Matthias Shapiro

I need fewer hobbies

Disney Shorts of 1928

Plane Crazy

May 15, 1928 (silent test screening), available in the Walt Disney Treasures – Mickey Mouse In Black and White (Volume 1)

In this short, (the earliest available short for Mickey Mouse, test screened before Steamboat Willie was released), Mickey is inspired by the feats of Charles Lindberg and imagines himself a famous aviator. He enlists his barnyard friends to help him construct and launch an airplane and he pulls Minnie into his adventure. After a rocky start, they become safely airborn, whereupon Mickey turns to a cad, taking advantage of his powers of flight to coax Minnie into a kiss. She escapes and Mickey crashes his plane, receiving his just deserts.

It’s hard to review these early cartoons because we are so far from the cultural context. There is a lot of body humor, with Mickey manipulating his own body or the elongated, bending, or rigid bodies of the farm animals for successful gags. Mostly cute.


Steamboat Willie

November 18, 1928, available in the Walt Disney Treasures – Mickey Mouse In Black and White (Volume 1)

This was the first Disney cartoon to be distributed with sound and it plays as exactly that. It is still pretty funny, but a lot of that humor came from surprise at watching Mickey Mouse swing a cat cruelly by its tail, or pull suckling pigglets from their mother so he could play her swollen teats like an instrument.

Mickey is a deck hand aboard a steamboat. When he brings Minnie aboard, she drops her instruments and sheet music, which is eaten by a goat. There is a gag where they turn the goat into a music player and the rest of the short is Mickey playing music with whatever is at hand and with varying levels of animal cruelty.

Knowing the context of this cartoon makes it intelligible. Understanding that this was about show audiences what fun things you could do synchronizing animated images to a recorded sound track means that we can understand why the majority of the cartoon is gags in which Mickey progressively escalates the absurdity of his instruments. Without that, it’s just a series of musical absurdities.

I don’t feel like I can give this one a rating on a scale, because it is a cultural icon that rises above. It’s serviceably funny, even after the shock value wears off.


Gallopin Gaucho

December 30, 1928, available in the Walt Disney Treasures – Mickey Mouse In Black and White (Volume 1)

Mickey is travelling in Mexico (I assume) and comes upon Minnie dancing in a cantina. They dance together until Pete kidnaps Minnie and escapes in a gag-filled desert chase. He holds Minnie captive in a nearby town until Mickey comes to her rescue.

The body humor that I noted in Plane Crazy is taken to another level in Gallopin Gaucho. Most of the gags are around the silly images of Mickey riding a drunk ostrich and Pete crushing his poor steed which is perhaps half his size. The dance between Mickey and Minnie is quite funny, silly and suggestive with they bodies stretching and bending like rubber bands. It’s entertaining to see what the animators think they can get away with in this new medium and you can feel them stretching their imaginations to see try out gags that will play well.

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