Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Out, Fall In

More war shorts, as Donald’s Army adventures continue today in Fall Out, Fall In. The way that Disney tracked Donald’s progression through his days in the Armed Forces is really great. We’ve seen him go from the draft board to basic training and now into the field.

This short again does not use the quality that I feel makes Donald his best, which is the use of his temper. A different approach comes in this film, where instead the audience is made to feel sorry for Donald. It’s something that we’ve seen more and more in recent Donald shorts, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Here, it’s not too bad. The short starts with Donald marching through the countryside as an upbeat soldier, happy to be part of the team. Of course, as things progress, his enthusiasm wanes and he endures more and more pain. As a viewer, the sympathy for Donald grows and grows through the short. That’s very effectively done through the gags.

Gag work here is a bit more involved than other shorts in 1943 that we have seen. Compared to something like Private Pluto, which used the same gag over and over again, Fall Out, Fall In features some new gags as we go along. The running gag of Donald marking the miles off on the solider in front of him is great, but there’s many more.

The passing of the seasons as they march is quite good, seeing Donald go from freezing to death and covered in snow, then on to spring and summer, burning in the blazing sun. When they finally stop marching, it just gets worse for him, though.

There’s some great stuff when Donald’s trying to pitch his tent as well. He’s starving, but the commanding officer keeps having him put up his tent, stand at attention or do all sorts of things that keep him from getting the tent set up. Then, when he does, it just doesn’t stay up properly. The poor guy doesn’t even get to sleep, because the other soldiers snore in syncopated time!

Fall Out, Fall In isn’t perfect, that’s sure. The pacing feels a bit off to me, as the marching and other things seem to stretch a little too long, and the gags are nowhere near as rapid fire as we’ve seen in other Donald or Disney shorts. But it’s an improvement over Private Pluto and some of the other war shorts.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tweetwatch - Nightmare Before Christmas - Monday, Nov 1 at 8:30p

Another fun Tweetwatch this week with Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Love that movie. What's next? Glad you asked!

That's right, Tim Burton's stop motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas is our post Halloween and pre-Christmas treat. You know what to do by now, right?

1. Get the movie! Amazon, Netflix, however you gotta do it, man!
2. Count yourself in on Plancast3. On Monday, November 1 at 8:30p join us in the Friendfeed room
4. Watch this Disney fun with all your friends!

So simple, yet so fun. Can't wait to see you there!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Private Pluto

To call Private Pluto a wartime short is probably a stretch, as the only thing that it has to do with the war is that it takes place on an Army base. Still, that is a great set up for a short that introduces a version of Chip and Dale, messing with Pluto in their own special way.

We’ve seen chipmunks before in the Disney shorts, but this seems like an early version of Chip and Dale. While Dale does not have his trademark red nose, the voices and mannerisms of the chipmunks will be very familiar to anyone who’s watched Chip and Dale shorts before.

Most Pluto shorts involve Pluto as the mischief maker, getting into some kind of trouble. In this case, he’s the responsible one, not the one making trouble. It’s a definite switch, and to my mind, not for the better. Pluto works great as a little devil, swaying between his good and bad side. But as the hero? Not so sure.

Chip and Dale have commandeered a cannon to store their nuts, and Pluto, told that there is a saboteur on the base, is sniffing around for them. The ingenious plan that the chipmunks have developed is to drop the nuts out of the cannon, then crack the shells by dropping the cannon on them.

Sadly, that’s the main gag of the short, and it doesn’t go much farther. Chip and Dale stay in the cannon most of the time, and Pluto stays outside. Their interactions are limited to peeks out of the end of the cannon by the chipmunks or looks through the cannon by Pluto.

There are the requisite jokes of hitting Pluto over the head (three times), but for the most part, there’s not a lot of creativity to the short. It’s fun to see these characters together, but I would have loved to see Chip and Dale get more creative in their attacks on Pluto, or see Pluto weigh some truly awful things to do to them, just to spice it up. It’s a decent short, but not great.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Flying Jalopy

Sorry for being away for so long, but a trip to Walt Disney World, that silly thing called work, and all around life got in the way. However, I’m back now, and on the horse of reviewing more great Disney shorts of 1943. This time, it’s The Flying Jalopy, a fun short where Donald gets to play the hero role.

