Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Disney Blog Roundup

Friday again, and time for a roundup of some of my favorite blog posts this week in the Disney blogosphere:

Theme Parks

Amanda needs some dining advice for her January trip to Disney, over on the Disney College Blog.

Kristin Helmstetter reviews the 50s Prime Time Cafe at the Studios

Yours truly talks about Disney Weekends at

Disney films

Check out Todd Perlmutter's Toy Story 3 review. Very good.

Honor Hunter brings us news of the newest Marvel film, and the first produced by Disney.

2719 Hyperion takes a look at a hidden message in Beauty and the Beast.

General Disney Fun

Stuart, @DisneyGeekDad on Twitter, looks at the Disney Twitterverse.

Anything you've read this week you want to share?

Also, I'll be out on vacation next week, but will try to share some photos and info from my trip, since I'll be headed to Kansas City and Marceline! Look for less frequent updates, but back into the full swing of things on July 6!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Good Time For A Dime

Yesterday I reviewed Baggage Buster, and wrote about how Goofy was a character that worked best when confronted with a myriad of obstacles. In comparing him to Donald, I implied that Donald was best suited to a singular antagonist. Well, in A Good Time For A Dime, Disney seemed to look to prove me wrong.

This Donald Duck short is very similar to Modern Inventions, in that Donald travels around an exhibition hall and gets wrapped up in some crazy gadgets. Only this time, instead of futuristic items, it’s the best in the Penny Arcade. On a tangent, I truly miss the Penny Arcade at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. I used to love to try those out as a kid. Now, there’s only a few isolated machines here and there. Oh, well.

Here, Donald is headed to the Penny Arcade, and first stumbles across the “video” viewers, where he ends up finding something labeled “The Dance of the Seven Veils.” For those unfamiliar, this was a very famous clip of the time, where the stereoscope viewer would show a woman removing seven pieces of veil-like clothing in succession. It did not show anything racy by today’s standards, but was standard for the era.

Here, we see Daisy Duck cast as the temptress, which brings her back into the fold after a long absence. I believe the last time we saw Daisy was in Mr. Duck Steps Out, when Donald came to court her. This is a different role, to say the least. It’s fun, though, because true to form, Donald’s machine malfunctions, and he sees it recover just in time to miss the last veil.

The second trial for Donald in this situation was his experience with the prize machine, or “The Claw” as the Little Green Men from Toy Story would call it. Donald tries repeatedly to get a prize, but to no avail, until he notices a magnet. Working diligently, Donald shakes the machine to the point where the claw has to get the magnet, and the magnet sucks up everything else. However, something goes wrong, and perfume gets sprayed on him, causing a sneeze that sends all the prizes away up the chute again.

You would think Donald might quit after that luck, but no! In fact, it’s part of what makes him so good as a character – that he does not quit. Donald takes the punishment and keeps coming back, even after he’s defeated.

His final fun machine is a very, very primitive flight simulator. It’s interesting to see this attempted in the short, because it’s different than the other two machines. I don’t know if machines like this really existed back in the 1940s, but certainly one that does what this one ends up doing did not. The plane flies on its own, chases Donald and ultimately shakes him until he’s green.

A Good Time For A Dime would not make my top ten of Donald Duck shorts, but mainly because I feel like I saw it before in Modern Inventions, and it was funnier then. That’s not to say it’s not good, but it lacks some of the punch of other, more original Donald Duck cartoons.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baggage Buster

Goofy has only had two shorts of his own to this point in 1941, Goofy and Wilbur and Goofy’s Glider. Each one took very different ways to approach the character. In Goofy and Wilbur, he was played as he normally was in the shorts, whereas Goofy’s Glider was a “How To…” short, where a narrator read off the correct way to do things while Goofy demonstrated the opposite. Which style would Baggage Busters take?

It would be the first one, in a short that reminded me a great deal of Donald’s Ostrich. Just like in that short, this one takes place on a train platform. In fact, many of the Disney shorts take place on a train platform, now that I think about it. One or two of the Alice shorts did, and one of the first talking Mickey shorts did. But I digress.

Just like Donald’s Ostrich, where Donald was confronted by an unexpected situation at the platform, here Goofy meets his match with a magician’s trunk. The trunk is supposed to be loaded onto the next train, but Goofy, in classic form, accidentally drops it, and the trunk opens.

