Monday, June 8, 2009

El Terrible Toreador

The Skeleton Dance was a tour de force of animation, and launched the Silly Symphonies series with a bang. El Terrible Toreador is the follow up, and it is none of the above. With animation not on par with the previous effort in the series, and a very weak musical/story connection, El Terrible Toreador is a noticeable departure from the quality you would expect in these early Disney shorts.

It’s not to say that this is a terrible cartoon, but it’s just not up to par with what the cartoons preceding it have done. The basics of the short are that a lovely barmaid, Carmen, is coveted by both a Mexican officer and bullfighter, or toreador. They first encounter Carmen in a cantina, and the toreador manages to help her fend off the officer’s advances. Then, the second half of the short shows the toreador in a bullfight, with the officer trying to sabotage him.



The two sections are not very well put together, which is just the start of the problems. The beginning is not held together with much of anything except the music, which is merely some redone classical music with Spanish influence. Carmen’s dancing and actions are very lacking in character animation. It’s mostly rubber hose style animation, with Carmen kicking the tray on her head, extending her arms as the officer kisses them and other similar actions.



When the toreador shows up, the crowd goes nuts, both in the cantina and in the arena where the bullfight is staged. That’s understandable, because he is really the only character in the short worth following. In his first appearance, when he confronts the Mexican officer, he steals the man’s beer with a swagger and style that makes him the instant hero of the piece. The character of the toreador comes through in that moment, but then the bullfight sequence undermines it.



The second half of the film, when the toreador is in the bullfight and the officer and Carmen are in the stands, is frankly baffling. After the confident figure shown in the cantina, the toreador switches to a prancing, dancing caricature in the bullfight, playing pattycake with the bull and even dancing a jig. It’s a sharp departure from the character established in the first part. Very different, and not in a good way.



The officer tries to derail the fight by putting pepper on the flowers that Carmen throws to the toreador, but it doesn’t work. After both he and the bull sniff the pepper, a real bullfight ensues. But it lasts only a few moments, when the toreador manages to reach down the bull’s throat and pull it inside out.



It’s hard to really say what the main problem is with El Terrible Toreador, and I’m sure that at the time it was probably better received than I’m giving it credit for here. There’s something just missing versus the Mickey shorts and it’s nowhere near as good as The Skeleton Dance. The characters are not that engaging, the music does not help the story along like in other shorts and there’s just not much for the viewer to latch on to.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

3 comments:

  1. I'm a HUGE fan of the "swishy" dances UB would toss in for no reason other than it was so much fun to watch! Silly and GAY!!!!

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  2. Ryan, I strongly recommend you listen to the excellent audio commentary for this short on the DVD. Among other things, you'll learn some of the ideas that Walt Disney and Carl Stalling had in mind for this series when they were first starting out. Also, you've probably already seen it by now, but David has posted some publicity art and the original titles to this short on his blog.

    You're right that this short doesn't seem to quite hang together from the first sequence to the second. Plus, it doesn't do a great job of establishing the characters and their relationships before it cuts to the bull fight. However, it is an attempt to do something new again. This is the first time Disney has based a cartoon on an opera (though I suspect this cartoon relies on an audience familiarity with the Carmen story as a shortcut to establishing the characters). It is also an early attempt to so prominently feature human characters. Besides some scenes of Alice at a distance, I don't think we've seen any cartoon human in a Disney cartoon since the earliest, stiffly animated Laugh-O-Gram films. Although it's hardly the best cartoon of the era, Disney did take a risk and create another cartoon quite unlike anything he had done so far.

    The other thing I have to bring up is the gross-out ending. I heard about it long before I saw it and was pretty shocked. Maybe I'd been jaded by that Hallowe'en Simpsons where they dance inside-out at the end, but when I saw it for myself it wasn't quite as disgusting or graphic as I expected. I think a lot of people may mistake the bull's inside-out legs for intestines!

    However, this ending still upsets a whole lot of people and it's easy to see why. The bull is set up as a friendly character (he's introduced holding hands with the toreador!), but he ends up dead and in a total mess. A lot of people have mentioned this ending makes them uncomfortable and it even confuses some (I had an Italian friend who interpreted the ending as the bull being cut in half). After seeing the dead rise from their graves in "Skeleton Dance", it seems that there is one consistency between the first and second Silly Symphonies and that's the darker, more grisly themes and imagery!

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  3. Mac, I was on the road when I did this review, so I didn't have my DVDs. Thank goodness for YouTube! I plan on checking out the commentary later this week.

    For some reason, the ending did not bother me. It's definitely gross, but it's silly enough that I didn't think it was a big deal.

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