Thursday, May 27, 2010

Goofy's Glider

Goofy is my absolute favorite of the Disney cartoon stars, because his shorts were what I grew up on. Although I enjoy watching the Donald shorts a little more these days because they are brand new to me, Goofy still holds a special place in my heart. The reason for that begins in this short – Goofy’s Glider.

For some reason, in 1939, Pinto Colvig, the original voice of Goofy, left the Disney studio. This left Walt and his team with a serious quandary – how could they continue to make Goofy films without Goofy having a voice? The solution created what I think are some of the funniest shorts that the Disney company ever produced.

Rather than have Goofy go through an adventure where he engaged in conversation and talking to other people, the choice was made to create “How To…” style short. A narrator was used to tell the “correct” way to do a certain task – in this case flying a glider. The counterpoint to that was Goofy doing the activity the wrong way, making the same sort of mistakes that he always made, but it’s so much funnier when it’s a counter to the serious narration.

That said, how does the original short fare? I’m happy to report that it does very well. Goofy’s Glider, in providing a template for these shorts going forward, makes the juxtaposition of the narration and action seem very natural. Goofy’s actions are perfectly consistent with what he had done in previous shorts.

I think that’s the key to why Goofy works so well – he is consistent. In fact, Donald is much the same thing, always consistent in his actions and reactions. Goofy, though, always will get confused, and do things that lead him into bad situations. He always handles those situations with a goofy grin and happiness. It’s why we love him.

For example, in Goofy’s Glider, he ends up launching himself into the air, but is upside down. It takes him a good minute or two to figure it out, though, and his increasing realization is visible through the animation. It’s fantastic work. But ultimately, despite some hysterics, Goofy ends up smiling at the end.

Enough praise can not be laid at the feet of the narrator of these shorts, however. The haughty, over the top tone combined with the technical jargon gets more and more hilarious each time. These shorts are a treasure, and I’m so happy to have them ahead of us in this project.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip

Ah…Mickey. Seeing a Mickey Mouse short come up on the schedule is like slipping into a comfortable pair of slippers, ready to make you relax and feel just a little better about your self. It’s even more pronounced when it’s a short I have fond memories of, such as Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip.

This short is one of the first Mickey Mouse cartoons I saw, back in the day when the Disney Channel used to show old Disney stuff. To go on a tangent, by the way, I am not one of those who is so upset that all the old stuff is not on Disney Channel – I actually like High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place and Phineas and Ferb. But there is a place for these old classics, such as the Disney Treasures DVD that I watched this short from.

I love the fact that Mickey is getting ready to depart from the Burbank train station, the location of Walt’s studio. It adds a little touch of realism to the short and to Mickey. Pluto is accompanying him on the trip, but Conductor Pete says that dogs are not allowed on the train. It’s great to see Pete back and cast as Mickey’s adversary.

The fun in this short is seeing Mickey’s sheepishness. As his character evolved over the years, Mickey went from the swashbuckling adventurer he was in The Gallopin’ Gaucho to a suburban man in later shorts. Now, he is much more of a happy go lucky guy who gets very scared and nervous when in danger. It’s always been there, but here it’s more pronounced, like when he’s sweating bullets as Pete interrogates him.

The creativity of how Mickey and Pluto try to get away from Pete is quite good as well. My personal favorite is the American Indian costume, with Pluto in the papoose. It all falls apart when Pete tries to pinch the “baby’s” cheeks, but it’s very funny.

My absolute favorite part of the short, though, is when Pluto gets snagged out of the window and Mickey chases him outside. They end up off the train, only to discover that they’re exactly where they need to be, in Pomona. It’s such a fantastic metaphor, that we spend our time evading trouble and pushing to get where we want, then look up and we’re there. I’m sure it was not social commentary, but it is a good feeling nonetheless.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Window Cleaners

Donald and Pluto are teamed up again in Window Cleaners, but in what must violate some unwritten law of the universe, this time Pluto does not take over the short. No, Donald gets the majority of the screen time and the gags in this one, and the short is better for it.

