Monday, October 5, 2009

Building a Building

We’ve managed to clear 1932 in the Disney Film Project, and we cruise on into 1933 with one of the most celebrated Mickey Mouse shorts ever – Building a Building. This one was nominated for an Academy Award, before losing out to The Three Little Pigs, which we will get to later. Does it live up to the hype?

Absolutely. It features everything that you would want in a Mickey Mouse short – Mickey as the loveable underdog, Minnie flirting with Mickey, Pete menacing the two of them, and a happy but chaotic ending. Toss in several good gags all throughout the construction site, and you have the makings of a classic.

Funny enough, this is really a remake of the Oswald short Sky Scrappers. The plot is exactly the same – Mickey/Oswald is part of a construction crew that is run by Pete, who tries to steal Sadie/Minnie when she comes peddling box lunches. A clash ensues, and our hero comes out ahead.

There are even some of the same gags included, such as Minnie/Sadie gazing adoringly at Mickey/Oswald while he eats. Or, more noticeably, the shorts open with the exact same shot – a shot of a steam shovel that looks like a menacing face with teeth. The similarities between the two are very prominent.

Despite that, there is enough difference to make this a worthwhile short on its own. First of all, Mickey is a different character than Oswald. You can see that in his approach to Pete. Where Oswald ends up confronting Pete and engaging in a fist fight, Mickey tries to confront Pete, but ends up just knocking the bully off balance and running away. It’s subtle, but it shows the difference in Mickey vs. Oswald.

The animation here is very good, showing a great deal of expressiveness in Mickey and Minnie, and great action as Mickey moves quickly through the girders and boards, falling, tripping, jumping or hopping along. Even better is the final sequence, where Pete tumbles through the entire construction site.

The reason this short was so popular at the time, though, is likely because of the time it was released. At the height of the Great Depression, people were miserable, both in and out of their jobs. Mickey’s rebellion against his boss was a great encouragement to audience members who were wishing they could do the same. That’s why this short seemed to resonate more than the Oswald short that was released years earlier. I recommend seeing both, as they’re both fantastic pieces of work by the Disney animators.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. Another wonderful Mickey cartoon. Yes it owes a lot to the earlier Oswald cartoon, but it's interesting to see how far Disney has come. One advancement over the silent Oswald cartoon is the use of music. OK that's obvious, but it's just used so well, it's hard to imagine certain scenes (e.g Mickey meeting Minnie and saving her hat or Pete's trousers sprinkling with water as he runs around in pain) without the lovely accompanying music. Like the Silly Symphonies, songs are starting to sneak in now too. I assume Minnie's "Box lunch, who wants a box lunch?" is an original tune, but maybe David can tell us for sure?

    One odd thing about this short is that I can never work out what Minnie sings at the end. Logically she's singing out M-I-C-K-E-Y as she writes it on the cart, but that's not what I hear. Sounds more like "M-I-C-E-Y-I" and I certainly don't hear a 'K'. Any ideas what the words are here?

  2. Mac, I haven't seen this one yet, and I'm certainly not as much of a Disney expert as David, but maybe the actress who voiced Minnie made a mistake that nobody noticed or there was no time to fix, or maybe it's supposed to be a gag that Minnie spells Mickey's name wrong.


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