Welcome to the 2015 presentation of LACO @ The Movies Celebrates Walt Disney Animation Studios. Each year for the past 25 years the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has presented classic silent movies accompanied by live music to a full auditorium of film and music fans. If you have attended these silent movie events before and are a fan, thank you for your support! And, if this is your first time attending one then my hope is that this will open up a whole new cinema and live music experience for you and your family.
This year’s program is special in that it presents all-animation for the first time. Also, as a first, we are re-premiering two previously “lost” Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, Poor Papa and Africa Before Dark. Both films have gone through a painstaking restoration and have had a beautiful music score added to each. This is the first time that these two cartoons are being seen publicly with live musical accompaniment in well over three-quarters of a century.
It was more than 90 years ago, in 1923, that Walter E. and Roy O. Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in their uncle’s garage in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. In early 1924, they would quickly get a distribution deal through Winkler Pictures to distribute their Alice Comedies which were a live action/animation combination that initially starred a young Virginia Davis.
The popularity of the Alice Comedies, though, started to wane by 1927. The films were becoming too costly and Walt decided to stop production. He and his top animator Ub Iwerks were encouraged by their distributor, Winkler Pictures producer Charles Mintz, to create the all-animated Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts. Mintz felt that the animated characters in the Alice series were more popular than the live action personalities. These new Oswald cartoons were to be distributed by Winkler Pictures.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Poor Papa (1928)
Poor Papa was the first Oswald cartoon, made in 1927 at the Disney Bros. Studios. However, producer Charles Mintz rejected it because he felt Oswald looked too old. Walt corrected the issue and the second Oswald cartoon, Trolley Troubles, was accepted and released to theatres. Oswald went on to be the first major success for the Disney brothers, and Poor Papa was eventually released in 1928 as Oswald grew in popularity.
Poor Papa opens up on the interior of a home, and the audience sees Oswald passing about with a child at his side. Oswald turns and looks at the closed door on the back wall tapping his chin and obviously waiting for something. Outside above the house, storks fly in with sacks of baby rabbits, depositing them down the chimney.
The bulk of this short has papa Oswald trying to take care of all the children while they annoy the heck out him. Meanwhile, the storks are trying to deliver even more baby rabbits to the Oswald residence, happily playing up the procreating rabbit tradition.
By the climax of the short, Oswald, shotgun in hand, goes out onto the roof of the house to finally put a stop to the deliveries. He looks through a spyglass and spots an army of storks heading toward his home, carrying even more babies. Oswald quickly puts up a sign that says “no vacancies” and shakes his fist at the storks before firing on them. One of the storks is hit by the gunfire and drops his sack of babies. They parachute into Oswald’s chimney. Oswald eventually ties the chimney stack into a knot so it cannot accept any more babies.
Oswald is giddy with delight as the storks return, only to find the chimney unusable for depositing babies. The storks fly off as Oswald laughs back inside the house. Outside, the storks drop the babies into the house’s water tank instead. Inside, Oswald, still laughing, takes a pot and goes to fill it with water. As he turns on the water faucet, the babies start popping out, inundating Oswald with a horde of new arrivals. Oswald staggers back against a wall and slides down to the floor with his hand on his head and his mouth open. The cartoon ends with an iris out to the close.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Africa Before Dark (1928)
Africa Before Dark, released in 1928, is the 13th Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short. In our search for the lost Oswald cartoons, this print surfaced at the Austrian Film Museum as a 35mm nitrate film with German titles. With their cooperation we were able to secure high resolution scans of that film, which then received digital restoration and preservation so that it will be enjoyed tonight and well into the future.
The cartoon opens after the title cards with Oswald as a hunter, complete with a pith helmet and musket, riding atop a hat-wearing elephant pedaling a bicycle. As the elephant looks back at Oswald, it stumbles, falls and creates a cloud of dust. As the dust dissipates, the elephant emerges running along on its trunk and tusks with Oswald dangling from the elephant’s tail.
