Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jungle Rhythm

Jungle Rhythm is the latest Mickey musical number, and this one is a little different. Although it still suffers from the issue of having no real conflict or plot, you can see the story influence starting to creep in. With just a few minor tweaks here or there, Jungle Rhythm could have been as good as any of the Oswald shorts.



The basics are that Mickey is riding an elephant through the jungle, on a hunt. He climbs down from the elephant, shoots at a bird, which flies away and leaves him in a confrontation between a bear and a lion. A group of animals nearby starts playing music, using Mickey’s accordion that he left on his elephant, and the lion, bear and Mickey begin dancing. The rest of the short focuses on the musical numbers.



The outlines of a story are there. There is the brewing conflict between Mickey and the lion and bear. The music serves a purpose, in bringing that conflict to an end. But there is still something missing, such as near the end, after Mickey has abused no end of animals as his instruments, he does the same with a lion. The lion is obviously perturbed when Mickey pulls out his tongue and plays it like a bass, or when the mouse pulls out its whiskers. But the short ends before anything happens, leaving a question mark as to how Mickey escaped an angry lion.



It’s also interesting how many motifs from prior Disney efforts are repeated here. The jungle theme is something we have not seen since the Alice shorts, but it was very popular in those films. Alice riding an elephant and hunting in the jungle was a staple of early Alice shorts.

Also repeated here, I think for the first time since Steamboat Willie, is “Turkey in the Straw” as a musical piece. Mickey plays the song on some animals, similar to the way he did in his debut. It’s interesting to see that, since most people today think of that song as the iconic piece of Steamboat Willie, but here it’s repeated in a much lesser known context.



I also have to say that Ub Iwerks’ silly dancing numbers are constantly amusing. We get two monkeys in one sequence and two ostriches in another. We also get a lion that pushes its mane down to use as a grass skirt and become a hula dancer. All three are great flowing animation that are fun to watch, even if they’re not necessarily story driven.



I must confess, I am a story guy. I pick apart movies today the same way I am doing to these films, so I probably focus on that a little much. But much of the reason that I am a story person is because of the Disney films. Story is always a strong point of the features, so that’s what I am used to. I think watching the shorts is a great introduction, though, because it really is helping me to see where many of the things I came to love about Disney came from.

6 comments:

  1. After the last couple of Silly Symphonies, this Mickey cartoon seems a little simple with no special effects (like the reflections in Springtime) or that sense of depth found in Hell's Bells. It would be interesting to compare this cartoon to the Oswald short "Africa Before Dark", but unfortunately it's a lost cartoon (there is a slim chance that this one still exists, but no copy could be found for the DVD). Lucky for us some of the story sketches are reproduced in "Walt in Wonderland" so we can still compare to some degree.

    Both shorts have a very similar opening scene with Mickey and Oswald riding their elephants. the difference is that Mickey is dancing and playing the accordion while Oswald, safari hat atop his head, is holding his gun and the elephant is riding a bike! This gives us a clue how the two shorts will differ. Mickey's is mainly a jungle-based musical short with no story whereas Oswald is starting out a simple story which is basically an excuse for lots of silly visual gags with animals and hunting.

    Oswald doesn't run into trouble with the lions until the climax of the short where he is chased by a pack of them. He escapes on his elephant (better story structure here – returning to what we had seen at the start) who is able to use its ears as wings to fly off a cliff (Dumbo anyone?) over which the lions fall!

    I wonder if a slightly different end was planned for "Jungle Rhythm", but was cut (maybe to keep costs down) because it seems rather abrupt how it cuts from Mickey and the lion to a previously used scene of applauding animals. Of course that's just a possibility I have no idea! It would have made a cool ending if the lion reacted furiously to Mickey pulling his whiskers out and completely cornered him. Then, just as it looks like Mickey is going to be mauled to death and eaten, the lion just grabs him, turns him into a musical instrument and gets a few more notes out of Mickey to the delight of the animal audience.

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  2. There did seem to be a "slim chance" that AFRICA BEFORE DARK survived.

    But the reason it didn't end up on the Oswald DVD is that the chance didn't come up lucky. The archive that thought they possessed AFRICA BEFORE DARK actually had a titleless, silent print of what turned out to be JUNGLE JUMBLE, a later Lantz Oswald sound short.

    So the search goes on...

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  3. I remember you saying about that before, David. However, there was also that mysterious ebay seller who claimed to have several lost Oswald (and Felix) cartoons before withdrawing the sale. I remember several members of the GAC forums trying to find out what happened to these 16mm prints, but no one could find out where they eventually ended up (or if they even really existed). Although it's possible the whole thing was a fake I can't help but wonder. The search goes on indeed!

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  4. I agree, Mac, that it looks like there could have been another ending for this short, because the cut after Mickey pulls out the lion's whiskers is very abrupt. Very strange.

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  5. (Mysterious, alleged Felix/Oswald seller) ...Oh, THAT guy...

    He claimed to have three lost Oswalds and four lost Felixes among a batch of other more common films. Later, he had an auction where he claimed to have original Oswald posters, too, and again stopped the auction early—but the posters appear to have been frauds, as he posted them more clearly on his home page later and even billed them as self-made recreations...

    As much as I'd love to think several lost Oswalds turned up at once, I've just had to conclude that if his second auction was phony, his first must have been too.

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  6. I didn't know about that second auction. You're right, it all sounds pretty fake. What a lame and pointless thing to do.

    Getting back to Jungle Rhythm, I think this is also the first time "Minnie's Yoohoo" was used over the titles of the cartoon. I say 'I think' because again it's kind of abrupt how the music changes from title card to animation, so maybe it wasn't like that originally.

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