The idea is easy – Donald is a window washer on a skyscraper. The execution is somewhat different, though, as Pluto is charged with hoisting Donald up the side of the building. Pluto is dragging a rope through a crossbar in a sort of pulley system, until he gets distracted by a tick or flea and drops the rope. Donald goes flying and lands on a statue in the first big gag of the short.

Much like Donald’s Vacation, we get to see a few different sides of Donald in this short. In the beginning, he is the happy, singing Donald who goes about his work with not a care in the world, seemingly. Until he gets dropped by Pluto, of course. Then, things start building towards a more and more angry Donald.

This is a fantastic way to construct a Donald short, and a pattern that I imagine we will see more of going forward. Staring Donald as a sort of “every man” who is just trying to work and keeps getting interrupted is a brilliant conceit. Because he is so irritable, it’s fun to watch the building anger.

Pluto’s main role in this short is to sleep. After Donald finally gets up the building, he tries to get Pluto to send up some more water, but to no avail. Pluto is sleeping at the bottom of the building, and Donald can’t wake him up. He even yells down the storm drain, only to have Pluto block it and the hot air blow up in his face.

When he finally does get things going, it’s not long before Donald has an encounter with a bee. This takes up the majority of the second half of the short, as the bee tries in vain to penetrate Donald’s defenses. First there is a bucket, then Donald gets tied up in the ropes on the pulley and blows on the bee as hard as he can.

The final gag, though, shows the bee getting his revenge, as he staggers to the bottom of the platform Donald is on and heroically lifts his stinger up to get Donald. This sequence of the bee is a fantastic piece of work. The bee’s struggle to get himself up after Donald blew him down is so believable and inspiring, even though it’s supposed to be funny.

Window Cleaners is a fun short, although it does not work quite the same as some of the better Donald shorts. We do get some great angry Donald stuff here, but the gags are a little slower. This one focuses on some storytelling efforts that are quite good (like the heroic bee) but at the expense of comedy. Still a worthwhile short, though.

Donald's Vacation

Bumping this back up, because this post is part of the Disney Blog
Carnival, go there to read more great posts like this

I’ve often said in this space that Donald represents what most of us are really like – fun loving people who get irritated when things don’t go according to our plan. Even if we all want to be like Mickey, Donald is more what most people act like. That’s why I think Donald’s shorts work best when they involve him in real life situations where everything goes wrong.

Donald’s Vacation is one of those shorts, and it is great. It features Donald trying to get back to nature by rowing through a forest, setting up a campsite and then trying to relax. Of course, it doesn’t work, because what would the fun be in that?

What I love about this short, though, is that it could have taken the easy way out, and made the whole short about Donald getting his food stolen by chipmunks. It didn’t, though, and the short is that much better for it.

Instead, what we get are four distinct segments, each with different styles and gags. The short starts with a little pastoral piece of Donald cruising down the river in a kayak. This part moves slowly, but has some fun sight gags, like Donald’s legs sticking out from the kayak as he walks over a tree or the fish that gets stuck in his guitar and “swims” out by strumming the guitar.

The second bit is Donald’s fight with his folding chair. Anyone who has gone camping or set up a folding chair can probably relate to this one. Donald gets twisted around, caught up in the chair, and hung by an umbrella – all while showcasing his trademark frustration.

The third piece involves the chipmunks stealing his food. This has to be a precursor to Chip and Dale, as the chipmunks here look nearly identical to Chip, and in the years to come the two chipmunks would become Donald’s enemies. It’s a fantastic bit with some good sight gags of the chipmunks with the food – eating a face into the pumpkin or wearing cupcakes as a dress, for example.

Donald’s encounter with a bear, though, is the coup de grace for this short. It’s classic stuff for a cartoon, with Donald feeling the bear’s face before looking at him, running away and leaving silhouettes in the waterfall as he does, and riding on top of the bear before figuring out that it’s a bear!