Oswald eventually climbs back on top and taps the elephant’s belly until it stops to stand upright. Oswald loses his balance and falls off onto the ground. The elephant promptly sits on him. After some screams, the elephant realizes he has sat on Oswald and gets up, revealing a flattened not-so-Lucky Rabbit. This is a terrific gag, with Oswald flat as a board and admonishing the elephant.
There are some very inventive sight gags throughout the sequence that are just hilarious, especially Oswald removing his face to catch the creature. This is indicative of the animation in many of these early cartoons. The animators take full advantage of cartoon physics as well as cartoon license to create some fantastic visual comedy.
Oswald ultimately chases the critter into a hollowed-out log lying on the ground. He then pulls out an over-sized handgun and points it at a pair of eyes peering out of one end of the log. The audience is led to believe that the eyes belong to the small critter but instead out pops a very large lion. Oswald’s pistol shrinks down to a tiny toy pop gun and, knees knocking, he jumps out of his shorts and takes off running. As he does, several more large lions come out of the log and make chase as his shorts take on a life of their own and catch up to Oswald.
In hot pursuit, Oswald jumps on top of his elephant, who starts flapping his ears to fly. You can’t help but think that this was an early idea for Dumbo! The front of the elephant takes flight but his hide quarters are dragging on the ground. Oswald thinks for a moment, then grabs his thought bubble and uses it as a balloon that he attaches to the elephant’s tail and they take flight, escaping the lions. The cartoon ends with Oswald pointing and laughing on top of the flying elephant as the pictures irises out.
Oswald Cartoon Music
According to conductor/composer Mark Watters, “Walt Disney’s philosophy regarding music was very simple. It should support the story!” Although there is no evidence of scores for the original Oswald shorts, it is easy to imagine what Disney’s musical direction would have been, even for the theatre organists who typically came up with their own accompaniment. Mark goes on to say, “If you listen to the earliest Mickey Mouse shorts, it is not hard to make that leap, especially for the ones scored by Carl Stalling, who was Walt’s first composer. Animation was such a novelty in the late ’20s, and music was used to highlight the comical antics of the characters.”
The music scores for Poor Papa and Africa Before Dark were both composed by Mark Watters. In discussing the music, Mark comments, “The first step is to find the right tempo. Each scene has a pacing to it, even if it was not intentional.” Walt Disney enjoyed it when music would “hit” the specific action, but this can never appear to be forced.
Carl Stalling was a genius at making audiences think that the music was composed first, and then the animation was added. He used popular melodies to provide a humorous support to the screen action. Watters states that, “These melodies have to be so well-known that the audience will get the joke even without hearing the words!”
Finally, the musical style is also dictated by the story’s location, and Oswald really got around! Hungry Hobos was the first Oswald short that Mark Watters scored. It was set in the Appalachian backwoods in a more rural jazz style, while Poor Papa has a pastoral home-style setting, so jazz would not set the right tone. In Poor Papa, Watters used “This Is the Way We Wash Our Clothes,” “Rock-a-bye Baby” and the well-known Brahms “Lullaby.” These classic children’s songs seem to fit best.
Africa was a popular inspiration for many of the big bands of the late ‘20s – most notably, Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche,” coincidentally also created in 1928! For Africa Before Dark, Watters chose to use the familiar tune “A-Hunting We Will Go.”
These two Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts are excellent examples of the animation of the late 1920s. There is a lighthearted and imaginative freshness to the animation. In particular, there is cleverness to the gags and the sense there are no boundaries in what can be achieved in visual comedy through this medium.
Walt ultimately directed a total of 26 cartoons starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, although recently there is some evidence of possibly a 27th in existence; this has not been confirmed but is exciting nonetheless to hope for.
In the end, Walt lost the rights to Oswald, which prompted him to create Mickey Mouse, and the rest is history! Of the Walt Disney-directed Oswald cartoons, only 13 were known to exist when The Walt Disney Company re-acquired the rights to this fabled, mischievous little rabbit in 2006.
