Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh What A Knight

First of all today, if you’re not reading the comments, then you’re missing out on the entire experience here. I approach my reviews from a novice perspective, because I have not studied animation like many others on the web, and I evaluate each short on two criteria, how entertaining it is and what it tells me about the style/life of Walt Disney.

However, if you want the deeper perspective and stories about the lost footage, names of characters and how things developed, read the comments from my faithful readers. Thanks to all of you commenters for your help in making this what I had imagined it to be – a community of fans enjoying the Disney cartoons and films together.

Now, on to Oh What a Knight, which, I have to say, is my favorite of the Oswalds so far. It is definitely the funniest of the shorts I have seen. The gags are a mile a minute, but they’re also contextual to the story, which is a new level for these shorts.

The story unfolds similarly to many other shorts, with Oswald traveling the countryside and having thoughts of love on his mind. He comes upon a castle surrounded by a moat, where his girl, Sadie (see the comments for why that’s her name) is in the top tower. Oswald tries to woo her from below, picking up a floating accordion to serenade her, but it ends up squirting water all over him, in a laugh out loud gag.

He manages to get up to the tower and plant a big, hot kiss on Sadie, which wins her over. It’s too late, though, as Pete shows up behind her, ready to clobber Oswald.

After a fun gag where Oswald falls off the tower and uses the entire screen as a “pool” to swim around to the top again, they clash inside. This is the funniest sequence of the shorts. Oswald doesn’t fight continuously, but manages to temporarily incapacitate Pete, run over to kiss Sadie, and then repeats the cycle. One memorable instance involves him allowing his shadow to swordfight while he runs over to Sadie. He pulls this trick 4 or 5 times, and each time it gets funnier. It is a classic comedic situation with great timing and inventive animation.

Oswald manages to use his wits to knock over Pete and his knight minions like bowling pins. He and Sadie open the door to get outside, and a lion jumps out, chasing them out the window. In another clever bit, Sadie’s dress inflates, and Oswald hops on top, as they kiss away the short. It’s clever because rather than falling straight down, they flow from side to side, up and down, and the animation reflects it. Very good work by the animators here.

I loved this short. It is stuff like this that almost makes me wonder if Mickey was the beneficiary of sound more than quality. I’ve seen Steamboat Willie many times, and it’s good, but it’s not as good as Oh What A Knight. Not even close. I’ve read that theory before, but I wasn’t sure if I believed it. This is the first time I’ve thought that maybe there is something to that notion. What do you guys think?
All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. I find it interesting to note that the later Oswalds are often better than the early Mickeys in general - I don't think any Mickey cartoons were ever as good as this until around 1931. I suppose this could be because Disney lost so much of his staff to Mintz in the latter's famous bit of crooked dealing, meaning that there were fewer people working on the first Mickeys. I'm no expert, but it seems like a logical conclusion.

  2. I'm more generous than you, B.D.; I'd say a good 50% of the 1928-30 Mickeys are at Oswald level.
    But still—that's only half. The focus on musical numbers really does drag the quality down through sheer repetition, regardless of how good any single short may be.
    (Of course, I have to add that as a kid, I ate up those musical sequences like jellybeans... and it's quite clear audiences in the early talkie era felt the same way.)

  3. I would say that B.D. was right about losing the staff, but with Ub and Walt still there, you would think that the quality would remain. It does tend to lend credence to your theory, though, B.D., that as people came back into the fold, the Mickeys improved. I'll have to comment on that as we get there.

    I have to agree that the Mickeys that I have seen seem to use the musical number much the same way that the Alices used the chase sequence. It's the go-to gag sequence of all the early films.

  4. Nice observations, Ryan. Things do seem to be improving in the Disney shorts. As you pointed out, the scenes of Oswald confidently abandoning the fight to run over and kiss Sadie are really funny. Here a gag is being repeated and built on to increase the humour in the situation. An important difference to just repeating an amusing piece of animation (like in ealrier Disney silents).

    Maybe it's improvements in personality animation and timing, buts something about this short makes the gags work better than before. Some of the funniest scenes for me include the 'impossible' gags like Oswald ringing himself out after getting soaked or accidentally stretching Sadie's arm to ridiculous lengths.

    One thing I've noticed since watching more silent cartoons is that they often use very similar gags to much later Tex Avery cartoons of the 40s. However, Avery's use of immensely skewed logic is much funnier. In this cartoon I was laughing at the insanely impossible gags, much as I would at an Avery one (as has happened elsewhere in the Oswald series, but rarely in the Alice's).

    It's the reactions and expressions of the characters that make laugh in this one too. After Oswald's pants fall down infront of the girl he blushes, but he then turns to the audience and blushes again as if to say "OMG! I can't believe she just saw that"! Priceless! Later when Oswald is nearly killed by Pete (and has to remove his head to get out the way) he looks at the audience as if to say "Man, that was close". It's not just the breaking of the fourth wall here that's funny, it's the connection of the hero's reactions to audience.

    There's some other great expressions in this one that made me laugh too. Especially some of the shocked looks on Oswald's and Sadie's face near the end. Disney is starting to create humour from implausible situations combined with personalities and it really works (maybe more so than in much later cartoons when the implausible situations wouldn't be quite so ridiculous).



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