Friday, June 26, 2009

Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling

In today’s post, I won’t be reviewing a single cartoon, but instead, looking back at what Ub Iwerks, and to a lesser degree, Carl Stalling meant to the studio. Now that we’ve finished the last of their shorts, what did they bring to the table, and how did their leaving impact the studio?

As I documented before, Ub’s arrival to the California studio was a shot in the arm to the Alice series, resulting in better animation and more interesting cartoons. He was the one who created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s design, and that was definitely an artistic success. Ub’s work on that series is simply stunning.

But, of course, the thing he should be remembered for the most in this period is the creation of Mickey Mouse. No matter what story you believe about how Mickey came to be, it’s undeniable that his design was all Ub Iwerks. That, combined with the near single handed animation of Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and Steamboat Willie, is enough to credit Ub with launching Mickey’s career.

It’s definitely debatable whether Mickey became the mega star that he was because of the animation or the sound revolution, but either way, without Ub, he would not have existed. I think the best way to look at Mickey Mouse is that without Ub Iwerks, Mickey would not have been the sensation that he became in the 20s, but without Walt Disney, he would not be the icon he is today.

That doesn’t even get into all the other things Ub began before leaving the studio, such as the Silly Symphonies and their experimental new techniques. I think it’s fairly safe to say that without Ub’s assistance, Walt’s little studio might not have survived through the Alice Comedies, and then again once Oswald was stolen if Ub had not been around.

Stalling is a different story. It’s hard to realize it now, but much of the aural language of cartoons was created by Carl Stalling. The sounds you expect to hear in cartoons when a character does a certain action were things that Stalling pioneered. First his work on the Mickeys and Silly Symphonies began the work, but once he left the studio and went to Warner Bros., he took it to a new level.

Both men made unique contributions to the Disney Studio. It was Walt Disney’s guidance, however, that led the studio forward, from being a small cartoon studio with one main character, to a multi-million dollar corporation with a theme park empire, live action films and a library of cartoon characters. I think it’s safe to say that Walt was always focused on the future, and how his work would play in a few months or years. I don’t know that this was the case with Ub or Stalling. I think they were focused on making the best damn cartoon they could for that day. Neither approach is wrong, I just think that conflict might have something to do with the friction.

I won’t even try to cover the reasons that Ub left. I will defer to fellow blogger David Gerstein’s post about this. Read it in its entirety, and be back here for a review of the first post-Ub Silly Symphony, Cannibal Capers, on Monday.

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