The Flying Jalopy sees Donald pitted against Ben Buzzard, a new character that comes across as pure evil. This isn’t a character like Pete, who’s trying to playfully torture Mickey or Donald. Ben’s motivation is literally to kill Donald. Not tease him or cheat him out of money, but actually to kill him. Kind of frightening, no?

See, the short unfolds with Donald trying to buy a plane. It’s a great nod to the war films, where all Donald wants to do is fly a plane, but gets stuck peeling potatoes instead. This time, Ben Buzzard convinces him to buy a “used” plane. I put used in quotes because there is a sign at the beginning of the short that says “Wrecked Planes” where Ben has crossed out the word “wrecked” and put up “used” instead.

In order to take the plane up, Ben has Donald sign an insurance policy that apparently reads that Donald would get $10,000 if something happens. However, when the buzzard unfolds the policy, it reveals that Ben Buzzard is the beneficiary, meaning that he would have every reason to watch Donald crash and burn.

From the moment the plane takes off, Ben tries to make Donald a dead duck. He shoves the plane towards a cliff face, he tries to take the wings off the plane, and ends up attempting to light the gasoline from the fuel tank on fire. Like I said, this is a vicious guy.

I don’t know if we’ll see more Ben Buzzard in the future, but I somehow doubt it. He seems much more cruel than the other Disney villains, at least in the shorts. Also, with the villain being so much harsher, Donald doesn’t really get a chance to shine. This short is much more about Ben doing harm to Donald than Donald expressing his frustrations. As I have said before, Donald’s at his best when getting increasingly frustrated and being annoyed. This one doesn’t fit that bill, but it’s fun nonetheless.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tweetwatch Halloween Special - Ichabod and Mr Toad - Monday, 10/25 8:30p

WOW! Can't thank you guys enough for joining in the fun for the Beauty and the Beast Tweetwatch. Per request of my friends at Innermouse, our next movie will be The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad. It's a Tweetwatch Halloween Special!

In case you don't know how to participate, here's the plan.

1. Count yourself in on Plancast.
2. Get your copy of Ichabod and Mr Toad - Walmart has site 2 store shipping. So does Best Buy. Amazon has it as well.
3. Join us just before 8:30 in the Friendfeed room, or on Twitter, using hashtag #Ichabod.
4. Cue the DVD up to the Play button.
5. At 8:30 Eastern, I'll tweet out the cue to push play, and you'll be able to join the fun!

Simple enough? Then come and join us! See you Monday! Mwah-ha-ha!

Tweetwatch - Beauty and the Beast - Monday, October 18 at 8:30p

Tonight's the night everyone! In a few short hours, we will be watching Beauty and the Beast together and having a blast.

So, here's the drill, in case you're not familiar with it yet.

1. Go out and get the Beauty and the Beast Blu Ray/DVD.
2. Count yourself in on Plancast.
3. Join us in the Friendfeed room a little before 8:30 p.m. on October 18.
4. At 8:30 p.m., we'll start the movie, chat about it, and use the hashtag #BATBdfp to share the conversation on Twitter.

Can't wait for it, and hope everyone will take the time to join us. See you there!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Donald's Tire Trouble

After the deep and disturbing material of Education for Death, Donald’s Tire Trouble is a welcome respite. Getting back to a light hearted, fun short after lots of World War II and Nazi stuff is good. Sadly, though, Donald’s Tire Trouble didn’t measure up to me, and although still a different tone, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped for.

I’m sure part of that was the contrast. After such dark material, I was hoping for a light, funny short that pushed all the familiar buttons. While Donald’s Tire Trouble is a familiar Donald formula, it’s almost too formulaic. It’s honestly a one note joke, and doesn’t come off as much more than that.

The idea is that Donald is zooming down the road, burning rubber, when he gets a flat tire. Due to the rubber shortage during the war, he doesn’t have a spare, so has to fix the flat and try to make do with it. It doesn’t seem like enough for an entire short, and it really does work hard to stretch the material to fit.