This short is one that takes the device of the magician’s trunk and uses it to its fullest. The idea is established early on that pretty much anything we can think of will and can come out of the trunk, and from there, it’s open season on Goofy. It starts with a traditional rabbit popping out of a hat, which is fun enough, but goes way further.

That’s something I respect about the animators here, is that this could have been a simple case of taking the rabbit and mixing it up with Goofy. Instead, they worked this short a little more, and took the character to heart. Goofy is not someone who’s going to work well with one thing bothering him and causing frustration, like Donald. He is a character that is easily distracted, so you have to provide him with those distractions to keep him funny.

There are so many gags that come one after the other in this short. A bull pops up out of a handkerchief, a kangaroo appears to start punching Goofy, and a menagerie shows up out of nowhere, disappears back into the trunk then reappears. It all moves quickly, but is very, very funny.

Goofy’s shorts are my favorite of the main Disney characters, and the reason is that I think they are the funniest. Donald’s are quite good, and Mickey’s may be better artistically, but Goofy shorts are just fun. Baggage Busters is a good example of how to use the character without the “How To…” set up. It’s a fun, quickly paced romp that leaves you wanting more.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Gentleman's Gentleman

Since Mickey Mouse became a big star, Disney was very hesitant to put him into roles that might be less than flattering. For the most part, Mickey was there to direct the action, like in the trio shorts or with Pluto. In A Gentleman’s Gentleman, however, Mickey doesn’t come off in the most appealing way.

The short is about Mickey spending the day in bed while Pluto waits on him hand and foot. No, really, that’s what it’s about. Mickey wakes up and “summons” Pluto to bring him breakfast, and has the poor dog schlepping a tray, pouring coffee and the like. I think the attempt here was to make it look like there was a joke going on, where Mickey was playing the aristocrat and Pluto was playing along. However, it came off as sort of cruel to me.

This is really just a set up for having Pluto run out of the house. Mickey gives him a quarter, and sends Pluto into the world to fetch the paper. Hilarity ensues.

Pluto faces a few obstacles in this short, not the least of which is the fact that he’s a dog! Imagine a dog trying to hold a quarter in his teeth and then go put it into a newspaper stand. If you are laughing at the thought, you get the idea of what was so funny about Pluto trying to do it. He ends up losing the quarter, having trouble picking it up with his teeth, and loses it down the sewer.

The solution is, of course, to stick gum to the end of his tail and fish the coin out of the sewer. Because what could be more obvious?

The part of the short I find particularly amusing is the next sequence, where Pluto is walking down the street, paper clutched in his teeth, and nose stuck in the air. People are lauding him for how well trained he is and what a good dog he is, and he swells with pride. And then right after he falls over and drops the paper.

It gets even better though, as he sees a Pluto comic strip in the paper, which shows him ending up covered in mud. Pluto laughes, but after a breeze blows the paper away, he ends up in the mud, just like the comic strip. It’s a funny case of Disney sort of breaking the third wall, and acknowledging that these are characters in a cartoon universe.

When Pluto returns with his muddy self and the torn up paper, at first Mickey is very mean to him. Apparently, though, someone realized that made the unsympathetic Mickey even more so, and he laughs the whole thing off. It’s just a weird dynamic, as we’ve seen Mickey get onto Pluto before, but never treat him as such a slave. Even though Pluto is very funny in this, it’s still very strange.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3

Don't miss my guest blog today over at, on how to do a Disney Weekend at the parks!

In film history, there are very few trilogies that maintain quality the entire way through. Star Wars fans laud the first two films in the original trilogy, but many dislike Return of the Jedi. Indiana Jones fans are split, but some hate Temple of Doom, while others dislike The Last Crusade. Don’t get me started on The Godfather, Part 3. It’s tough to take a really popular, well done film, and continue that quality for two more films.

Pixar was able to build off the heartwarming story of Toy Story when they released Toy Story 2. Many people today regard it as the best sequel ever produced. Those people are likely to change their tune when they see Toy Story 3.

