Sunday, January 25, 2009

Note on Updates

Friends ...

Unemployment brings some benefits, not the least of which is the ability to work on the website a bit more than I usually do. But it also gives me the ability to go ack to school. I'm a flexo printer by trade, but since printing jobs have pretty well dried up here in Rhode Island I'm taking the time to head back to college and get my ceritficate in Information Technology.

As part of my course work in Web Site Development I'm being allowed to rework this site in XTHML and bring it up to W3C standards which I've been lacking in the past. This is going to be a major project but I think in the end, a worthwhile one. Consequently, I'm not going to be able to update the site as much as I would like for the next 3 to 4 months. I will try to keep posting comments that come in but everything else will be put on the back burner for a bit.

So, wish me luck ... I think the site will benefit from the extra time I'll be putting into the architecture of it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Mickey's Polo Team"

First of all, I'd like to introduce you to a newer blog on the blogosphere. The Disney Films Project is the log of Ryan Kilpatrick's attempt to view every Disney short and feature film in chronological order and give us his thoughts and impressions on them. It's a very interesting project and it will be fun to follow him and see what he comes up with!

As part of transcribing and building the online Disney Reasearch Library I've been reading a lot of Don Graham's action analysis classes and Boris Morkovin's gag classes. It's interesting to see what works and what doesn't, but it's had an odder effect on me than I expected. To wit, I'm finding myself watching the shorts and finding what could have been done better and maybe getting a bit more detailed than I should.

"Mickey's Polo Team" is a fun little short and gave the Disney artists a chance to show off their cariacturing skills again after the success of "Mickey's Gala Premiere." Here, they don't overload the short with Hollywood caricatures (as they would later in "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.") But neither do they give some of them a lot to do. Mickey and Goofy appear in the line-up at the opening and then are pretty much forgotten for the rest of the film. Since Mickey was based quite a bit on Charlie Chaplin, I would have loved to see them in a scene together. Goofy and Stan Laurel would have made an excellent pairing as well; Laurel was animated by Art Babbit who later gave Goofy much of his elastic personality.

For me, the Laurel and Hardy sequence goes on too long and completely stops what should have been a frenetic and exciting film throughout. There's no real polo playing seen until almost the end. And too much emphasis is placed on Donald Duck towards the end when they had a cast of Hollywood stars to work with. One scene that was cut out which I would have enjoyed featured Mae West (possibly in her role as Jenny Wren) and the grasshopper from "The Grasshopper and the Ants" meeting. One can only imagine what that might have been like. And for some of the Disney artists, the ending gag came out of left field with no real set-up to it. So it feels like a showcase of individual episodes rather than a well-thought out storyline.

But these are minor quibbles for what is a thoroughly enjoyable short. And it leaves me wondering if studying anmation deeply robs us of something. The Action Analysis Classes and all the criticisms that Disney seemed to crave made the Disney artists better animators in the long run. But for me as a spectator, it makes me feel a bit like Mark Twain wrote in "Life on the Mississippi":

"Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. ... All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river. ... A day came when I ceased from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river's face. ... All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. ... [I] sometimes wonder whether [I] have gained most or lost most by learning [the] trade."

Friday, January 9, 2009


Just a small heads-up. One of the new things I'm starting to do on the site is to start transcribing a small library of Disney documents; initially that refer to the shorts directly but also some of the more general animation classes and bulletins that were passed around for the animator's continuing education. Many have been posted on Hans Perk's blog but I found a few more here and there and have a few in my own collection which I'll be posting.

You can see what I'm up to here : As always, I'm interested in your comments or ideas.

"The Nifty Nineties"

I'm reading Neal Gabler's biography of Disney right now (since my copy of Barrier's "The Animated Man" hasn't come in yet ... sorry, Mike ... it's next up!) One of the salient points that Gabler makes is how Disney's view of "Main Street USA" was an idealized version of his youth in Marceline, Missouri. And as much as all of Disney's shorts were idealized versions of reality, no where is his view of turn of the century romance and the times better seen than in the 1941 short "The Nifty Nineties."

Here was have a sepia toned introduction showing Mickey besides his Model T ... wandering through the park to the tune of "I Was Strolling Through the Park One Day" ... and then taking Minnie to the vaudeville show. Goofy rides by on a high wheeled bicycle as do all the ducks on a bicycle built for five. It's a rather idyllic scene.

Mickey and Minnie's romance, however seens to be almost a subplot. The highlight of the short is the vaudeville show and it seems that the artists had a lot of fun putting it together. It begins with a slide show of the song "Father, Dear Father" about a young girl pleading for her drunken father to sober up and come home. It was really rather an unexpected subject for a Disney cartoon. The show continues with a song and dance from "Fred and Ward : Two Boys from Illinois." The characters are caricatures of Disney animators Fred Moore and Ward Kimball; oddly named since Moore was originally from California and Kimball from Minnesota.

But one of the best thing about the short is the asbestos curtain that is shown before the show begins. Most of the ads on the curtains refer to various Disney artists; so we have "Wilfred Jaxson Feed and Fuel," a reference to Wilfred Jackson, one of Disney's earliest animators. Also noted are "Clark's Confectionery" for animator Les Clark, "T. Hee Shoes" for storyman T. Hee, "Gen. J. Sharpsteen Dentist" for animator Ben Sharpsteen, among others.

There is also one for "Walter D's Hats That Please", an obvious reference to Walt Disney himself. But one of my correspondents notes : It seems there is a hat manufacturer that uses the Disney name (I spotted their ads in the New Yorker Magazine, and it seems they been making hats longer than Walt has making cartoons) and probably Riley Thompson (or his gagmen) knew of this. So that gives that joke an extra edge.

It's a fun little short; certainly not one of Disney's best, and there's no real plot to it, but it's a nice pleasant way to spend seven and a half minutes.