Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Gallopin' Gaucho

The second Mickey short animated was The Gallopin’ Gaucho, a nice little adventure showing what Ub had really intended for Mickey. At the time, the animator extraordinaire thought of Mickey as Douglas Fairbanks, the popular actor of the time. He was not the every man that Oswald was supposed to have been, but instead, Mickey was more of the adventuresome type, who took what he wanted, found adventure and followed his own path.

That’s very evident in this short, which shows a completely different side of Mickey than the symbol of family entertainment he would become. In this short, Mickey is a wanted man, who swings into a cantina and show off his toughness by smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and dancing the tango with Minnie.

The story follows a familiar tune to anyone who watched the Oswalds – after Mickey wins Minnie over, Pete (at least I think that’s who it is) shows up and kidnaps her. Mickey goes after them, then manages to best Pete in a swordfight before escaping with Minnie.

There are not as many changes in the animation in this short as there were in Plane Crazy, but here are still some interesting things to note. In the beginning, Mickey rides in on an ostrich, and comes back to it during the chase sequence. The ostrich provides a very good example of rubber hose animation, where the limbs of the characters flop about like a rubber hose, in an entertaining manner.

There’s also some great personality animation here, as you can see the derring-do in Mickey’s eyes when he swings into the cantina, the fire as he dances with Minnie, and the anger when he discovers his ostrich is drunk and not as useful as he might hope in the chase after Pete.

The actions of Mickey, though, are what really stand out. A Mickey that smokes, drinks beer, picks up women in a cantina and swordfights without fear is quite different than the image that most people carry around in their heads. It really typifies the difference in what the intention was for this new character and what he ultimately became.

Eventually, it would be Walt’s “watering down” of Mickey that drove Ub Iwerks away from the studio. Ub felt that he should be able to experiment with Mickey, while Walt was trying to find the best fit for his audience. It was a creative struggle that would define Walt to some degree. But that’s a story for later on.
(Update - 5/20 - Please read the comments, as David corrects me on this. It was Ub who wanted Mickey as the everyman and Walt who was looking for the adventurer. This does make more sense when you look at the next few Mickey shorts. My understanding that it was the other way around seems to have come from a passage in The Hand Behind the Mouse that I must have misinterpreted. So, read the comments and I'll address this in a future post.)

The Gallopin’ Gaucho is also an example of the cohesive storytelling that developed in the Oswalds. Just like Plane Crazy, there is a simple plot – Mickey the gaucho finds Minnie, Pete takes her and a chase ensues – but that plot is the framework around which many gags are constructed.

Next up, the one the really started it all for Mickey – Steamboat Willie.


  1. That was definitely Pete - this cartoon marked his first appearance in a Mickey short, and apparently the first time he was shown with his familiar large, overpowering figure. I find it interesting that Pete changed so much between his final Oswald appearances and this short - in Sky Scrappers, he was menacing, but much skinnier, and looked like some kind of bear/weasel hybrid. Here, he's obviously a gigantic, fairly overweight cat, which is pretty much how he stayed. My theories on the change are that either:

    a) Pete's appearance changed over the course of a few late Oswald cartoons which have been lost to history, or

    b) He was intentionally redesigned for the Mickey shorts in order to give Mickey an adversary who was a cat.

    Another interesting point is that Lantz actually used Pete in a few of his Oswalds, before the Disney's Pete became too recognizable for this to be feasible. Here's Pete as he eventually looked in the Disney films:

    Compared to his appearance in the 1930 Walter Lantz film, Alaska:

    The contrast is shocking; it almost seems as if they're two separate characters

  2. Here's what happened with Pete, as far as I can figure:

    1) When Disney legally separated himself from Oswald by refusing to work more cheaply for Mintz, he effectively separated himself from the rest of the Oswald cast of characters, too. These other Oswald characters officially included Pete, of course.

    2) When it was time to give Mickey an enemy, then, Walt's crew didn't think they could use Oswald's Pete, thus a new design for a cat villain—as opposed to Pete, who up to then had been a bear.

    3) Some attempts were evidently made to give the new cat villain a new name. I haven't seen written documents on GALLOPING GAUCHO or BARN DANCE, but the story script on STEAMBOAT WILLIE calls the villain simply "the Captain," and the first ads for the Mickey Mouse comic strip call him "Terrible Tom." BUT...

    4) Evidently, Disney staff couldn't get around the fact that this was really just their earlier villain with a modified species. So by April 1930, when the character was named in the actual comic strip, he was once again called Pegleg Pete, and the name stuck.

