Monday, April 20, 2009

Alice the Whaler

So today we end the Alice Comedies, at least on this site, but fear not my friends, we will move forward into a new world of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, not with trepidation, but with courage. Or, with a DVD player. Something like that.

Speaking of new, I neglected to mention in my Alice’s Circus Daze review that we have a new Alice. Lois Hardwick took over the role beginning with Circus Daze and lasted the remainder of the series unless I’m mistaken. Of all of them, Hardwick is probably the best actress of the bunch, but she gets very little screen time, because at this point, Walt and his animators had lost interest in the live action parts of the shorts, and were focusing almost exclusively on the animation.

Alice the Whaler starts like all good Alice shorts do, with the patented Alice dance party. The deck of Alice’s whaling ship is alive with her dance as well as the dance of her animal friends. It’s a cross species dance-a-palooza.



The main story of the short, though, is very lacking. The main focus seems to be on a mouse character, who gets orders from a grumpy cook. The mouse fights off some dishes that end up crashing on his head from the bumpy waves. Then, the cook orders him to go and get some eggs.



The mouse decides that in order to get eggs, he needs to lasso a bird from the mast of the ship, so he does so. Finally getting eggs, the cook asks for milk, which the mouse gets from a goat on deck, which moves back and forth with the waves. None of this is really all that appealing visually, and it’s not very entertaining.



What it does do though, is offer a glimpse at what was to come. The mouse is not the Mickey-esque design we saw in the 1926 shorts, but instead has long ears like a rabbit, and is more reminiscent of Oswald than Mickey.

We do see our erstwhile friend Julius, however briefly, as he climbs the lookout and spots a whale in the distance. This is his five seconds of screen time for the short, which is sad for a character that has been so central to the series.



The finale of the series comes when a monkey first mate shoots a harpoon into the whale that Julius spotted, and the whale drags the boat over the waves. As far as story goes, it’s terrible. There’s no real flow to the story, no conflict or resolution of any kind.



The animation is…well, that’s the thing. I’ve seen reviews of this short on Disneyshorts.org, and people there claim that it’s a step up from the earlier shorts. Certainly the backdrops are better, the characters are more fluid. But as far as visual appeal, I do not think the stick and hose animation is very good. It does not portray the full personality the way that I thought some of the earlier shorts did. Just my opinion, but having watched all these films in a row, this stands out as “different,” for better or worse.

So, that brings our Alice viewing to an end, unless I can get the Netherlands to send me copies of some of the missing shorts. Don’t think I’m not trying. Next up is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and the evolution of the Disney animation continues.

5 comments:

  1. The complete lack of any story in this one is somewhat surprising, but by this point in the Alice series I believe Disney was already starting work on Oswald which perhaps accounts for some of the lack of focus in this short.

    That said, I still really enjoy the various scenes in this cartoon. The animation and character designs are still very simple, but I think it looks great. There's a roundness and fluidness to it which I feel is step up from earlier Alice Comedies - making it even more of a shame to me that so many Disney cartoons of this era are lost.

    When you get to Steamboat Willie you may want to revisit this cartoon, because there are some very similar moments and bits of animation. The animators (Ub?) seemed to have a lot of fun with the little mouse character – with those long ears maybe they were practicing some ideas for Oswald?

    Focusing on the little mouse character seems to have drastically reduced the amount of screen time we'd expect for Julius. I think this is unusual since looking at synopsis for other cartoons of around this time, I'd imagine he often remained one of the main characters in the last batch of Alices.

    One other point I can't resist making about this cartoon is that it features a 'falling anvil gag' – the earliest that I'm aware of. Usually more associated with Warner Bros. cartoons (although they didn't really do it that often) an anvil unexpectedly falls from a great height and flattens a character (in this case a monkey). I wonder if the flea-eating monkey is a recurring character since a monkey with fleas had appeared in at least one lost Alice (Medicine Show) and I expect at least one more (Monkey Business).

    –Mac

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  2. If/when you get in touch with Nederlands Filmmuseum on the remaining Alices, perhaps you can ask them about Oswalds too.
    They provided Disney with OZZIE OF THE MOUNTED and I'm curious as to whether they've uncovered any more since.

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  3. You guys are my loyal readers, so thank you very much. I love the discussion.

    There's definitely some similarities here to Steamboat Willie, Mac. I noticed that as well but didn't have room in the post to go into it.

    While I see your point about the fluidness, I thought the roundness and character design was better in the earlier shorts. Just my uneducated though.

    And yes, if I can get the Nederlands to respond, I will ask about Oswalds as well, since I don't have so many of those either.

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  4. It's all down to personal preference when it comes to how much you like different character designs. Certainly at this stage it's still very simple. The characters in this cartoon, a lot of the Oswalds and the early Mickeys have a visual quality that really appeals to me.

    Thanks a lot for starting this blog! I think it's a great idea for a project and I'm really enjoying the discussion too!

    -Mac

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  5. No problem, Mac. It's something I've wanted to do for quite some time. Other than Maltin's Disney Films book, I've never seen a work that looks at all the shorts and films together, to try and discern something from the exercise.

    My hope is that while doing this we learn something.

    On character design, I saw the first Oswald today, and liked those designs much better. I'm a warm, fuzzy kind of guy, so I like the rounded corners and fatter characters better than the stringy, rubber hose types. Just personal preference as you said.

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