On Friday, June 18, I hurried home from work, purchased tickets to the 5:15 show, and gathered up the family so we could see the latest work from Disney/Pixar. I saw the first film in college, with a bunch of friends, including my now wife. It was around Christmas time of my freshman year, and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies. The second movie, I saw with my wife, shortly after we moved to Atlanta, before we had children. This would be the first time I saw a Toy Story film in theatres with my kids, and I couldn’t wait another day.

We settled in with popcorn and soda, and let the magic unfold. The short in front of the film, “Day and Night,” was magnificent. It really called back to old school 60s animation with the design of the characters, and in the best Pixar short tradition, made the most of its time with no dialogue, just fantastic sound effects and acting.

Then, Toy Story 3 began. I’m trying to make this review spoiler free, for those of you who have not seen it, so let me say that it’s fantastic and get that out of the way. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that it deals with what happens when Woody, Buzz and friends are dealing with the fact that Andy’s going away to college. To say more would spoil it, and that’s one thing no one should do.

What I can talk about is the emotions involved in this film. The thing that sets Pixar apart from the myriad of digital animation studios out there is that everything they do is full of story and emotion. They tug on your heartstrings, but they earn it. It’s not some cheap emotional storyline, like a beloved character dying for no good reason. Never has this been more true than in Toy Story 3.

From the beginning of the film to the end, the overriding theme is regret and loss. The toys are trying to find their purpose in life, now that Andy is moving on. The story is how they do that, and what it means to their relationships to each other. We have come to care for these characters and therefore, it’s hard to watch them struggle as they do throughout this film.

In the first two films, we see confident and strong characters, but here, the toys are beginning to doubt themselves. It’s a brilliant choice, because every character in the film, even the new toys, shares those feelings. The question is how do they deal with those feelings, and the answer is what makes the film work.

The animation in this film is on another level. If you have the chance to see it in a digital projection theatre, take it. We saw it in 2D, not 3D, but from what I understand from Twitter, you don’t need to see it in 3D at all. It doesn’t add or subtract anything to the experience, because this is not a visual spectacle, it’s a story first film.

If you have young children, be aware that this film gets dark. Very dark. It has to, really, in order to deal with the subjects it is tackling. There are sections towards the end of the film that are scary. My 3 year old daughter screamed for 20 minutes, terrified about what would happen. We were able to comfort her, but be warned that it gets scary.

On the other end of the spectrum, this one is very funny and heartwarming. The humor comes from the usual suspects, Hamm, Rex, Mr. Potato Head and the Little Green Men, as well as some different takes from Buzz. What happens, though, is the fate of the toys, and the worry about what will happen, is going to cause tears as well. If you don’t tear up during the final sequence, you need to have your pulse checked.

Ultimately, the Toy Story movies are about nostalgia, and the love of childhood. When watching these films, adults become kids again, and kids never want to grow up. It’s a modern version of Peter Pan in that way, because it makes us all young at heart. Now that the trilogy is complete, though, there is an arc throughout that makes it one story. It’s the tale of these beloved characters, going through the full breadth of their lives, and mirroring our own. Toy Story 3 forces us to look into that mirror, and in the end, lets us know that things will hopefully turn out alright.

All images copyright Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

Guest Blog at

Happy Monday, everyone! Later today, my review of Toy Story 3 will go up (spoiler free), but until then, I'm guest blogging over at I've made clear that my first love of Disney is the theme parks, and today, I'm discussing how to do a Disney weekend at the parks. Hop over there and check it out, then come back here for the Toy Story 3 review!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Disney Blog Roundup

Trying something new today, and for the foreseeable future. A little round up of some of the cool things in the Disney blogosphere, film related and otherwise:

Animation News

Zannaland finds some vintage Disney shorts featured on t-shirts at WDW!

Stitch Kingdom shows us the first look at the Perry the Platypus walk around character. Brilliant.

Letters of Note highlights some old correspondence from Walt Disney, on how to be an animator.

Disney Film News

It's Toy Story 3 day! Leonard Maltin's review seems positive.

Honor Hunter brings us news about the marketing of Tron:Legacy at Comicon

The film I'm most excited for in 2011? Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The Disney Blog brings us news that cameras are rolling!

Theme Park Fun

On the must read blog, Todd Perlmutter looks at what you should put in your park bag, while Kristin Helmstetter offers tips on beating the heat at WDW.

