Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Complete History and Videos of Walt Disney's Animated Shorts: Part 3 (1928)

Update: This is getting too long, so we're dividing 1928 and 1929.

The History and Videos of Walt Disney's Animated Shorts

Part 3: 1928


1) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 7: Rival Romeos - March 5, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Rival Romeos (February 16, 1928) features Pete and Oswald as rivals for the heart of their "Lady Love". However both Romeos and their automobiles were at the end rejected by their Juliet in favor of an unnamed dog and his motorcycle.


Disney made a semi-sequel to this, in Mickey's Rival, the 1936 short starring Mickey Mouse. That was the first appearance of Mortimer Mouse, which was the name Walt was originally going to give to Mickey Mouse.

2) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 8: Bright Lights - March 19, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

3) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 9: Sagebrush Sadie - April 2, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Sagebrush Sadie (March 14, 1928) features Oswald as a cowboy attempting to save a stagecoach and its female passenger from outlaw Pete.


4) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 10: Ozzie of the Mounted - April 30, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Ozzie of the Mounted (March 29, 1928) casts Pete as an outlaw wanted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Oswald was naturally positioned as the Mountie determined to "get his man". The chase goes on through a series of Canadian locals.


The sign in the short calls him "Peg Leg Pete." Pete is still a bear in Oswald shorts (he was a bear in the Alice Comedies too). Pete doesn't become a cat until the Mickey Mouse shorts.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 10.1: Hungry Hoboes - May 14, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

By the time of their next appearance in Hungry Hoboes (May 14, 1928), Pete and Oswald had been reduced to hoboes seeking rail transport. On the plus side, the two old rivals had apparently achieved friendship.


5) Mickey Mouse 1: Plane Crazy - May 15, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Mickey was apparently trying to fly an airplane to imitate Charles Lindbergh. After building his own airplane, he asks Minnie to join him for its first flight. They take an out-of-control flight with exaggerated situations-not possible-. A non-anthropomorphic cow briefly "rides" the aircraft. Some believe this to be Clarabelle Cow making her first appearance, probably, a claim also supported by the Kingdom Hearts series, though the cow is actually an early predecessor of Clarabelle named Carolyn.

Mickey throws the horseshoe given to him by Minnie and it boomerangs around a tree to hit him and land around his neck. The early Mickey cartoons didn't end well for Mickey. =^)

Mickey as portrayed in Plane Crazy was mischievous, amorous, and has often been described as a rogue. Modern audiences have occasionally commented on this version of Mickey as being somewhat more complex and consequently more interesting than his later self. Disney himself realized that he lost control of Mickey and couldn't have him be mischievous any more. That's when those qaualities started being attributed to Donald Duck, and Donald eclipsed Mickey in popularity.

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon. Gallopin' Goucho was the second animated Mickey cartoon, but Steamboat Willie was released as the second one. The look of Mickey in Plane Crazy and Goucho is different than Steamboat Willie. The look of Mickey in Steamboat Willie is much more similar to how Mickey looks today.

Plane Crazy was the first animated cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse, as well as Minnie Mouse. A soundtrack by Carl W. Stalling was added to the cartoon on December 29, 1928 (one month after the success of Steamboat Willie, Disney's first sound cartoon). Plane Crazy was followed by the production of The Gallopin' Gaucho and Steamboat Willie.

Iwerks was the main animator for this short and reportedly spent six weeks working on it. Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were credited for assisting him; these two had already signed their contracts with Charles Mintz, but he was still in the process of forming his new studio and so for the time being they were still employed by Disney. This short would be the last they animated under this somewhat awkward situation.

Disney and team was working on the Mickey cartoons while filling the rest of their Oswald contract, which leads us to my favorite Oswald cartoon...

6) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 11: Oh What a Knight - May 28, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Oh, What a Knight (March 30, 1928) is somewhat unusual. The action takes place not in the 1920s but in the Middle Ages. Pete is a strict father who keeps his daughter in isolation within their family castle. Oswald is the potential lover of the girl who is trying to release her. Oswald duels with Pete and then uses an anachronistic bowling ball to take out his men. He makes his escape with the girl only to be confronted by the final defense of a hostile lion. The two lovers escape the castle using a parachute and kiss as they make their fall.


7) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 12: The Fox Chase - June 25, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

The horse was the early predecessor of the horse used for Mickey Mouse, which became the character, Horace Horsecollar.

8) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 13: Tall Timber - July 9, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

9) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 14: Sky Scrappers - September 23, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

Sky Scrappers (April 25, 1928) casts Pete as another kind of "villain". Not an outlaw but a harsh superior in a working environment. A figure presumably familiar to many among the intended audience of the short. In this case a construction site where Oswald is a steel worker and Pete his supervising foreman. A working relationship than only deteriorates when both men are interested in a new love interest by the name of Fanny.


10) Mickey Mouse 2: Steamboat Willie - November 18, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

This was the short that rocketed Mickey to stardom and made him more popular than Oswald and the front runner of the time, Felix the Cat. It was the first popular sound animation. It succeeded because it made a great use of music. It was the first Disney cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Disney used Pat Powers' Cinephone system. Steamboat Willie premiered at New York's 79th Street Theatre, and played ahead of the independent film Gang War.

