Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pioneer Days

Pioneer Days is a truly charming short, featuring a lot of action, a great story and some really well done animation. It shows what the Disney animators were capable of doing, given the time to work on a short and make it their own.

The constant struggle between music and story finds a happy balance here, as the songs are used to forward the story. In some ways this foreshadows some of the musical films that Disney would release later. Early songs like “Oh Susannah” being sung by Mickey and Minnie are used to set the scene and put the viewer in the proper frame of mind, just as “Jingle Bells” was used in Winter.

Of course, the main focus of this short is the story of the conflict between the Indians and the pioneers, and it is set up right from the start. After we see the Indians start their war dance, the scene then jumps over to the pioneers, and we get a nice juxtaposition between the warlike camp of the Indians and the peaceful, rustic camp of the pioneers.

Through the use of the two camps, there is the ability to use music in both settings, and incorporate dances to make things more interesting. We get three distinct songs from the pioneer camp, including a square dance and a lonely love ballad delivered by an old goat – literally. That subtle play on words is one of my favorite gags of the short.

The real action begins, though, when the Indians invade the wagon camp. From that point forward, it’s inspired chaos. The scenes of frantic pioneers scrambling around and trying to evade the arrows are great and add to the sense of motion that moves through the final part of the short.

One of my favorite bits features the Indians riding around the outside of the camp, while the scenery seems to turn the opposite direction. I know it has to be a simple trick, but it looks so dynamic on screen, that I couldn’t help but watch it twice. Kudos to the animators on that one.

The finale of the short comes when Minnie is kidnapped by one of the Indians, and Mickey rides off to save her. A great piece of personality is seen in Mickey’s face when he shoots his gun at the Indian menacing Minnie and all it shoots is a cork. Mickey’s look of helplessness mixed with surprise is a treat.

There is a slight twist on the familiar formula here, as Minnie comes to Mickey’s rescue by dropping a hot coal down the Indian’s pants. It’s the first time we’ve really seen Minnie in an active role, which is nice to see.

I enjoyed Pioneer Days a great deal. It does show some advancement in the Mickey shorts, continuing on the heels of The Gorilla Mysery and The Picnic. In Mickey’s third year of action as a cartoon star, it seems that Mickey is finally coming into his own.


  1. Hey Ryan, which version of PIONEER DAYS did you watch?

    The old TV version, also used on the 1990s laserdisc, ends with Minnie rescuing Mickey with the hot coals. This was the 1940s reissue print.

    The version on DVD (and YouTube) is taken from the first release print. It has an extra minute of footage at the end, showing Mickey and Minnie rescuing the other pioneers—won't give away how, in case you haven't seen it (your description didn't mention this ending, so I'm guessing you haven't?).

  2. I did watch the ending you referred to, but totally forgot to mention the clever ending. I assume you're talking about Mickey and Minnie marching into camp with a log stabbed with bayonets, which scares the Indians into running away.

    It was a nice bit but you're right, I forgot to include it in the description.

  3. The second Black and White Mickey DVD was going to feature alternate versions of this short and "The Castaway", but unfortunately these bonus features didn't make the final cut. David once told me about these alternate versions:

    "There are several alternate cuts of early scenes in PIONEER DAYS, some of which include different backgrounds for certain scenes. Scott MacQueen made this discovery in the late 1990s, at the same time that the original ending was recovered.
    At the time, only the ending was restored, but now I suppose all the variant scenes have been fixed up as well.

    With THE CASTAWAY, I believe there are some alternate cuts of certain scenes as well (at least the scene of the piano washing up on shore is timed differently in two different prints). I'm actually the guy who tipped Disney off to this one, so I'm excited to see full restorations of the variant versions, if that's what we're going to get."

    It's a shame the alternate versions never made it to DVD. It's interesting reading the animator drafts for this (available on Hans Perk's excellent blog afilmla.blogspot.com and also Patrick's Disney shorts site). It shows that some planned early scenes were cut before being animated. The alternate version shows that the tinkering continued! Also on the drafts we learn that the cool scene with the 'circular pan' was animated by Ben Sharpsteen.

    I really enjoy this short. One scene I find impressive is the bit when Mickey and the Indian are fighting on the ground. This Wilfred Jackson scene is really squirmy, with the mouse almost getting cut then choked!


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