Mickey’s Man Friday
January 5, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Black and White Volume 2
Mickey is a cast-away who comes upon a group of cannibals about to cook up dinner. He saves the victim who becomes his “man Friday” a la Robinson Crusoe. They forge a friendship and build a fort together to ward off the returning cannibals.
There’s not a great way around this, the caricatures of Africans are pretty outrageous (though pretty much in line with the cultural norms of the time). As a survival adventure cartoon, it’s actually pretty good. I would compare the quality to the big fight scenes in Barnyard Battle, although these were probably a bit more inventive.
The Tortoise and the Hare
January 5, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
There seems to have been this sort of arms race between Disney and Warner Brothers to lay claim to the classic fairy tales and morality tales and reproduce them fresh for a new audience in cartoon form. This one doesn’t really rise to the level of the Three Little Pigs though.
I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s the rhythm in service to the narrative that is off. Way too much time is spend on the hare trying to impress a bunch of lady-hares. In the Looney Tunes versions of this story, Bugs Bunny is the hare and his natural egoism drives his inevitable downfall. But this version seems to imply that the Hare would have won if it weren’t for the lady hares who distracted him with their charm.
This is a rare Silly Symphony that doesn’t impress.
The Band Concert
February 23, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color
The first color Mickey Mouse cartoon! I’m mildly annoyed that it’s YET ANOTHER cartoon about Mickey preforming on stage.
BUT! The music is great, and the Donald vs Mickey dynamic is deeply entertaining, and the third act with the tornado is spectacular. It’s one of the best Mickey-as-performer cartoons.
Mickey’s Service Station
February 23, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Black and White
The gang is starting to really coalesce here… Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are working at a service station when Peg Leg Pete tells them to fix his car in 10 minutes or he’ll… murder them? It’s unclear.
They proceed to disassemble Pete’s car and it’s really pretty funny. And the three Disney amigos give a good performance that is very in the spirit of the Three Stooges style of slapstick comedy. There are some good gags that seem like they should be in a textbook on the visual logic of animation. With
The Golden Touch
March 22, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
This cartoon is so adorable as it reminds us that, in 1935, $1.002 billion was an absurd amount of money. This is an excellent rendition of the story of King Midas. It really is spectacular on every level. The visuals, the voices, it’s just a great cartoon from start to finish. The image of an impoverished Midas delighting in a hamburger “with onions!” is simply perfect.
Man, the Silly Symphonies quality bar is incredibly high.
April 13, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Black and White Volume 2
Mickey is delivered a kangaroo who, for some reason, honks like a goose. The kangaroo makes Pluto jealous, which results in a voice-over from Pluto to help us understand his motivation. That part is weird. Pluto has always been a challenging and amazing character precisely because all his intentions and motivations are wordless. Giving Pluto a voice-over is kind of admitting defeat.
Outside of that, I have no beef with this cartoon… but that is a pretty big hurdle to overcome. The short is fine, decent gags, decent story. It’s just hard to get over the part where Pluto has a voice.
The Robber Kitten
April 20, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
Omg, it’s a tiny kitten who is shooting stuffed animals in a pretend robbery! I’m am dead from the cute.
The kitten decides to run away from his mommy to becomes a full-time bandit. He teams up with Dirty Bill, an honest-to-god robber. He plays up his life of crime, confronts the cruelty of the world as it is, and runs home to his mom. I don’t know, I kind of was hoping for a little more depth to this, or at least some stunning visuals. It’s simply fine.
May 11, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
This is definitely the Disney cartoon featuring the most naked babies.
This is entirely not my cup of tea, although I wonder if it is simply because I didn’t grow up with it. It holds many things in common with the Funny Bunnies cartoon mentioned above (which I love!) but it isn’t striking me the same way.
Still, the colors and visuals are great, if you can get past the fact that all the babies are naked. There is, I think, a historical cultural barrier there. It makes me wonder about infant nudity in the early 1900’s.
Personally, that’s one of the things I like about these cartoons… discovering what tropes, dramatic patterns, and images were mainstream and thinking about what that said about the society.
The Cookie Carnival
May 25, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
This one has a little more narrative than Water Babies or Funny Little Bunnies, but barely. It’s mostly an excuse to show off a lot of creative ideas about treats with as much deeply saturated colors as possible.
Basically, it’s a parade of cookies to determine who will be the cookie queen. And then, once they’ve found their queen (an impoverished young cookie who was dressed by a kindly cookie hobo), the judges of the parade decide they must immediately marry her off and present her with a set of sketchy potential mates.
I love it. I think it’s the songs that really clinch it for me. All the potential kings have a silly ditty that they sing and that goes a long way to elevate the short.
