Saturday Matinee #137, Brent Week: "Brave Little Tailor" (September 23, 1938)
Published August 17, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
This week, we've been celebrating some of Brent's favorite things. Upon examining his favorite things, a common thread to be found throughout is the general popularity of his choices, amid some rather unique selections. For example, finding Hidden Mickeys can often enhance any guest's vacation, making it a popular pastime. Yet Alex's Hidden Mickey Monday looked at the popular activity through a very uncommon (and challenging) selection. Later on, we went to Gamer Tuesday, where Brent's game of choice focused on his favorite park (and arguably, the most popular in Walt Disney World), yet presented to us in a way unconventional for Gamer Tuesday: the good, old-fashioned board game. When we ventured into both Who's Who Wednesday and Fun Find Friday, the focus were on sometimes-obscure characters who've appeared in far-more-popular surroundings. This weekend - Saturday Matinee and Sunday Brunch - will presumably continue that trend. Saturday Matinee, in particular, looks at one of the most popular Mickey Mouse cartoons, which incidentally is also one of the most unique.
A large, dim giant threatens the livelihood of a far-off kingdom. Citizens are warned of his menace, with a bounty placed on him, dead or alive. Amidst the fear, humble tailor Mickey Mouse remains busy at his work. He gets bothered by some flies, and expertly smothers seven with his fly swatter. Proud of such a unique feat, he declares to some townspeople outside his window, "I killed seven with one blow!" not realizing that they had discussed killing giants. Word spreads fast among the town, leading to guards escorting Tailor Mickey to the king's court. There, he recounts the tale - embellishing with details, while still remaining vague - to the impressed and slightly incredulous king. The king then appoints Mickey as Royal High Killer of the Giant, which absolutely gobsmacks Mickey, and not in the good way. He refuses the king's rewards (one million, two million, etc.), but eventually agrees when Minnie offers her hand in marriage.
As Mickey leaves the kingdom, he soon realizes what he's gotten himself into. And it's not pretty. How can such a brave, little tailor take down a large, deadly giant? He knows not of such things. All he knows is tailoring, sewing, how to thread a needle. And eventually, that's all he needs. He takes this ingenuity and manages to tie up and knock out the giant. And being true to his good-guy nature (with the exception of flies), Mickey lets the Giant live. He even becomes useful, as his snores provide wind power for a theme park built around his shackled self. Mickey and Minnie (and the King) enjoy rides on the merry-go-round as we come to our happy ending.
Frankly, "Brave Little Tailor" could very easily have worked as Disney's first feature-length animated film. It presents enough within nine minutes that could get extended to ninety. We meet our hero, see his paradoxical humble-but-embellishing nature, learn of the town's conflict with the giant, and see how Mickey accomplishes his task. Songs could be thrown in, supporting characters added (Goofy as his dim assistant? Donald as a rival suitor for Minnie?), and the climax with the giant could showcase Disney's animation at its best. Instead, we get one of the finest-made animated shorts from Disney's canon.
That's not to say that it's inferior simply for being a short. But "Brave Little Tailor" has such high production qualities in its nine-minute form, that had they developed it into a feature film, could very well have the "star vehicle" that Walt kept looking for with Mickey. Much of these kinds of shenanigans and escapades would be hinted at in 1947's Fun and Fancy Free, with a Mickey that decidedly acts more and more like his younger self than the mellow character he had become by that time. Indeed, such behavior is expected when we remember that "Mickey and the Beanstalk" - a contender for feature production - had already been storyboarded and voiced in 1941, before the on-set of World War II and the U.S.'s entry into the front lines.
But back in 1938, we have to remember that Disney was in a rather transitional state with their animation. With the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, feature animation took priority to shorts. Silly Symphonies would end a year later, time and labor would be better spent on feature films rather than shorts. As a result, "Brave Little Tailor" stands out as one of the last animated shorts with highly ambitious production values. Compare the extensive color palette, background characters, and animation here to later cartoons. Such attention and devotion would not get so heavily used on animated shorts again, except for pieces that would appear in (or initially intended as) feature films: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Fantasia, "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" in Make Mine Music, and, of course, "Mickey and the Beanstalk" in Fun and Fancy Free. The studio's priorities had changed, with animated shorts now taking a second-fiddle role.
Never again would we see Mickey Mouse in such an ambitious leading role, I'd wager that this truly is his final "leading" role in the animated shorts canon. He's not supported by Goofy or Donald, nor is he given the responsibility to look after Pluto. And he's playing the derring-do hero we expect of him, no longer the rascally troublemaking wise guy of his black and white years, but not yet the tame and boring corporate icon we know today. This is Mickey at his best. And it's no wonder why people love this short so much. We get Mickey in his most relatable, without being too much of any of his extremes. He plays the everyman, before Goofy ever was, and he does it marvelously.
You can find "Brave Little Tailor" on a variety of Disney DVDs, though the most common (and most accessible currently) is The Sword in the Stone's various releases. The film first saw release in 2001 under the "Gold Classic Collection" banner, before a revisitation in 2008 as "45th Anniversary Edition." Last week saw the film released to Blu-Ray, now as a "50th Anniversary Edition," though the problematic transfer (too much DNR, resulting in the softening and occasional erasure of the animators' lines) prevents me from recommending a purchase of the high-definition version until a proper transfer is done. Truth be told, you're better off with either of the older DVDs (even if the 2008 DVD cuts down the "All About Magic" excerpt to 7 minutes rather than 37). Otherwise, you're also apt to find "Brave Little Tailor" on three additional DVDs: Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color (2001), Walt Disney's It's a Small World of Fun! Volume Two (2006), and Walt Disney Animation Collection, Volume One: Mickey and the Beanstalk (2009).