Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy 89th Birthday Mickey

Today is the 89th birthday of cartoondom's most famous mouse. No not Speedy Gonzales, I am speaking of curse of Mickey. To celebrate we are going to look at four classic Mickey Mouse shorts.

Up first is probably the most famous Mickey Mouse short ever created, Steamboat Willie. This was not the first Mickey cartoon made but the first one to get a wide release. The first Mickey cartoon made was a silent short called Plane Crazy. However distributors did not want the cartoon (as well as the second Mickey made, The Galloping Gaucho, also silent) and he was turned down flat. With sound film catching on it became clear in the film industry that soon silent film would be a thing of the past. Walt as an artist who was always looking forward decided to make Steamboat Willie as a sound film. Though sound cartoons had been made before hand, none of them were very successful. Walt knew that for the audience to accept sound in an animated cartoon it had to be perfect. Wilfred Jackson one of the studio's animators prepared a bar sheet of music, while Walt prepared his usual exposure sheet. They did this simultaneously and with close work together to make sure the sound would be synchronized just right. Even with this they weren't sure the illusion of sound accompanying moving drawings would be accepted by the audience. Because of this after enough animation was made, the crew had a test run, with Wilfred Jackson on Harmonica and the rest of the crew making sound effects. The result worked and work on the film as a sound picture moved forward. When this film made its premiere at New York's Colony Theater, it was a huge hit and ushered in the era of sound cartoons. So without further ado here is the one and only Steamboat Willie. After the success of this film soundtracks were added to the two previous Mickey cartoons and they got the wide theater release they deserved.

Next up is one of my favorite black and white Mickeys 1929's The Karnival Kid. The reason I love this cartoon so much is that it is a pure cartoon in its purest sense. In later Disney animated films, it was decided that characters' bodies always had to stay intact and that characters couldn't take off parts of their bodies for their own uses as that would break the reality of the films. With all due respect, I disagree with this. It is a cartoon and if I believe the characters then I will also believe their bodies are detectable and retractable. Some of my favorite gags in this short involve how the cats avoid the things being thrown at them and how Mickey takes off the top of his head like tipping a hat to greet Minnie. This film also has the immortal first words of Mickey Mouse, "Hot Dogs". Though his voice sounds quite different here than later films, it is still Walt providing it.

Last up is two perfect cartoons for the occasion, a 1931 cartoon called The Birthday Party and a 1942 cartoon called Mickey's Birthday Party. The reason I am putting both of these cartoons together is that one is a remake of the other. The differences are clear. The latter one has Donald Duck, Goofy and Clara Cluck in it. These characters were not yet created in 1931, so they couldn't be included here. There is also the obvious fact that the later one is also in color. Still these cartoons are extremely similar and both delightful. So sit back and enjoy them.

Now let's close this post by all singing Mickey's favorite song together.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe 50 Greatest Cartoons edited by Jerry Beck
Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age by Michael Barrier.

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