Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Walt Disney's Alice Comedies

Hello again fellow animation fans. I feel it is fairly safe to assume that many of you who would read an animation blog are also Disney fans. If you are a Disney fan, I feel it is more than worth your time to know about Walt Disney's work before Mickey Mouse or even Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. That is why today we are going to look at Walt's first series with reoccurring characters, The Alice Comedies. So enjoy as we look at three of these great films.

This series was a purposeful and not too subtle reversal of what Max and Dave Fleisher were doing with their Out of the Inkwell series. That series involved the animated Ko-Ko the Clown escaping into the real live action world. In the Alice Comedies a live action little girl named Alice would enter an animated cartoon world. Our first film today is the first film of the series 1923's Alice's Wonderland. Before this Walt Disney was making a series without reoccurring characters called Laugh-O-Grams. These were fairy tale parodies set in the modern day. They were made at the short lived Laugh-O-Gram studios. When Alice's Wonderland was being made this studio was having finical. Before the film was ever released to theaters the studio went bankrupt. Walt did find a distributor in Margret Winkler though. Winkler at this time was also distributing the silent era's two most popular animated series, the aforementioned Out of the Inkwell series as well as the Felix the Cat cartoons. Because of this Walt moved from Kanas City to LA to make his cartoons. This was the last of Walt's cartoons to be made in Kanas City. The live action little girl is played by a very charismatic four year named Virginia Davis. The animation is provided by Hugh Harmon, Rudolph Ising, Ub Iwerks and Carmen Maxwell. The short was directed by Walt Disney himself.

Our second film might be my favorite of the series, 1924's Alice's Wild West Show. Despite this being of the series' best outings it does not feature as much animation as the first film did. This is instead a live action short subject with some animated inserts. There is however a reason for this however. After moving to LA, Walt left behind the animators he had worked with earlier. This left Walt to do much of the animation himself. Walt while a talented animator had little confidence in his animation. Walt was also hardly as fast at this as were the animators he worked with earlier making the animation part to take longer to produce. Because of this at this time Alice comedies relied more and more on live action. This would soon change when Walt would get Ub Iwerks to move west with him. Ub was one of the greatest and fastest animators of all time and because of this when he came west animation would play a much more prominent part in the series. This film in many ways feels like one of the silent Our Gang shorts. This was very common for an Alice comedy of this period, as Alice was given a group of friends who resembled the classic comedy team and went on similar adventures. This is an excellent film full of fun and energy. So enjoy.

Our last film for Today is 1925's Alice Solves the Puzzle. One thing you may notice about this short is that Alice is no longer played by Virginia Davis. Virginia Davis had to leave the series and for the rest of the shorts Alice would be played by different little girls. This is the first one not to feature her. Here Alice is played by Margie Gay. Don't worry about Virginia though her film career did not end here, as she would appear in such films as Three on a Match and Weekend in Havana. She would audition for the voice of Snow White in Walt Disney's landmark first feature, though she would not land the part. However she would end up voicing some of the boys in the Pleasure Island scene of Pinocchio. She would also work as a live action reference for the Donald Duck cartoon Mr. Duck Steps Out by doing a Jitterbug dance. This short would also introduce a new cartoon character. This would be Pete who would later become Mickey Mouse's rival. Here he is called Bootleg Pete. So enjoy.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age by Michael Barrier

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