Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Karnival Kid

The improvement I saw in The Plowboy continues in The Karnival Kid, a short that really takes the Mickey Mouse cartoons to a new height. The animation is inventive, the score is great, and the characters even talk! Yes, Mickey utters his first real words here, and they’re funny to boot.

That’s the real story of The Karnival Kid as it relates to our project – the milestone of Mickey speaking. Walt provides his voice, and the soon-to-be trademark squeaking tone is an instant classic. I’ve always loved Walt’s original Mickey voice, and hearing it here for the first time is a real treat.

The story of The Karnival Kid is broken into two sections – Mickey the hot dog vendor at the carnival, and Mickey sneaking away later that night to woo Minnie the shimmy dancer. Both sequences are great, but in different ways.

The first sequence is very reminiscent of the Oswald short, All Wet, where Oswald was a hot dog vendor at the beach. The gags that were used in that short are recycled here, such as Mickey selling Minnie a hot dog that then tries to run away. Mickey catches the dog and spanks it like a child. The same sequence occurred in All Wet, but I have to say it’s still funny.

The other thing that strikes me about the first sequence is the sheer kinetic energy going on. The opening shot is of the carnival grounds, and it’s frantic, with characters moving from foreground to background, side to side, up and down. It’s visual overload, but in a good way. It really gets across the idea of a carnival atmosphere.

Pete (at least I think it’s him) serves as the carnival barker, and has a quick fight with Mickey when our favorite mouse interrupts Minnie. But Pete’s main contribution here is to be the puppet master for a shadow puppet of Minnie the shimmy dancer, in a neat opening gag.

The second sequence is much quieter and simpler. Mickey shows up outside Minnie’s trailer at night with a piece of fencing and a couple of cats. The cats proceed to sing “Sweet Adeline” while Mickey accompanies them on the guitar. Most of the action is the cats fighting each other for volume or with claws. Mickey is featured very rarely.

The opening of the sequence is neat, with the title card literally melting away, in a neat piece of animation. However, there really seems to be no reason to tack on this sequence, and it ends rather abruptly with Pete throwing trash cans at both Mickey and the cats to end the short.

The Karnival Kid is good, but not great. Still lacking in the strong plot of the Oswald shorts, the early Mickeys seem to rely on the sound and music as the backbone of the shorts. That was a sensation at the time, no doubt, but it does seem like some of the growth in the animation we saw in the Oswald series has slowed. Perhaps Walt realized that as well, which is why our next short, The Skeleton Dance, launched a whole new series.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. Mickey's finally spoken, but it seems he has yet to find his voice - I've always found that in Mickey's earliest appearances, his voice, while still squeaky, is much harsher and raspier than the friendly tone we're all used to. This becomes especially evident in Mickey's Follies later on, in which he sings what will eventually become his theme song, and, to paraphrase one poster on The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated shorts, sounds like he has a bad cold at best. I can see why this would be the case - Walt couldn't possibly hit on the perfect voice on his first attempt.

  2. We're not certain, today, that the voice in KARNIVAL KID and MICKEY'S FOLLIES is Walt. In fact, Carl Stalling claimed to have spoken for Mickey briefly, and the conventional wisdom is that one of these two is the one where he does. Still, while I'll agree that the voice doesn't sound like Walt in either short, I'd love to know a little more.

    As for Mickey's cat antagonist in KARNIVAL KID: it's less Pete than the cat from THE OPRY HOUSE (snake-charmer's snake impersonator) and WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY. In 1931, Mickey newspaper strip writer/artist Floyd Gottfredson called this cat Kat Nipp, making him a separate character from Pete: a kind of delinquent rival of Mickey's, known for tying Mickey's tail and nose in knots. The latter is directly anticipated by the similar gags in KARNIVAL KID.

    Kat Nipp has appeared a few times in other comics since 1931, though never very often.

    "It's a bum hootch dance—keep your money in your pants!"

  3. David, as always, you bring the new knowledge that makes this worth doing. I guess I've always bought into the idea that Walt "spoke" for Mickey from the get go, but this does not sound the same as other times I have heard.

    Interesting also about the cat. There is some kind of cat fixation among the animators it seems. One of my next ideas after I finish this project is to track down some of the Disney comic strips and comic books to read those. When/if I do, I look forward to checking out Kat Nipp.

  4. Re: Walt speaking for Mickey from the get-go—I suspect that comes from the squeaks and other noises Mickey makes in the first few sound shorts, which to my ear certainly sound like Walt's falsetto.

    So while I'm not stating it as gospel truth, maybe Walt did "speak" for Mickey from the start, but when it first came time to have him speak and sing actual words, others' voices were briefly tested before Walt decided to resume the job himself.

  5. By the way, thanks for the compliment!

  6. You're quite welcome, sir. I think after watching Mickey's Follies it does seem like there's a different person. It could be like B.D. said, that Walt is tinkering with the voice, but I don't think so. "Minnie's Yoo Hoo" doesn't sound like Walt at all.

  7. The Stalling explanation does seem more plausible - the tinkering explanation was a complete guess, based on the fact that I wasn't aware that anyone had voiced Mickey before Walt did.

  8. Despite some recycled Oswald gags, the Disney cartoons are a-changin'. This one has a new kind of energy with a very loud and lively opening and animation that really gets into the music (especially in the early section of this short). Mickey and Minnie's funny squawky noises were gone in the Plow Boy, but here the characters actually speak (and not just a string of la-la-la singing). Also Mickey's character design has changed again, he's rounder and somehow more solid. If the budgets were getting stingy with "When the Cat's Away" (with sequences being removed before being animated), then things are getting a lot more elaborate and impressive here.

    The cats in the second half of this short are really funny. I love how cat and human behaviour are combined, along with imaginative, cartoony action. I did read (can't remember where) that the night time section of this short was originally 'tinted' blue (probably achieved by printing the orginal prints on blue stock). This would make this cartoon stand out even more amongst early Disney cartoons so I wish the effect had been recreated on the DVD.

    I do wonder how similar this cartoon is to earlier, lost carnival cartoons "Alice at the Carnival" and Oswald's "Hot Dog". The animation of the carousel with the mechanical horses reminds me of the Oswald cartoons (and I love how in the background of that scene people are nearly falling out the roller coaster).


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