I thought it would be interesting to go back to Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho to see what, if anything, sound added to the experience. Or, if they were better off as silent cartoons. As everything, the answer was mixed.
Let’s start with Plane Crazy. There are definitely sequences in this short that are out of place in a sound cartoon. One that leaps to mind is the “Crash” and “Bang” sound effects that pop up on screen after Mickey crashes his plane.
As is the norm in these shorts, the character voices are out of place. Until full voiced characters came along, the squeaks and grunts don’t really add much to the short. It’s worse when one character talks and the other doesn’t. Mickey sets up his new plane, then motions to Minnie to come with him, making flying motions with his arms. Then, Minnie answers “Who, me?” It’s an odd moment when you’ve watched the short silently. Why would Mickey make the flying motions?
On the other hand, the opening barnyard sequence definitely benefits from the sound. The various animals making sounds relating to their construction projects are funny, especially the pig grunting whenever it hits its own hand with a hammer. The drumroll during the plane spiraling towards the earth is also a great compliment to the short.
The Gallopin’ Gaucho, however, seems to have much improvement with sound. Carl Stalling did the music, just as he did for many of the Looney Tunes cartoons after he left Disney, and it shows. The music used here, such as the Spanish theme in the cantina or the villain theme when Pete is riding away, is very familiar to anyone who has watched a lot of cartoons.
The Spanish theme in the cantina is probably the best piece of music in the short. It reminds me a great deal of the Zorro TV show theme song. I wonder if they drew from this for that, or if it was a common Mexican song? Don’t know for sure.
Another place the music stands out is when the drunken ostrich stumbles out of the cantina to help Mickey. The wobbly bird is brought into the picture with a wobbly, silly soundtrack, and it complements the action perfectly.
The voices in this one are kept to a minimum, which is good. Mickey squeaks here and there, and Pete has a big belly laugh, but there are no attempts at full voice over.
I’d have to say that overall, sound definitely was an improvement for The Gallopin’ Gaucho, but maybe not so much for Plane Crazy. Plane Crazy was such a tour de force of silent animation by Ub Iwerks that it really did not need sound to make it stand out. However, it makes perfect sense that Walt went ahead and added it after the success of Steamboat Willie.
The question remains, though, whether Mickey was successful because of sound or because of the cartoons. Having seen the first three Mickeys, I have to say I think it was the character himself that was the key. There’s something about Mickey that makes him just a bit more appealing than Oswald. It could be the design, or the mannerisms, but I loved Oswald, I just like Mickey a little more. The sound probably got people’s attention, but it was the character that kept them in the theatre.