Matthias Shapiro

I need fewer hobbies

Disney Shorts 1936

Mickey’s Polo Team

January 4, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

It’s funny that I like this one. Generally, I dislike the old cartoons that reference ancient movie stars. There are a couple Looney Tunes that do these caricatures that drive me crazy because I can’t figure out who is who because the satire is a bit too subtle (or I just haven’t watched enough old movies).

This one, however, actually makes the characters themselves funny. There is Laurel and Hardy doing their shtick, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx hamming it up, it’s really quite delightful even if you don’t know the actors because it encapsulates their gags into the storyline.

In that way, it’s almost brilliant. It manages the contemporary references while still actually being funny to people who might not get those references.


Orphans Picnic

February 15, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

This is cute. Mickey and Donald take a bunch of orphans on a picnic, during which they torture Donald for 8 minutes.

It’s ok. This is the first short that is largely just bad things happening to Donald Duck, which I understand becomes something of a theme in the later Donald Duck cartoons.


Mickey’s Grand Opera

March 7, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

This is a classic. As it starts out, you think it’s going to be another performance-based musical piece, but it quickly turns into something else as Pluto discovers a magical hat that plays tricks on him.

That is one of the two plots in this short. The other one is what I expected, Mickey conducting and orchestral opera featuring Donald Duck and Clara Cluck. Of course these two gag-filled stories intersect and it’s delightful.

This isn’t as funny and gag-filled as the best in the “classical music put to goofy cartoon” genre (that would be “Rabbit of Seville”), but it’s also an early participant. And we get to see the animators really start to give Donald a little more personality.


Elmer Elephant

March 28, 1936 available in Silly Symphonies

A little elephant named Elmer goes to Tillie the Tiger’s birthday party and, after putting the moves on Tillie, is mocked by the other party-goers for his nose. Humiliated, Elmer retreats from the party, where a kind elderly giraffe tells him it’s ok to be different.

Meanwhile, Tillie is trapped atop her treehouse by a fire and other mocking animals are helpless to save her. In comes Elmer to save the day and presumably marry Tillie to have tiger-elephant babies that will destroy all life on earth.

It is a tragic tale, to be sure. It’s fine. Mediocre for a Silly Symphony, whose standards tend to be pretty high.


Three Little Wolves

April 18, 1936 available in Silly Symphonies

Apparently Disney’s problem with over-extending a cinematic universe is almost a decade old. This short is another extension of the Three Little Pigs story, this time with the wolf’s three little cubs in on the act.

It is, of course, up to the brick-laying pig to save the day. It’s fine. Decent music, the final wolf-pwning scene has some cute gags. Ultimately it’s a paint-by-the-numbers addition to the “Big Bad Wolf” series.


Thru the Mirror

May 30, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

Mickey falls asleep reading Alice in Wonderland and then walks through his mirror to a world of anthropomorphic furniture.This is pretty fun. Good music, great visuals, there is a lot of joy in this one.

It really kicks into high gear when Mickey gets involved with the playing cards and ends up in a duel with the king of hearts (over the queen of hearts, because Mickey is totally a player).

There is some really extravagant animation in here. Amazing work with the playing cards, with perspective shots. Really a high quality short.


Moving Day

June 20, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

Peg Leg Pete threatens to evict Mickey, Donald, Goofy and their haunted piano from their house over unpaid rent, which inspires them to panic and pack up all their things as quickly as possible.

I’m most interested in Donald Duck in this one. This is the first short with the Donald we are most familiar with. I’m not sure what happened between Mickey’s Grand Opera and this short (they are only 3 months apart), but Donald has gone through some significant revisions as a character, both in style and tone. But this is the Donald that we come to know over the next 2 decades.


Mickey’s Rival

June 20, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

Minnie’s old flame Mortimer swings by Mickey and Minnie’s picnic in his fancy car and proceeds to humiliate Mickey in front of Minnie. Thin, tall, and funny, Mortimer impresses Minnie until the moment when the danger is real, at which point he chickens out.

This is a great short. It has a classic narrative of the peacock guy who is ultimately worthless, it even has a good parallel narrative where Mickey and Mortimer’s cars have a bit of a rivalry. And the gags are stupendous. Just top notch all the way around.