Jim Hill Media looks at whether World Of Color will have seasonal shows (Christmas or Halloween? Love it!)

Matt Hochberg at Studios Central looks at the park's offerings for Summer Nightastic. Can't wait to check these out myself.

Disney Food!

Discollegeblog asks where she should eat for her birthday. I said Kona. What do you say?

AJ at the Disney Food Blog looks at the most popular Disney World restaurants and where to go if they're too busy. Great tips, here, people.

Any articles you've read that you want to share this week? Post them in the comments. And stay tuned next week for some more fun, here and elsewhere.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Golden Eggs

Donald Duck can get himself in some amazingly awkward situations. We have seen that and we know it to be true. I have to say though, that the situation of Golden Eggs may be the most out there situation I’ve ever seen.

After seeing that the price of eggs is up to $0.85/lb, Donald decides it’s his time to strike it rich by harvesting the eggs in what one presumes is his chicken coop. After all, Donald leaves his own house, steps into his own yard, and begins collecting the eggs. He even puts on a faster bit of music to speed up the egg production. So where’s the problem?

Somewhere in the middle of all this, a rooster shows up and boots Donald out of the coop. What? I get that the rooster is “in charge” of the hens, but isn’t Donald the owner of the coop? Shouldn’t he be able to kick the rooster out?

This is where the problem of having your lead character be an animal kick in. Donald, as a duck, is about the same size as the rooster, so it really seems he has no authority in this situation. Which leads to an inevitable silly solution of putting on a female rooster costume, of course.

That’s the entire plot of the short, really, is Donald’s attempt to get past the rooster and capture the eggs using this “female” trick. And it’s funny watching Donald try to maneuver himself closer to the eggs without alerting the rooster to his duplicity. There’s complications of course, such as the red rubber glove that refuses to stay on Donald’s head, or the caterpillar that crawls inside the glove.

In the end, though, it was really hard for me to get past the whole “this is Donald’s house” thing. I know, I should suspend disbelief and move on, but this was just such a stretch that it was hard to overcome. Outside of that, though, the short is quite good.

One thing I find interesting is that in the way this plays off the rising price of eggs, this is the first time that the effects of World War II are starting to creep into the shorts. It would not be until 1942 that rationing and the conservation of resources began in earnest, but prices for goods were starting to rise as the war intensified. Eventually, Disney would become much more embroiled in the war effort with propaganda shorts and more, but that’s in the future.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Little Whirlwind

Ah…classic Mickey. It’s like slipping on an old comfortable robe and letting the warmth just snuggle you tight. Really, this is a classic era of Mickey shorts, even if they are few and far between at this point. The best Mickeys are most likely in the past, but the ones being produced in the late 1930s and early 1940s have some classic imagery and great characterization of Mickey.

The Little Whirlwind is one of those that you’ve probably seen, you just didn’t know it. It starts with a familiar gag to anyone who’s watched cartoons – Minnie bakes a cake and sets it in the window, then the smell wafts out and literally picks up Mickey and floats him along to the window. I know I’ve seen it in Looney Tunes shorts as well, but it’s still funny.

Mickey peering in the window at the cake is some of my favorite animation of the short. The ripples and effects of his ears and head swelling and shrinking through the glass of the window is ingenious. It serves to make an already sympathetic character even more so, just through the use of gestures and some fun visuals.

The deal is struck that Mickey will clean Minnie’s yard in exchange for the cake. Here is where the titular problem enters the picture. The whirlwind blows through the yard, disrupting Mickey’s efforts to clean up by moving his leaf basket, spewing things around the yard, and generally causing mayhem.

What I love about this short is the way things build upon one another, over and over again. The whirlwind first starts with small tricks, then develops an “army” of marching leaves, and eventually ends up as a huge tornado, sucking up the entire countryside. No matter what Mickey tries, the problem keeps getting worse and worse.

It’s an interesting choice to have Mickey in this short, because you’d normally associate Donald with something like this. I could easily see Daisy having baked the cake and Donald trying to get it. It would have been a very different short, though, because Mickey deals with the situation with a mixture of irritation, smiles and fear, depending on what he’s presented with at the time.