I will say this, Donald gets himself in some precarious positions during this short. It was relatable, because I can clearly see moments in my life when I have been cruising along, and a speed bump got in the way. No matter how hard you try to keep your cool in those situations, sometimes things just keep getting worse. That’s the way things go for Donald in this case.

The gags are good, don’t get me wrong. Seeing Donald get folded up in the jack, the tire rim, and the tire itself are all pretty funny. But the problem is that it’s the same joke over and over again. Donald tries to get loose, ends up getting more stuck, then gets into another piece of the puzzle and the cycle repeats itself.

The best bit in the whole short to me was the ending piece, where we get to see inside Donald’s head. It’s then we get an idea of what happens to Donald when he gets so worked up. The shot reveals a spring in Donald’s head getting wound tighter and tighter, until it suddenly bursts. Been there, done that.

Donald’s Tire Trouble suffers from a lack of story. Those of you who’ve read this blog before know my complaints about that. I think it’s just a case of a good idea not being fully developed. Still, so long as Donald is not dealing with Nazis, it’s a positive.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Education for Death

I’m not going to lie, watching these World War II propaganda shorts is difficult. Very difficult. It did not get any easier when watching Education for Death. Based on “Hitler’s Children” by Gregor Ziemer, this short traces the “education” of a child in Nazi Germany from birth to his enlistment in the German Army.

To start with, the animation in this short is simply stunning. It is feature quality, no doubt about it. The use of shadows and depth in the shot is remarkable, especially for a short. The way the shots are constructed, with either dim lighting and darkened rooms for the more serious scenes or the standard animation for the more light hearted scenes establishes the mood. In my opinion, this short showcases the talents of the Disney studio during the war like no other I have seen to this point.

That brings us to the subject matter. Although this was released in theaters as an “entertainment” short, it is most definitely propaganda. The scary thing is, in many, many ways, this short is true. Things that happen in the short, such as the government giving a list of acceptable names, interrupting sick children’s rest, the changing of fairy tales, etc. – these are all true stories, at least to some degree.

In that respect, this is a masterpiece short. It accomplishes the goal of showing what Nazi Germany is like, and does so in an entertaining way. It’s just not the same sort of entertainment you would have found in a Donald Duck short. Education for Death stands in stark contrast to something like Der Fuehrer’s Face, because the subject matter seems so real and terrifying, as opposed to mocking the enemy.

The exception to that is in the Sleeping Beauty sequence, where the animation begins in the same shadowy, realistic style that the rest of the short has been shown in, then switches to a more cartoony style when it’s revealed that the “prince” is actually Hitler. Hitler is portrayed in the same silly manner that He was in Der Fuehrer’s Face. The juxtaposition of this silly, trivial piece to the rest of the short only enhances the seriousness of Education for Death.

The most chilling shot in any piece of Disney animation has to be the end of this short. As the narrator lists off all the things that have been done to Hans, the child we have followed through this journey, he transforms from child to man, marching all the while. The perspective changes from a side view of Hans to an overhead view of the Nazis marching over the horizon. Slowly, the soliders transform into tombstones, showing a field of death.

It’s a frightening image, pulled off very well. Education for Death is a masterpiece of propaganda, and quite good as a piece of entertainment. It is nearly impossible to turn away from, riveting in both content and execution. It is, however, quite disturbing to think about, and very frightening.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Der Fuehrer's Face

Describing the short Der Fuehrer’s Face is difficult and uncomfortable. How do you really review a short that features a beloved character like Donald Duck dressed up as a Nazi, the most brutal party of killers that this century has known? Imagine a short today where Mickey became part of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The Nazi/terrorist comparison doesn’t quite ring true, but it’s part of the difficulty of describing this short.

I’m a World War II buff, as I’ve stated before on this blog. My favorite novels are Herman Wouk’s World War II books, and I know a great deal about the war. So, knowing the atrocities committed in the name of Hitler, seeing one of my favorite cartoon characters say “Heil Hitler” makes me gag reflexively.