Alpine Climbers

July 25, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

This is so good. Mickey, Donald, and Pluto ascend an alpine peak to plunder the riches thereof. Donald gets tricked by a mountain goat. Mickey gets attacked by eagles. Pluto is rescued by a St Bernard who feeds him an enormous amount of brandy to revive him, whereupon Pluto falls drunkenly in love.

I love this one. It’s just delightful. A near-perfect balance of gags, narrative, and character jokes. We really see Donald coming into his own here as both hero and agitator. It’s a fun short.


Mickey’s Circus

August 1, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

Interesting that “Mickey’s Circus” is really just about Donald’s sea lion act. It’s another short that contrasts a hyper-competent Donald in the early part of the short against a deeply dysfunctional and put-upon Donald as the short progresses.

Even so, this short is plenty of fun, very slapstick with great gags all the way throughout.


Toby Tortoise Returns

August 22, 1936 available in Silly Symphonies

I assume from this cartoon that the tortoise and the hare cartoon that I didn’t much care for was a hit that demanded a sequel. I prefer the Bugs Bunny renditions of this story and, indeed, a lot of the gags and humor seem like they would be more at home in a Looney Tunes piece than a Disney short.

Toby Tortoise, the hero from the Tortoise and the Hare short, is having a rematch with the hare, this time in the boxing ring. Whereas the lesson of the Tortoise and the Hare is that perseverance pays off over flashy outlandishness, the lesson here is that the Hare is stupid and self-destructive and sometimes random chance turns out in your favor.

The cartoon itself isn’t bad, just different from the Disney style.


Three Blind Mouseketeers

September 26, 1936 available in More Silly Symphonies

This is a perfect cartoon. It’s got all the best elements of early animation and early film making. The visual gags are absolutely superb, combining humor, suspense, and vibrant characters and colors.

The Three Blind Mouseketeers engage with Captain Cat in a game of (I’m sorry) cat and mouse with nice elaborate gags and traps. As is typical in the Disney shorts, the good guys win and the bad guy loses, but it’s an entertaining trip along the way.


Mickey’s Elephant

October 10, 1936 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color

I’ve come to a deep appreciation of the Pluto cartoons. This one combines the zaniness of the best Plutos with the jealousy that Pluto has for Mickey’s attention.

Mickey has, for reasons unexplained, a new pet elephant and this new pet drives Pluto crazy. After a visit from his friendly neighborhood shoulder devil, Pluto becomes something of a bully to the poor elephant in order to drive him away.

I have to confess I don’t much like the Pluto angel / devil device since the power of Pluto is that he is entirely inarticulate which requires the animators to communicate through body language and facial features. That is when Pluto is at his best.


The Country Cousin

October 31, 1936 available in Silly Symphonies

These are some of my favorites… the ones without dialogue. This is a nice rendition of the city mouse / country mouse story. It’s pretty gag-heavy, with just the barest plot to move the action forward, but we get a pleasant enough short with good visuals and music.


Mother Pluto

November 14, 1936 available in Silly Symphonies

A chicken has taken up her nest in Pluto’s dog house and the chicks hatch while she is out chasing down food., making Pluto their default mother.

This short is interesting due to the fact that so many of the scenes have a dozen individual characters in them, with lots of bits of personality coming out of the chicks. That’s a lot of animation work, a lot of attention to detail on the part of the animators. The result is perfectly adorable.


Donald and Pluto

November 25, 1936 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

The gags on this one are absolutely top notch. Donald is fixing a pipe in the basement when his magnet comes loose from the pipe and utterly ruins Pluto’s day. Then the entire short is one great magnet gag after another for 7 hilarious minutes.


More Kittens

December 19, 1936 available in More Silly Symphonies

The kittens from the “Three Orphan Kittens” short are back and this time they’re getting kicked out of the house by the mammy character and take up bothering the long-suffering family dog in the back yard.

This is like the Disney equivalent of posting cat gifs because they get clicks. Everything these kittens do is adorable, so I’m sure this was a big hit. But there isn’t any plot or real continuity outside of the three baby kittens are super cute.


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