Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Opry House - March 28, 1929

The Opry House is Mickey Mouse's fifth cartoon. The short is not one of my favorites, but it does mark the appearance of an important addition to Mickey's design: gloves.

The Opry House in The Opry House is apparently owned and operated by Mickey, and the toon opens with him getting ready for the big show. This short is Mickey's first solo film, though Minnie makes a cameo in a poster advertising the theater's own Yankee Doodle Girls.

One of my favorite parts about studying different animation shorts from yesteryears is the sense of by-gone culture found within many of them. The Opry House focuses on Mickey's Vaudeville act, an entertainment venue popular in the late 1920s but completely forgotten today. It's very interesting as a 21st Century viewer to discover these time capsules within animated films.

As I said this is Mickey's first solo cartoon, which means that hoochie Arabian belly dancer is not Minnie. Mickey is obviously a very talented mouse as he dresses in drag to charm a snake as well as the audience. Notice also how he has gained gloves over his hands, a characterstic of his design which in time will become standard not only for him but almost all Disney characters. Even some Warner Bros. characters, such as Bugs Bunny, will adopt Mickey's hand wear.

Taking a closer look at Mickey's gloves, we can see exactly what inspired them. Ever wonder what those 3 lines on the back of each glove were for? Gloves in the late 1920s-'30s were made with 3 distinct lines over the back of the hand. The Disney animators were simply copying an already fashionable style.

It's not entirely clear why Mickey was redesigned with gloves on his hands, but the most widely accepted and logical reason the choice was made was to make the character's hands distinguishable against his black body. In any case, Mickey (and Minnie) are seen wearing gloves in both the title and end cards of each short preceding The Opry House, beginning with the pair's first toon Plane Crazy.

Mickey as the Arabian belly dancer performs many "cartoony" effects like squishing, squashing, and stretching. You'll find a lot of this type of animation in these early shorts because animation itself was still being explored and rules were still being created. As time progressed and animation became a little more refined, Disney eventually decided to stick to more realistic performances. In some cases the cartoony stretching effects were used, but for the most part they were phased out.

Mickey also does a short jig as a Hisidic Jew. Though considered rascist by many today, back then such caricatures were commonplace in cartoons.

The cartoon ends with Mickey's rousing piano performance. An interesting note is that one of the tunes he plays is "Hungarian Rhapsody". The song can be found in many other shorts from different animation studios as well as the Disney movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (performed by Daffy and Donald Duck).

The Opry House is very a much a gag-driven short like many of these early cartoons. My favorite gag is method Mickey uses to help a rather rotund audience member fit through the theater's entrance. Classic.


David Gerstein said...

Hey, just thought I would give your blog a warm welcome. I hadn't noticed any other comments on it — and as the archival editor at Gemstone, where we reprint some vintage 1930s Mickey comic strips, I thought I should give you a tip of the mouse ears (a la KARNIVAL KID) and say... damn, I wish someone hadn't beaten me to this idea for a blog (-:
Keep up the work. Though I've got a minor correction for you: Pegleg Pete didn't make his first appearances in the Mickey shorts. He actually debuted earlier on, in the Alice and Oswald cartoons — he's just a little hard to recognize there, as he's initially thinner and drawn as a bear rather than a cat. He seems to have got his later girth for the first time in SKY SCRAPPERS, and his long bear-nose shortened when he underwent his species-change. (Though it's not usually remarked upon, I suspect the change came not just because a cat was a more appropriate enemy for a mouse, but because Universal still owned the bear-Pete as part of the Oswald property!)

David Gerstein said...

Oops... in my comment a moment ago, I said "Keep up the work." I meant, keep up the GOOD work!