What many people do not know is that Plane Crazy (1929) was actually the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, produced in early 1928. The short was inspired by aviator Charles Lindbergh and his aeronautical accomplishments including the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. After that historic flight, Lindbergh was lauded as a national, if not global, hero.
When Plane Crazy was completed and test screened silent in May of 1928, the short failed to get a distributor. Later that year Disney released Steamboat Willie, the second Mickey Mouse cartoon, with synchronized sound and it was a resounding success. He would add sound to Plane Crazy and release that cartoon in early 1929.
As Mickey Mouse gained in popularity, the Disney Studios prospered by turning out a steady stream of shorts which played in theatres around the globe. Carl Stalling, the first music director for Disney, pitched the idea of creating animated shorts set to pieces of music. These were stand-alone shorts that did not feature any established characters and were often used to experiment with special effects and camera techniques. The series proved to be very popular, and the studio produced seventy-five Silly Symphony shorts between 1929 and 1939.
Musicland, which was released eighty years ago in 1935, epitomizes this idea of crafting stories around pieces of music. This short revolves around a romance between a princess and prince, which causes a war between the Land of Symphony and the Isle of Jazz. It is a take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet as only Disney could do in animation.
All of the characters and architecture are derived from musical instruments. It showcases the inventiveness of the artists to craft an entire world around elements found in music, including sheet music and music notes. The filmmakers use the score to create the character dialogue as well as the sound effects for the action.
By David A. Bossert
Walt Disney Animation Studios