Mickey Mouse Steamboat Willie (1928), the first sound cartoon, quickly eclipsed Oswald in popularity, and the rabbit would become, in many ways, very unlucky over the ensuing decades.
Plane Crazy (1929)
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.
In this short, Mickey plays a wannabe Lindbergh. The film opens with a group of barnyard animals helping Mickey build his own plane. We see Mickey reading a “How to Fly” book, and as he thumbs through it, he admires an image of Charles Lindbergh. Mickey tussles his own hair to match Lindbergh’s and proceeds to board the plane with the help of a wiener dog that takes the shape of stairs. He’s ready for a test flight to ensure his contraption’s airworthiness!
Once onboard the plane, Mickey waves to the barnyard animals. He then shakes hands with the wiener dog, who promptly inserts himself into the fuselage of the plane to become the rubber-band propulsion system. The dog bites down on the shaft of the propeller and a pig comes over to the plane and winds the propeller nice and tight. Once he lets go, it takes off, totally out of control, with Mickey hanging onto the tail rudder of the plane. Weaving and bobbing about, the plane eventually crashes into a tree and is destroyed.
Mickey is upset and discouraged until he sees an old jalopy of a car and gets an idea to build a new plane. The old car is transformed into his new plane, and when a turkey walks by, Mickey yanks off all his tail feathers to create the tail rudder for the new plane.
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.
Silly Symphony Musicland (1935)
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 75 Silly Symphony shorts between 1929 and 1939.
Musicland, which was released 80 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.
The main focus is on the princess from Land of Symphony falling in love with the prince from the Isle of Jazz. The Queen of the Land of Symphony disapproves, and when the prince mistakenly kisses her, she has him arrested and thrown in a metronome prison. The prince manages to write out a musical note and gives it to a bird to take back to his father, the King of the Isle of Jazz.
The two lands go to war. The princess tries to stop it by waving a white flag and paddling a raft out into the Sea of Discord. Her raft is destroyed by gunfire from the Isle of Jazz, and she flounders in the water and begins to drown. The prince paddles a raft out to save her, and his raft is hit by a music note and destroyed. He swims to the princess to rescue her.
The Queen realizes the desperate situation and stops the shelling from the Land of Symphony. The King of the Isle of Jazz does the same. The King and Queen respectively take boats out to rescue the young lovers and eventually the parents too are smitten with one another.
The prince and princess get married as do the King and the Queen, establishing a “Bridge of Harmony” to create the consummate happy ending.
The Band Concert (1935)
The Band Concert was released on February 23, 1935, and also celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. It features Rossini’s William Tell Overture, which was adapted and arranged by Disney music legend Leigh Harline.
In the short, Mickey Mouse is conducting a concert in the park when ice cream and peanut vendor Donald Duck disrupts the music by playing “Turkey in the Straw” on his fife. Undeterred, Mickey continues with the William Tell Overture. A real cyclone appears and takes Mickey and the Band—still playing—for a ride. This is the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in color using the Technicolor process.
The animation for The Band Concert was created by a who’s who of Disney Legends including animators Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl and Woolie Reitherman, with Les Clark doing much of the Mickey Mouse animation. Also of note, legendary effects animators Ugo D’Orsi and Cy Young worked on this short. They would help form the first effects department at the studio and go on to create some of the most memorable moments in Disney animated films. Among some of their accomplishments are the spectacular water animations in Fantasia’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the ocean water in the Monstro the Whale sequence in Pinocchio.
Lonesome Ghosts (1937; Have-A-Laugh version)
In putting this concert program together, we wanted to showcase two classic cartoons that were edited down to two-and-a-half minutes each as part of the Have-A-Laugh program. This initiative allowed us to do beautiful restorations of the full-length cartoons and then create shorter versions that are now showcased as interstitials on the Disney Channel and Disney Jr. networks, exposing a whole new generation to these wonderful classic shorts.