At the time, though, Hitler was not a madman who committed near genocide, he was instead a foe of the United States. Therefore, in that context, making fun of him to belittle him makes perfect sense if you were in Hollywood in 1942-1943. This short was released January 1, 1943, so it was right in the midst of the war effort.

If you can move past the horror of the Nazis, the short is quite funny. The original song “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is a hilarious send up of the totalitarian regime. The lyrics tell how all the “Nutzis” have to do whatever the Fuehrer says, no matter how silly, and then take time out of their day to thank him for the oppressive conditions they live in.

Donald comes into the picture as the Nutzi band, made up of some various Axis style members (a Japanese man, an Italian and some Germans) marches through his house to wake him up. Donald’s living conditions, where he has to spray essence of bacon and eggs into his mouth and saw off a piece of stale bread, are a great illustration of what happens in this sort of government.

But the true reveal is when Donald ends up in the factory, trying to keep up the assembly line of shells going while still saluting Hitler any time his picture comes down the pike or whenever the PA system tells him to. There’s even the “vacation” which consists of a mountain backdrop falling for a moment before disappearing. The effect is a brutal condemnation on the effects of a totalitarian regime on the quality of life for the worker. Heady stuff for a cartoon, eh?

As the end comes near, Donald loses it, and the short devolves into a surrealist fantasy, with Nazi whistles, Donald being pounded as he comes down the assembly line. It all fades away to reveal a red, white and blue Donald in bed. It was all a dream!

Despite that, this is still a short I would hesitate to show to younger people or anyone who doesn’t understand the context in which it was produced. If you don’t know the mood of the country at the time, and the ignorance of Hitler’s deeds, then this short could seem very insensitive. Still, it’s one of the most ingenious and well animated shorts in Donald’s long career, so animation fans must view it at least once.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 4, 2010

South of the Border With Disney

The last film I’ll review from the year 1942 is kind of a strange beast. South of the Border With Disney is a film that was not supposed to be made. When Walt and his team traveled South to visit Latin America as part of the Good Neighbor Program, they took along a few cameras to film their experience. It was intended for this footage to be used as reference for the upcoming cartoons based on this experience.

Instead, as Walt and his team began poring over the footage, they hatched an idea to create a travelogue that would document their experience. The government agency that sponsored the travels agreed, but didn’t think this would be a commercially viable film. It was decided to release this film as a short for the promotion of the Good Neighbor Program, mainly to businesses and politicians.

Despite the limited audience, Walt could not stomach the idea that he would release a film that was less than entertaining. As such, he began staging scenes to provide a connectivity to the live footage. Scenes shot in the “Brazilian” studio were actually done on the Disney lot, as were several other scenes, including the interiors of the plane.

As for the end result, well, as you might imagine, it’s mixed. The key thing that is really great about this short is that we get to see a lot of the artwork and sketching that was done while Walt and his team were on this trip. Sketches of an armadillo or different pieces from Mary Blair are shown in the film, despite never being seen on screen. There’s even a short little piece of Donald playing a popular matchbook game that looks like it would make a great short, but was ultimately not used.

The main drawback to this is that despite Walt’s best efforts, it’s not amazingly entertaining. Sure, seeing the artists at work is fun, but there’s not a real story to the film. It is a travelogue, like watching someone’s slide presentation after their trip. While there are interesting tidbits here and there, nothing holds it together.

There’s no doubt that Walt made an effort to keep things entertaining. The mixture of footage from dances or certain gags play quite well. One in particular stands out from Chile, where Norm Ferguson is sketching Pluto for the local children. As the afternoon wears on, the sketches of Pluto become more and more sweaty and bedraggled, as does Ferguson himself.

The problem is that bits like that are not there often enough. Instead, we get lots of background on the culture of the cities, etc., and little of the entertainment that was produced from them. Sure, the films that came later held that content, but the bright spots of South of the Border With Disney are the sketches and artwork, not the travel pieces. If you’re really interested in this period of Disney history, then by all means watch this short, but otherwise just catch Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.