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B.D., I think the sound is a big part of the change, no doubt, but there was some decent storytelling in
Plane Crazy and
The Gallopin' Gaucho. Why did that suddenly devolve into the world's earliest music videos? I know that sound was credited for a big part of the early Mickeys success, but it was not entirely the reason, was it?
The good news is that later on, when storytelling becomes more key to the process again, music will play an important role. Therefore, we get a wonderful balance of music and visuals in order to tell a story. I suppose I'm trying to say that Disney's experience in both story-based and music-based cartoons will combine to make something new. We'll see this in B.D's example of
Building a Building and it will lead on to other things like
Snow White (imagine Disney's version of that story told without music).
It's a good point, B.D., that
Plane Crazy and
The Gallopin' Gaucho were silent films that had sound added on. It seems as though since that point, the soundtrack was the dominant force in the shorts, while the characters and the story were secondary.
I'm probably biased, because I prefer strong story to anything else. I'm not trying to say that the Mickey shorts are not good, because they are. I enjoy every one of them. But when you've seen someone achieve more, you always want them to keep up that level of achievement. It just seems like sound cartoons have slowed the progress, not helped it along.
Kevin, I agree, these cartoons have energy that other sound musicals did not have. They are still good films, but there's just something missing, and that something is the story.
I definitely recognize the role that music is playing in these early shorts. The Silly Symphonies are pure music videos, and they are delightful for the most part. And I know that in later shorts, like
The Band Concert, that Mickey has a story and music integrated perfectly. It's just hard to see the pendulum swing so far one way after we saw such great storytelling in the Oswald shorts.
My favorite part is when Mickey and Horace first arrive at their destination. The music at this moment is at it's most catchiest (for me at least) and the animation is at it's most delightfully bounciest! It's cool how Horace plays his teeth, shoes, head, a cat etc in perfect synch.
This also has maybe the weirdest moment in a Disney cartoon so far. Mickey finds and spanks the piano's bum! It's unusual enough how the piano sometimes seem to be just a piano, but can reveal a face and attitude when he's being treated to rough, but for it to have a human-like backside as well? It's weird, yet somehow works according the odd logic of this early era!
The best is the personality animation of Mickey, showing his anger, frustration or happiness at what he’s playing on the piano. It’s very well done, with simple moves of the eyebrow and eyes, turns of his mouth, or the direction of his nose or shoulders expressing the entire emotion. It’s a very expressive Mickey, part of the evolution of his character over the last few shorts.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good parts end, in my opinion. Where do I start? How about this – there is nothing going on in this short. The basics are that Mickey and Horace have a traveling road show, and they have an audience of animals following them around. They play music on the road, then stop and have Mickey do a piano solo. That’s it.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there were real inventive pieces of animation or new gags to make it easier to watch. But there are not. The majority of the short, at least four of the six minutes, consist of Mickey seated at either the organ or the piano. Sure, his expressiveness is quite good, and we see some of his character that way, but there is nothing for the viewer to latch onto.
There is another issue that I have with this short – it is a repeat in many places. Mickey’s piano solo, while a little longer here, is almost exactly lifted from
The Opry House. Considering that
The Opry House was released earlier in 1929, it’s very disappointing to see Walt and his team recycling the same idea just a few months later. Even down to Mickey pounding on the keys and the piano striking back, the two scenes are extremely similar.
That’s not the only theme that repeats. Again, we have the barnyard theme going on, with the animals forming the audience for Mickey’s show. There’s Horace using another animal as an instrument and the vaudeville show with the ratty curtain as well. Mickey’s work on the xylophone is really the only original part of the short.
I’m being very hard on this short, probably because I have seen all the others. That’s part of the project here, but I think if I had seen this one on its own it wouldn’t be quite as bad. It’s not terribly done. If you have not seen the previous Mickey shorts or the Oswalds, then
The Jazz Fool would be fine. But when tracking the evolution of the Disney animation style definitely a step back.
That’s the most interesting thing to me so far about the Mickey shorts. In the Oswald shorts, there was a developing style of a story with conflict, a strong central character, and a supporting cast (even if it was just a girl and Pete). Meanwhile, in the early Mickey shorts, there is no consistent focus, Mickey can be the focal point of the short or merely a window to the main goings on, and the supporting cast changes drastically from short to short. Why the change? That’s the question I will be examining as we move forward in the Mickey shorts.
The best, most widely recognized of these?
These very same Mickey Mouse cartoons we are reviewing here.
Keep in mind, also, that nobody had ever seen such perfectly synchronized sound and drawing before. There IS something awfully funny, to this day, about the way Mickey beats the HELL out of his piano, all perfectly in time. It's the shear pleasure of watching such great, clever comic mayhem all working out perfectly to the beat of the music before our eyes. What's going to happen next? Who knows. Imagine the excitement at the Disney studios as each short pushed the limits of what went before. Imagine theaters full of people howling and screaming with laughter at the most clever film footage they had ever experienced.
You wanna see something creaky and old? Try getting through "The Broadway Melody" from 1929.
Personally I'd rather watch Mickey Mouse.
It's more fresh and alive!