The reason this short works so well is because there is more than just one bit for Donald, and each one demonstrates a different side of him. There’s the fun side to start, the frustration with the chair, the anger during the chipmunk scene and the fear of the bear. This is a great short to get to know Donald, and why he is such an enduring character.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pluto's Dream House

We haven’t seen our friend Mickey Mouse in quite some time, as most of the focus has been on Donald and Pluto in 1940. That changes with Pluto’s Dream House, which is billed as a Mickey short, but features Pluto in a prominent role as well. It’s a chance for us to get a glimpse of Mickey before his main reappearance in Fantasia.

The Pluto rules still apply, here, though, and the canine star takes over the short, as he does in most any short he is in. It’s not that odd, though, since the subject of this short is Pluto and the new dog house that Mickey is building for him. After all, his old drab house, as shown in this short, is looking run down.

The straw that stirs the drink (h/t Reggie Jackson) in this short, though, is a lamp that Pluto digs up when Mickey suggests that they “break ground” on the new dog house. Pluto sprays the lamp up along with other things that are buried in the yard, right into Mickey’s arms. Once Mickey rubs the lamp up, things get interesting.

A Rochester-style voice comes out of the lamp and offers Mickey and Pluto some wishes. In case you don’t know who Rochester is, go check out The Jack Benny Show, but it’s basically a gruff African-American voice. Since Mickey doesn’t want to spend the afternoon working on the dog house, he asks the genie to build it.

That’s where the gags begin, as the tools and lumber start flying around Mickey and Pluto as the house is being built around them. Lumber flies out from under Mickey, Pluto gets painted as he crouches behind the foundation and soon enough, there is a dream house built and gleaming in front of them.

That’s not enough for Mickey, though, who asks the genie then to start bathing Pluto. The magic erupts and drags Pluto into the house to start scrubbing him. It’s an odd scene, because Mickey doesn’t even watch, and just goes in the other room. It’s somewhat strange to me, but still kind of funny.

Where it gets even weirder is when Mickey’s radio breaks, and the genie starts taking instructions from the various stations. That’s the funniest part of the short, as the genie starts preparing Pluto in a pie, boxing him, then putting him in a Jell-O mold. It’s rapid fire gags, each one more ridiculous than the next.

That’s when we get the big reveal that the whole thing was a dream by Pluto, as he jumps up from Mickey’s bedside and into the bed. That actually explains the weirdness of some of the short. The problem with the short is that it’s just a bit off. The early gags move a little slow, then the final ones are so fast. There’s not a continuous flow through the short, and that makes it sort of flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s funny, but not the best example of Mickey and Pluto together.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Put Put Troubles

Once again, we have Donald and Pluto paired up in a short. You would think at this point that Mickey might be getting jealous. I mean, when was the last short that he and Pluto were together in? But no, we continue with Donald and Pluto, as they try to start a boat in Put Put Troubles.

It’s not the most inspired short I’ve ever seen, just to be up front. There are basically two stories here – Pluto getting stuck with a spring coil on the beach and Donald trying to start the outboard motor on his boat. Neither of those on their own is very compelling, and when you put them together, they’re not all that scintillating.

That said, there are some really great individual gags in the short, they’re just small pieces scattered here and there, and not drivers of the story. One of the funniest comes early on when the spring collides with Pluto and ends up around his neck as a collar. It’s a sort of African/National Geographic picture that just made me laugh.

The other great gags actually come at the end of the short, when Donald manages to get the motor running, just in time to have it explode out of the water and drag him around. Pluto gets sucked in behind him, being dragged by a rope. This is where the gags come fast and furious, my favorite coming when Donald crosses a sandbar and “opens” it like a zipper, only to have Pluto cross and close it again.

Other than those two sequences, though, the rest of the short is rather slow moving, and doesn’t offer a lot of new ground. We’ve seen Pluto caught up in situations with something that befuddles him plenty of times. The spring is a new idea, but not new enough that it makes it all that great.

Again, Pluto seems to dominate the screen time, as he does in almost all the shorts he is in. Donald is relegated to a secondary role, trying to start the motor. The bits with the motor almost make it the main character, as it sputters and coughs and fights with Donald. We don’t get to see much of the trademark Donald frustration here, and that handcuffs the short a bit.

