November 25, 2008

Tall Timber (1928)


Here we have one of the last Disney Oswald cartoons. Also alliterative with its Ts like Trolley Troubles.

Love: The design is much more cute than it was before. It has rounded shapes instead of harsher, flatter forms.

The music is at least just an organ this time. So, while it is irritating in the way silent film music is irritating, it's better than a fake orchestral arrangement. Again, not the fault of the cartoon itself, but the restoration. In terms of restoring soundtracks on cartoons, Disney would be better off following the axiom that simpler is better.

The backgrounds are far lusher than in Trolley Troubles, tho this cartoon is only a year newer.

A V of ducks is cool. Even if they're in lock step identical movement all at the same time.

A lack of gun safety or the safety of the audience is sure to lead to entertainment. That's a barrel pointed straight at the screen in the image below.

Fuzzy moose. Always go for the fuzzy moose. Sure, it doesn't look quite right. But it still looks good.

The boulder take. The boulder has a lot of momentum to it (tho it is very floaty, anchored to a spot on screen that it spins on), and the take is unusually extreme for what I usually think of in Disney cartoons.

Lightning head effects. It wasn't considered gauche to use visual cues in common with, say, a comic strip. Why did everyone seem to stop using this kind of thing after Tex Avery left MGM except in not consciously noticeable FX frames?

The running bear looks good.

Fish eye lens Oswald: not sure if it's love or hate. It's something tho.

Naked mama bear bloomers and bra

Oswald in the bear coat; except the smoking which is ugly.

Hate: While looking exponentially better than Trolley Troubles, this is still ugly much of the time.

It's still incredibly repetitive.

Oswald crushed into 6 little Oswalds is just poorly done. It's like they'd heard the idea, and just floatily executed it. There is much floatiness to the cartoon's action, actually.

The long bear hold. While the little bears keep moving, the big bear just stays and stays and stays like it went to the Stepford Etiquette Academy.

So, TT is much better than, uh, TT was. But if this was reinventing the wheel 80 years ago, the novel nature is lost in standards that became entrenched and enhanced. A reasonably decent and semi-watchable cartoon.

Next time, we will skip to the end of the story, and then eventually wade back into the middle (which is better than the beginning or end, at least in its best moments of its hundreds of cartoons) of Oswald's animated bio.

November 06, 2008

Trolley Troubles (1927)


So, here we have Trolley Troubles, the debut Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon (at least the first to show; supposedly a cartoon called Poor Papa was made and rejected; this is the first extant example, and can be found on the Disney Treasures Oswald collection). This is the face that launched a thousand ships?


The running trolley. This is literal; it's trying to use its wheels like feet.

The trolley widening to the fit the tracks. And thinnening to also fit the tracks. And it's in an animated background coming-at-the-camera shot. Too bad it repeats jokes within its tedious length several times.

Nose thumbing.

Goat ramming.

Butt waggling

Nice animated hills. The grey gives it a real mass and 3D feel the characters lack. The trolley has a good feel too, as it tosses the ugly little passengers off.

Under car shot

Vicious rabbits foot

The Oswald ass end.

Hate: Incredibly irritating music (courtesy of Robert Israel and the Robert Israel Orchestra). To be fair, this is not the fault of the original cartoon itself, but of the "restoration". It's also easily remedied by turning off the volume. I wonder why people scoring silents mostly use the same incredibly boring sound. This score is even using multiple instruments; if it was just a piano or an organ, I could maybe forgive it. But to use a form of instrumentation that would only have been used in the grandest of presentations, in a tiny handful of luxury theatres? You may as well go whole hog, ignore the sounds of the era, and make something good instead.
(For an example of one of those rare showings, see )

Incredibly repetitive animation. The opening scene repeats the same animation of kids catapulting off part of a trolley 6 times.

Repetitive design: those kids above are all the same rabbit.

The next shot repeats a cycle of kids climbing up the side of a trolley and going off to the left (down across a window where it is never seen), then another kid climbing up and going off to the right, ten times. Not 5 for each direction. 10 times for each direction (actually 9; the last going right is absent). Now, to be fair, Oswald himself is oiling the trolley's troll-hole, and some unlucky rabbit's face. But this ugly repetition is in service to the idea that if everything is always moving, that's good (enough). (The weird mutilated wheels on the trolley are interesting tho).

The overall awful ruralness of it all. Would there have been trolleys for bumpkins? My impression is the Toonerville Trolley (which had been a strip for almost 20 years before this short and had had something like 17 shorts made 5 years earlier than this short; gosh, I wonder where they got the idea for Trolley Troubles?) was similarly horribly rural, but I haven't seen any of Toonerville since watching the Oswald shorts.

Repetitive tunnel shots, even if the silhouette is cool.

I'm not sure exactly how this gave Winkler faith in the Oswald series's potential popularity. But then its only the silents that have made their way to me filtered through 80 years of letting bad cartoons slip into nitrate film stock non-existence, and the rise (and fall) of the theatrical short generally and the Oswald series itself more specifically giving me better material to compare it to. Look at the post preceding this; the brand in 40 years would retain rabbits and overalls, but would be otherwise unrecognizable. Oswald would go through several unrecognizable changes, and would essentially be dead on screen in only 11 years.