Money’s Yoo-Hoo

You’ll want to direct yourself to Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research site, where Mark Kausler has written an incisive analysis of the new 2D/CGI Mickey Mouse hybrid Get a Horse!, and specifically the comments from the short’s director Lauren MacMullan and head-of-2D-animation Eric Goldberg (and Mark’s response). While it’s orgasmic to see two of the world’s greatest animators arguing publicly about the shape of Mickey Mouse’s nose, the bigger problems have (understandably) fallen wayside.

I saw Get a Horse! earlier this week at the New York City Film Forum, where it was screened as part of its Mickey’s 85th Birthday Party retrospective (curated by Greg Ford). I don’t blame Mark for not retaining much of what he saw after only one viewing, because I couldn’t either. As I wrote in a comment on Mark’s review, the new cartoon is more reminiscent of the gimmicky Disney World rides (Muppet*Vision 3D comes immediately to mind), where you’re half expecting to get sprayed with water at any moment. The hand-drawn animation, which as Mark rightly states, is very good but more in this century’s mindset and literally hard to see (it all takes place on a movie screen-within-a-movie screen). For what it is, Get a Horse! is very enjoyable, but to hold out hope that Get a Horse! will usher in a new wave of traditional shorts is rather baffling.

The fact that the Kausler-Goldberg-MacMullan exchange immediately descended into a tantric discussion of whether Mickey’s face in the new cartoon more resembles that of The Barn Dance or The Mail Pilot underlies the bigger problem. MacMullan and Goldberg were perturbed by Mark’s comments that he viewed just the design as compromised, not the whole thing as compromised. MacMullan’s comment (“I was always being urged to have the plot spool along quicker than was normal for the era, and to have Mickey burst out of the 2d as early as possible, in case we lose the mainstream audience”) reveals the mindset at Disney’s: that because an audience can not be captivated by a traditional Mickey Mouse short on its own, it just had to have the CGI element, or else fear losing “the mainstream audience”.

That corporate theory was demonstrably false at the very screening I attended, where eleven Mickey Mouse cartoons (more than half of them made before 1934) preceded Get a Horse!, and every single one of them got a standing ovation (and often uproarious laughter) from the multigenerational audience. Get a Horse! got a rousing response, too, but I wonder how it will do in front of Frozen, when it doesn’t have the benefit of being in historical context (that is, the audience gets its point some 90 minutes of vintage Mickey later).

Mark certainly knows what he’s talking about more than anyone else on the subject of capturing early sound animation. His films It’s the Cat and There Must Be Some Other Cat are not mere throwbacks, but vessels embodying all that was invigorating and exciting about the medium getting retooled in the early 1930s. Much of that important work was done at Walt Disney’s studio, and that’s what makes some of Mark’s review sad to read. It’s as if he’s saying Get a Horse! is showing how much closer we are to getting 1928 quality in corporate Hollywood, and that alone is something to celebrate. But, geez, does anyone honestly believe this cartoon wasn’t made to solely pump money and attention into the original Mickey Mouse design just in time for when those cartoons’ copyright is set to finally expire? Gosh, what a racket like an old buzzsaw.

(Kudos to Milton Knight for the post’s title.)

8 Comments

Filed under classic animation, modern animation

8 Responses to Money’s Yoo-Hoo

  1. Glad to read your thoughts on Get A Horse!, Thad. All your points are valid, but I’m not sure who said Get a Horse! “will usher in a new wave of traditional shorts”? That would be nice, but I don’t think that was the intention of this film, nor was anyone at Disney positioning this film to do so.

    The film is a “novelty”, and as you, me and several others have indicated, it’s more akin to a theme park film. It’s meant to dazzle and entertain the crowd (which it does) and yeah, remind folks of Mickey’s origins. What’s wrong with that? For we who appreciate animation’s history, this is a good thing. It might lead a youngster (or older) to seek out pre-1933 Disney shorts and who knows, it may lead the corporate entity that owns them to celebrate its roots more so than it has already.

    Personally, I’d love to see more modern animators – and veterans like Kausler and Goldberg – tackle the animation “style” of the late 20s/early 30s. Get A Horse! re-introduces this concept to modern mainstream audiences and may help get further projects funded. Personally, I’d love to see a modern day Oswald Rabbit comic book written by Gerstein or you, and drawn by Kausler. I enjoy the new 30s Mickey and Oswald merchandise that trickles out at the Disney Store (and the parks) – and perhaps this new short will spur more of this (Horace Horsecollar tees, anyone?)