Put Put Troubles would not make my top ten list, obviously, but it does have some fun gags. Overall, though, I don’t think the Donald and Pluto pairing is working as well as Mickey and Pluto or Donald and Goofy. It will be interesting to see how that progresses.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bone Trouble

Pluto has had his own shorts before (Pluto’s Judgment Day, Mother Pluto, Pluto’s Quinpuplets), but Bone Trouble feels like the start of something bigger. It would be sort of the kickoff to Pluto’s long running series of shorts, and it’s executed so well that you can see why Walt would keep things going with Mickey’s pet.

The plot of this is simple – Pluto has no food in his bowl, and heads over to the next door neighbor’s yard to steal a bone. Unfortunately for him, there is a big bulldog there that has dibs on the bone in his bowl. It’s not an original set up, but the payoff to the story is fantastic.

First, a little point of interest – Pluto is not living out in the suburbs with Mickey in this short. Perhaps that is why this feels different. In his past shorts, Pluto has been in the farmlands or in suburbia with Mickey, whereas here, he and his pursuer are running through city streets. It’s a very well done background, as we see details all over the cityscape letting us know that this is a well worn town.

The two dogs end up in a carnival, running through the various rides before ending up in the Hall of Mirrors. Pluto manages to hide there, and gets into one of the best sequences in any of his shorts so far. While walking through the hall, Pluto ends up creating all sorts of funny reflections in the mirrors, which are bizarre, hysterical, inventive and fun all at the same time.

A lot of the work in this sequence reminded me of the Pink Elephants on Parade part of Dumbo. It’s a work we’ll get to soon enough, but the mashing and bending, squashing and stretching of Pluto’s figure in the mirrors hearkens back to earlier days of the Disney shorts, while also looking forward to some of the more psychedelic and free form animation to come in things like Fantasia and Dumbo.

It’s a great sequence that does not end until the bulldog comes up on Pluto, and tries to get his bone back. Even then, though, Pluto manages to outsmart him, by luring him into a room of mirrors and scaring him off at the multiple Plutos hidden there. It’s a bit that shows Pluto at his craftiest, and that’s a side of him we have not seen before.

Bone Trouble is easily my favorite of the Pluto shorts so far, and makes the case for Pluto to continue getting center stage. It’s not surprise to me that Pluto would go on to be a bigger star for Disney after this short.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mr. Duck Steps Out

Donald continues to be the main Disney star of 1940, as he was in 1939. In Mr. Duck Steps Out, though, we in many ways get a flashback to earlier times of Disney shorts, as we see Donald playing off a conceit that many times would have been used for Mickey.

Donald has plans to “step out” and go visit Daisy, who we have not seen for quite some time (I believe since Don Donald, but not 100% sure). Unfortunately for him, Huey, Dewey and Louie decide that they want to get in on the action as well, trailing him out of the house.

The “Mickey goes to woo Minnie” plot sustained many of Disney’s early shorts, but we have not seen it used for Donald as of yet. It’s an interesting twist on the typical Donald short. This could easily be a Mickey short, with Daisy swapped out for Minnie and the nephews swapped for Pluto.

As such, it plays somewhat different than a typical Donald Duck short. It maintains a fun, light hearted tone, but still peppers in some of the frustration that Donald is known for. It’s a delicate balance, but one that is pulled off very well.

Where I think this short excels is in the flashback to the old, all-singing, all-dancing shorts of the early Mickey days. We’ve never seen Donald in that sort of situation, so watching he and Daisy cut a rug while the boys play music is a fantastic treat. This being Donald, though, there has to be a little twist to it.

This time, the dancing gets started before the nephews start playing, and they’re not happy about it. So, they resort to trickery, as they are wont to do. The boys put an ear of corn on the stove, then knock it into Donald, causing him to shake violently and spew popcorn everywhere. It’s a hilarious gag that gets funnier and funnier as the short goes along.

