Friday, January 9, 2015

199. The Shindig

SERIES: Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse, Minnie, and the rest of the gang head out to the local barn dance for an evening of fun. Mickey and Minnie provide the music and everyone cuts a rug.

Many of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons fall into one of three categories.
1) Mickey solves some problem or makes light of a bad situation through music and dance
2) There is a performance of some kind, featuring Mickey
3) There's a dance or a party
"The Shindig" falls into this third category. The basic framework of everyone at the local barn dance goes all the way back to "The Barn Dance", the first new Mickey short after "Steamboat Willie". Among these types of shorts, "The Shindig" is one of my favorites. Each has its own little flavor, but I find this one to be particularly fun. It's definitely light on story (even the gags contained within aren't much), but it is an amusing distraction, and I think has a kind of joy that surpasses some other similar shorts.

Note the earliest version of the "Mickey in the sunburst" opening. That was introduced in 1930 with the short "Just Mickey". This is the earliest appearance of it in this countdown.

Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow appear here, having debuted several shorts earlier. I love the gag that the bell pull at Clarabelle's house is her tail. Notice that when Clarabelle is introduced, she is in bed reading a book called Three Weeks, which she hides under her mattress. The book was a work of erotic fiction that was first published several decades earlier and was likely back in the public eye due to a movie adaptation in 1924. Basically, it was the Fifty Shades of Grey of it's day, and audiences would likely have gotten a laugh out of it. I also think it's great to see more adult jokes like that in early shorts to remind people that Disney made these for a wide audience, and not just as "kid stuff".

When we get to the dance, the first song played is "Turkey in the Straw". This seems appropriate, as it was the centerpiece of Mickey's first sound cartoon, "Steamboat Willie". This is followed with one of my favorite bits in this cartoon, "Pop Goes the Weasel". Mickey's signature playfulness in instrumentation is on display here, as he pops paper bags, bangs buckets, and plays Minnie's tail. Mickey has a little bit of a naughty schoolboy in him as he snaps Minnie's underwear on the chorus! I love that he tries it again and she slaps him, singing, "Don't you do that!" That bit of business allows for a touch of character interaction beyond just the singing and dancing, and it's also pretty funny. Other shorts have some similar exchanges, but that's my favorite one. Learn your lesson kids: if you go around snapping girls' underwear, expect to get slapped.

It's important to remember that we are still early in the success of Mickey and Walt Disney. The bread and butter of these cartoons was the sound integration, which is why so many of them focus on musicality. As they went on, we got more dialogue as well. This cartoon is all about music and dance.  It is fun to trace the development of dance animation through Disney cartoons. The dances often depict not only changes in animation style, but changes in popular dance of the time. Clarabelle does a little slide dance that you see in other Disney cartoons of the period. I'll try to comment on interesting milestones in the Disney evolution of dance throughout this countdown.

You'll notice that besides mice, horses and cows, most of the extras in these shorts tend to be dogs and pigs. The "rubber hose" animation style is wonderfully exploited as Mickey dances with a dachsund lady whose serpentine body snakes about as they move. I'm always amused by the way pigs are designed in these early cartoons; usually the fatter the better. Pig design is another way to track Disney's animation style into the more sophisticated "realism" of the 1930s. "Three Little Pigs" is a far cry from these rotund dancing things, and it premiered just three years later. Mickey's dance with the pig lady is amusing. They loved doing fat jokes back then, but the rotund characters always seem jovial and not offended in any way. There's perhaps something subtextual about Mickey's character being so good-natured. He dances with characters of all shapes and sizes, from his own mouse girlfrend, to a cow, to a long skinny dog, to a big fat pig. And each time, all parties seem to enjoy themselves (save Minnie when he presses his advantage). The cartoon, in its simplicity, offers a world of enjoyment for everyone regardless of shape or size. All characters join in the fun. Mickey Mouse, even in his rougher state, was an ambassador of the transforming, healing, and uniting power of song and dance.

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