Monday, April 27, 2009

Great Guns

Alright, so we have the first speed bump in the Oswald series with our fourth short, Great Guns. It’s not that it’s bad, but more that it’s a remake of Alice’s Little Parade, so it’s very unoriginal.

That said, Great Guns improves on Alice’s Little Parade by leaps and bounds. Even though the gags are recycled in some ways, there are some new inclusions that make this a much better effort. In Little Parade, Julius was the main character, and there was not much to his story, other than the gags of defeating the rats in the battle. Great Guns ties all the threads together by giving Oswald a romantic plot that runs throughout.

Image copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

The story begins exactly the same as Little Parade, with a newsboy telling the world about an impending war, and the exact same gag of the animals parading into one end of the recruitment tent and then coming out the other side outfitted for war.

The new addition here is Oswald’s enlistment ending with a visit to his sweetie’s house. Ever the schemer, Oswald uses the war to get a little sympathy kissing in, as he gets his girl to wish him a hearty goodbye.

Image copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

In fact, from the shot of the two of them kissing, the action fades to the exact same position of Oswald in the battlefield, kissing a picture of his girl. It’s a great effect that adds to the story very effectively. His rapture is short lived, however, as one of the rats he is fighting drops a bomb right through his girl’s picture, and Oswald takes to the air to battle the rat.

Image copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

In a neat sequence, the planes become characters themselves, battling like boxers, while Oswald and the rat are thrown out and fight amongst themselves. Eventually the fight spills down to the ground, where Oswald pummels the poor rat. It’s a short lived triumph, though, as a superior officer that resembles Pete shows up to take on Oswald.

Image copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Oswald, in a nice bit of personality animation, pats the little rat on the head, and you can read the sheepishness on his face. It’s a nice step for the animation. After running away, Oswald fights back by loading cannonballs in an elephant and firing them, similar to Julius using a horse to kick the cannonballs in Little Parade.

Again, it’s a short lived success, as the cannonball from the enemy hits Oswald and shatters him to pieces, as we begin the same sequence we saw in Little Parade. A nurse comes on the battlefield, halts an oncoming cannonball and gathers the pieces up to take them to the hospital. Once inside, rather than the spare parts from Little Parade, the nurse puts the pieces in a cocktail shaker to reassemble them.

Image copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Once the nurse spills them out, we see that it’s Oswald, and the nurse turns out to be his best girl. They end the short kissing again as they did at the beginning.

The flowing narrative of Oswald and his girl are the main improvement in this short over Alice’s Little Parade. It gives the story more weight. Other than that, the gags are pretty much the same as Little Parade, so it’s hard to evaluate this short as anything other than a copy. Granted, it’s better than the original, but it’s disappointing to see the animators returning to the same subject only a year later than they tackled it the first time. I assume it’s a time issue, trying to get the stuff out, but it still feels like a letdown.


  1. Although this short is similar to 'Alice's Little Parade', I can easily forgive the repetition since the improvement is so great and each similar bit does have its own new twist.

    What I noticed about this short is it's the first time a Disney cartoon has actually made me care about the characters. They did a really good job setting up the idea that Oswald, although being excited about joining the war, can't bear to be split from his girlfriend. This makes the twist in the ending all the more rewarding. It's not just that they got back together again, but because the coincidence came about because the girl was brave enough to help with the war effort too. It's very satisfying ending.

    Another thing I've noticed is that the backgrounds in these cartoons are getting better now. They're still pretty simple, but they're pleasing to look at.

    Once again we're watching the sound reissues which means scenes have been cut. I have no idea what. However, the fact that Oswald goes from leaving his house to suddenly having a cap and rifle suggests we lost some recruitment scenes early on in the short.

    - Mac

  2. I know that Disney revisited the WW1 theme at least once more, in the 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Barnyard Battle. I haven't seen that short, so I don't know how similar it is to Great Guns and Alice's Little Parade.

  3. Mac, your note about the way the animators get you to care about the characters is very important. I comment on that in the new review, All Wet. It definitely is something that begins with the Oswald shorts.

    It is the improvement in this that makes it work that way. The addition of hte romantic plot brings the whole story together.

  4. When I got the Oswald DVD there were at least two things that really took me by surprise. One was that these were the first cartoons from that era where the gags were often organic to the story or characters. In all the others I had seen, they were just gags.

    Another was that these were pretty much the earliest cartoons I'd seen with real character animation, giving me a reason to care about the characters. In this connection, the gag with Oswald being blown to smithereens hit me like a ton of bricks. They literally killed off the hero—the one guy I had pinned all my empathy on! I couldn't believe it. Then, after several failed approaches to right the situation, the cocktail shaker gag ingeniously saved the day and my broken heart.

    The energy in these cartoons was something I just was not prepared for. The later, "mature" Disney cartoon shorts don't appeal to me at all. Too many of them come across as technical exercises, strained morality plays, or vapid attempts to clone the competition. The bravado of these Iwerks shorts seems to anticipate the youthful exuberance of the Warner Bros products yet to come. From my perspective, it was almost criminal that Disney reigned in Iwerks so completely (even personally retiming the action) that Ub left the studio. And yet to watch a selection of the work that Iwerks did on his own is to see that the creative tension that must have existed between them benefitted both. Although there are similar touches of genius in Iwerks' solo efforts, I haven't seen any that really come up to the best of the cartoons on that disk.


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