Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Trolley Troubles


Maybe it’s just the change of pace, or the fact that I’m watching these shorts in DVD quality, but the first Oswald short, Trolley Troubles, was a delight.

Let me back up, though, and give a brief background on Oswald. After our last short, Alice the Whaler, there were a few more Alice Comedies, but Walt and his distributor Charles Mintz, had agreed that the series had run its course. Mintz wanted a new character and to do away with the expensive live action blend. Walt and Ub got to work designing a new lead, and soon Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was born.


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In design, Oswald was similar to Julius, blended with some elements of the mouse character from Alice the Whaler and other films. The first short sent to Mintz was Poor Papa. The reception was, well, not good. Mintz declined to move forward with the series based on Poor Papa. He said Oswald was too mean and unlikeable. The next short, Trolley Troubles was much more to his liking, and Oswald made his public debut in September of 1927.

I have not seen Poor Papa and don’t have a copy of it, but I can definitely see why Trolley Troubles was such a step forward. The storytelling is back to the standards of some of the best Alice shorts – Oswald has a trolley that he is trying to get from one end of the track to the other, safely delivering his passengers. All the action unfolds from that framework.

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The main thing I noticed while watching, however, was the new fluidity and dimension in the animation. Take the sequence after Oswald picks up his passengers, for example. In the Alice shorts, this would have been a side to side shot. But now, it’s animated with the trolley coming straight at the viewer, swaying from side to side, adapting to the track, and squashing and stretching to show a loose, free flowing action.

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There is not much conflict in the short, which is probably its main flaw. The first obstacle Oswald encounters is a cow in the middle of the track, that impedes his progress. In an inspired bit, he simply shrinks the trolley to go underneath the cow.

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The second conflict is a hill that the trolley has trouble getting over. This time, Oswald enlists the aid of a goat, enticing the animal to hit him in the behind, but keeping the goat at the end of a pole to push the trolley up the hill.

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The problem with that is that the downhill run is a little quicker than Oswald had bargained for. Again, the free flow and the depth of the animation are great here. The trolley swerves back and forth from left to right, going diagonal across the screen. It’s a new shot from what we expected in the Alice Comedies.

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The final scene comes as the trolley flies headlong into a river at the bottom of a canyon, and Oswald paddles away, having failed in his mission. The short, though, has succeeded, by giving us a new character to view. Although I don’t have all the Oswald shorts, I’m really looking forward to the rest of them, so long as they are as good as the first. Consistency was the main problem with the Alice series, so we’ll see if that continues or not.

Follow along by purchasing the DVD - Walt Disney Treasures: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit at Amazon.com or other DVD retailers.

6 comments:

  1. I had never seen this short until the Oswald Disney Treasures set came out, even though I had an old copy on VHS locked away somewhere. I wasn't really interested since, as you said, the quality and entertainment value of the Alice shorts had decreased over the years. The thing that suprised me when I finally got around to watching it is that it is actually funny! I found myself giggling quite a few times while watching it which is something I never did for the Alice shorts.

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  2. Totally right. I bought the Disney Treasures set when it first came out, but didn't watch it, because had this project in mind. But when I finally saw it today, man, it's funny.

    It's amazing how the consistency varies so much on the Alices, but then this is so good. I mean, consistency is the hallmark of Disney in the later years, so it's weird to see them so inconsistent later.

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  3. I love this fast-moving short and I've gotta agree with all the points you made. One thing to bear in mind when viewing the first six Oswalds though is that they only seem to survive as sound reissue versions (see here: http://lantz.goldenagecartoons.com/1931
    reissues.html). In a way we're lucky because if it wasn't for these reissues they may not exist at all, but unfortunately these versions had scenes removed and reordered. For the Treasures DVD it seems that the reissue title cards have been replaced with fake versions of the original and the 1930s soundtrack has been replaced to make for a more authentic silent movie experience. You can view the sound reissue of Trolley Troubles in all its glory on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9LmDpMO2k0)

    Trolly Troubles still flows really well in its reissue format so maybe not so much was cut and reordered in this one. I'm also really curious to see the original Oswald in Poor Papa so I hope that one surfaces one day.

    –Mac

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  4. I did not know that about the reissued shorts. Thanks, Mac.

    I tend to watch these shorts with the sound off anyway, just to focus on the animation. I don't intend to use sound until we get to Steamboat Willie, because the shorts weren't designed with sound.

    I have to say, though, that I can see the evolution of Disney's animation much better moving from Alice to Oswald than I did in the Alice comedies themselves.

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  5. I could be mistaken, but why you put copyright? But these films & images should be in the public domain by now.

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  6. This was redone and cleaned up for the DVD, when redone and remastered the law considers it a new work and therefor the remastered version falls under copyright law again.

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