Friday, January 31, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Friday 5th November 1937

SYNOPSIS: As far as story goes, there isn't much to say. Some animals are living in and around an old abandoned windmill, and one night they weather a storm. That's about it. This cartoon is most famous for its use of atmospheric effects and lighting, as well as being the first cartoon to ever make use of Walt Disney's amazing new multiplane camera!

In this picture you can see Walt here standing in front of the mammoth machine. The concept was quite simple, but the machine was huge and complex. Instead of having a single background plate and placing painted cels on top, the multiplane camera allowed the animators to create multiple layers of backgrounds (or foregrounds) and move them at independent speeds and distances, thus creating a beautiful impression of three dimensions.
Walt specifically had this camera system developed for use on his feature movies, but as always, the Silly Symphonies were a testing ground for new techniques. The Old Mill gave the animators a chance to try out the new technology and see what they could do with it. Therefore, this is a very important piece of animation history.

HAKU: This cartoon is one in a MILL-ion!


MALEFICENT: Look, with its foreground-background-movementy-type-stuff, it was good.

HAKU: It's good that not only were the layers moving independently, but they could pull focus as well, so that some were a bit blurry and some were sharp.

IRVYNE: Which they could use to draw the viewer's eye to the part of the picture they are supposed to be looking at. It's all very clever.

WENDY: It was a bit "blah" apart from that.

IRVYNE: Story-wise, there really isn't much there. I wouldn't call this a very entertaining cartoon. It's more about the atmosphere. In that sense, it's more a precursor to Bambi than anything else, with the animals facing the natural elements.

WENDY: I feared for the life of that poor little bird on her nest! That got really tense!

HAKU: Yeah, the atmosphere was good. There were parts of this that reminded me of the windmill scene in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow.

IRVYNE: I'd say there's definitely some inspiration there. I daresay we'll discuss that movie a bit later on in the year when we watch "Ichabod & Mr. Toad." As for The Old Mill... As an experimental piece and a try-out of the new camera, it's a success. But for people looking for great characters and a few laughs, The Old Mill is pretty flat.


RELEASE DATE: Friday 15th October 1937

SYNOPSIS: This is one of the most famous cartoons starring Disney's dynamic trio: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. In this story, they are given the task of cleaning a gigantic city clock. Each has their own task to complete, and of course, things don't exactly go to plan...

IRVYNE: You could tell that by the time they made this, they'd pinned down each character's distinct personality. You have Goofy who's just being an imbecile and doing stupid things, Donald is just constantly getting angry because nothing ever goes his way, and you have Mickey trying to save the day and usually failing spectacularly.

WENDY: I would never employ them. They don't do their jobs!

PASCAL: They tried... Mickey was TRYING to clean his numbers.

HAKU: That number 3 was VERY clean!

WENDY: And you've got to love those cartoon physics! Gravity? What gravity?

HAKU: You can see the frame rate has increased a lot since the early films.

IRVYNE: They would have had more animators, surely. The first few Mickey cartoons, they reckon were pretty much just animated by one guy. I'm sure by 1937 they had teams working on them. I do wonder though, if there was any crossover between these short movies and the big feature movie that was happening behind-the-scenes. Would some animators make Donald arguing with a spring and then go and animate the wicked queen in Snow White? I have no idea.

MALEFICENT: It's pretty funny that Irvyne and I seem to be able to understand everything that Donald says, and everybody else has no idea.

IRVYNE: I think that's just because we grew up watching these cartoons so much! It's like being exposed to another language! Wak wak wak! But it's also the main gag with the Donald cartoons, that no one can understand what he's saying, and he gets so frustrated with the world.
And speaking of Donald not being understood properly... The version we watched (which is on the "Silly Symphonies" DVD) has been CENSORED! When poor Donald is having an argument with the spring, it apparently upset a lot of parents, who thought Donald was saying the F word, among other colourful phrases, and Disney ended up redubbing part of his dialogue (not at all subtley either, I might add) Of course, there is no WAY Disney would have allowed Donald to cuss. He actually quacks, "Says who?" to which the spring replies, "Says I."
For the record, here is the original version. Does Donald appear to be swearing to you?

