Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pioneer Days - December 5, 1930

The 24th film in Mickey's cartoon shorts series is the gem Pioneer Days. This toon is a great example of the fantastic progress the Disney Studio was making in refining their animation techniques.

The film opens with pioneers Mickey and Minnie heading their group's wagon train. The pair joyfully sings about not being afraid of Indians.

Unbeknowest to the wagon train, a lone Indian scout watches them as they pass through the desert.

The scout hurries back to his tribe and tells them of the strangers in the valley. Pioneer Days is a favorite toon of mine because of its extensive use of detailed animation techniques. Just look at the shadows of the Indians.

By the light of the moon, the tribe dances around their fire and prepares for battle. This short war dance sequence is so well staged; it clearly demonstrates the animators' advanced skills.

Back at the pioneers' camp, another type of dance is going on. After a long day's wagon ride, the camp relaxes by enjoying some folk music.

After the dance, an old codger sings tearfully about his deceased wife. The song is actually "Darling Nellie Gray", a tune composed in 1856 by American composer Benjamin Hanby. Hanby's most famous work is probably the Christmas classic "Up On the Housetop".

This scene is also one of the few to show pioneers Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow.

The touching song is suddenly and abruptly interrupted by an arrow that lands very close to Minnie's head. The Indians have attacked!

The next shot is my favorite in the whole toon. Anyone who has been a fan of this blog knows that I love shots where the action is coming straight towards the camera. Here we have Indians racing every which way towards the audience.

In another POV shot, the pioneers shoot a few rounds at the Indians in hopes of stopping their attack.

Bent on capturing and destroying the invaders, the Indians quickly encircle the pioneer camp.

It's hard to demonstrate here, but a great rechnique is used in this scene. The camera stays on the Indians as they ride around the wagon camp, and the wagons actually turn as the camera does. The result is an almost 3-D rendering of the wagons. The technique is extraordinary for a cartoon made in 1930.

A nice gag is seen when Mickey scares a trio of Indians away by using a porcupine as a bow and arrow.

Minnie is soon captured by a tough Indian and taken back to the tribe's camp. Mickey follows in hopes of rescuing his love and finds Minnie tied and gagged. Suddenly the Indian turns his fury against the Mouse.

The following scuffle is brilliantly staged by the animators. It's the first real physical scene in a Mickey Mouse short, and its superb execution creates tension, excitement, and drama.

Luckily the Indian has no idea how to tie tight knots, and Minnie easily escapes. She uses an extremely hot coal from the nearby fire to chase the native away.

Back at the camp, the battle between the pioneers and Indians continues. A funny gag is shown involving a pig pioneer. He offers his toupee to the Indian in order to avoid being scalped.

The fight finally ends when the Indians see and hear the cavalry coming around a sand dune. They promptly run away to avoid being killed in the massacre. However, the "cavalry" turns out to be just Mickey, Minnie, and a large log.

Pioneer Days is an excellent cartoon full of solid animation, suspense, drama, and fun. I recommend viewing it again if you happen to have it in your library.


ramapith said...

Hey again!
Did you know that until just eight years ago, the original ending to PIONEER DAYS was lost?
It's true! The standard rerelease print ended with Minnie saving Mickey with the hot coals, and his captor howling into the distance. All later scenes were cut for time in the early 1940s.
Luckily, they survived in a nitrate fragment that Scott MacQueen recovered in the late 1990s, and were thus reinstated for the first time on the Disney Treasures DVD release.

Jason said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I had read that the original ending was cut due to censored material, but when I watched the toon I was confused since the ending had no reason to be censored. The fact that it was lost is really interesting.

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