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Saturday Matinee

Saturday Matinee #65, Cruise Week: "Boat Builders" (February 25, 1938) - published March 31, 2012

by Albert Gutierrez

In another universe, I could be writing about The Aristocats II, an unproduced sequel that was set to put our favorite feline family on a cruise ship. Little is known about that project, although it was to be directed by Jim Kammerud - he helmed The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch's London Adventure, and The Fox and the Hound 2 - and featured Marie as the central character. Unfortunately, that project was shelved by Disney in 2006. Instead, we close out From Screen to Theme's cruise week by taking a look at the boat that Mickey, Donald, and Goofy built: the Queen Minnie from 1938's "Boat Builders."

Mickey, Donald, and Goofy have just received their Ready-Cut folding boat, courtesy of the aptly-named Ready-Cut Folding Boat Company. As the instructions tell them, "Build your own boat...all you do is put it together...even a child can do it!" The three are excited at this new project, and Mickey immediately proclaims that they'll name the boat "Queen Minnie." After opening a side of the crate, the trio try to pull out the frame, which instead springs out towards them. It should be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

Mickey begins his work by unraveling the mast. Although the directions clearly state not to stand atop, he does so anyway. The mast rises, with Mickey rising with it! Fortunately, he doesn't get hurt. As we cut to their progress later, we see much of planks have been nailed in. Mickey and Donald are pulling out a cabin on top, while Goofy continues nailing planks down by the port side. He's happily nailing in one plank, but it decides not to stay in place, no matter how many times he tries to nail it down. It enjoys hitting him instead, eventually pushing him into a barrel of nails.

Donald's painting the rudder on the bow of the Queen Minnie, unaware that Mickey has attached the steering wheel. Mickey, also unaware of Donald's painting, begins testing the wheel. Donald grabs at the rudder, trying to hold it still while Mickey is grabbing at the wheel, trying to steer it. Eventually, Mickey's steering causes the rudder and Donald to become entangled.

When we return to Goofy, he opens the crate containing the figurehead - a blonde mermaid - who he believes to be a real woman. When the figurehead starts leaning out of the crate, Goofy assumes she's fainted, and rests her down on a chair. Mickey takes the figurehead, but her large frame leads Goofy to believe she's walking away and beckoning to him. As he chases after her, he runs straight into a smokestack, which sends him overboard.

Eventually, the Queen Minnie is ready for sailing. A large crowd has gathered to see it sail off, complete with a band headed by miscellaneous Goofs. Horace, Clarabelle, and Minnie stand ready at the stage, while random orphans climb for a better view. Captain Mickey calls out to Minnie to shatter the champagne bottle against the stern. The boat begins sailing, but eventually all the parts of the folding boat begin to fold together once again. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy try their best to salvage what they can, but the boat sinks in pieces. The three scramble for floatation devices, and laugh at their misfortune. All you do is put it together? Ah, phooey!

"Boat Builders" belongs in the same class as other Mickey-Donald-Goofy shorts, such as "Moving Day" and the previously-covered-on-Saturday-Matinee "Clock Cleaners." They're classic incidental pieces that don't really have a traditional story, merely our favorite characters working together on particular tasks. We get great reactions and amusing cause-and-effects from their actions, especially in situations that would normally get people hurt. Thankfully, there is little suffering in the cartoon world, maybe just a bruised ego or broken pride. "Boat Builders" includes such moments, including Goofy versus the plank, and Mickey and Donald's own battle with each other. What's great about the latter is that Mickey and Donald are completely unaware of the other, leading them to think the fault lies in the boat.


Five-second rules are taken seriously, even for Donald's hat!

Ben Sharpsteen directed "Boat Builders," and much like with "Clock Cleaners," he pays attention to scale and detail. For example, look at the moment when the three are pulling out the frame of the boat before it springs out. You can see the trio together in one of the stills shown early on in this article. As that scene continues on, we see the camera only slightly panning with them, but Goofy and Donald continue to move out of frame. The camera is an active player, but is not fast enough to keep up with the action. This helps to create a sense of reality; in their cartoon world, the actual camera could not keep up with Goofy and Donald's actions. Then, when the frame starts to spring, the camera zooms out, allowing us to get a larger scope of what is happening. These kinds of details and camera work help enhance the cartoon beyond the broad spectrum of "Mickey, Donald, and Goofy try to build a boat."

However, one of my favorite moments from the short lasts a mere two seconds, maybe even shorter. Shortly before the frame-spring moment mentioned above, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are struggling to open the crate from the side. They eventually spring it open, and the side then falls down. Donald and Goofy scramble out of the way, while Mickey bounces with the side as it drops. Keep an eye on Donald during this scene - on the DVD, the platform falls between 0:56 to 0:59 on the counter - and look at his actions. He runs out, sees the platform squish his hat, so when it recoils upwards (Mickey still on atop), Donald rushes in, grabs his hat, and rushes out again. All this happens in a few seconds. Imagine what the animators were thinking when doing this scene. They had to ensure that so much action is done in so little time, and to make it look believable. They succeeded in spades, and it's one of the best moments in the entire cartoon.

"Boat Builders" is available only on one Disney DVD: "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color," released in 2001. However, the short is still part of the Disney public consciousness. A similarly-themed live show, "Donald's Boat Builders," regularly played at the American Waterfront in Tokyo DisneySea. It was replaced in 2010 by "My Friend Duffy," which is sure to excite a Sunday Bruncher! The studio also attached the short to Meet the Robinsons during its 2007 theatrical run, although it didn't appear on the film's Blu-Ray or DVD. A remastered - and unfortunately shorter - version of "Boat Builders" has also aired on Disney Channel in the "Have a Laugh!" series. While "Have a Laugh!" has seen four DVDs released, none of them have "Boat Builders" included. I'm not a fan of the shorter versions that "Have a Laugh!" creates, but since the DVDs always include the original uncut versions, I'm all for a future "Have a Laugh!" DVD containing the remastered "Boat Builders."

 

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