    Heck, (and I doubt this will happen) perhaps if Get A Horse! is popular enough, it might spur corporate rivals Sony to re-release Scrappy and Krazy Kat, or Warners to rethink Bosko to DVD. I don’t really expect anything of the sort – but I can dream, can’t I?

    “Does anyone honestly believe this cartoon wasn’t made to solely pump money and attention into the original Mickey Mouse design just in time for when those cartoons’ copyright is set to finally expire?” I don’t think that was a reason (or the main reason) for this short’s existence. Having spoken with Lauren MacMullen and Eric Goldberg, I know that it came about because they sincerely thought this would simply be a fun thing to do. And “so what?” if it was done in regards to some copyright claim? I can only wish all copyright holders of classic animation properties would devote such time and resources to creating such an homage to its soon-to-be-forgotten characters.

    When I was a kid, I cringed in my movie seat whenever a 1970s Walter Lantz cartoon preceded a feature. I was embarassed that The Beary Family represented the great art form I was championing at the time. Today we have Get A Horse! Thank God. Quibbling over Mickey’s nose and such accuracies is not the point. Those of us who study classic animation should look at the bigger picture of what this short represents in showcasing classic animation to the public at large – it isn’t perfect but, as far as I’m concerned, its something to celebrate.

    • Jerry: Glad we always have you as a positive force in the animation landscape. I’m admittedly too cynical for my own good. But I have to say that there is zero doubt in my mind that Eric Goldberg would’ve done a Mickey short in this manner if left to his own devices. Bless him because he’s plugging away and doing great work, making these things we criticize as good as they are. But I prefer when he and his cohorts are working unfiltered. #SaveMickeyMouse

  2. J Lee

    The corporate obsession with idea that modern audiences won’t sit though an animated feature if there’s no some CGI aspect to it is really just the 21st Century version of the mindset of the late 60s though the mid-80s, that people wouldn’t sit through anything on television that was in black and white, regardless of what the quality was. It was that sort of thinking that gave us the gawdawful redraws Warner Bros. and Fliescher Betty Boop shorts in animation, and in the live action world led syndicators to yank the black & white episodes from their TV re-run packages, even if those episodes were by far the best of the series.

    • I have to agree with you on that notion, and it also has affected many of the websites I used to go to regularly. As for that short, I haven’t seen it, but would rather have classic Mickey over whatever modern Disney, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli are doing.

  3. Nic Kramer

    I have to agree with Jerry’s point in his regards. Plus, my reason they did this film was because this year’s marks the mouse’s 85th birthday which they otherwise aren’t doing any other noteworthy special things . Not for pumping money type dynamics. I also, think that the CGI element was mainly an experiment type thing in the same way some independent animators would have their characters venture in a different animation media. While I doubt this will usher a new wave of theatrical cartoons (Disney’s been doing occasional shorts on and off for a long time now), I do hope Disney does another animation short in the near future.

  4. Just saw the short today.

    I really should come to expect newer animated shorts by big studios to be fast paced, and cluttered with gags, and that was something I that annoyed me about this short. Now GRANTED it does give the short a bit of re-play value to re-watch the short and look for things you missed the first time around, but DAMN there’s a lot going on in this short, especially during the last 2 minutes where there’s A LOT of characters on screen at the same time, doing different things, having different reactions to what’s going on….. it amazes me that Disney feels we are so ADD we can’t stay focused on a black-and-white cartoon, but are CERTAIN we can keep are brain focused on seven different cartoon characters simultaneously. And, as you already pointed out, there’s two “screens” to pay attention to. The film screen, and the “theater stage” That was a little difficult flipping my attention back and forth.

    That said, I still thought the short was well made for the most part. Another thing I didn’t really like was the use of archival clips of Walt Disney and Billy Bletcher. While it was a nice tribute for both actors, I thought that severely limited the kind of dialogue they could have added. Also it was weird hearing Pete say “All alone without your–PAL!” I mean the first part of that is from “Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip”, and the “Pal” is from another short, and I expected Pete to say “Dog”, and Pluto was gonna show up, but the sudden “PAL” was jarring to me and a tad distracting.

  5. stavner

    Whaddya think of those Paul Rudish Mickey shorts on the Disney Channel? I thought they were pretty good!

    • Stavner: I wrote about them on FORCES OF GEEK a while back in July (admittedly, I’d only seen the first four or so), but my ultimate assessment was, and still is, that they were largely good, and that the crew should be working with more time and money. (Isn’t that always the case?)

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