Thursday, July 01, 2010

What Disney Did Best


I like the look of this transitional period of Disney's. It's between the pure rubber hose cartoons of the early 30s and the feature style that eventually abandoned early cartoon sensibility altogether.
Disney was still taking advantage of cartoony motion in this period. The design of the characters was changing slightly to accommodate the new techniques of motion that the animators were discovering.

Mickey retains the simple design of his rubber hose look, but has become much more pliable or organic.
The Disney star cartoons of the mid 30s have a really nice blend of graphic design with cartoony and fluid movement. It makes them appealing despite the fact that the ideas are so inane.
Here's Pete doing a gag that might work in live action comedy if it was performed by funny comedians. Laurel and Hardy or the 3 Stooges could pull it off. Here, it just plays flat because the characters and the timing don't add anything to the mere fact of the action.
There are a lot of pain gags that would work if they were handled with a sense of humor.

It seems to me that the Disney artists were so consumed with developing their skills that they wrote the stories just as excuses to work on their principles: squash and stretch, getting a feeling of weight into the actions, overlapping action, staging.

EACH CHARACTER HAS TO DO HIS MEMORIZED THING
They always made room for "personality" scenes in each cartoon, but it feels like they are there just out of a sense of duty. Each character gets cameo moments in the cartoon to do his thing. Donald has to get mad and do his Donald Fist Hop in every cartoon.

THERE HAS TO BE A LIBERAL AMOUNT OF ASS GAGS
I say gags, because that's what they called them at the studio, but they aren't exactly funny. They are just there in abundance.
Lots of exaggerated stretch and squash.

A cartoony walk. It's very bouncy and Goofy's foot spins around impossibly. A cartoon gag that can't be done in live action.





PROP GAGS:
Disney was big on animated props: lots of them. The more the funnier was probably the theory.
The skill in coordinating all this stuff is really impressive. It's done with hierarchy. Hierarchy is what I think Disney understood better than everyone else. Once they had an idea, they'd do it in the most elaborate way with as much detail as possible - but the details were all organized in a hierarchical pattern. It takes a very organized structure to make all this detail read clearly.
More hurt gags...

Inanimate objects are actually alive. This piano for some reason is alive, not with a personality or even humor but just as a motivation for some Goofy business. The film needs a reason to show Goofy being befuddled and dimwitted. A piano that moves around on its own is good enough.
The thing about Disney ideas is that if you actually said them out loud they wouldn't sound like anything at all. "A piano runs over Goofy and it confuses him." doesn't sound very funny or interesting but the execution of it is impressive.

Did someone really come up with "Have him trip over a stool!"?

Stock cartoony flattened body gag. Is being flattened inherently funny by itself? Maybe it was the first time it ever happened. Other cartoons do make it funny. What's the difference in how it's handled?

GOOFY'S TURN TO DO SOME BUSINESS
There must have been a story theory at Disney's demanding that each character with a personality have a sequence in the film to do his thing. Goofy gets an extended sequence, Donald gets a shorter one and Mickey interestingly doesn't have one at all, I assume because he doesn't have a personality trait whereas Goofy and Donald each have one.







DONALD'S ASS RAGE
You can't have enough ass irritation in a Disney cartoon.



Getting your ass stuck in things is a Disney staple.

Here's a swollen ass for some variety.

The flying ass.
The million plates crashing scene.
I think the characters never looked better than during this period. This design style made for great merchandise and I think carried the appeal of cartoons beyond what the stories deserved.
Lots and lots of flying, falling crashing props.

What's the best way to end a cartoon?

This also has Disney's name on it. Is there a resemblance to anything Disney did?

41 comments:

Trevor Thompson said...

Sadly, the only time these cartoons are on TV anymore are at 3AM on the Disney Channel.

Jay said...

We go to Disneyworld a few times a year and in all the Disney hotels, they show ONLY the old cartoon shorts. I honestly don't think I've seen anything made after 1940 playing.

And you know what? Every time, there's a small mob of kids rapt, motionless, and utterly silent gathered in front of these cartoons.