    5) Despite all of the above, Oswald's bear version of Pete was actually used for a very long time at Universal; longer than you seem to suggest, B.D.! The latest cartoon I've seen him in is the 1937 Lantz short STEEL WORKERS, where he's still got his Disney-era stovepipe hat and pegleg!

  3. Oops! One thought I forgot to address:

    "Eventually, it would be Walt's 'watering down' of Mickey that drove Ub Iwerks away from the studio."

    It's a long time since I've read THE HAND BEFORE THE MOUSE or watched the documentary based on it. But does this understanding come from there? I've read other references that suggested that Walt wanted Mickey to be the Fairbanks-type hero, and that Walt rebelled when Ub wanted to make Mickey a bungling everyman.

    Support for this version of events can be found in the actual work of the two men after the split: post-Iwerks Mickey Mouse comics, written by Walt up until the summer of 1930, show Mickey as quite the determined fighter in adventure scenarios; in one April strip, this Mickey—trudging through the basement of the villains' stronghold—remarks that he wishes he had a beer! Iwerks' Flip the Frog, by contrast, is a bungling everyman from the moment of his creation.

    Walt's Mickey doesn't drink or smoke after 1930, but he remains quite the Fairbanks type in adventure scenarios as late as the mid-1930s; you'll see.

  4. David, yes, that's where my understanding came from, so maybe I need to check my sources again. I was under the impression that it was the opposite of what you were saying, but I would easily defer to your years of study on this topic.

    My interpretation from reading the book/seeing the movie was that Walt kept tinkering with Ub's drawings to make them more "audience friendly". That was what I was referring to, so perhaps I misread that info.

    The way you present it makes more sense, though, when looking at Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie. And, since I'm trying to work ahead, it also fits with the Barn Dance and The Opry House. Interesting, I guess I have some re-reading to do!

    That is great information on Pete, though, and something I was wondering about as well. Thanks!

  5. One of the cool things about this short is how Mickey's character design changes midway. He starts out the short looking as he did in Plane Crazy, but when he emerges from the cantina his goggle eyes are gone and he looks more like the Steamboat Willie Mickey. Must have been that beer!

    I wonder how similar this short is similar to the Oswald cartoon "Harem Scarem". Of course I've never seen it, but the story follows Oswald's girl being kidnapped by Pete the sheik and charging to her rescue on a drunken camel. Artwork for the poster (reproduced in "Walt in Wonderland") depicts Oswald clutching a beer and winking at the dancing Sadie, brining to mind an early scene of "Gallopin' Gaucho". Animation drawings in "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life" show Oswald kicking the drunken camel, reminding me of Mickey's frustrations with his Ostrich.


  6. Just two quick points:

    1: The animal Mickey rides in on is not an ostrich, although I'm not even sure the Disney animators were aware of it. It is a rhea. Ostriches are not indiginous to Argentina, but the rhea is.

    2: This was one of the only shorts that Disney parodied later on. It's refelcted in the short "Gallopin' Romance" which is the film that sends everone into convulsions within the short "Mickey's Gala Premiere."

    I agree that Mickey is much more rowdy in these early shorts, although it's difficult assigning a specific character to him at this point. He seems to swing from hero to victim from short to short.

  7. At Disney, I've seen some pencil animation from HAREM SCAREM. I believe it was considered for use on the DVD (a la SAGEBRUSH SADIE), but too many drawings were missing to create smooth motion.

    Nevertheless, I've seen enough to say that HAREM was definitely an ancestor to both GALLOPIN' GAUCHO and the later MICKEY IN ARABIA. Oswald's camel gets drunk and greets him tipsily almost exactly in the manner of Mickey's rhea (or Mickey's later camel, though that camel is less humanized). Oswald meets Sadie in a cantina and watches her dance much as Mickey would watch Minnie's tango. Oswald even licks a head of beer off his face exactly as Mickey would.

  8. "1) When Disney legally separated himself from Oswald by refusing to work more cheaply for Mintz, he effectively separated himself from the rest of the Oswald cast of characters, too. These other Oswald characters officially included Pete, of course"

    Rampith, you apparently know more of this then I do, but with Pete having been used in the Alice Comedies before the Oswald cartoons, how could Walt Disney have lost the rights to Pete when he lost Oswald? Was there a less known situation where Disney also lost the rights to all the Alice characters?


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