Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Orphan's Benefit 1941

Today’s review will be pretty short, because the next short Disney released in 1941 was a shot for shot remake. Remember Orphan’s Benefit, the black and white short where Mickey entertained a crew of orphans in a large theatre? Well, this is the same thing, only in color, and featuring updated character designs for Mickey and his friends.

No, I don’t mean that they took the same premise and redid the short. No, it’s the same backgrounds, and most of the same animation, with updated designs for the main characters of Mickey, Donald and Goofy. They look like their 1941 selves instead of their 1934 versions. You can see some of the differences in the pictures.





So, my original review still stands on the short. It’s funny and a nice bit with each of the characters. What’s more interesting is why Disney ended up doing this. It’s not like reusing animation was something new, but the question is why now?





While I’m not qualified to speak to the specifics, you have to figure it had something to do with the strike. This short was release in August of 1941, after the animators’ strike had crippled the studio for a while. The assumption would be that Disney had to get material ready quickly, while also finishing work on Dumbo.





I would assume that was the biggest part of the issue, however, it might not be all of it. Remember as well that during this time in 1941, Walt was leading a group of artists on the tour of South America. So if you combine that with the issues after the strike, you can see where a group of animators might try to find the quickest way possible to turn out some shorts.



It’s interesting to me, of course, because of the “Walt Didn’t Do Sequels” crowd. Not only did he do sequels (more Three Little Pigs shorts), he did remakes. Whether Walt himself oversaw this short, I doubt, but it came out with his name on it. I think Walt did what he needed to do and tried to do it very well, and saying more than that is drawing assumptions.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


8 comments:

  1. Hey, the story behind the "Orphan's Benefit" remake is more complicated than you'd ever believe. But I know why it was done—and it had nothing to do with the strike.

    I wrote the backstory out for a comment on the Electronic Cerebrectomy blog a couple of years ago. Why not just reprint it here:

    On June 27, 1939, Walt, Thomson and Dave Hand screened nineteen early Mickey cartoons. The plan was to compile the best scenes from the shorts into a two-reel clip show for Mickey’s upcoming twelfth anniversary. MICKEY'S REVIVAL PARTY (as it was to have been called) would have opened with Mickey’s gang arriving at a studio cinema. As the vintage scenes unreeled on a “screen within a screen,” Mickey and friends in the audience would react in various comic ways.
    There were only two problems with this. The elaborate manner in which the vintage scenes were to be reused precluded simply lifting them from old negatives and splicing them together. They would have to be reinked onto cels from the original animation drawings; repainted, retimed, and refilmed.
    Another hindrance was that the old cartoons excerpted had to be from summer 1935 or earlier. Anything more recent might still be in release. This meant that there were very few color cartoons to include in the retrospective.
    Walt decided to kill two birds with one stone. As the excerpted shorts were all to be reinked and repainted anyway, he decided to repaint some in color that had originally been in black and white: ORPHANS' BENEFIT among them. Walt also saw an opportunity to retouch and improve the color in THE BAND CONCERT, the one short in the show that was originally in color. Story meeting transcripts reveal Walt repeatedly suggesting that remaking or upgrading older shorts could be an ongoing program, independent of REVIVAL PARTY.
    That's what ended up happening. REVIVAL PARTY director Riley Thomson completed a cutting continuity for use in preparing the excerpts; but for some reason, the clip show format ended up on the shelf. Instead, Thomson moved forward with remaking earlier cartoons in full-length, standalone form. ORPHAN'S BENEFIT came first. Then came MICKEY'S MAN FRIDAY, four early color Silly Symphony shorts, and ON ICE.
    But then the bottom dropped out. ORPHAN'S BENEFIT ended up the only exact Disney remake ever completed. MAN FRIDAY was shut down partway through animation; you can still see model sheets at various online animation galleries for what the updated models were going to look like.
    The other remakes were shut down before animation. Dunno why.

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  2. Nice explanation, David. I'd read about this in your book, 'Mickey and the Gang', but you've gone into more detail here.

    I'm glad that Disney stopped an ongoing project of updating earlier cartoons (even the colour ones!). It seems like a lot of effort that would be better put into making brand new films. Out of interest, do you know which Silly Symphonies were selected for an update? I was surprised to learn about this seeing as the series had ended by this point.

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  3. That's really interesting, David. I'd read about this in your book, 'Mickey and the Gang', but you've gone into more detail here.

    I'm glad that Disney stopped an ongoing project of updating earlier cartoons (even the colour ones!). It seems like a lot of effort that would be better put into making brand new films. Out of interest, do you know which Silly Symphonies were selected for an update? I was surprised to learn about this seeing as the series had ended by this point.

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  4. I believe I noted the updated Sillies in a MICKEY AND THE GANG footnote—sadly, I'm in transit and don't have the book available right here.

    I *think* I recollect THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANTS being two of the shorts slated for reanimating.

    The Sillies seem not to have been considered quite dead in the early 1940s. CHICKEN LITTLE, for example, was initially announced as one in Boxoffice magazine...

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  5. Gosh, I go to Disney World for the weekend and look what happens. Fantastic, story, David. Do you mind if I post it on the main blog? I'd love to put it up to explain the deal behind the remake.

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  6. Feel free to go ahead, Ryan. And thanks.

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  7. Thanks, David. Do you know if anything was really affected by the strike? I've tried to research it, but can't actually find a ton of writing about it.

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  8. You're right, David. I checked the footnote and you list the Sillies as SANTA'S WORKSHOP, LULLABY LAND, GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANTS and THE FLYING MOUSE.

    You also included in your book some pages from a 1942 Disney promotional calendar for a meat company. Interestingly there are illustrations of THE BAND CONCERT and GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANTS with updated 40s style character designs (The grasshopper looks like a tall Jiminy Cricket).

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