And just to clarify, a commenter was confused about the fact that the
film starts with the Overture to Zampa, but for the rest of the film features
the William Tell Overture. This is because as the film starts, Mickey's
band has just concluded Zampa. He then changes the card to "William Tell",
the next number in the concert. This is, though, the composer's (Leigh Harline?)
arrangement of William Tell, mixing the various movements in that Overture
together, condensing it for one reel.
I've always felt that Donald Duck seems to work better when his grating
nature is balanced by another character who is a bit more easy going, which
is why he worked so well as a supporting character for Mickey.
In this short, Donald is enjoying the orchestra so much and is so eager
to join in the fun that he pulls out a flute and starts playing along. It's
just unfortunate that he only knows one song... He's not mean-spirited or
abrasive, just incompetent, and quite charming.
In a way, The Band Concert was also the impetus for this website itself.
I was always a big Disney fan, but I tended to concentrate (as most do)
on the feature films. One day I was going through my video collection (most
of which I picked up from a local video store that was going out of business)
and came across one called "Mickey's Crazy Careers." Just to kill time I
put it on. When The Band Concert came on, I was mesmerised, and by the
time it was over I was rolling on the floor. I went to the web to try to
find more information on it and found very little on it, or any other shorts
as well. Thus, the Encyclopedia was born.
Besides the major gags, this short is filled with smaller touches that
highlight the film throughout: the hats that fly off of the band and back
on in perfect time with the music; Mickey's uniform which seems to be two
sizes too big as evidenced by the sleeves that keep slouching over his gloves;
Donald Duck's tail which gives a little twitch right before he begins to
cause mischief (watch for it) and his inexhaustible supply of flutes; and,
of course, Mickey's conducting which holds the band together and forms the
music almost as if by sheer power of will.
The short begins with Mickey and his band on the bandstand, acknowledging
their applause of the audience and preparing for a performance of "The William
Tell Overture." They begin, Mickey coaxing music out of the band using nothing
more than baton movements and facial expressions. Donald Duck as a refreshment
vendor wanders in and decides that he wants to join in with the band, but
in his own way of course. What follows is a wonderful sequence where Donald
continually takes over the band by playing "Turkey in the Straw" while Mickey
vainly tries to regain control. The second that Mickey takes Donald's flute
away, Donald just comes up with another one. (At one point, the trombone
player grabs Donald with his trombone and shakes a pile of flutes out of
A bee buzzes through and various members of the band go through different
ways of getting rid of it. When Mickey uses his baton to try to rid himself
of the bee, the band and the music faithfully play alone with his movements.
The highlight of the sequence come when Horace Horsecollar, the percussionist,
tries to kill the bee; first with a pair of cymbals, and then with a sledgehammer.
Both times the clarinet player gets in the way, to hilarious results.
The following sequence, however, is the topper. Mickey turns the page
of his score to the next section, "The Storm." (You can tell this is going
to be an especially difficult section as extra pieces of paper have been
taped onto the score to accommodate the more extreme notes.) Mickey rolls
up his sleeves, Horace takes off his jacket and they begin. The clarinetist
is first to play; note how he has his legs locked under the chair as if
he's ready to give it everything he's got. Of course, as they begin the
section a real storm comes along: a tornado, which begins to tear apart
the countryside. The audience sees it and runs away; even the benches they
are sitting on run away, but Mickey and his band see nothing but their music
and keep on playing. Seemingly oblivious to what is going on around them,
concentrating only on the music, swept up into the tornado, going through
doors, goosed by fences, blinded by flying underwear, they play on, never
missing a beat. The most wonderful thing is how Mickey's music stand stays
with him all the way.
And then, in a miraculous moment, when the storm and the music is at
its peak, Mickey raises his arms to stop .... and everything freezes. Then
the music and the winds start to wind down as Mickey begins again, as if
he is conducting not just the music but the tornado itself. The storm brings
them back down to earth, depositing them among the branches of a large tree
which has somehow survived the storm, and plopping Mickey down in front
of it, music stand and all. He brings the band to a magnificent coda; a
magical Christmas tree of musicians and music.
Mickey turns to accept the applause of the audience. But is there anyone
left? Yes, one member, Donald, who amid the catcalls of the band, manages
to get the last (musical) word in.
Okay, now that I have that out of the way, I can talk about
The Band Concert, another big milestone in Mickey’s career. It’s his first color short, and most people believe, his finest short in a long career.
Why is this so good? In my opinion, it’s because we have the entire cast of Mickey’s friends used in a great fashion, with their own distinct personalities, and playing off of each other well. It’s a short where you stop worrying about the animation or the colors and focus entirely on the characters.
The short is a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but Donald Duck steals the show. Donald appears shortly after the band begins playing and takes out a flute to start playing “Turkey in the Straw,” in contrast to the band that is playing the William Tell Overture. Despite Mickey breaking his flute, Donald whips out another one, then another and another. His magical appearance of flutes is one of the funniest bits ever in a Disney short.
But there’s so much more than just Donald. The interruption of a bumblebee causes some great action, with Donald launching ice cream at the bee and the ice cream ending up running down Mickey’s back. His shimmy, accompanied by appropriate belly dance music, is laugh out loud funny.
We also get a glimpse of other favorite characters, like Goofy and Clarabelle. I mentioned before that I did not remember the two of them being so “friendly” when I saw them as romantic partners in the movie, The Three Musketeers. But here, they are just that, as you see them flirting and glancing at each other over their instruments.
The big finish is the tornado sequence, which is simply stunning, from a comedic and artistic standpoint. Mickey and his band are lifted into the air by a tornado, but they never stop playing. Mickey slides through windows and doors, the band is flung up and down and in circles, but the music keeps going.
When they finally collapse into a tree, it’s not the one big crash and rubble scene we have seen in other Mickeys. No, this time, the animators take time to single out each character, showing them landing in a tree and continuing to play. Then, when the camera pulls wide to show the chaos in the tree, it’s a much more resonant shot. Great work.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on Mickey’s color, since this is the first time we have seen it. The sight of Mickey outside his normal red pants and yellow shoes is odd for someone who has grown up with that. That said, this is a classic look for Mickey, with the white face (as opposed to the flesh color he has now) and black everywhere else. His eyes are not as defined as they would later be, but he is instantly recognizable.
I’ve read tons of articles and books that call this the best Mickey short of all time, and I can’t disagree with that. Other shorts have favorite moments of mine (Lonesome Ghosts comes to mind), but none are so consistent and wonderful as
The Band Concert.
Donald is really funny. He just can't wait to hijack Mickey's concert and delights in swaying the band members over to his tune, but the moment someone retaliates he can't take it and is absolutely furious! Mickey does well too, kitted out in his oversized costume, he's absolutely full of determination for him and his ragtag group of musicians to do this music justice no matter what.
The cartoon is so full of details I still notice things I've never seen before despite watching it many times over. I'd never spotted the birds flying backwards in the wind or the upside down house in the background of the Christmas tree scene before today.