This is Pete's first appearance in a released Mickey Mouse short, but his second appearance in a produced Mickey Mouse short. Pete was also in Gallopin Gaucho, which was finished before Steamboat Willie but released after it.

The title is a parody of the Buster Keaton film "Steamboat Bill Jr." (Jackie Chan sites Keaton and a window stunt in that film as his inspiration.) I often wondered why Mickey Mouse was Willie in this film. I thought they might have changed his name. Nope. It's a movie parody.

Music for Steamboat Willie was put together by Wilfred Jackson, one of Disney's animators, and comprises popular melodies including "Steamboat Bill" and "Turkey in the Straw." Other cartoons with synchronized soundtracks had been exhibited before, notably by Max Fleischer's series Song Car-Tunes made in DeForest Phonofilm starting in May 1924 -- and including My Old Kentucky Home (1926) -- and Paul Terry's Dinner Time (released 1 September 1928).

A full 30 seconds of scenes of what might be considered cruelty to animals have been removed from several versions of Steamboat Willie, including Mickey pulling a cat's tail and then swinging the cat by the tail above his head, picking up a nursing sow and "playing" its babies like an accordion keyboard, and using a goose as bagpipes. Also, when Pete him off the bridge; Mickey blows a big "raspberry" sound at Pete from behind, and Pete wheels around; but Mickey waves his hands behind his rear to give the impression it was flatulence.

Pat Powers convinced Disney to use his Cinephone sound technology for a few sound cartoons such as Steamboat Willie, The Gallopin' Gaucho, and Plane Crazy (all 1928) before Powers and Disney had a falling-out over money — and over Powers hiring away Disney animator Ub Iwerks — in 1930.

Videogames: (1) Steamboat Willie was the basis for, and title of, the first level in, the game Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse (for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega CD and Sony PlayStation (as Mickey's Wild Adventure). (2) A Steamboat Willie-themed world named Timeless River is featured in the Disney/Square Enix video game Kingdom Hearts II, featuring appropriately "period" versions of the familiar characters.

Trivia: (1) Toward the end of Disney's 1996 animated film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Genie comes out of the Giant Turtle disguised as 'Steamboat Willie.' The disguise is all but perfect, except for Genie's pointed shoes, beard, earrings, and lack of rounded ears. (2) In an episode of The Simpsons, the violent cartoon pair Itchy & Scratchy are said to have risen to fame because of their famous 1928 film, Steamboat Itchy. (3) In one Goofy cartoon on Mickey Mouse Works, the entire opening scene, even the title card, is spoofed with Goofy (resembling Dippy Dawg, his earliest form) substituting for Mickey. His steamboat rear-ends another in front of it. This boat has the real Steamboat Willie Mickey on it, who squeaks at Goofy's boat madly, while it inexplicably sinks into the water. (4) In the 1995 cartoon Runaway Brain, Mickey goes through pictures of himself, one of which being from Steamboat Willie, commenting "Aw, that's old..." (5) In the first episode of House of Mouse, Donald Duck attempts to imitate the opening scene of Steamboat Willie, trying to please the crowd. (6) The new logo for Walt Disney Animation Studios features Steamboat Willie. (7) The short can be seen playing in WDW hotels, and also is one of the cartoons played in the Main Street Cinema at Disneyland. (8) An episode of Pokémon has the parody title "Steamboat Willies". (9) In the spectacle Fantasmic! in Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disneyland, the Mark Twain Riverboat is driven by Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie attire.

11) Mickey Mouse 3: The Gallopin' Gaucho - December 30, 1928 - Dir. by Walt Disney

It was re-released later in color:

The Gallopin' Gaucho (1928) was the second film featuring Mickey Mouse to be produced, following Plane Crazy and preceding Steamboat Willie. The Walt Disney Company completed the silent version on 7 August 1928, but failed to distribute it widely. Due to a lack of interest, the film was not given wide release until after Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy had been released, making it the third Mickey Mouse short, with the sound version released on 30 December 1928.

Ub Iwerks was the sole animator for it.

As the title implies, the short was intended as a parody of Douglas Fairbanks's The Gaucho, a film first released on November 21, 1927. Following the original film, the events of the short take place in the Pampas of Argentina with Mickey cast as the gaucho of the title.

In other words, Mickey's first three shorts were all parodies. It would be like Mickey being in a Spider-man or Titanic parody today.

Mickey is introduced riding on a rhea instead of a horse as would be expected (or an ostrich as often reported). In later interviews, Iwerks would comment that Mickey as featured in The Gallopin' Gaucho was intended to be a swashbuckler, an adventurer modeled after Fairbanks himself. Later audiences would comment on all three characters seeming to come out of rough, lower class backgrounds that little resemble their later versions.

However the feature characters of the short were obscure at best. And reportedly Mickey was at first thought to be much too similar to Oswald, resulting in the apparent lack of interest in him. Walt would soon start to contemplate ways to distinguish the Mickey Mouse series from his previous work and that of his rivals. He used sound, music, and built characters.

After Steamboat Willie was a success, sound was then added to both Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho and they were released again. They became popular hits as well. All three are considered significant in establishing Mickey Mouse as a popular character by the end of 1928.



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