Sunday, September 21, 2008

Steamboat Willie

Directed By: Walt Disney & U.B. Iwerks. United States. 1928. 7 min. (one reel).

With the recent wave of Pixar shorts that precede each one of their films and the Walt Disney Company’s enormous reach over the entertainment industry, it’s easy to overlook the early days when Walt Disney, the man, was an up and coming animator. While trying to establish his career, Disney created shorts for other producers and characters that he didn’t own until he developed the lovable mouse that would become the mascot for one of the largest corporations today. But looking back at the humble beginnings of Disney’s career and more specifically the original Mickey Mouse cartoons, it’s hard to use phrase such as “humble beginnings” or “lovable mouse.”

The release of the second Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie (1928) is possibly the most iconic piece from Disney’s early days. It’s been referenced, parodied and saluted cultural impact with the introduction of such a darling character. However, most of those tributes and even parodies overlook the entire cartoon. Typically, there’s just a clip of Mickey steering the ship and some cases will even extend to the moment when the bigger (whatever that animal is, possibly a giant cat) bullies Mickey out of the driver’s seat. Steamboat Willie is so much more as it could easily be an icon for the early days of cartoon violence.

After Mickey’s overthrown from driving the steamboat, he helps a frantic Minnie board the ship and in celebrating they decide to play music but there’s a lack of instruments. This doesn’t stop Mickey as he goes on to use the animals aboard for musical means. Mickey grabs a cat and yanks on it’s tail to play music with its meow before he swings it around his head and tosses it away; he pulls on a ducks head, plays drums with a pig’s feeding babies as well as on a cows teeth.

While he maintains a seemingly lovable smile the entire, Mickey’s sadistic side shows with Itchy-esque enjoyment. It’s somewhat off-putting to see the world’s most benevolent mouse with such a mischievous demeanor only to be aided by Minnie as the cartoon world’s original Bonnie and Clyde. However, this shouldn’t be too surprising considering the history of subliminal messages and drawings put into Disney cartoon over the years but let’s just hope that Walt Disney never actually condoned animal abuse.

NOTE: Due to uncertainty over it’s copyright law I chose not to attach it on the blog, but take a look on YouTube anyways.

1 comment:

Paul Klein said...

It's interesting to look at Steamboat Willie in terms of the Cinema of Attractions. The entire short is built up around the idea that it is the first cartoon with an entirely postproduction synchronized soundtrack (though not the first cartoon to be screened with sound). There is no reason for Mickey to step into a bucket, or for the wheel at the beginning to make so much sound. The plot here is next to irrelevant, the real deal is the spectacle, the astonishment of a cartoon with sound design. Even today, nearly 90 years after this film was first released, I find myself getting pulled right along, buying into every note and sound effect. The spectacle of it all is still enthralling.

This short, of course, was obviously a massive inspiration on Warner Brother's Merrie Melodies, which were produced from 1931 through 1969.