SHENZI: This is a fun cartoon. I love that slapstick humour.


RELEASE DATE: Saturday 15th May 1937

SYNOPSIS: Based (very) loosely on the American Indian legend of Hiawatha, this cartoon shows what the fearless warrior might have been like as a child. Little Hiawatha marches out to conquer, armed with a bow, arrow, and pants that are probably a bit too big for him.

IRVYNE: I think at one point Wendy was about to explode from the cute.

MALEFICENT: It was super-cute!

WENDY: All of the animals were adorable, but Hiawatha himself was very, very cute. With his little chubby cheeks!

IRVYNE: The animation is just so fantastic in this. The expressions they get on the little animals' faces is just incredible.

MALEFICENT: Aww, that little bunny rabbit!

WENDY: Stop it! I can't take it!

SHENZI: He just drops his little bow and arrow!

IRVYNE: I wanna know where the heck Hiawatha was HIDING that bow and arrow!

PASCAL: Because his pants kept falling down! You could see his little bottom!

IRVYNE: First ever Disney bum...? Possibly!

MALEFICENT: He definitely needed a belt.

WENDY: The music itself is like another character. It's fantastic. So what was the process? Would they have scored it first, or animated first?

IRVYNE: I think by this stage they were scoring first. It would have been fully storyboarded, then they would have recorded the music, then finalised the animation. Don't quote me on that. I know that in the early days they did it the other way round.
Meanwhile, this is again the kind of cartoon that you could probably argue is pretty racially insensitive.

MALEFICENT: I don't think it is.

IRVYNE: It's hard for us to call that though, since we're not in the race being depicted here. On the other side of the coin, 58 years later Disney would make Pocahontas, which some would call a bit too racially SENSITIVE, at the expense of being as entertaining as it could be. But anyway, Little Hiawatha is definitely entertaining. It's so funny, and it's cuuuuute!

WENDY: So cute!


RELEASE DATE: Saturday 6th February 1937

SYNOPSIS: Three years before he was a sorcerer's apprentice, Mickey Mouse was a stage magician, performing all kinds of dazzling tricks to a captive audience. One audience member - a particularly rude duck - does his best to interrupt the performance with his own brand of heckling. Will the magician get his revenge? Who will end up on top of this battle of wits?

MALEFICENT: By this cartoon, the characters were a lot more "on-model." They'd pretty much settled on what the characters would look like.

IRVYNE: The only major thing that changed after this I think were Mickey's eyes. They got a facelift in Fantasia.

PASCAL: And his face was white in this one.

WENDY: I loved all the running gags in this cartoon. Poor Donald, with all of the cards coming out of his mouth!

IRVYNE: I think Donald was a precursor to the Muppet hecklers, Statler and Waldorf.

MALEFICENT: Of course, the title of this cartoon is misleading, because Mickey is not a magician. He's a sorcerer. Magicians just do tricks, but he was using real magic.

WENDY: And I don't think a normal magician could have turned Donald into different animals! I think I've got it all figured out. He's a time traveller! After he discovered magic by using his master's hat, he came back to 1937 and put on a magic show!


IRVYNE: I do wonder how many ideas they came up with, because you've got to remember, these cartoons were being pumped out like nobody's business. We've only watched a sample of them, but there were so many! There were 75 cartoons just in the Silly Symphonies series! I wonder how many people were able to throw their ideas out there: "What if Mickey Mouse ran a magic show?"

MALEFICENT: Well back then it was still like the birth of cartoons. Everything was new. Now we just accept that everyone regurgitates ideas and nothing's original anymore.

IRVYNE: These early cartoons just seem to have a kind of purity about them. They don't have any kind of agenda, they're not trying to be in any way educational, it's just pure comedic entertainment.