This is very much a throwback to me, but it seems fresh because we have not seen Donald in this role before. Donald’s nephews and Daisy again add to the sense of family that has been around our main duck since almost his first appearance. It definitely seems as though he is building his own supporting cast, and in Mr. Duck Steps Out, it works beautifully.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bill Posters

Yesterday, I mourned the end of the trio shorts, where Mickey, Donald and Goofy gathered together to do a job. Fortunately, though, it was not the end of distinct pairings of those characters, as today’s subject – Bill Posters – pairs Donald and Goofy in a similar style of short.

Goofy and Donald are posting advertisements for soup all around what appears to be a medieval town. Of course, things don’t go smoothly, and hilarity ensues. What’s great about the short, though, is seeing these two put through their paces in a way that is logical to their character. That hasn’t always been the case, as I pointed out about Donald in Donald’s Dog Laundry.

Goofy gets involved in a struggle with an inanimate object, which has been the norm for him. My favorite was the ship’s masthead in Ship Builders, but there’s been furniture, clock gears and more that have vexed the Goof. Here, it’s a windmill that causes the problem. The gags here are pretty clever, if predictable. The windmill “grabs” Goofy’s brush and his glue and even knocks off his trademark hat.

The best thing, though, is Goofy’s confused reaction. When he gets the brush back in his hands, seemingly out of nowhere, he turns to the camera and gives a shrug and a smile. It’s a perfect image for his character. Goofy is always confused, but takes it in stride and moves on.

Donald, on the other hand, gets involved with a goat, that is eating everything in sight, including Donald’s posters. We get to see Donald angry and irritated, trying to get his brush and posters back from the goat. But we also get to see a different side of Donald, as the brush gets stuck in the goat’s horns and Donald is cornered against a wall.

What I loved was that unlike Mickey or another character, Donald is sweating, but doesn’t think for a second that he can’t get out of it. He reaches over, figures out there’s a hole in the wall and shoves the brush handle into the hole before running away. Donald always thinks he knows best, which is often what gets him in trouble.

Another fun part of this short is the music. Not so much the score, but the tune that Goofy and Donald are whistling as they come into view and as they work. Yes, it’s “Whistle While You Work,” from Snow White. It’s a fun nod to the film that was such a big part of Disney history.

I enjoy seeing the characters put through their paces on various jobs. Even though it’s a formula that could easily grow old (and some may argue it already had at this point), it’s nice to see characters you love struggling through the work day just like you do.

All photos copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tugboat Mickey

It’s been quite some time since we have seen the classic Disney trio of Mickey, Donald and Goofy together in a short. That’s sad for me, because some of my favorite shorts are the ones where they work together. Lonesome Ghosts is my personal favorite, but there are so many more, like The Whalers, Clock Cleaners and all the way back to Mickey’s Service Station.

So, seeing them all together again in Tugboat Mickey is a welcome sight. However, one thing kept standing out to me as I watched this short. I have seen it before. Just as before, Mickey is relegated to the side while Donald and Goofy deal with a frustrating situation trying to get the job done.

But it runs deeper than that. The gags are familiar. Remember in Clock Cleaners how Donald got into a fight with a spring? This time it’s with a steam driven piston, which even talks back like the spring in Clock Cleaners did. Even the ending is similar to that of The Whalers, where all three end up in the water.

Now, if you are going to mimic things from other shorts, you might as well do so with some of the best shorts Disney has made to this point. And the combination works together pretty well. Here we get to see the classic Donald tantrum as he deals with this steam piston, and Goofy’s look of confusion as the grate covering the coal furnace keeps closing on him.

What was an adjustment was seeing the new design Mickey (pupils in the eyes, more human like in the face) with the same old Goofy and Donald. This is the first time they have been together in the same short since Mickey’s redesign, so it took some getting used to while watching.

Overall, though, this short was rather unremarkable. It wasn’t particularly memorable, and in fact, I will probably get this short mixed up with the others years from now, because of the similarities. As best I can tell, this is the last time these three will be paired together. I’m sure the studio did not know that at the time, but it seems like it is time. In the future we will get the Goofy shorts that are some of my favorites and more and more Donald Duck shorts. It’s nice to see the three guys together again, but seeing this short tells me it’s time for them to go their separate ways as well.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.