Who Killed Cock Robin?
June 29, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
This is a fascinating short. If you watch it on the Silly Symphonies DVD linked above, it is preceded by Walt Disney explaining the context of the original Cock Robin nursery rhyme and how it likely was a satire of a British political figure.
With this context, they made this cartoon to incorporate modern celebrities (Mae West, Bing Crosby, Harpo Marx). Cock Robin is serenading his love and is shot dead by an unknown shooter. They arrest 3 suspicious characters and hold a trial.
I love it. I really just love the Silly Symphonies that incorporate songs into the storyline. This is story-rich, great gags, and some delightfully morbid jokes “We’re gonna hang them all, we’re gonna hang them all! We don’t know who is guilty, so we’re gonna hang them all”. A great classic short.
July 13, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color
Mickey and Pluto work to rid Mickey’s garden of a bug infestation. This is a FASCINATING cartoon due to how complex the animation must have been. There are several incredibly detailed scenes with dozens of moving characters that must have been tremendously difficult to animate.
And Mickey goes on a hallucinogenic trip when he is accidentally sprayed with bug poison! And it’s spectacular! Giant bugs! Mushrooms growing from his house! Drunk killer beetles! This is amazing.
Mickey’s Fire Brigade
August 3, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color
A hotel is on fire and Mickey, Donald, and Goofy ride in on their fire engine to save the day. There are lots of shots here that make me think this is an experimental piece exploring the animation possibilities of fire and water.
Even as that, it’s very good. Tons of excellent gags, but they all work in the context of the fire fighting and they fit with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy’s personalities quite well.
Pluto’s Judgement Day
August 31, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color
After Pluto chases a little kitten, Mickey Mouse (like any good parent) tells him “you’ll have plenty to answer for on your judgement day”. What follows is basically a horror movie. Pluto is judged by a judge and jury of cats and it… doesn’t go well for him.
The visuals here are spectacular. Innovative, sharp, stark, occasionally haunting, this short is a classic. I stand by my assertion that lyrical songs elevate these shorts. This one is almost entirely song-based and it works wonderfully.
September 28, 1935 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color
I really enjoy cartoons like this. There is a bunch at the beginning of the cartoon with Mickey showing off his skating skills to Minnie that is clearly experimental. The animators play with the perspective and with a sort of 3D moving camera for a couple shots that is just really fun.
The “story” is that everyone is ice skating. That’s is. Mickey is having a day with Minnie, Donald is torturing poor Pluto, Goofy is ice fishing (dropping the fish some chewing tobacco and setting out a spittoon as a trap). There is a rescue scene at the end, b
October 5, 1935 available in Silly Symphonies
I have to recuse myself from objective assessment of this one because I love it too much. I love the anthropomorphism of the instruments, I love the Romeo-Juliet love story, I love the incorporation of classical music in with the story, I love the use of organ pipes and brass instruments as weapons of war. It’s all absolutely perfect.
One thing that I’ve never seen anyone mention is how this short is a implicit endorsement of interracial romance in a time where such a thing was illegal in many states. The jazz nation isn’t explicitly black, but it is pretty heavily implied, including in the facial and body portrayals of the characters. I’m legitimately surprised no one got in trouble for this cartoon… although the fact that Disney was a cultural darling might have inoculated him from some criticism on this front.
Three Orphan Kittens
October 26, 1935 available in More Silly Symphonies
The short begins with 3 kittens thrown into a snowbank who find their way into a warm and save home in which they are obviously interlopers. The cuteness quotient cannot be over-stated here. The kittens get themselves into endless trouble in the most adorable ways.
It seems silly to harp on how cute this cartoon is, but it is distilled adorableness. Every single gag is the highest quality cuteness and it just doesn’t let up all through the short. It’s no wonder this short inspired a sequel. It is entertainment in its purest form.
Cock O’ the Walk
November 30, 1935 available in More Silly Symphonies
This one is rich for analysis. So much sexual innuendo going on here. A prize-fighting rooster comes to town and all the hens are throwing themselves at him. It’s… it’s actually pretty freaky, extending the innuendo to a chick trying to eat a worm. You might think that there couldn’t be sexual overtones in that, but you would be wrong.
This is great… if only for the jaw-dropping sexualization of EVERYTHING in this cartoon. I much enjoyed it. It’s amazing what can be done without a stitch of dialogue.
November 30, 1935 available in More Silly Symphonies
Whoa, this is the darkest timeline of Toy Story but 60 years before it existed. This cartoon follows a set of broken toy as they conspire to escape the dump. It is inventive! Clever and interesting, with plenty of clever gags, this is a lovely and thoughtful cartoon.