Saturday Matinee #106, Science Fiction Double Feature: "Orphans' Benefit" (August 11, 1934 / August 22, 1941)
Published January 12, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
In celebration of our two-year anniversary, all the Days of the Week will be holding a "double feature," covering two different topics in one article. Today on Saturday Matinee, our double-feature may cause slight deja vu, as we'll be looking at "Orphans' Benefit" and "Orphans' Benefit." Did the deja vu kick in yet? The short was originally produced in 1934, and was remade in color in 1941. Let's take a look at both versions...
The orphans are in for a great show at the theatre. As they pile forth into their seats, they have a terrific time climbing columns, popping balloons, and running about. Soon, emcee Mickey appears to introduce the show. First up is Donald Duck. He recites "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and is then prompted by Mickey to recite "Little Boy Blue." However, the orphans decide to have fun with him, providing their own sound effects for Donald, which gets him irritated and pulled off the stage. Next comes a dance number with Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and Goofy. Their ballet performance seems to go well, as Horace and Goofy pass Clarabelle back and forth between each other. The tossing gets more and more creative, although at one point, Goofy catches only her costume, with a nude and angry Clarabelle safely hidden behind some scenery.
Donald Duck emerges once more to try and recite "Little Boy Blue," but an orphan takes this opportunity to throw his ice cream at the stage, followed by a punching device that beats up Donald. Another orphan follows suit, using a bow and arrow to aim a boxing glove at Donald. He's once again pulled off stage.
Mickey then introduces Clara Cluck, also known as the Barnyard Nightingale. He takes to the piano while Clara begins clucking away. Her act seems to be the only truly successful one, as they're given a standing ovation and another curtain call. Donald Duck, one final time, attempts to recite "Little Boy Blue." The orphans are well-behaved this time. And just when Donald thinks he will be able to get through the performance, they collectively interrupt him. He asks, as is part of the rhyme, "But where is the boy who looks after the sheep?" The orphans, with slight malice in their voice, respond, "Under the haystack, fast asleep, you dope!"
That settles it for Donald. He goes into a rant, with no oversized hooks to pull him away. A pair of orphans in the left balcony float across several balloons with random objects tied to them: bricks, eggs, potted plants, you name it. Orphans on the right side use slingshots to shoot the balloons, with everything falling squarely on Donald. Giving up, Donald proclaims, "Aw, nuts!" in 1934. In 1941, he mutters his more familiar, "Aw, phooey!"
1934's "Orphans' Benefit" by itself is not much of a story. The short essentially is a showcase of musical acts, very much in the vein of most of the black-and-white shorts. Thus, when we revisit this same short in 1941, there's already a "been there, done that" feel, not just because it's a direct remake of the short, but because such types of shorts were now pass� for an audience. Seeing this sort of showcase in color does make the remake rather interesting, but not an essential cartoon in Mickey Mouse's canon. Historically, the 1934 short is more important of the two, as it would be Donald Duck's first cartoon with Mickey Mouse. He had made his debut two months earlier in the Silly Symphony "The Wise Little Hen."
According to David Gerstein (of the blog "Ramapith: Prehistoric Pop Culture"), the intention for remaking "Orphans' Benefit" was for a two-reel cartoon that Disney intended to make entitled "Mickey's Revival Party." That cartoon would have featured Mickey and his friends watching older cartoons, similar to when they watched "Gallopin' Romance" in "Mickey's Gala Premiere." However, the cartoons would have to be in color, but a majority of the ones chosen were from the black-and-white years. Disney settled on remaking "Orphans' Benefit," "Mickey's Man Friday," and "On Ice" in color, although the "Mickey's Revival Party" idea never came about. And eventually, "Orphans' Benefit" was the only short to be put into (re)production.
When watching both cartoons, I toggled two windows on my desktop to play the cartoons simultaneously, in order for me to compare both the look and the animation differences between the two. As evident by the screen captures, the changes are largely to the background and the major characters' designs. The orphans all look the same - sans pie eyes - and even move the same way between 1934 and 1941. I wasn't fond of Donald's early look, so his more familiar appearance here is much more welcoming. However, I've always loved pie-eyed Mickey, and felt that his animated "performance" in the 1934 short was better. The Horace-Clarabelle-Goofy trifecta is much improved, if only because their appendages aren't so rubbery and wildly articulate. There's a strange, but fitting, creaky movement to them that was animated in 1941. And Clara Cluck, poor Clara Cluck, remained exactly the same. I guess Disney didn't see a need to update her, especially given that this was her first appearance in a cartoon since 1938 ("Fox Hunt").
My favorite part of this cartoon would have to be Donald's attempts at reciting. The gag would be used again in 1937's "Mickey's Amateurs," when he tries to recite "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Incidentally, the first time I saw Donald perform this gag was not in the cartoons, but at Disney-MGM Studios. During my first trip to Walt Disney World (circa 1991), the Theater of the Stars had a show called "Hollywood! Hollywood!" One segment of the show featured Donald wearing a Shakespearean wig and carrying around a human skull. He kept trying to recite, but could never get the words right, and a hostess would try and help him, with the audience support. I found an excerpt of the show online, but it does not feature the segment I described. Fortunately, we have it in our home movies, although I have no way of uploading that online.
The 1934 version of "Orphans' Benefit" is only available in 2002's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White." Its 1941 remake is also in a Treasures set, "Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two" as well as the Classic Cartoon Favorites compilation, "Extreme Music Fun."