Kids haven't changed. They can spot the good stuff.

Reverend Faux said...

If you're suggesting a pure capacity for story-telling through imagery, then I agree. The plot is linear, with none of the gags really out of place. Watching shows like Family Guy, with its constant plot changes per episode and non-sequitur meta-references, really shows that story telling as devolved in animation.

Modern cartoons/animation seem to be battling for who can be the most "random" and "non-sense" reigns supreme. However, there are some real gems floating around right now that have preserved Walt's ability to tell a story and try to keep you guessing the ending.

Reverend Faux said...

If you're suggesting a pure capacity for story-telling through imagery, then I agree. The plot is linear, with none of the gags really out of place. Watching shows like Family Guy, with its constant plot changes per episode and non-sequitur meta-references, really shows that story telling as devolved in animation.

Modern cartoons/animation seem to be battling for who can be the most "random" and "non-sense" reigns supreme. However, there are some real gems floating around right now that have preserved Walt's ability to tell a story and try to keep you guessing the ending.

Reverend Faux said...

If you're suggesting a pure capacity for story-telling through imagery, then I agree. The plot is linear, with none of the gags really out of place. Watching shows like Family Guy, with its constant plot changes per episode and non-sequitur meta-references, really shows that story telling as devolved in animation.

Modern cartoons/animation seem to be battling for who can be the most "random" and "non-sense" reigns supreme. However, there are some real gems floating around right now that have preserved Walt's ability to tell a story and try to keep you guessing the ending.

Isaak said...

The last picture seems to lack any amount of soul. Would Walt Disney have tolerated this even when he was busy with his baby, Disney Land

Stephen Worth said...

The first cartoon to equally distribute time between m, d and g was Mickey's Service Station. It had been planned as a Mickey and Donald cartoon, but Art Babbitt took a short sequence with Goofy and elaborated on it, and they went back and cut stuff to give equal time to Goofy.

When I first met Art Babbitt, I helped him move his office. As a thank you, he autographed a VHS of Moving Day and told me that it was one of the films he was most proud of. I love the background paintings in this era. Even a simple background with a chair and a piece of wall is beautiful in these cartoons.

Roberto Severino said...

I was laughing at this cartoon all the way through. It's a shame how they don't show these cartoons on television anymore, because I find classic Disney to be very fascinating to watch in so many ways. I always felt like I never really grew up with enough of their cartoons (I remember watching many of their classic feature films as a kid), especially their short cartoons. Glad a lot of them are on YouTube for all to see. They always stop making those Disney Treasures DVDs for no reason, which I hate, because I'd love to own some of these.

What do you think of the Goofy cartoons from the 1940s like "Hockey Homicide"? I kinda liked the streamlined style in those and there's a lot of great animation.

Martin Juneau said...

And this post is made rightly to the National's moving day. I really like this cartoon too. They have full of great sights gags through this film and Goofy is a amazing character. Tough this kind of cartoons was a exercise to the animators to learn how make a story and get it.

Shawn Dickinson said...

I love the designs, great animation, and the grayed colors during this era. Yet the constant battling with inanimate objects in these cartoons always frustrated the hell out if me. I can't watch them without getting irritated.

Ian Merch! said...

Regardless of quality, the smartest thing Disney ever did is somehow managing to get credit for things done 30+ years after his death. There's something to be learned from that somehow.

Zoran Taylor said...

Wow, just the stills from this cartoon bring me back to being four or five years old, when I had the rare pleasure to see a cartoon in a theatre for the first time - as a CHILD! You better believe I was imitating the plunger and piano gags for weeks afterward.

No, I literally acted out being run over by something that weighs more than twice as much as me.

Yes. I did. Dozens and dozens of times.

Kelvin said...

Goofy has always definitely been my favorite Disney character! I love that guy.

CartoonSteve said...

Trevor Thompson said...
"only time these cartoons are on TV anymore are at 3AM"

Is that still even true? I thought they were replaced with teen drivel reruns years ago. I used to record "Vault Disney" late at night but haven't seen it on Disney or Toon Disney in years.

Elana Pritchard said...

