The basics are that Mickey is riding an elephant through the jungle, on a hunt. He climbs down from the elephant, shoots at a bird, which flies away and leaves him in a confrontation between a bear and a lion. A group of animals nearby starts playing music, using Mickey’s accordion that he left on his elephant, and the lion, bear and Mickey begin dancing. The rest of the short focuses on the musical numbers.
The outlines of a story are there. There is the brewing conflict between Mickey and the lion and bear. The music serves a purpose, in bringing that conflict to an end. But there is still something missing, such as near the end, after Mickey has abused no end of animals as his instruments, he does the same with a lion. The lion is obviously perturbed when Mickey pulls out his tongue and plays it like a bass, or when the mouse pulls out its whiskers. But the short ends before anything happens, leaving a question mark as to how Mickey escaped an angry lion.
It’s also interesting how many motifs from prior Disney efforts are repeated here. The jungle theme is something we have not seen since the Alice shorts, but it was very popular in those films. Alice riding an elephant and hunting in the jungle was a staple of early Alice shorts.
Also repeated here, I think for the first time since
Steamboat Willie, is “Turkey in the Straw” as a musical piece. Mickey plays the song on some animals, similar to the way he did in his debut. It’s interesting to see that, since most people today think of that song as the iconic piece of
Steamboat Willie, but here it’s repeated in a much lesser known context.
I also have to say that Ub Iwerks’ silly dancing numbers are constantly amusing. We get two monkeys in one sequence and two ostriches in another. We also get a lion that pushes its mane down to use as a grass skirt and become a hula dancer. All three are great flowing animation that are fun to watch, even if they’re not necessarily story driven.
I must confess, I am a story guy. I pick apart movies today the same way I am doing to these films, so I probably focus on that a little much. But much of the reason that I am a story person is because of the Disney films. Story is always a strong point of the features, so that’s what I am used to. I think watching the shorts is a great introduction, though, because it really is helping me to see where many of the things I came to love about Disney came from.
Both shorts have a very similar opening scene with Mickey and Oswald riding their elephants. the difference is that Mickey is dancing and playing the accordion while Oswald, safari hat atop his head, is holding his gun and the elephant is riding a bike! This gives us a clue how the two shorts will differ. Mickey's is mainly a jungle-based musical short with no story whereas Oswald is starting out a simple story which is basically an excuse for lots of silly visual gags with animals and hunting.
Oswald doesn't run into trouble with the lions until the climax of the short where he is chased by a pack of them. He escapes on his elephant (better story structure here – returning to what we had seen at the start) who is able to use its ears as wings to fly off a cliff (Dumbo anyone?) over which the lions fall!
I wonder if a slightly different end was planned for
Jungle Rhythm, but was cut (maybe to keep costs down) because it seems rather abrupt how it cuts from Mickey and the lion to a previously used scene of applauding animals. Of course that's just a possibility I have no idea! It would have made a cool ending if the lion reacted furiously to Mickey pulling his whiskers out and completely cornered him. Then, just as it looks like Mickey is going to be mauled to death and eaten, the lion just grabs him, turns him into a musical instrument and gets a few more notes out of Mickey to the delight of the animal audience.