Friday, July 10, 2009

The Shindig

At first glance, The Shindig is just another all-singing, all-dancing Mickey Mouse cartoon, featuring Mickey and the gang playing music in a barn and dancing up a storm. But if you look a little deeper, there’s something very interesting going on in this cartoon.

This was directed by Burt Gillett, so I don’t know if what I’m noticing was his doing or the animators, but there is an undercurrent of a subversive nature to The Shindig. There are a couple examples that really stand out to me, but I’m certainly open to see what you guys think.

The first thing I noticed right away was the opening scene, which features a carload of animals heading to the dance. I noted above that this short was basically just Mickey and Minnie dancing in a barn, very similar to the earlier short The Barn Dance. So it struck me to watch this to see the front of the car labeled with “To the Barn Dance.” Was this an intentional way of the animators informing the audience that this short would be something they have seen before?

I sincerely doubt it, since they had no way to know that the audience would have seen the earlier short. But was it something the animators put in to refer to the earlier work? I have to think it was. They could have phrased that a few different ways, but calling it “The Barn Dance” is telling, at least to me.

The second thing is when Horace Horsecollar goes to pick up Clarabelle Cow. He pulls on her tail outside the shack where she is, then the camera goes inside the shack. Clarabelle is lying on her bed, reading a book entitled “Three Weeks.” Again, at first glance, not that significant. Clarabelle goes and puts on a skirt to cover her udders and basically “clothes” herself. This is the first time we’ve seen her wear clothes.

Put the pieces together, though, and it seems a little more unseemly. The book Clarabelle was reading was a banned book at the time, because it was an account of a Balkan queen seducing a young British aristocrat. Author Elinor Glyn received a lot of trouble for the book. To have Clarabelle “naked” on her bed reading a piece of “erotic” fiction seems a little out of the ordinary for Disney.

There may be nothing to these two instances, but they did stand out to me. Add to that the fact that this short reuses a lot of animation. Sequences of Mickey and Minnie playing music, Minnie at the piano, Clarabelle and Horace dancing, and the crowd applauding are all reused at least once, and some are used three times. Sure, that is probably due to the production schedule, but could it also have been an animator protest at having to do the same type of short again?

I know all this is wild speculation, but hey, that’s half the fun, right? In truth, there probably was nothing going on in The Shindig other than some fun gags and turning out another quick Mickey short. We see some new uses for Horace and Clarabelle here, and Patricia Pig even turns up again. But it’s fun to look at this short and its gags and possibly see that animators may be tired of the same old thing as well. Who knows?

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. I don't think the sign "To the Barn Dance" was a reference to the earlier short. I think it was just a quick way of letting the audience know what kind of party the excited characters are headed to, but who knows, you could be onto something! However, I do think the reuse of animation is just a simple short-cut to get the cartoon completed quicker and cheaper rather than a protest at having to do a similar cartoon again.

    There are some risqué gags in this one, though. Clarabelle's seen reading erotic fiction in the "nude", as you mentioned, and also Mickey snaps Minnie's underwear (and gets a slap the second time)!

    This cartoon does build up a great party atmosphere, especially towards the end. Also Clarabelle and Horace are completely humanised in this one, standing on two legs the whole time.

  2. According to the Encyclopedia of Disney Animated shorts, the scene of Clarabelle reading without her skirt on was censored at one point - whether it was because she didn't have her skirt or because of what she was reading, I'm not entirely sure. One interesting note is that according to the Ub Iwerks bio-documentary, The Hand Behind the Mouse, it was due to pressure from the censors that the cows started wearing skirts in the first place. Apparently, even udders were considered risqué in the 1930s...

  3. I don't think there was anything to the "Barn Dance" reference, either, but it was just a thought. I do think there is some evidence of a "subversive" mode moving into the animation in some of these shorts.

    Whether it's intentional or not, you see a lot of things that make you scratch your head - the Mickey bear in Arctic Antics, Clarabelle's erotic adventures here.

    It's interesting about the reuse of animation, it just seems more obvious here than in many of the other shorts.

  4. 1930 was the year of the debut of Betty Boop whose cartoons had a ton of risqué jokes. The Disney artists must have seen these (and saw what a laugh they must have got) so I wonder if that was the inspiration the risqué gags on display here? Well if they're doing it...

    --Actually, on checking the dates, I think The Shindig may have been released too early to have been inspired by any cartoons featuring Betty Boop. It could be the Disney artists had seen other risqué jokes in cartoons or maybe they simply had some slightly rude gag ideas they wanted to use regardless of what anyone else was doing.


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