Building a Building
January 7, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Oh man, I remember this from my grandfather’s old VHS tapes. It’s great. Mickey is a steam shovel operator working on a building who becomes distracted when Minnie shows up with box lunches for the workers.
This has so many great gags. Peg Leg Pete calling Mickey a (this is a quote) “blankity black baboon”, Mickey cutting his sandwich with a table saw, the workers jumping off the building with parachutes to take their lunch hour.
This is an excellent cartoon, blending the music and gags with a solid dramatic narrative. It’s sort of a template for the classic Disney short moving forward.
The Mad Doctor
January 21, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
During a dark and stormy night, a mad doctor steals Pluto away to his SKULL SHAPED CASTLE OF DEATH. This cartoon is great. There are several really fantastic gags with skeletons through this, including a skeleton spider. It cheats a little bit on the ending, but otherwise this is a solid one.
One fascinating thing to me is how it features a perspective 3D scene in which the camera follows Mickey down a hallway, around a bend and falling down a set of stairs. I see this scene as sort of tech demo in which they want to see how hard it is to animate a 3D scene. The effect is… just ok, but I’m incredibly impressed with how ambitious this was.
This is a hidden gem of a short.
Mickey’s Pal Pluto
February 18, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
During a winter walk, Pluto saves a bunch of kittens, who adorably invade the Mouse house. Pluto’s struggles with the moral dilemma of these kittens who are taking over his home. Ultimately, Pluto sides with his better nature, saves the kittens, and is well rewarded.
Side note: What, exactly, is Mickey & Minnie’s relationship? Are they married? Living together? What’s going on here?
March 18, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
Ho boy. This one starts with Mickey blowing a firecracker in his own face to create blackface for a character in a presentation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I feel like I need a PhD in American media and literature to review this. There is a lot of blackface in it, but it’s also, you know, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And they go out of their way to make sure that the white slave-owner character is constantly pelted with rotten fruit.
I want to like this, but I definitely feel like it’s a short with an enormous amount of cultural baggage that I’m not sure I can penetrate.
Ye Olden Days
April 8, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Mickey is a wandering minstrel who wanders into town in time for Minnie to reject the advances of a forward prince (played by Goofy). For her insults, her own father screams “She acts like a fanatic! Lock her in the attic!” which made me laugh way too hard.
Mickey and Goofy duel for Minnie’s hand, to the delight of everyone… INCLUDING MINNIE?!? WHAT?
Overall, it’s great. Just the right amount of music vs drama, plenty of fun and good gags (including Mickey and Goofy’s loyal steeds having a slap-fight).
Father Noah’s Ark
April 8, 1933 available in Silly Symphonies
This simply fantastic. The first third is gag after gag of animals helping cut wood and build the ark. Then it’s really exquisite animation around the falling rain and the animals racing to the ark (with a fun side-plot about how they didn’t want to bring skunks on board). I’m probably a bit biased because I love the story itself and this is a fun pop culture rendition of it a-la 1933.
The Mail Pilot
May 13, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Mickey is a mail pilot (hence the title) delivering what appears to be a pile of money. He has to reckon with the mail pirate Peg Leg Pete, who attempts to shoot down Mickey and otherwise obstruct his mission.
It’s ok. Mediocre gags and a pretty boring plot limit this short.
The Three Little Pigs
May 27, 1933 available in Silly Symphonies
I mean… what can you say about this? It’s a classic, practically perfect in every way. This short originated the “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” diddy. It’s great.
Interestingly, the version I watched did not have the infamous Jewish caricature of the travelling salesman.
Mickey’s Mechanical Man
June 17, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
Mickey is a fight trainer for a robot who is going to fight a gorilla. The robot goes insane when he hears Minnie’s car horn and Mickey has to repair him for the fight. Lots of decent robot and ape gags, otherwise a pretty predictable piece… although I wonder if it’s predictable because it became a template for the fight narrative in a short cartoon. It can be hard to tell with a lot of very early film if it’s predictable b/c it follows the pattern or predictable because we’re used to the pattern that it established (which was once fresh and new).
Mickey’s Gala Premiere
June 17, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
This is the kind of early cartoon that I like the least… the one that relies on caricatures of popular icons. Sure, at the time, it was funny to see all these very recognizable faces parodied in a cartoon, but the further we get from the historical moment, the more opaque the jokes become.
My favorite aspect is the way it makes fun of the Mickey Mouse cartoon style. Having watched dozens of old Disney cartoons, I can enjoy the Disney parody of other Disney cartoons and that’s kind of fun.
The twist ending is super cute though.
Old King Cole
July 29, 1933 available in More Silly Symphonies
This is a really delightful one. The animation is just exquisite, beautifully colorful. It runs through a dozen or so common nursery rhymes, shooting them off with a machine-gun pace.
In the early days of animated cartoons, there was always a sort of arms race to get the classic children’s stories animated in innovative ways. This is one of those “throw everything against the wall” efforts. And, you know what? It works fine. Plenty of fun, despite a lack of narrative cohesion.
August 19, 1933 available in Silly Symphonies
A baby falls out of his crib (“When the bough bends, the baby will fall”) and into Lullaby Land, which is is populated by anthropomorphic household objects. The “good” things are things that babies need like diapers, safety pins, and castor oil(?!?). The “bad” things are the evil land of things babies shouldn’t touch like pocket knives and matches.
It’s fine. It’s a Silly Symphony so it’s colorful and lovely and the baby is adorable. But outside of that it’s not overly remarkable.
September 2, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
This one is strange because I thought we were out-of-the-woods on music-focused shorts that have no plot. The last several had been so much more plot-centric and then we get this throwback to Mickey playing piano while Minnie sings. There’s a plot where Pluto is courting Minnie’s dog, but it’s nothing remarkable.
Although it’s kind of funny to see Minnie banging on the piano screaming “I hate all men”.
The Pied Piper
September 16, 1933 available in More Silly Symphonies
I am an unreliable narrator on this one. I love it. I love the animation, I love the music, I love everything about it. It is just perfect.
OK… here I am as an objective observer. It’s amazing. The music is just a delight and the animation is spectacular. The tweaks in the plot of the Pied Piper are just ideal for the medium. The drama of the piece is some of the very best of early animation. I would happily include this in a top ten of early Disney animation.
September 30, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
Mickey the jockey takes an old man to bet his life savings on a horse race. Mickey’s horse gets hilariously drunk and can’t race. So Mickey dresses up two grooms as a horse and races them instead. Hijinks ensue.
This one isn’t great, a pretty boilerplate slapstick.
The Pet Store
October 28, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Mickey takes a job as shopkeep at a pet store. I’m annoyed with this one again due to the music-centric plot-light nature I thought we had gotten away from. It’s got a pretty cute parody of King Kong in it and that delivers the gags good and hard, but otherwise it’s not particularly great.
November 25, 1933 available in Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Now this is more like it. Mickey tells a pared down version of Jack and the Beanstalk for his nephews and nieces. This is a good one, I have a particular affinity for early animation delivering the fantasies that live action simply couldn’t at the time.
As Walt Disney moved into feature length films, this was one thing he worked hard to deliver… a cinematic experience that simply demanded animation as the medium. and you can absolutely see that on display here.
The Night Before Christmas
December 9, 1933 available in More Silly Symphonies
It’s interesting to see Disney’s Christmas themed work. They are cute, but not particularly innovative or exciting. I think of them as a sort of stock Christmas special that Netflix might put out simply because people like them. Which is fine… give the people what they want.