Matthias Shapiro

I need fewer hobbies

Disney Shorts 1940

The Riveter

March 15, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald answers a wanted ad for a riveter and is thrust into the job on the top floor of a sky scraper. This short is the spiritual successor of Building a Building, in which Pete yells at Mickey for many of the same foibles that Donald exhibits here. But this finds new material to work with as Donald drives Pete crazy as an incompetent on the job. It’s great though, tons of wonderful gags and solid all the way through.


Donald’s Dog Laundry

April 5, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald creates a contraption for washing dogs and spends most of the cartoon trying to lure Pluto into it. That’s it. That’s the joke. The gags aren’t overly inspired, we spend too much time with squeezy toy and there is no real plot.

There are a few decent slapstick gags, but it’s thin soup.


Tugboat Mickey

April 26, 1940 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2

Mickey and his crew of Donald and Goofy are caring for their tugboat when the call comes out for for an SOS on a shipwreck and Mickey needs to get the boat out to save the sinking ship.

Mickey is really turning into a tertiary character here, it’s Goofy and Donald who do the silly things in the belly of the ship to provide slapstick and silly laughs. Goofy tends to the steam engine, struggling to get coal in the furnace and Donald has a fight with a piston. It’s alright, not fantastic.


Billposters

May 17, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald and Goofy come to a little town that is apparently unpopulated save for a single goat and three chickens and decide to paper the town with soup posters.

Donald is thwarted by a goat who mistakes the posters for real cans and Goofy is thwarted by a windmill. This is ok work with some funny moments with Donald and the goat. Otherwise it feels like we’re just in a rut with these shorts.


Mr. Duck Steps Out

June 7, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald goes out to see Daisy and his nephews tag along. I am uncertain why, but I’m glad they did b/c this is great. You get the conflict between Donald and his nephews along with some great music and dancing scenes.

This one is really a lot of fun, visually delightful and a musical joy. Highly entertaining.


Bone Trouble

June 28, 1940 available in The Complete Pluto

Pluto decides to take a bone from the not-very-generous dog next door and gets in a lot of trouble for it.

This has some pretty solid visual gags. Among the best are the spectacular gags from a hall of mirrors where Pluto retreats. It’s just… great animation. The plot of the bone exists to make Pluto look hilarious in the various fun house mirrors. But that is visually interesting enough that I’m willing to give it a pass.


Put-Put Troubles

July 19, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Pluto is taking Donald on a fishing trip (I’m confused, is Pluto Mickey’s dog or Donald’s?) and is distracted by a frog because I guess they used all their fishing gags with Goofy last year. Donald struggles with getting his boat motor running, which results in some really interesting character animation on the motor. An unexpected surprise, but really the only interesting part of this short.


Donald’s Vacation

August 9, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

A lot of the Disney sensibility seems to be an antipathy against modernity (which is hilarious since Disney built his entire company through innovation and pushing the limits of existing technologies). This short has Donald going out into the wilderness, only to be betrayed first by the modern technology he brought with him (a folding chair) and then by the elements of nature (chipmunks and then a bear).

Truly an observation on the modern man of 1940.

It’s a decent piece, thin on story, but cute and very much in character with Donald.


Pluto’s Dream House

August 30, 1940 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2

In breaking ground for Pluto’s new house, Mickey uncovers a magic lamp. Mickey’s wish, bizarrely, is for the lamp to build a new doghouse for Pluto.

The lamp builds Pluto’s house and then gives Pluto a bath. It’s ok, there are a few decent gags in this. It’s a little weird to modern ears to hear the exaggerated African American voice doing Mickey’s bidding, but the end sequence is pretty hilarious.


Window Cleaners

September 20, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

This one is great. A classic of animation, it fires on every comedy cylinder. Slapstick, mistaken assumptions, opposing intent, it’s great.

Donald is a window cleaner with Pluto as his ground support. They have their squabbles until Donald angers a bee on the 30th floor and the action shifts to the Donald-Bee interaction. This is, near as I can tell, the first of the “Donald vs Bee” series. It’s great.


Pluto’s Dream House

November 1, 1940 available in Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2

Mr Mouse Takes a Trip has Mickey and Pluto trying to grab a train to Pomona and getting kicked off due to a “No Dogs” policy. The entire short is about them evading Conductor Pete through a series of tricks and disguises.

The plot is a bit thin, but there are plenty of decent visual gags (folding Pluto into a bag, dressing up as several different guises). It moves along delightfully with a pretty light-footed humor.In breaking ground for Pluto’s new house, Mickey uncovers a magic lamp. Mickey’s wish, bizarrely, is for the lamp to build a new doghouse for Pluto.

But you absolutely must pair this short with the modern Disney short Get a Horse, released in 2013. It is a wonderfully self-conscious throwback to the old black-and-white Mickey Mouse shorts and uses Walt Disney’s voice for Mickey the first time in over 60 years. Several of the lines in Get a Horse are pulled from Mr Mouse Takes a Trip, which is makes these two shorts together a really delightful watching experience.

Goofy’s Glider

November 2, 1940 available in The Complete Goofy

This is the first of the Goofy instructional shorts. I loved these as a kid and now that I have discovered that these shorts were developed in response to a contract dispute with the Goofy voice actor. The idea was that they had a bunch of stock recordings of him saying random things in Goofy’s voice and the cobbled together Goofy shorts with that stock and a great deal of direction from a narrator (bringing in a replacement actor for necessary dialogue).

And now I feel terrible for loving them. But I still do.

In this short, Goofy engages in his hobby of glider flight. The primary obstacle of this particular hobby (it seems) is gaining sufficient velocity to allow the aerodynamics of the glider to propel one into the air. This really is a lovely short, filled with excellent slapstick gags from start to finish. It is the Road Runner cartoon of the Disney world, but with the added twist of a funny contrast between the formality of the narrator’s voice and suggestions and the silliness of Goofy’s implementation.


Fire Chief

December 13, 1940 available in The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 1

Donald is apparently the Fire Chief of a station that employs minors (Donald’s nephews)as firemen. This is a pale imitation of the exceptionally more compelling 1935 short “Mickey’s Fire Brigade“.

Many of the gags are similar to that one, but there isn’t as much variation to the theme. The running gag is that Donald is an idiot and is unkind to his nephews, but there just isn’t enough visual innovation or interest to hold interest. The jokes are mostly based around the antipathy Donald and his nephews hold for each other. The actual theme of the short and the narrative aren’t strong enough to hold our engagement.


Pantry Pirate

December 27, 1940 available in The Complete Pluto

Pluto is banished from the kitchen by the housekeeper and seeks to find his way to the savory ham she has roasted for the family.

This is a cartoon that is honestly more about comic body elasticity than anything else. Pluto has to contort himself to get out of his color, to keep a screen door from slamming, to climb the ironing board to reach the ham. This eventually devolves into what almost seems like an artist exercise in bubble animation and reflection distortions.

It’s ok. It’s a competent short, but certainly not the stuff of classics.


Volunteer Worker

September 11940 available in The Complete Pluto

This is not formally a Disney short, but a cartoon made to encourage volunteer efforts within communities. Sort of a PSA for the 1940’s.

Donald goes around trying to collect money for charity from his neighbors and is met with and endless chorus of “no”. He ends up running into a saintly ditch digger who gives to the cause and who is rewarded with a pin.

I don’t know what to say. It’s a PSA. It’s a good one. The ditch digger really is the most interesting character, lit in a way that suggests that the lowly individual who gives to charity out of good intent is the greatest hero of a nation. It is well crafted as propaganda. Maybe propaganda is what we needed at that time.

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