I’ve been whiling away the year of 1950 and much of 1949 on this blog wondering if and when Disney would try something different with animation. Cinderella was one aspect of that, going back to the full length fairy tale that made the company. It was a wild success, so it didn’t surprise me to see them go to a non-established character in Casey Jones for the latest short, The Brave Engineer.
Very loosely based on the song about Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer tells the story of a train that is late to deliver the mail. That is about where the story ends so far as similarities between the story of Casey Jones and this short. Whereas the real Casey ended up perishing while trying to keep his train from colliding into a stalled freight train, the cartoon version of Casey is nowhere near as grim.
So how is the short? Is it a departure from the by-the-numbers nature of the Donald Duck and Pluto onslaught we have seen from the late 1940s? A little, but not much. The lead character of Casey is definitely appealing, and bears more than a slight resemblance to the lead in Casey At the Bat. His fierce determination to bring the mail in on time is admirable, as is the way he fights off all adversaries.
The gags in this short are what make it worth your time, though. Casey battles nearly every imaginable train derailing scenario you can think of, and most of them in a humorous and enjoyable way. There’s a girl tied to the tracks by a villain, bombs blowing up a bridge, robbers trying to hijack the train and so many more. They just keep coming at him, but Casey is resolute and swats them away. The fast paced, gag a minute nature of this short is something we haven’t seen from Disney in a while.
In the end, it works out, as Casey finds a way to get into the station on time with the mail, even though it’s pretty much a wreck of a train that gets him there. What is key about this is that we love Casey despite the fact that he doesn’t speak in the short. The entire story is told through Jerry Colonna’s narration, so Casey doesn’t have his own voice. All the emphasis is on the animators who make the character appealing through action. Not enough shorts or films reveal characters through action, but The Brave Engineer does a great job of it.