Monday, May 4, 2020

Disney in Quarantine: Five Short Films

Golden Touch, 1935, rated G, 10 minutes. A King Midas story where Midas is large and sort of creepy with little to no regard to any of the living things around him. The golden touch comes to Midas (who's already rich) by way of another creepy character, Goldie, who has the face of a septuagenarian but the voice of a toddler. Goldie reluctantly bestows the golden touch upon Midas, who enjoys turning statues, water, and animals to gold but has second thoughts only when he realizes his food is affected.

Rating: you can skip this one, unless you like your animation heavy with uncanny weird guys and subtle cruelty to animals. There are some skeletons (which my youngest son enjoyed relating to the current Midas Fortnite skins and the Oro story), but they're not exactly scary. It's a story about greed, but only in degrees; the sweaty king's hunger for food wins out over his hunger for gold, how relevant. How manly! Mostly I just cringed.

On Ice, 1935, rated G, 8 minutes. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto go ice skating! Mickey and Minnie are wholesome and sweet; Goofy ice-fishes with chewing tobacco and gets outsmarted by the fish he means to catch; Donald messes with Pluto and gets himself swept away in a kite versus waterfall debacle; Mickey saves the day and Goofy does more dumb stuff, but funny dumb stuff because it involves Donald getting smacked in the butt with a baseball bat. Stellar.

Rating: This was cute at first but went downhill fast. So much of early animation focused on physical comedy (which is done great with Mickey and Minnie's scenes) and cruelty (Donald is not a nice duck). The cruelty is pretty minor, just pretending to be a cat and laughing when Pluto repeatedly falls on the ice but I know my children would have likely felt sad for the dog and confused at all the meanness. I remember watching an animated version of the three little kittens who lost their mittens back when I was maybe five or six and feeling very sad about the bullying (the three rich kittens would not allow a poor kitten to play with them because he had no mittens); this felt a lot like that and I didn't like it. Mickey needed to step in and tell Donald to back off his dog. What a jerk.

Elmer Elephant, 1936, rated G, 8 minutes. Elmer is a sweet, shy, waddling young elephant attending Tillie the Tiger's birthday party with a collection of jungle friends. He gives Tillie a bouquet of flowers, which she enjoys, and is soon bullied by the other party goers, presumably because Tillie likes him best. They decide to focus on his trunk and assemble in a petty little parade which imitates Elmer's anatomy and distinct way of walking. Insecure, much? What a bunch of dicks. Elmer storms out of the party but is consoled by a friendly elderly giraffe and a squadron of pelicans. When Tillie's tree house catches on fire, Elmer's new friends assist him in putting out the fire, which in a "all's well that ends well," conclusion, wins Tillie's love and affection. The other animals apparently peace out because they're useless and bitter jackasses.

Rating: This was probably my favorite of the five; there are strong precursors to Dumbo, which deals pretty extensively with bullying as well. The ringleader of the rudeness was really just an animal version of the kid in the circus crowd who would eventually go on to imitate Dumbo's ears, but in Dumbo that kid got a nice retaliatory beat-down from Mrs. Jumbo in response. These little brats just . . . I don't know, had to go home or something. Boo.

Sea Scouts, 1939, rated PG, 8 minutes. Donald Duck takes his nephews on an attempted sailing expedition; he's a terrible sailor, is obsessed with his Napoleon hat, consistently puts the young ducks in harm's way, and battles a shark (which he punches out in the end) over the hat.

Rating: I get that Donald is supposed to be this overreacting sort of scoundrel that exemplifies the physical comedy in these animated pieces, but there's nothing endearing about him (other than being a dick, that is). He uses a few comical phrases and big words to condescend to his nephews, and he's in and out of peril throughout the story, but overall it's all pretty mean-spirited and negative. I guess that's what people found funny back then. It's different than say, the interactions between Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner or Tom and Jerry because those stories are about creatures who are natural opposites on the food chain and in nature. Donald Duck is just shitty. Shitty to his nephews, shitty to other animals, shitty to the core. I don't often want to harm animated characters but I'd like to punt him.

Donald's Dog Laundry, 1940, rated G, 8 minutes. Donald Duck tries to entice an innocent, unsuspecting Pluto into a dog-washing contraption. Things don't go according to plan.

Rating: See above. Also I was reminded very strongly of people or children in real life who insist on doing things to pets that are clearly unwanted. Stop doing this and leave them alone.