The thing that bugs me about Disney cartoons is that the characters are so pathetically stupid. I mean what gaggle of idiots has this many problems moving into a house? You have to be a real moron to get your ass stuck in a plunger over and over. Warner Bro's character's suffer from human shortcomings (i.e. greed, hubris, lust, etc.) but they are not so blindly retarded as to not be able to perform simple tasks.

Roberto González said...

I think this is probably the best look for Mickey, but I usually prefer the look of Donald in later films. I also prefer the stories, there are some genuinely funny Donald cartoons IMO, especially Duck Pimples, Donald's Dilemma, Donald's Double Trouble and Donald's Crime.

I do like the colors, props and the look of Pete and Mickey. I also enjoy the comic books from this period. Floyd Gottfredson's stories using these same characters were usually funnier and more interesting than the cartoons. I especially find Goofy quite funnier in the comic books than he's in the cartoons. In the cartoons he's just...goofy, very dense. In the comics he's dumb too, but he seems to have some kind of eccentric logic, which makes him less predictable.

Timothy R said...

Yeah, I didn't hear anything about them airing these cartoons on Disney Channel at 3AM.

The Donald/plunger bit was my favorite part of that episode.

Joey Lee said...

Heh, goofy's walk is awesome. Lovin the exorcist feet.

BTW, I tried caricaturing a photo ref, and posted my process. Would love for you to take a look and tell me what ya think.

HERE

Austin Papageorge said...

"Is being flattened inherently funny by itself?"

It always gets at least a mental chuckle from me...

Oscar Grillo said...

....And not to mention the wonderful three stripes technicolor that made film a living thing!

JohnK said...

Yeah, the color is beautiful.

Hey Oscar, I checked those artists you mentioned and they are great.

So is your OScartoon blog. I'm gonna do a post about it and link to it.

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

Y'know when I heard there was going to be a Disney Chanell I thought

"Hooray! Now I can watch old Disney Cartoons and early animated features with some Milt Kahl stuff!"

But instead I got neither of these. Instead I got crappy, stilted, modern animated shows, hannah montannah, High school musical and Jonas brothers.

I would've preferred mannequin 90's Disney animated features to that!

Ben Laserlove said...

I'm glad they're returning to this design of Mickey Mouse in the new video-game "Epic Mickey", and supposedly they're maybe even making cartoons, or a feature film based on "Epic Mickey".

Even though you hate video-games, you must agree that it is kinda cool that they're going back to black-and-white Mickey Mouse.

Timothy R said...

I agree with the comment on Epic Mickey. Saw a video of a level in the Steamboat Willie setting: pretty awesome!

Pokey said...

Steve Worth said.....
"The first cartoon to equally distribute time between m, d and g was Mickey's Service Station".

Which, in an eerie state of irony, was the last black and white Mickey short [the first Technicolor one was
The Band Concert, with Donald in a VERY heavy role, though with an allstar cast..[]

Zoran Taylor said...

@Elana - I agree with you, Let's just be clear, though - There are an EXTREMELY liberal number or relatively interchangeable idiots in WB cartoons. But there is still more variety in them than in Disney morons. Beaky Buzzard and Baby Bear (the huge one) stand out. The Abominable Snowman is a nice minor variation too.

Ray said...

Those who work for Disney today hate kids. And it shows in what spews out every year through their animated movies. The only thing Disney is good at today is putting out teeny-bop shows like Hannah Montana. Disney will never go back to their golden age, all those artists are long dead and they fired and got rid of most of their talent from the late 80s and 90s. I heard most of their cartoons today (like what they use for WDW and WDL attractions) are mostly done in Korea.

Isaak said...

Stephen Worth and John K

Do you have the resources to release the Censored 11, because that would be quite a treat I assume for all the readers of this blog? Also, speaking of Disney, DVD Verdict made a joke that the "Story of Menstration" wasn't on the Disney Oddities DVD.

Also John, I emailed you about the caricature. To get back to me, click on my username and hit Contact.

Thank you

Saskia said...

