If you’re not familiar with Rube Goldberg, he was a fun and interesting guy, who came up with convoluted ways to accomplish simple tasks. Using 27 steps to break an egg, for example. Think of the beginning of Back to the Future, and you’ve got the idea. Why is this relevant?
Well, Mickey’s Man Friday features Mickey and his cannibal friend coming up with an entire Rube Goldberg style fort. It’s a fantastic addition to what could have been a simple short. By having the fort be the source of so many gags, it allows the animators to have a lot of fun even with the ever more watered down Mickey.
I’m getting ahead of myself as usual, though. The story here is that Mickey lands on a beach, and oversees some cannibals getting ready to eat one of their number. His reaction (“Cannibals! Gosh!) is a little more understated than mind would be, but he comes up with a plan and puts together a monster suit from the remains of his boat and scares the cannibals away.
Mickey then befriends the man they were going to eat, and tells the man that he’ll be Mickey’s “Man Friday,” stealing from Robinson Crusoe. To this point, everything is fairly predictable.
Then, Mickey suggests that the two of them build a fort, to defend themselves against the return of the cannibals. From that point forward, the construction and the siege offer rapid fire gags like we have not seen in a while from the Mickey shorts.
The construction goes back to Mickey’s old method of using animals as his tools. He takes old fish bones to saw logs, uses a snake to tie things together and has a pelican hold the tools in its bill. Meanwhile, the cannibal helping him out uses a turtle to drive in nails or pegs by dancing on its back and knocking its head into things. Very funny stuff.
Then, when the cannibals attack, the gags keep coming. One forward attacked gets caught in a trap, and that sets off a horn that alerts Mickey and his friend. Mickey runs to a basket that gets pushed to the control tower, with the help of his friend running on a treadmill. Then there’s more – spears launched by a tree being bend and a drum knocked into them, Mickey pulling a string and pulling a plant up around a cannibal, and then there’s the final gag.
Mickey and his cannibal friend escape on a wire, then slide down onto the beach, where Mickey has built a boat. He has a turbine, with turtles snapping at food trying turning the cranks in the engine, and he and his friend sail away, leaving the island behind.
The crazy inventions are the thing that makes this one so fun for me. Mickey is really not the same person as he was earlier in his career. He’s limited here to mild reactions and interactions, but not the heroic stuff he pulled off earlier in his career. This is an example of how to use this new Mickey effectively.
One thing that strikes me about this cartoon is how energetic and crisp the animation is. Following on from
Tortoise and the Hare, we see the animators trying out some new things with the characters that keeps their actions extra smooth and zippy. Check out the scene where Mickey turn to the audience and says "Gosh! Cannibals!" in slow motion. As he turns, for just a couple of frames, he has multiple eyes and leaves a slight outline of his face behind. Then, as he talks, there are moments where he becomes 'off-model' and his head and mouth are exaggerated in size. At full speed, it's difficult to notice this, but throughout the cartoon Mickey and Friday remain very pliable with lots of squash and stretch. Also everything in their bodies always follows a very smooth and clear line of action as they move. It looks great!
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