The end sequence, with Mickey perched in the fountain and Minnie glaring at him because of the mess the twister made is very funny. It’s a classic image of Mickey on the fountain, and his smile even when the cake ends up on his head kind of sums up where the character is very neatly. Mickey’s always going to try his best, but if things don’t go his way, he’ll shrug his shoulders, chuckle and keep going. That’s part of what we love about him.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pluto's Playmate

Pluto shorts are a double edged sword for me. I don’t particularly care for the character, because I don’t think he’s all that interesting. However, the animation in these shorts is definitely great, because there is no dialogue. That leaves me with the conundrum that is Pluto’s Playmate.


In some ways, this is a warm up for the much superior Mickey and the Seal short, which incidentally was on Playhouse Disney this morning. Good to see that Disney is realizing the potential in these shorts again. Anyway, like that short, this one features Pluto interacting with a seal, although Mickey is absent here.

The main issue I have with this short is that there’s no real hook to grab on to and keep me interested. Pluto is trying to play with a ball on the beach, and the seal tries to take it. And that’s about it…until the very end of the short.

The ending sequence is good, with an octopus wrapping itself around Pluto’s nose, while Pluto is literally over a barrel. The contortions of Pluto and the octopus are very funny, and the climax, when the seal comes to grab Pluto away, is heartwarming. The problem is, that’s the only part of the short that is compelling.

The earlier parts of the short are just flat in the humor department. It seems as though the team went a little too far in the direction of making Pluto realistic, which they did well. The problem with that is that he doesn’t really do anything that funny. It plays off like watching a real dog stomp around the beach. It’s interesting, but not funny or engaging.

I do have to say, though, that the work on Pluto here is very good. He moves and acts like a real dog, which has been more and more the case as we go along in the shorts. It makes for technical wizardry, but unless done properly, not for interesting stories. Pluto’s last short, Pantry Pirate, was much more compelling, because he was involved in constant gags trying to keep quiet. Pluto’s Playmate could have used a little more storytelling and less worry about keeping Pluto realistic.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 14, 2010


With some context behind us, we can start into the actual films of 1941, beginning with Timber, a Donald Duck short that matches him up with Pete. It’s a rare pairing, which is surprising, when you consider how much Donald is associated with the Beagle Boys, who are artistic descendents of Pete.

Donald, as he is wont to do, is wandering through the forest, possessions tied up like a hobo in a handkerchief on a stick. Donald seems to move in two modes in his recent shorts – either as a suburban man or a wilderness explorer. Consider his exploits in Donald’s Vacation or Good Scouts as examples of the latter.

Donald makes the mistake of trying to steal Pete’s food from an open window. This is a gag that’s not all that original, nor is the result. Pete sticks a piece of dynamite in Donald’s hand, leading to a very funny shot of the “exploded” Donald outside the window.

Where the short turns for the better, though, is when Pete decides to make Donald work off his debt. Here, we get to see Donald at his lazy best. We’ve talked a lot here about how Donald works best when he’s angry or frustrated, and his anger builds throughout the short. But there’s one more scenario where Donald works well, and it’s when he’s the flunky trying to avoid work.

Donald is lazy. No two ways around it. Think about some of the shorts we have seen already, like Self Control, where he was trying to lay around in a hammock. Or even his last team up with Pete in The Riveter, where he tried to work around actually working. That’s a place where Donald is the most fun, because, let’s face it, many of us can relate to that!

Donald tries a few things to get out of work, like breaking the axe or trying to lose the saw. The harder he tries to get away, though, the more he becomes embroiled in the process with Pete. It’s a great lesson, because if you’re like me, you’ve tried to get around work, but it always ends up making things worse, not better.

The climax of the short is a high speed chase over the railroad tracks, with both Pete and Donald on handcarts. I cannot do justice to this sequence in a description, because things fly by so fast and furious. Pete and Donald’s handcarts fly apart and they have to improvise to keep going. It’s fast moving, funny and classic Disney. In fact, it reminds me more of a Looney Tunes short than Disney, but it works for Donald.

Timber is a great example of Donald being Donald, and making a great foil for Pete. He’s different than Mickey, in that Mickey was trying his best, but ended up failing, while Donald looks to avoid work and then improvises. It’s a classic scenario that provides great laughs, and a short that’s well worth watching.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 11, 2010

1941 - Dragons, Elephants and Parrots - Oh My!

