Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cartoon: Plane Crazy (1928, Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks)

Plane Crazy (1928)
USA, 6 min
Directed by: Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks
Written by: n/a
Starring: Walt Disney (voice)

This is where it all began. Plane Crazy (1928) – and not Steamboat Willie (1928), as is often claimed – marks the humble debut of Mickey Mouse, perhaps the most recognisable and beloved cartoon character ever created. This little rodent was originally envisioned as a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a successful character designed by Walt Disney for Charles Mintz of Universal Studios. Mintz had demanded that Disney take a pay-cut, shortly after reminding him that he personally held copyright of Oswald, and had already contracted most of Disney's employees. To Mintz's surprise, the ambitious animator and businessman instead struck out alone, animators Ub Iwerks and Les Clark among the few who remained loyal to him. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released on May 15, 1928, in California, where its reception was initially rather lukewarm. The animation itself is not particularly notable, but the jokes are clever, funny and amusingly mean-spirited. Mickey's following would grow, however, and more than anybody – not even the forward-thinking Disney – could ever have anticipated.

At least in his first year, Mickey wasn't much of a gentleman. For one, he wasn't averse to harassing livestock if he could get some benefit out of them – here, a turkey is robbed of its tail feathers, and a cow is grabbed by the udder, which tastefully spurts milk everywhere. Mickey decides that he wants to be an aviator, though his knowledge stretches little beyond how Charles Lindbergh ("Lindy") styled his hair. This dangerous hobby is no doubt fuelled by a desire to impress Minnie the Mouse (here also making her debut), but, when she doesn't respond as planned, Mickey coldly forces a kiss out of her. Disney claims that inspiration for his character partially came from Charles Chaplin's tramp character, though there's very little of that here: the look of pure mischievous evil on his face after being romantically rejected by Minnie is almost frightening! Plane Crazy was originally released as a silent cartoon, but, following the success of Steamboat Willie, it was re-released with sound effects and synchronised music.

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