This is one of the shorter cartoons in the series, clocking in at just over five minutes long, but it packs a simple story in that time frame with some easy storytelling. The story is short, sweet and to the point. It definitely is not as gag filled as some of the previous efforts, instead focusing on clear storytelling over humor here.
That’s not to say that there are not some great gags present in this short. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story is easy – in the midst of a snowstorm, Oswald is part of the Mounties, and is tasked with bringing in “Putrid Pete” the infamous villain portrayed in a wanted poster.
Oswald is noticeably terrified, quaking in his boots, but his commanding officer sends him out into the snow regardless. Oswald manages to hop on a mechanical horse, cranking him up for the pursuit. It’s another appearance of a mechanical animal, after the mechanical cow in the short of the same name. This is a theme that reappears in many of the shorts, even back to Julius.
Oswald’s mechanical horse barrels down one corner as Pete comes down the other, and they collide at the end. Oswald attempts to confront Pete, bringing out a giant gun, but the bullet/cannonball merely bounces off of Pete and knocks Oswald out. Pete chokes him, squeezing him until his tongue is splattered out of his mouth on the snow. Thinking he’s accidentally killed the rabbit (insert your
What’s Opera, Doc joke here), Pete runs away.
Oswald comes to and attempts to put his horse back together. Cramming a spring in the horse’s body backfires, though, and the horse falls to pieces. Frustrated, Oswald kicks the pieces and the horse jumps back together and takes off. Meanwhile, Pete is mushing his dog sled through the snow, eventually running into an accidental turn, where the dogs go one way and he goes another. The dogs collide at the bottom of a hill and end up merged, in a funny bit.
Oswald finally catches up just as Pete hits a bear that begins chasing him. In a clever turn of events, the bear is chasing both Oswald and Pete when Oswald has a plan. Seeing the nearby jail, he opens the door and ushers Pete in, motioning that he will be safe in there. Inevitably, though, both Pete and the bear end up inside, leaving Oswald victorious as the short ends.
As I said, this is one of the simpler shorts. The story is fairly straightforward, and there is less reliance on gags in this than in the other Oswalds.
What’s interesting is that there are not as many different perspectives
and camera tricks here as there were in
Rival Romeos. I’m not sure which unit (Iwerks or Ising) worked on this one, perhaps my commenters can say, but I think there is a difference in styles between the two. Overall, though, the consistency in the Oswald shorts is much greater than the Alice Comedies, showing development among both Walt and the animators in their craft.
The story began with my friend and colleague, Pietro Shakarian, who in 2005 located the first minute of the film in a French collection.
Disney transferred this fragment and sent it around to foreign film archives, hoping one would use the footage to positively identify a more complete print they might hold under an alternate title.
That's exactly what happened with the Amsterdam Filmmuseum: Pietro's discovery led to their own realization that their
Oswald Als Detektiv was Disney-made and unique. Alas, the print was a heavily damaged nitrate; decayed to the point that they hadn't attempted to restore it. Had Disney not had reason to provide the funds, it might have been lost in just a few short years.
Most of the missing moments are simply spots where footage fell apart and was spliced out long ago. It's not so consequential to miss a few moments of the bear chase, but also missing is Oswald actively letting the bear into the prison and barring the door shut himself; also a final end scene of Oswald's boss emerging from HQ to give him a huge medal that weighs him to the ground.
Nitrate decay is also the reason for the tears that flicker around the edge of the image. This film was very near gone.
The French fragment, in awful shape itself, was used to provide the title card we see on DVD. It also includes an animated intertitle ("Get
Your Man!" says Oswald's boss) that wasn't added back in for DVD — not sure why not.
It's fascinating to read about the missing scenes and the efforts made to track this cartoon down. The restoration on the Disney DVD is really good. Although tears can can seen and the missing scenes couldn't be replaced (except perhaps that animated intertitle) the picture quality is really good and clean. A lot of the Oswald shorts look better than a lot of later black and whites on other DVDs in the Treasures series.
I hope more Oswald shorts can be located. Ramapith, I don't suppose you've heard any news about any other discoveries since the DVD release?
One other thing about this short that I noticed is it features Pete the anthropomorphic bear, being chased by an wild bear. This kind of thing would confusion amongst fans in the future where Disney's 'human animals' interact with actual animals (e.g Donald hunting ducks or Goofy walking Pluto). This is the earliest example I can think of for this strange Disney anomaly!
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