In Lonesome Ghosts, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy run the Ajax Ghost Exterminating Agency. They receive a call from lonely and bored ghosts to come to their house. There are plenty of gags with the ghosts who are finally chased out by Mickey and the gang.
There is some superb animation by legendary Disney artists including Milt Kahl, Clyde Geronimi, Dick Huemer and Art Babbitt. Mickey is voiced by Walt Disney; the other voice talents include Clarence Nash as Donald Duck, Pinto Colvig as Goofy, and Billy Bletcher doing some of the ghosts.
Mickey’s Trailer (1938; Have-A-Laugh version)
Mickey and Donald ride in a trailer pulled by Goofy, who doesn’t realize that his car has separated from the trailer as they travel down a mountain road. This short is filled with some wonderful gags, including a hilarious bit at the opening of the film in which Mickey appears to be standing in front of a house in a tranquil natural setting. He pulls a lever, and the house proceeds to convert into a trailer; the side opens, and out pops a car with Goofy in the driver’s seat. The idyllic, colorful landscape is actually painted on a giant fan that promptly collapses and folds down into the trailer, revealing a drab city dump in the background.
This short was directed by Ben Sharpsteen who was a prolific producer and director at the Disney Studios. He joined Disney in 1929 as an animator and worked on 97 Mickey cartoons. Sharpsteen moved up and directed 21 shorts, including Two Gun Mickey, Mickey’s Service Station, Hawaiian Holiday and Clock Cleaners. Ben was a sequence director on the Disney animated features Pinocchio and Dumbo and production supervisor on Fantasia, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. He then went onto produce 12 out of the 13 True-Life Adventure films, which earned eight Academy Awards®.
Disney music director Oliver Wallace composed the score for Mickey’s Trailer. Wallace most notably wrote the scores for Pinocchio, Dumbo, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. He scored almost 150 Disney films, both live action and animation, over the course of his career. Wallace received an Oscar® for his score in Dumbo and was nominated for his scores in Victory Through Air Power, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and White Wilderness.
The music for Lonesome Ghosts was originally composed by Milt Franklyn, Paul Smith and Albert Hay Malotte. Paul Smith is known for composing When You Wish Upon a Star, which has since become synonymous with The Walt Disney Company.
Mark Watters handled the re-orchestration of the Mickey’s Trailer and Lonesome Ghosts scores which also required composing some bridge music to make the edited-down versions play effortlessly. He notes that Mickey’s Trailer features Goofy singing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” Also, that Oliver Wallace cleverly weaves in the popular folk tune, “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” when the trailer goes careening down the mountain road.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Fantasia, 1940)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was originally planned as a stand-alone Silly Symphony short, which Disney was preparing to reinvigorate the status of Mickey Mouse. By the late 1930s, Mickey Mouse was being somewhat eclipsed by other Disney characters and this lush new cartoon was seen as a way to revive his popularity. Walt felt that “although the Mickeys were successful, all of us wanted to do a type of picture that veered away from the out-and-out slapstick. That’s the way the Silly Symphonies started.” But in a departure from the usual Silly Symphony cartoon, Walt selected a piece of music that had a storyline already established. “And the subject matter was always something appealing that would be in line with the music used.”
Of course, that piece of music was Paul Dukas’The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the choice was widely supported by the Disney story artists and animators. The music was the story of a rebellious apprentice who discovered that he could not handle the powers of his sorcerer mentor. This was a wonderful storyline for Mickey to star in as the apprentice and offered up a musical tableau for the animators to have fun with.
