Monday, December 29, 2014

Just what is the Disney Shorts Project?

Several years ago, I got to wondering what I would consider the top 100 Disney animated short subjects of all time. I thought it might be fun to do my own list. So I got to watching, and now I'm finally ready to share my thoughts. Over time though, I realized there were so many cartoons that I loved that maybe 100 was not enough. So I've expanded the final tally to 200. Boiling down over 500 short subjects to the best of the bunch was not easy!

How did this come about? First things first: I sat down and watched every single animated short in chronological order from "Steamboat Willie" to "Get a Horse!" I kept a little sheet with me and gave a check mark to shorts that I immediately wanted to consider for the top 100, and another for ones I liked a lot and would have to evaluate again. When that first pass was done, I had about 75 definites, and 250 or so "likes". I then watched those "likes" a second time and ranked them, eliminating the bottom 75 or so. Finally, I went through once again and watched all the remaining shorts to make the final rankings.

What shorts are eligible for the list? In my first pass, I included all the educational shorts that I could find, as well as direct-to-video stuff. In finalizing the list, I decided that I'd have to set some rules for what could make the list:

1) No educational shorts. This means no "The Story of Menstruation" or any of those. A few were considered eligible if they had wide theatrical release accompanying a feature. These include "Scrooge McDuck and Money" and the Goofy "Freewayphobia" shorts. Other "documentary"-style shorts are eligible ("Donald in Mathmagic Land", "It's Tough to Be a Bird"), but there are many other shorts made specifically by the educational division of the studio that were excluded. The "What Would You Do?" series is wonderful, but I had to exclude it.

2) All shorts must be made by Walt Disney Animation Studios or its equivalent. That is, by Walt's main animation team and for theatrical distribution. Nothing made by the TV animation division is eligible save a few exceptions. So no "I'm No Fool" stuff. The lone exceptions are shorts made by the TV division that got either theatrical distribution (the Bonkers short "Petal to the Metal"), or played festivals that got them Academy Awards attention ("Redux Riding Hood"). I also included the Rick Reinert stuff, though I don't think any of it made the final list.

3) All shorts, with few exceptions, must have screened theatrically. Even if it was made by the feature animation department, if it premiered on television (Prep & Landing) it was not included. Likewise, direct-to-DVD shorts like "The Cat That Looked at a King" were excluded. However, I made an exception for the pieces created for the abandoned Fantasia World project, some of which ended up only as DVD extras. Since some garnered Oscar attention, all were made by the Feature Animation department, and all were intended for one feature, I treated them all equally.

4) Only shorts originally made and released as shorts were included. No segments are sequences that originated as material from the package films ("Casey at the Bat", "Peter and the Wolf", etc.) were eligible, even though many were subsequently released on their own in the 1950s. This also includes the Goofy short "How to Ride a Horse", which was originally part of The Reluctant Dragon and not released separately until 1950.

5) No specialty commercials or promotional materials. So that eliminates "The Volunteer Worker", "Mickey's Surprise Party", "Parade of the Award Nominees", "Steel and America", "Electric Holiday", and others. Also no industrial training films were included.

6) Only animated shorts were eligible, though some have live action elements. I hotly debated whether to remove anything with live-action, but decided as long as at least half of the short was animated it was eligible.

7) No theme park attractions. So that means no "Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable" or "Mickey's Philharmagic".

I think that covers all the basic guidelines I followed in eliminated shorts.

Okay, but by what criteria did you rank them? Basically, if they were supposed to be funny and they made me laugh out loud, that was a positive right away. I decided it was important to judge each on its own merit, and for its time. It is unfair to compare "The Skeleton Dance" to "Tangled Ever After" in terms of animation. I tried to judge each short by its sophistication in terms of story and technology for its time, and take that into account when ranking them. Judging them for their time also means not immediately docking them for racial or ethnic caricatures. It would be myopic to throw out the best of these because we have a different sensibility now. Also, sometimes first appearances of iconic characters lent extra weight to a short's ultimate ranking. In essence, I considered all aspects of each piece (the color, the animation, the backgrounds, the music, the time of its release) as I judged them. Some of them I have great nostalgic affinity for. Many of these still amused me enough to make the cut, and some I had to let go. Just know that for every short that made it, there was another that just missed.

This list is of course entirely subjective, no matter how much I may try to look at things objectively. You may have favorite shorts that you don't end up seeing here. Believe me, of the 500+ cartoons I watched at least 350 were ones I enjoy and could be contenders. There are honestly very few that I don't think very highly of in some fashion. And just know that I have favorite cartoons that didn't make the list either! Furthermore, my rankings for many of them have changed throughout the course of this project. But the general sense of where most of them end up has stayed pretty consistent. But if you say, "How could you rank that so low?" Realize that I may have gone back-and-forth on it, and the final ranking is a little fluid.

I also made a decision not to include "Feast" in this ranking because to date I have seen it only once and I felt there was something nice about just going from Mickey Mouse in 1928 to Mickey Mouse in 2013. But it was an enjoyable short and maybe I'll post an essay about it later.

Finally, I must add that despite my best efforts to find them, there were a few shorts that I was unable to view, and thus could not be eligible for this list. Some have never been commercially available past their initial screening and if I never saw them, I cannot judge them. These shorts are:
Oilspot and Lipstick
Glago's Guest
Tick Tock Tale

Thanks for reading this introduction, and I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me through the very best of the animated shorts that Disney has made!

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