Thank you for posting this cartoon, I remember how much I loved this one when I was little, but over the years i forgot how it was called :(

Zartok-35 said...

Charles Shows had an ass-gag/joke obsession in the early Hanna Barbera days. Don't forget him!

Guy Cx said...

"It seems to me that the Disney artists were so consumed with developing their skills that they wrote the stories just as excuses to work on their principles: squash and stretch, getting a feeling of weight into the actions, overlapping action, staging."
I guess you couldn't have said it better, John. Disney had real technique masters, like Milt Kahl and the other "eight old men". But when it comes to the stories and gags, well, I just think they could have worked more on that.

I remember when I was a little kid, there was a TV show here in Brazil, at some large TV network, that would only show Disney's cartoons (there was no "Disney Channel"). I just couldn't watch those cartoons, for even I found the drawings really well-executed and harmonic, I would still think: "Why would someone watch that when you have the stuff from Cartoon Network (that would mean "What a Cartoon!" and "Cow and Chicken" at the time) and Nickelodeon (that's where you get in) which are WAY funnier?". Those Disney cartoons lacked really bad one thing that I admire the most in cartoons: wackiness.

By the way John, have you ever seen this Donald Duck's war-time cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iumEGAUceDg
That's the stuff I like the most in Disney (still, in general I'm no Disney admirer).

She-Thing said...

Probably one of my favourite cartoons... or at least one I subconsciously watched over an over again. The strange about it is that the piano used to scare me, the fact of an inanimate object moving of the top corner of the screen wasn't very appealing. But at least the whole it was attractive to a point were this last screencap with a pathetic attempt to imitate Dreamworks formula makes it sooooooo bland.

Speaking of scary things... would "Mickey in:Runaway Brain" qualify as good animation? Or at least an attempt on giving Mickey some personality :S

martinus said...

These drawings are beautiful!
Even though I usually don't like the endings, and the characters aren't as interesting as their WB counterparts, Nothing compares to the technical animation skills at Disney in this era.
These guys really knew what they were doing.

Erik said...

These jokes maybe unoriginal or dumb but they stil work becouse they're so exaggerated.
if they're not exaggerated then it wouldn't connect to the audience.
though the ass stuck in something gets realy tiring.

its the same reason why Ren and Stimpy works for me, becouse it's so over the top, and with the exaggerated emotions of the characters, you don't see that often.

clock cleaners used to be my faforite, atleast mickey has something to do in that cartoon.
you can realy see that they already had a problem with mickey's personality back then.

Roberto González said
"think this is probably the best look for Mickey, but I usually prefer the look of Donald in later films. I also prefer the stories, there are some genuinely funny Donald cartoons IMO, especially Duck Pimples, Donald's Dilemma, Donald's Double Trouble and Donald's Crime."

i personely like this style
http://files.myopera.com/qubitvn/albums/370589/22-Al%20Taliaferro.jpg

drawn by Al Taliaferro

K. Nacht said...

Damn, them backgrounds is so loovely. Now there's where nostalgia gives you access to another age. Like hanging in old town back alleys with the incinerators.

Jake the Animator said...

ART BABBITT was instrumental in this period at Disney's. He turned "Dippy Dawg" into the Goofy you see here. His treatise on the Goof is a character deconstruction that was completely novel.

Babbitt also worked in Clampett's unit for a little bit after the '41 Disney strike.

Hamronial said...

i think the butt-jabs ARE hilarious. In principle.

Isaak said...

At least Disney had some optimism in his films. Warner Brothers, Marx Brothers (and on a good number of South Park episodes seem to be among the few to portray pessimism in a non-grating manner. There seems to be nastiness in most popular media.

Watch Back in the Barnyard if you dare.

SoleilSmile said...

I think Disney cartoons are supposed to charm rather than entertain with knee slapping humor.

This is just my observation of the studio's style.

Charles said...

Even Facebook fans of Disney are posting their anger over what is happening on Rapunzel.
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/DisneyAnimation?v=wall&story_fbid=113905361990238

RooniMan said...

I don't consider "Tangled" to be from Disney because it's so far away from what Disney used to be.