets the tone for many Silly Symphonies to come: the atmosphere is fairy-tale-like, there is no story whatsoever, but only one long dance routine. One had to wait two years, until ‘The Ugly Duckling‘, to watch a Silly Symphony escaping this rather limited format.

In this particular short we watch flowers dancing to Edvard Grieg’s ‘Morning’ from ‘Peer Gynt’. The flowers are very similar to the ones in ‘Flowers and Trees‘ from 1932. There are also several dancing animals: bugs, a caterpillar, crows, grasshoppers, frogs, a spider and a heron. The latter three dance to Amilcare Ponchielli’s ‘Dance of the hours’, which would be reused in the much more famous ‘Fantasia’ (1940). Besides the dancing there’s a remarkable portion of devouring: the crow eats the caterpillar, the heron eats the four frogs. The most extraordinary scene is the short rain storm scene, in which we watch a tree bathing in the rain.

However, one other scene particularly deserves our attention: in it we watch a rippled reflection of a dancing frog in the water, an early and interesting attempt of realism. Many of these attempts were soon to follow, and the Silly Symphonies became Disney’s laboratories for experimentation towards better animation.

Watch ‘Springtime’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 3
To the previous Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador
To the next Silly Symphony: Hell’s Bells

Director: Walt Disney
Production Date: 1923
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Walt Disney, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Ub Iwerks, Carman Maxwell
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice's Wonderland' featuring Alice being chased by three lions‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is the pilot film for the Alice cartoons, which Disney made in Kansas city, before trying his luck in Hollywood.

The title card of this pilot reads: “Scenario and direction by Walt Disney. Photography by Ubbe Iwerks and Rudolf Ising. Technical direction by Hugh Harman and Carman Maxwell.”

Alice (the four year old Virginia Davis) drops by the studio and tells Walt Disney she likes to watch him drawing some funnies. Walt Disney lacks his familiar mustache in this sequence, but he is already the kind entertainer of children here, and he takes her to a sheet of paper on where a cat chases a dog out of a dog house. The rest of the studio is also populated by animators (Iwerks, Harman, Ising and Maxwell all appear in this cartoon) and toons alike. The whole crew ‘s watching a boxing match between a dog and a cat, for example.

That night Alice dreams she arrives in cartoonland by train. She’s welcomed by animals and she performs a little dance for them. Unfortunately four lions break out of Cartoonland Zoo and they chase her into a tree, into a cave, into a rabbit hole and finally, to a cliff. She falls off the cliff, and then she awakes.

This cartoon is very entertaining. The idea of a girl in a cartoon (the inverse of the idea of Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell, a series that was around for eight years by then) works wonderfully, and the cartoon is lively. It already contains lots of music and dance, and a very rubbery animated train, besides the normal stiff animation you find in most cartoons of the twenties. The animation of the train looks forward to the flexible animation style that would later make Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney famous.

Luckily, Disney was able to sell the Alice series, starting his Hollywood career. His fledgling studio released 56 Alice Comedies in the next four years, until the series was replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. The series was quite successful, allowing Disney to expand and to improve. In that sense, ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ lay the foundation of the Disney imperium.

Watch ‘Alice’s Wonderland’  yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Frank Moser
Release Date: 1919
Stars: Bud and Susie
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Down the Mississippi' featuring Bud, Susie and their cat on a raft pulled by an alligator‘Down the Mississippi’ is a cartoon created by Frank Moser, who would later co-found Terrytoons with Paul Terry.

Like, Ub Iwerks, Moser is known as a very fast animator. However, unlike Iwerks, Moser wasn’t either innovative or funny. It may be unfair to use such an early cartoon as ‘Down the Mississippi’ as an example, but the ‘Bud and Susie’ series was Moser’s own creation, so it could have been inspired. This is not the case.

In ‘Down the Mississippi’ Bud, Susie and their cat read ‘Huckleberry Finn’. When the sandman puts them to sleep, they dream they’re on the Mississippi. The cat catches an electric eel and Bud a crocodile. They camp at the river bank, where they’re eaten by a bear(?, the animal isn’t very distinguished). The animation is crude and the animal design typical of the twenties. Nothing is particularly outstanding in this cartoon, which isn’t funny either.

Watch ‘Down the Mississippi’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
May 15, 1928
Stars:
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Plane Crazy © Walt DisneyApril 1928. Disney has just returned from an ill-fated journey to New York. There he had learned that he had lost his star character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and all his crew – all hired away by his distributor, Charles Mintz.

All, save one – only his friend and star animator Ub Iwerks has remained loyal*. And while the rest of the studio is working on the last Disney-produced Oswald cartoons, Iwerks is set to work in a separate office, secretly working on a cartoon, not for Mintz, but for Disney.

Iwerks works at an astonishing speed, and he finishes the animation on the cartoon after two weeks. This is a stunning effort by all standards. But what is even more extraordinary is that the finished product, ‘Plane Crazy’, turns out to be such a fine cartoon!

‘Plane Crazy’ is more consistent than most of the preceding Oswalds. It’s fast, it’s simply packed with gags and very funny. Moreover, it’s full of visual tricks. For example, the film opens with the behind of a cow (!), walking away from the camera. Later there are some great perspective scenes with Mickey’s plane flying under a cow’s udders, and almost crashing into two cars.

The film draws inspiration from the same event as the earlier Oswald cartoon ‘The Ocean Hop‘ (1927): Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21 1927, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. A goggle-eyed Mickey Mouse (without shoes or gloves) wants to imitate ‘Lindy’ and builds a plane himself, helped by the other farm animals.

Unfortunately his plane crashes against a tree. Then Mickey transforms a car into a plane, and asks Minnie to fly along. After a breath taking take-off, the plane flies, and up in the air Mickey forces a kiss from Minnie, with disastrous results.

‘Plane Crazy’ is, of course, Mickey’s first cartoon and it hasn’t aged a bit. Yes, it’s a silent cartoon with sound added later. Yes, Mickey looks and behaves rather differently than he would do later, and yes, some of the gags are rather crude. Yet, Plane Crazy is outstanding for its fast-paced gags, its extraordinarily rubbery animation, its awesome use of perspectives and its effective pantomime character animation (its only piece of dialogue is Minnie asking “who, me?”).

The film is a testimony of Ub Iwerks’s extraordinary skill. Not only was he an incredibly fast animator, as this short shows he was also an original artist, with a distinct style and an excellent sense of comic timing.

Unfortunately, in 1928, the distributors didn’t see anything distinctive in Mickey. True, he was not too different from Oswald. Both characters were of more or less the same size (with Mickey being outrageously big for a mouse from the outset). Both characters were kinda likable, had a joyful, adventurous spirit, and were seen courting a love interest. Nevertheless, Disney produced a second cartoon with his new character, ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘.

Watch ‘Plane Crazy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 1
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Gallopin’ Gaucho

* and, to be fair, animator Johnny Cannon, and the recently hired Les Clark (one of the future Nine Old Men – who was not even approached by Mintz), and some ink and paint girls, and the janitor.

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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