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Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 October 1, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mickey's Choo-Choo © Walt DisneyIn ‘Mickey’s Choo-Choo’ Mickey drives an outrageously flexible anthropomorphized locomotive, which is an early ancestor of Casey Junior from ‘Dumbo‘ (1941).

He sings ‘I’m working on the railroad‘ and even plays the spaghetti he’s eating, treating it like a harp. Minnie comes along, playing the violin. At this point the cartoon harks back to Mickey’s success cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie‘ (1928), with Mickey playing music on some ducks and a dog.

After this sequence, Minnie rides Mickey’s train to the tune of Yankee Doodle, but on a very steep hill the wagon gets loose and falls backwards with Minnie on it. This sequence contains some wonderful rollercoaster-like perspective gags, reminiscent of the early Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon ‘Trolley Troubles’ (1927).

‘Mickey’s Choo-Choo’ is remarkably fast and full of action. Moreover, it’s the first Disney cartoon to feature real dialogue. However, there’s hardly any plot and Mickey’s and Minnie’s designs are extraordinarily inconsistent, ranging from very sophisticated (with an extra facial line) to downright poor. The result is unfortunately only an average entry in the Mickey Mouse canon.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 11
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Follies
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Jazz Fool

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Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: March 6, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Just Mickey' featuring Mickey playing the violinThis is a very aptly titled short: we only see Mickey, there are no other stars or characters.

Mickey is the sole performer in his fourth concert cartoon (after ‘The Opry House‘, ‘Mickey’s Follies‘ and ‘The Jazz Fool‘, all from 1929). This time he’s playing the violin, presenting his reading of the fifth Hungarian dance by Johannes Brahms, Träumerei by Robert Schumann (which makes him cry) and, as an encore, the finale from ‘Overture William Tell‘ by Gioachino Rossini.

The whole setting is such that we’ve got the feeling we’re part of the audience ourselves, and that the man with the mocking laugh is among us. Later, the Warner Bros. studio would expand upon this idea of cartoon figures and audience interplay.

‘Just Mickey’ contains some good facial expression animation of Mickey, besides some great shadow effects during his rendering of ‘Träumerei‘. Moreover, the hand movements in this short are remarkably convincing. It is an early showcase of Walt Disney’s ambition to improve the art of animation. Being the first Mickey Mouse cartoon after Ub Iwerks’s departure in January 1930, it shows the studio could do very well without him…

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 16
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Wild Waves
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Concert

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: October 5, 1935
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Music Land © Walt DisneyIn ‘Music Land’ a young violin falls in love with a young saxophone, much to the disapproval of their parents, the queen of ‘The Land of Symphony’ and the king of ‘The Isle of Jazz, respectively, whose realms are separated by the ‘Sea of Discord’.

When the young saxophone is imprisoned, the feud between the two very different nations leads to a war, in which the two young lovers are almost killed… The whole story is told through music, even the characters ‘speak’ with the sounds of the instruments they are. The complete score, by Leigh Harline, is a delight to listen to.

This reading of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ is one of the most inspired of all Silly Symphonies. The very idea of musical instruments ‘speaking’ in their own sound is brilliant. But there is much more. For example, when the saxophone prince is locked up, he’s imprisoned in a metronome and when he writes a letter to his father (a caricature of bandleader Paul Whiteman, ‘the king of jazz’) he does this in staff-notation!

The complete design of the cartoon is delightful. The backgrounds are particularly beautiful, rendering a totally convincing fantasy world, in which the cartoon develops as if it were an age-old story. The concept of a battle between classical music and jazz was a topical one in the 1930s, when jazz was still regarded by many as devilish music and a threat to ‘high culture’. Nevertheless, during the second half of the 1930s jazz gradually became a respected genre, as exemplified by Benny Goodman’s concert in Carnegie Hall in 1938.

Watch ‘Music Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 55
To the previous Silly Symphony: Who Killed Cock Robin?
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Orphan Kittens

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