Once the studio had secured the rights to the music, Walt Disney began thinking about using an established conductor to add a level of prestige and notoriety to the new short. Walt was always interested in other artists of the day and visited with many, including Norman Rockwell, Oskar Fischinger, George Biddle, Thomas Hart Benton, Ernest Fiene, and Grant Wood, among others. One well-known musical talent that Walt considered was Leopold Stokowski, the acclaimed conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski recalled, “I first met Walt Disney in a restaurant. I was alone having dinner at a table near him, and he called across to me, ‘Why don’t we sit together?’” This took place at the famed Chasen’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills and Walt proceeded to tell Stokowski about his interest in doing a Mickey short to Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Walt was thrilled with the idea of working with Stokowski on the short saying, “I am greatly enthused over the idea and believe that the union of Stokowski and his music, together with the best of our medium, would be the means of a great success and should lead to a new style of motion picture presentation. Through this combined medium, we could do things that would be impossible through any other form of motion picture now available.” During additional discussions with Stokowski, it came to light that he had a number of interesting ideas involving instrumental coloring, which lent itself to the animation medium. Stokowski also had done much experimentation already with new techniques in sound recording for motion pictures. It proved to be an excellent partnership.
Production on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice short progressed quickly. The story artists and animators began work in late 1937. Because there was no dialogue or sound effects, the artists were instructed that the short was dependent entirely on “pantomime and the descriptive music.” The costs of the film escalated quickly, and by the time it was completed in 1938, the budget for the short swelled nearly four times that of a regular Silly Symphony.
Walt and his brother, Roy O. Disney, realized that they would never recover the costs of this Silly Symphony if they released it as a short as originally planned. Walt then hatched the idea of doing other animated sequences to classical music and releasing them all as a concert feature. This was the genesis of Fantasia, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year!
Get A Horse! (2013)
The production of animated shorts began to decline in the mid-1950s. You can actually see a direct correlation to the penetration of televisions into households. The days of going to the movies and seeing a newsreel, a couple of shorts, maybe a serial short subject and the feature presentation were over. Movie theatres started experimenting with wide-screen formats and 3D to counter the appeal of TV.
Shorts didn’t disappear completely at Disney, but their number diminished substantially. Today, shorts are used as a training ground for new talent and to experiment with new techniques. In 2013, the Walt Disney Animation Studios created an innovative new short called Get A Horse! It is a contemporary homage to the first animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, with all-new, black-and-white, hand-drawn animation paired with full-color, 3D and CG filmmaking—in the same frame. Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse, and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow delight in a musical hay-wagon ride—until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road with his car. This groundbreaking short takes a sharp turn when Mickey finds himself separated from Minnie and must use every trick up his sleeve to find his way back to her. Directed by Lauren MacMullan and produced by Dorothy McKim, Get A Horse! had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France on June 11, 2013, and was subsequently featured at the Telluride Film Festival and the D23 Expo before opening in theatres in front of Frozen on November 27, 2013.
Get A Horse! is Mickey Mouse’s first new animated short for theatres since the Oscar-nominated Runaway Brain was released in 1995. Adding to the uniqueness of this latest big screen offering is the fact that Walt Disney himself―the original voice of Mickey Mouse―provides all of Mickey’s dialogue. The film’s editorial team meticulously combed through every vintage short in which Walt voiced Mickey to find each and every word of Mickey’s dialogue. Although the film uses a minimum of dialogue, the story was crafted to take full advantage of Walt’s performance. The short marks Walt Disney’s first voice credit in more than 58 years.
Serving as heads of animation for Get A Horse! were acclaimed hand-drawn animator/director Eric Goldberg (Aladdin, Pocahontas) and CG animator Adam Green (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman). Multiple Emmy®-winning composer Mark Watters (Goof Troop, Cars Toons: Mater’s Tall Tales) provided the film’s jaunty score, which includes the rarely-heard ocarina instrument, to lend a period authenticity.
I truly hope that you enjoy tonight’s presentation of these classic animated films from Walt Disney Animation Studios along with live musical accompaniment by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Both organizations take pride in the restoration and preservation of film and musical heritage, which is such an important part of the fabric of our greater Los Angeles-area community.