Yesterday, I wrote about the strike at the Walt Disney Studios in 1941, one of the pivotal events of that year. Tom Sito, former Disney animator, has a fantastic write up of the strike on Animation World Network, and if you want to fully understand what happened, please go read that before we move forward. Today, though, we’ll cover some other events of the year that had a great influence on Walt and the studio going forward.

Like I wrote yesterday, you have to understand that all was not wine and roses for Disney in this period. Pinocchio and Fantasia did not perform like Snow White, and money was drying up, because the shorts and features were getting more expensive to produce, but not pulling in as much money. In 1940, Disney had to offer stock for the first time, the start of the company becoming the monolithic entertainment giant it is today.

Then, there was another problem – World War II. Although it wasn’t known as such at the time, war breaking out in Europe dried up that market for Disney films. This was a huge revenue stream for the company that went away, and made things even tougher. So, Disney had to start cutting costs.

Reluctant Dragon still, courtesy of Ultimate Disney

One of the first ways to do that was to make the productions cheaper, but create more. The first Disney “live action” feature, The Reluctant Dragon, was created with a mixture of footage shot at the studio and animation. It takes a look at how cartoons are made at the studio, but was very cheap to produce. Similarly, Dumbo was released in 1941, and at only 65 minutes, clocks in as one of the cheapest and shortest Disney features.

Dumbo Poster from Big Cartoon Database.

Disney was learning to change things up, but one of the big events actually happened late in 1941. The United States was trying to keep good relations with countries in South America, in hopes of keeping them from joining the side of the Axis powers. As such, Walt was commissioned to go there and serve as a Goodwill Ambassador, spending his time researching new films and shorts that would be produced in the years to come.

Photo courtesy of Jim Hill Media.

Out of this trip, we got films like The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos, as well as other shorts and new animation ideas. It also served as a time for Walt to regroup after the trauma of the strike. There will be much more on the South America trip to come, but suffice to say here that it’s a seminal event in Disney history.

The end of the year, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, saw Disney become a wartime studio. After the attack, the military moved in and took over the studio, and Walt became a purveyor of war propaganda. We’ll dive deep into those years in the weeks and months ahead, because I am a WWII buff as well as a Disney nut.

It’s no understatement to say that 1941 was a year of huge changes at the Walt Disney Studios. There was change all around, and as we move forward in reviewing the films produced that year, it’s important to keep that context in mind.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Disney in 1941 - The Strike

It’s been a long time coming (over a year and a half), but we’re finally at 1941, which would prove to be one of the most pivotal years in the history of the Walt Disney Studios. This year was a huge sea change for Walt especially, and before we get started reviewing the shorts, it’s important to know what was going on with Walt throughout this year.

From the very beginning of the company, it had always been Walt and a tight knit group of animators churning out films that they liked. For lack of a better term, it was a family. They worked together in garages in Kansas City and Hollywood, shot in backyards with child actors, and stayed up late into the night drawing scenes over and over. It wasn’t until Mickey Mouse hit that Walt was able to grow his company.

Even then, Mickey was visually the creation of Ub Iwerks, and there was still a tight knit group of animators working on the shorts. The first time that changed was when Ub finally left the studio in 1930. Still, from the 1920s when Walt first set foot in California until serious production on Snow White began in the mid-1930s, the Disney Studio was a small group of dedicated artists.

With the production of Snow White, that all changed. The Hyperion Studio grew by leaps and bounds, and hordes of new animators came to Disney to join in one of the most exciting films ever made. With new people, though, came a different mindset. Whereas Walt had expected his employees to all be on board for late nights, hard work, overtime and meager rewards, the new artists weren’t all in that mold.

The new Disney Studio in 1939 - courtesy of Animation Archive

To be fair, during the production of Snow White, animators were told that the profits from the picture could bring new bonuses and rewards for their hard work. After the smash success of the film, the bonuses never materialized. Instead, Walt and Roy worked hard to make the studio solvent, and to expand into a new studio in Burbank.

As things progressed, and Mickey became less and less of a popular character, and the focus of the studio shifted towards features, there was more discontent bubbling up among the animators. Why were they expected to slave away no this films if they would not share in the bounty?

