Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Alice in the Jungle

Sorry for the absence yesterday, some family issues took precedence, but I’m back today with our final film of 1925, Alice in the Jungle. And guess what? This short features the return of the original Alice – Virginia Davis! Well, not really, but let me explain.

Remember Alice Hunting in Africa? Well, Margaret Winkler hated the first draft of that short so much that the Disney team had to go back to the drawing board, literally, and redo the animation. It was in part the poor showing with this short that convinced Walt to go out and get Ub Iwerks to join the studio. Well, the short was eventually completed and released in 1924, but without using all of the live action footage shot.

So, along comes the end of 1925, and another Alice short is due. What to do but re-use that live action footage of Virginia Davis and create another Alice jungle themed short? So, Walt and his boys were able to create another short, without another live action shoot.

With that background, what did they come up with? Not much, to be honest with you. Although there are some great gags in this short, it lacks a cohesive story. You can tell that the animators were cramming in all their ideas while trying to find a way to incorporate the Alice footage they already had.

The short opens with Julius in the jungle, riding an elephant’s trunk, then taking off on a bird’s tail, before falling into a pool of crocodiles. This part is fairly dull, to be honest, because it mainly consists of typical reaction shots from Julius, and long range views of him wrestling with the crocs.

Somehow, the scene shifts to two elephants in a bathing pool, in a neat little sequence that has nothing to do with Julius or Alice. The elephants “unpack their trunks” by turning the long trunk into an actual trunk and pulling out their bathing suits, then antagonizing each other in the pool.

Cut back to the jungle, where a barber has set up shop, but a hippo comes by and eats his barber pole, thinking that it’s a peppermint. Julius comes to the rescue, though, starching up a tiger’s tail then breaking it off as a replacement.

Finally, about two thirds of the way through, Alice comes in, being antagonized by some weird looking animal, whom she chases into a cave. A lion chases her out, and her screams for help draw Julius, who fights the lion. In a scene reminiscent of the very first Alice short, a group of lions chase them, until Alice and Julius run onto a nearby elephant. The elephant begins flapping its ears and flying, but it’s tail is dragging. In a similar gag to Alice’s Tin Pony, Julius gets an idea, and uses his thought balloon to hoist the elephant’s tail as the short ends.

This short is very disjointed, and seems like a hodge podge of ideas, but that’s not to say that there are not good gags. Simply the appearance of a flying elephant about 20 years before Dumbo was done is significant. But you can see from looking at this that there was a reason why Walt would eventually insist that “story is king.” The key thing that has been present in the best Alice shorts is a good story, and the lack thereof has doomed those that did not have it.

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