Monday, May 4, 2009

Rival Romeos

A busy time for me lately, but I still was able to make time today to take in Rival Romeos, the latest of the Oswalds. Although not as original and funny as Bright Lights, Rival Romeos still represents a step up in quality from the Alice shorts, and it has some familiar gags that the Disney animators would come back to again in the Mickey shorts.

The story is a classic one, Oswald and Pete are vying for the affection of a woman. First, we see Oswald driving down the road, flowers in hand, dreaming of his sweetheart. He goes through a few plucks of the flower, but always is focused on his dream girl.

Then we see Pete come up behind him in a much nicer car. He’s impatient, so he honks at Oswald to move. The word “Honk” rises up in the air and settles over Oswald’s car, threatening him before Oswald knocks it out of the way. It’s yet another example of the animators turning effects words into action, and it’s well done here.

Oswald gets the lead in the race because he and his car are willing to wallow in the mud that covers the road, while Pete and his car are not. So, Oswald arrives first and begins serenading his sweetie from below. He throws the flowers up into her window, pulls out a guitar and sheet music and begins to sing. The perspective even changes so the viewer sees down on top of Oswald, just like his girl would be doing. That is a different camera move that has not been seen in the previous shorts.

Of course, all does not go well. A goat eats Oswald’s sheet music, causing him no end of consternation. He turns to a familiar gag to fix the problem, turning the goat’s tail into a crank before making the goat into his music player. It’s something we’ll see again in Steamboat Willie.

Finally, Pete arrives, and he and Oswald begin to battle over the affections of the girl. In the midst of their fighting, though, a monkey/dog looking gent comes up on bicycle with a sidecar. Honestly, he seems sort of like an early version of Goofy, although he is a little more monkey like in his body. The new guy rides off with the girl, leaving Oswald and Pete to kick each other for their stupidity.

This is probably the simplest of the Oswalds so far as story goes, but there are a few tricks in the animation that show some stretching on the part of the animators. The change in perspective to show us looking down on Oswald is a great one. There is still more side to side motion and action of the cars coming towards us as well. However, overall it’s just a sweet, funny little cartoon, not a major milestone.

This far into 1928, though, we get a sense of what the Disney brand of cartoon is. The harshness and somewhat crazy tones of the latter Alice shorts have disappeared somewhat, and you could easily imagine Oswald changing places with Mickey without any issue. It’s interesting to see that this style is already forming so early, when it was not until much later that Ub Iwerks and some of the other animators rebelled against the constraints that style imposed upon them. Food for thought.


  1. Ryan,

    The Disney Film Project is a marvelous idea, and I envy you for the opportunity to experience the evolution of Disney shorts. I am, unfortunately, too late to draw your attention to another surviving Alice comedy (so I don't know if you decide to skip it anyway), which is to be placed late in 1926 (Nov. 15 release date I've read), between "Alice the Fire Fighter" and "Alice's Circus Days": "Alice Helps the Romance", preserved by a Dutch film institute and shown on Austrian TV on at least two occasions. I caught it on tape and digitalized it to MPEG-2, PAL standard, into a whooping 550 MB file. Chopped 6 big chunks, you can find it at Megaupload:
    All thumbs up for the project, I will keep reading the blog.

  2. Since this Oswald short is romantic in theme, I thought now might be a good time to discuss Oswald's girlfriend. It's been reported that, in the Disney shorts, Oswald sometimes had a rabbit girlfriend and sometimes a cat girlfriend. The species being chosen almost at random

    However, now that Ramapith has pointed out how species were often misidentified in the copyright synopsis for each cartoon, I think it's more likely that Oswald only had a rabbit girlfriend in the earliest shorts. After that it was always a cat who was the object of his affection. Probably the earliest shorts to use the cat were "The Banker's Daughter" and "Harem Scarem" (based on artwork for posters and a model sheet).

    Now the question that remains is why the change? I can only guess, but I wonder if it was to make the girlfriend more immediately distinguishable from Oswald. The first time I saw 'Great Guns', at one point I thought for a moment that Oswald was on the screen until the nurses uniform became clear and I realised it was the girlfriend. In "All Wet" the girlfriend had been redesigned, featuring a more feminine figure rather than just an Oswald-with-eyelashes. However, maybe this design either wasn't liked or still wasn't different enough, causing the design change to a cat who had the same round shapes as Oswald, but different shaped ears.

    The other thing I'd like to know is did the Disney Studio ever name the cat? A sketch reproduced in 'Walt in Wonderland' suggests that the rabbit was named Fanny (attached to the feminine 'All Wet' design), but I don't know about the cat.


  3. Mac, that's a good question about the name/design of the girlfriend. I, too, had noticed the changing species (cat/rabbit). Fanny the rabbit makes sense, although it's strange that, like Julius, she is not named in the shorts themselves.

    Anonymous, I will check out the old Alice comedy. I'm always looking to keep adding to the project. Thanks for reading!

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  5. The cat is the "Sadie" of SAGEBRUSH SADIE—you're seeing her get her name in the title there, and Sadie is also the cat's name within Disney today.
    And yes—THE BANKER'S DAUGHTER was the first cartoon to use her. Early in production, it was still planned to feature Fanny, so the switch came rather suddenly and did amount to a kind of replacement for whatever reason.

    A bit of confusion reigns insofar as as the cat was inadvertently named Fanny in a few post-Disney shorts and Kitty during the Lantz era.
    But in 1933, after some years with only the cat, a rabbit named Fanny returned to the Oswald cast; first as Oswald's little sister in Lantz's CANDY HOUSE, and then as his girlfriend again in SPRINGTIME SERENADE.

    I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried! [Reposted with a slight tweak for clarity.]

  6. Sadie! Of course! The name's right there!! Thanks for all the information, Ramapith. I must say how much I'm enjoying both Ryan and Ramapith's blogs. Great stuff!


  7. Thanks for the kind words, Mac. I am also enjoying your blog greatly, ramapith. Keep it up.

    Sadie appears again in Oh What A Knight, which I reviewed today. How do you know that's what Disney refers to her as? Inside scoop?

    I'm curious why Disney has not tried to use Oswald any since they have gotten him back. These shorts are such high quality that I would think they might try to reintroduce him somehow and develop another character. Not sure why that has not happeed.

  8. Ryan, I've seen a small, but steady trickle of new Oswald merchandise: shirts, shoes, a stuffed animal, at least four figurines, the wall canvas, pins, a limited edition cel and so forth. More Oswald clutter than I would want to buy myself, which is saying something! Or maybe I'm misunderstanding: by Disney "doing something" with Oswald, do you mean making new cartoons and/or comics?
    Meanwhile, I've seen Sadie "officially" identified as such in an upcoming art book from Disney. This book should be in the shops in a few months.

    Finally, go ahead and call me David, fellows; Ramapith is just my blogger handle.

  9. David it is. I've also seen the merchandise, but yes, I'm more thinking of cartoons, comics, and even usage in the parks.

    I mean, if they're starting up a hand drawn animation department again, giving them something to do like in the olden days of having shorts and features would not be a bad idea.

    I'll have to be on the look out for that book when it comes out and add it to my Disney book collection. Thanks for the tip, sir.

  10. Ryan,

    re. your question about Disney using Oswald in something new.

    He will be appearing in the new game for the Wii, "Disney Epic Mickey" as one of the major characters.

    Read more about it here:

    This is a great blog. I've come to it late, but am enjoying it a lot!



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