Fantasia, in some sense, served as a tipping point on both sides of the argument. When it was released, RKO would not distribute it, leaving Disney with an expensive film that required an expensive sound system, and no way to collect revenue from it on a large scale. The animators were there with some of their best work not seeing the light of day, and no financial reward coming.

The future of the studio was in doubt. Money was tight, and Walt was looking at having to make some real hard decisions. The animators (at least some of them) were fed up, and decided to form a union. The tensions brewed throughout the year, and in June, several animators went on strike.

Photo courtesy of Michael Barrier

The strike was so pivotal, that it affected everything that Disney did from that point forward. Between the money lost, the shift from thinking that workers were a “family” to being part of the machine, and the results of the strike, it all came together to fundamentally shift the way the Disney Studio would operate.

Tomorrow, more on 1941, and other events that year that helped change Disney forever.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Volunteer Worker

A short review today for a super short film – The Volunteer Worker, a commercial short made by Disney to emphasize the importance of volunteer work and charity. And what would the best character be for this? Mickey? Goofy? No, instead Disney went with the biggest star of the time – Donald Duck.

The short is a simple one – Donald goes door to door asking for donations, but keeps getting the door slammed in his face. There are some fun gags, but nothing too groundbreaking. It’s in the choice of Donald and the message that sends that makes this interesting.

Sure, Donald was Disney’s biggest star, but if you think about generosity or kindness, you probably don’t immediately think of Donald. So why then, would Disney use him in this short? My guess is that it made the message resonate even more.

The ultimate aim of the short is to show that if everyone gave a little, then everyone would be better off. This is demonstrated at the end, when a street construction guy gives Donald some money and gets a shiny badge in return. But think about it – if Donald is this concerned, and showing genuine empathy for once, then shouldn’t you, the viewer be concerned?

It’s a brilliant choice, even if it might have been inadvertent. Donald, as I’ve said before, is the character that most of us really are, as opposed to Mickey, who we want to be. That’s what makes him so relatable. And by picking him to illustrate this point, it makes it more impactful to us.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pantry Pirate

The last major short from the Disney company in 1940 was a bit of foreshadowing, as Pluto appeared solo again, something that would come to be more and more of a trend. Pluto’s appearance in Pantry Pirate, though is a probably my favorite of his shorts so far.

The main reason for that is because the short focuses on Pluto doing some great stuff that is typical for a dog. And strangely enough, that is not typical for Pluto. Think about his other shorts – Pluto’s Quinpuplets, Mother Pluto, etc. – they are really involving atypical behavior for a dog. In Pantry Pirate, he is just trying to get food out of the kitchen. If you’ve had a dog in the house before, you can relate to this.

It starts off with Pluto getting thrown out of the house, but he soon finds his way into the house to try and eat the fresh ham on top of the stove. It’s hilarious, because he goes through the same sort of craziness I have seen other house pets do. The first is sliding across the kitchen floor. I remember a cat doing this in my grandmother’s house, so this struck a chord for me.

When Pluto climbed on the ironing board to use it as a platform to get to the stove, I’ll admit I laughed out loud. Remember, I watch at least one of the shorts every day, so it’s hard for me to be affected by a short like that. But this one is that funny.

The capper is when Pluto gets caught in a box of super soap, and starts making bubbles all over the place. It’s another case where the animators pick up the pace and start having the gags come closer and closer together. We’ve seen this often in the shorts, where there are some slower gags in the beginning and then the pace picks up, building to a big climax.

Here, we get Pluto hiccupping bubbles and juggling coffee cups with his tail trying not to break them. It’s a fantastic bit, because Pluto is trying not to alert the people in the house that he’s in the kitchen, but it’s near impossible not to drop the cups. He eventually does, which prompts another fun scene.

Pluto has to scram when the cups finally break, but he’s so excited that he’s spewing bubbles like crazy, and when he runs out the door, he leaves a hole in the mass of bubbles pushing through the door. It’s a very funny visual, and a creative gag.

The only downside of this short is the “Mammy” character that is Pluto’s nemesis. It’s obviously a stereotype, which was not so bad in 1940, but these days seems offensive. If you understand the context it’s fine, but I could see some people being offended by that part of this short. Regardless, I liked Pantry Pirate better than any of the other Pluto shorts, and recommend it highly.

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